Thursday, December 31, 2009

Old traditions, new ornaments

Hope you're not getting tired of Christmas yet, because I've still got more to share!

photo ornament

It's been our tradition that I give a new ornament to Andi each Christmas, representing our year. This year, of course, it had to be Lucy.

And we started a new tradition: making an ornament each year for Lucy. When I thought back on her year, for one thing that would symbolize it, I thought of the blanket Andi knitted while she was pregnant. She made the "Big Bad Baby Blanket" from Stitch 'N Bitch, using a gorgeous, soft red wool. There was just a bit left. I asked her to make a mini version for Lucy's first ornament, and I love how it came out.

L's blanket ornament

Lucy got a few other ornaments, too. From her Granny, she got this "baby's first Christmas" ornament:

L's pea pod ornament

She said she settled for a pea pod because she couldn't find a string bean. It also reminded her of Lucy in her hammock.

Lucy's Nanny gave her this ornament, fair trade from Guatemala. It reminded her of Lucy in the sling, of course:

L's baby in sling ornament

I started a journal for Lucy, to keep track of her ornaments. I imagine her someday unwrapping each ornament as she decorates her tree with her children and shares each one's story.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A discount for you from Stonz Wear

If you read this blog regularly, you know it's not commercially motivated. On occasion, I've mentioned a product I love, because I feel like I've discovered something great and I want to share it with you. Such was the case with the Stonz boots I wrote about a while back. I've been teaching preschoolers for 16 years now, and I've come across a lot of winter gear in that time--some good, and some not so good. (As I've often quoted to the families in my program, "there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.") I know first-hand that it can be a real struggle getting outside in the winter happily with babies. I knew Lucy would be out every day come snow or wind or slush, so I was thrilled to find something that worked so well.

When I wrote about the booties, I also wrote to the company to say thank you. And guess what? They offered you a deal if I wrote about them again. I gave it some thought, because it's annoying to me when my favorite bloggers get all commercial and are constantly endorsing products. I don't want to do that! But I've been recommending these boots to everyone I know anyway, so I figured it made sense to take them up on their offer. Stonz Wear is offering a 10% discount to you for the next week. Just let them know you read about it here when you order.

Besides the fact that they make toasty warm boots that will stay on without letting the snow in, here are some things I loved about Stonz Wear:

They are made in Canada. (About as local as I could find, and I figure it means they know snow!)

They don't use plastic packaging. (I try to avoid buying plastic whenever I can. Nylon boots seem like a necessary evil. But stuffing them into a plastic bag is not necessary. Glad to find a company that understands that.)

They offer free shipping for orders over $50. (Gulp. Yes, they're expensive. But so worth it. I buy clothes exclusively at thrift stores and tag sales, but when it comes to shoes, I've decided it's worth shelling out the money for something that is good for your feet. Especially for a baby just learning to walk!)

Oh, and here's one other thing I love that I didn't mention before. As I've written before, it's cold in our house, and we wear slippers for warmth. Lucy wears her Robeez as slippers. The Stonz boots--even with the sherpa fleece lining--fit right over them. Thank goodness! It's hard enough dressing a baby in winter gear. This eliminates one step and makes it that much easier. (Plus, it's one more layer of warmth.) On a warmer rainy day, though, I could put the boots on bare feet and not feel like she's overdressed. So it's like I got snow boots and rain boots in one.

Enough. Go get a deal if you were so inclined anyway. If not, don't worry--I won't do this too often!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A few more little gifts

Here are a few more Christmas gifts.

Lucy got in on the crafting a bit, too:

Lucy's first painting

She did her first watercolor painting this month, so I thought of a way to share that with some of our family and friends, a little stocking stuffer for the readers in our life (these are a few of them; we made many).

watercolor bookmarks

Next is a little present I made for her. She loves to play with drawstrings, cords, knots, and buttons, so I made her a toy full of them. She loves the button I added as a last-minute whim; it's huge and made of shell and cold, and must feel good on her gums (don't worry; it's on there very well!)

string gift

And here is a gift for a friend who holds his tension in his shoulders. I had read a lot about goldenrod this fall, and had read somewhere that goldenrod oil is good for aches and cramps and particularly for shoulder tension. So I decided to try my hand at making a salve. This was our first attempt, and it came out great! I had about 2/3 of a pint jar of goldenrod oil, and one block of beeswax (slightly more than an ounce), and decided to just use them all and hope for the best. Andi melted the beeswax, mixed in the oil, and put it in the fridge to hasten the set (we made it the day we planned to give it; Christmas Eve!), and it worked. It smelled lovely, looked beautiful in its thrifted container, and felt nice when he tried it on his hands. We've yet to see if it works on his shoulders.

goldenrod salve

More to come!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Presents, revealed

It's been a sad Christmas around here. Lucy was sick, and my family, all gathered together nearby, didn't want to be exposed to the germs. So we had a quiet Christmas at home with a miserable baby. Happily, the fever is now gone and she's on the mend.

But I do have a few more finished-at-the-very-last-second gifts I can show.

embroidering bookmark

The only good thing about Lucy feeling sick is that she'll actually snuggle a bit (a rarity for our on-the-go baby). So while I was working on a gift for my sister, she settled in on my lap and said "oooh!" as she touched the stitches with one little pointer finger and helped pull the floss through.

This turned out to be one of my favorite things I made this year. I love it so much, I wanted to keep it! It's the bookmark from Handmade Home (sized a bit smaller: I cut the fabric to 7 1/2 rather than 8 inches high). I used pieces of that same linen dress as the scarf I shared earlier, and some trim I'd gotten on that same Goodwill trip (yards of this heart trim and tiny white rick rack, sewn to the ugliest red felt I've ever seen--now liberated). I'd asked my nieces to do self portraits and signatures the last time they visited me, and I transferred them to the fabric, embroidered, and then sewed them back to back.

bookmark for my sister

bookmark for my sister

Also from Handmade Home are some potholders I made for friends. I'm not as thrilled with how these came out. Apparently, I am terrible at applying bias tape. I hand sewed the back side of the first set (badly), as directed, but gave up and machine sewed the next one. I don't like either result. But I do like the pattern--the potholder fits your hand nicely, and the diagonal quilting lines make it fold just as you'd like it to in your palm.

front and back view of potholder pair

second try at potholder

I'm going to have to work on applying bias tape better. It doesn't seem like it should be that hard! My other comment on this pattern is that the first (failed) attempt I made used batting, and I hated the look and the feel. It is much better with a piece of towel inside; it gives it a vintage-y feel and more heft.

Enough for now. But I have more to share over the next few days. (And time to do it; I'm on vacation!)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

O, Tannenbaum

I've enjoyed getting glimpses of other people's Christmas trees on various blogs, so here's ours (filling up with all the packages we've received so far in the mail):

Here we are at the tree farm where we go every year, cutting the "perfect" tree. It takes us ages to agree on just the right one. It has to be very skinny to fit into our small rooms. And not too tall--I can touch our ceilings without standing on tiptoe. But we don't want it to be too sparse. This year, we think we got a great one.

Between both of us working full time, and raising a baby, and trying to keep the house neat enough to present to parents each morning after 6 kids trash it every day, and trying to make all our gifts, there's no time for decorating. We set up the tree and it sat for a few days with only lights, while the kids kept asking why we hadn't decorated it yet. Finally, I decided to have them do it (if you're new to my blog, these are not my kids I'm talking about; they're the 1-5 year-olds in my early childhood program). We left the very lowest branches bare to protect the ornaments from cats and babies. (I might have done a teensy tiny bit of stealthy re-arranging of ornaments...)

It was only mostly decorated at that point, because I saved our "special" ornaments to put on later with Andi. These are the ornaments that represent our years together; I've given one to her every year since our third Christmas together (1992), reflecting something important from that year in our life. Here are a few of them...

The chicken I made last year, when we added 3 chickens to our household. This one resembles Gertie, our Black Australorp:

The board, sandpaper, and saw ornament I made the year we spent doing nothing but major DIY home renovations (boy, is it hard to photograph these well!):

A rowboat we bought on the vacation we took to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary. The cottage we rented had rowboats available, and we spent one lovely morning rowing on the cove there.

Otherwise, our tree has a very Scandinavian look, mostly red and white and straw. That was my parents' aesthetic, so now to me, it's the way a tree "should" look. Also essential to me are these crocheted snowflakes, made by my grandmother and her sisters. Her tree had them, as did ours and my aunt's, and to my childhood mind, every tree. I inherited a lot of them and love them so much.

I also have a lot of Dutch-themed ornaments, reflecting the heritage of my mother's side of the family (the only side I really knew). These wooden shoes are one of three pairs. I have 2 sisters, and growing up, my mother always bought ornaments in sets of three, so she could eventually divide them among us. Again, that feels like the way it "should" be, so when I buy ornaments or make them, I do it in threes.

I love our tree. I love that it looks like our trees growing up, but also reflects our own little immediate family specifically. It looks nothing like the trees of anyone else I know, and as much as I like and admire other people's beautifully-decorated trees, ours feels exactly right for us.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Presents in the mail

Ok, here are two presents that are safe to show, finished at the last second and now in the mail. (Please excuse the horrible nighttime photography, but they were finished late and had to be at the post office first thing this morning!)

First up...a scarf for a 16-year-old girl who likes vintage accessories. I asked a friend for suggestions of something wonderful that I could make quickly, and she thought of the perfect thing, inspired by Soulemama (of course.) Her scarf for Adelaide was gorgeous and seemed just right (made with all linen, rather than wool, for a southerner.) I was able to find a few good table-runners at Goodwill and combined them with a linen dress I'd bought there earlier (for another project yet to come) and bits of crocheted lace I'd saved years ago from a torn pillowcase. I'm quite thrilled with the result. I hope she will be, too.

Next, a hat for a guitar player. Again, I took inspiration from Soulemama, basing the design on the recycled sweater hats in her book Handmade Home. However, my crummy printer won't enlarge patterns, so I had to just draw it approximately. It came out ok, but next time, I'm going to have that pattern printed for me. It's modeled here by a friend, and admired by Lucy (who's having a bit of "air time" before bed, a rarity in the winter!)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Treasure at the Goodwill

I'm not finished making Christmas gifts yet. Nope, not even those that are getting sent to Virginia. Yeah. I'm a pretty horrible procrastinator.

So, I had to go to the Goodwill today, for some raw materials. Here's the heap that came home with me, which throughout the rest of the day (and late into the night) got transformed into gifts (I'll show those soon).

While I was there, I spotted a big box on the floor. "Children's encyclopedia $5."

My first thought was "where will I put them?" (I have a bit of a children's book My next thought was "who cares?...I need them." They're not an "encyclopedia" like you'd expect. It's the 1947 edition of the Childcraft How and Why Library. The first volume is full of poetry and lovely illustrations. There's one with folk tales. One with songs and art ideas. One with information about plants. And on and on. I can't wait to explore them! (No time now; must sew, sew, sew! But after Christmas.) And I can't wait to share them with Lucy. Here's a cursory peek (I didn't even need to look at this much to know I wanted them. And the man who sold them to me agreed. He was so glad I was buying them. He said they're not supposed to sell encyclopedias, but he'd insisted on this one, because it was so cool. He said he wants to show people what they can do with kids besides plop them in front of the t.v. My kind of Goodwill guy.)

After that, my whole day was spent crafting, in the midst of the giant heaping mess that was once our office. It was not a safe place for Lucy, but boy did she want to be there! What do you do with a baby while you're using the rotary cutter? I did this:

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas presents in the works

Well, over time I've been slowly creeping out of the closet with this blog...actually admitting to friends and family (face averted) that I've got a blog (why is it so embarrassing?) Anyway, it's gotten to the point where I can't show everything I'm working on for gifts. But here's a peek. (I still have a LONG way to go. I was up sewing until midnight last night and I see more of the same in my future...) Details to follow after Christmas.

There's this:

And these:

And then there's this:

Oh, but this I can share. These are cards for my mom, again following Denyse Schmidt's example in her Quilts book.

And oh, yes, I have a new banner. That's Lucy, at work on her first-ever painting. I waited until the ripe old age of 10 months with her, because she does still tend to put everything in her mouth. But on her 10-month birthday, she joined the kids at the studio table, and kept most of it out of her mouth. Now I've got her at work painting Christmas gifts, too (to be shown later).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Experimenting with Longies

I finally found some time to do a bit of sewing this weekend. As always, Lucy was in need of some new diaper covers, so I did a bit of experimenting with new styles of longies.

First up was this pair:

I'd recently gotten myself a "new" sweater at Goodwill, and promptly shrunk it after two wearings. (Don't you hate that?) So on to the felted-sweater pile it went. As I considered its use for longies, I realized that the big turtleneck looked just about the size of Lucy's waist. So I decided to use the whole thing as the waistband, thinking it could be folded over (as photographed) or worn high to keep her chest warm and eliminate t-shirt ride-up bare belly. I've also been having some trouble with her made-from-sleeves longies tearing at the crotch, so I decided to add a panel there to increase the width. I didn't get the shape quite right, and will have to experiment some more to make pants that actually look nice, but these fit fairly well and surely won't tear.

Next up was this goofy-looking pair of overalls:

I'd come across some beautiful made-from-sweaters overalls on Etsy, and wanted to try a pair of my own. I laid a pair of her current overalls on top of a sweater, cut around the whole thing, and sewed them up. The sides came out beautifully. But those armholes! The sweater hadn't felted very well, and required some reinforcing along the cut edges. I tried a zigzag stitch, and it was a mistake. I don't like the frou-frou ruffly result. It doesn't help that I made the straps way too long, either. Maybe next time I'll try hemming the edges? Any suggestions for how to do it so it actually looks nice? Oh, well. We're putting them on her to wear to bed, for extra protection and warmth over shorties and a shirt. Works to keep her dry, if not fashionable.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Autumn books make way for Winter

With the arrival of the first snow, it felt like time to change the autumn book basket to winter. I had more help with the label this time: one of the girls wrote "Win," a boy finished up "ter," trimmed the cardboard around the word and punched a hole in the top, and then he and a friend tied it to the basket. Gotta love cooperative efforts!

I have a LOT of winter books. These are the ones we're reading now:

Winter Story by Jill Barklem. As the kids get older, they're really enjoying the books in the Brambly Hedge series. We love the tiny detailed illustrations. This one's perfect for the girls in my group right now, because they love to play "going to the ball." What could be more beautiful than an ice ball?

First Snow by Emily Arnold McCully. I am a big fan of wordless books, and have quite a collection of them. This one, about a young mouse braving sledding the big hill for the first time, is one of the children's favorites. (I see that newer editions have added words. What a shame!)

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I can't imagine that anyone doesn't know this beautiful classic yet, but if you don't, get yourself to a library right away! I loved it as a child, and still do. It's got a gentleness missing from so many newer books.

Grandmother Winter by Phyllis Root and illustrated by Beth Krommes. A lovely introduction to metaphor, grandmother winter stitches goose feathers into a quilt, then, in shaking it, makes it snow. Again, I love the gentleness. And the crafty part and the collecting feathers part are just right for my group, who love to gather chicken feathers and use them in their artwork.

Stella, Queen of the Snow by Marie-Louise Gay. Stella's misinformation about the natural world to her inquisitive little brother Sam is highly entertaining to my 4-year-olds.

Snow by Uri Shulevitz. The boy knows it's going to snow, but none of the adults believe him. I love the way this book captures the magic and optimism of childhood.

The Mitten by Jan Brett. We read this one every year. This year, the kids are starting to notice and appreciate the details and hints in the elaborate border artwork. I love it when a book offers something new to discover each time you read it.

The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren. The kids expect the Tomten to be scary, and are surprised over and over again that he's not. I like challenging that strange-looking-means-bad assumption. Despite the troll-like Tomten, this book is sweet and reassuringly peaceful.

The Winter Noisy Book by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Charles G. Shaw. My mother gave me 4 of these "noisy" books when I began teaching; they'd been some of her favorites as a girl. Margaret Wise Brown hits the mark every time; she has just the right pace and tone for kids. My 2-year-olds, in particular, love this one.

In the Snow by Sharon Phillips Denslow and illustrated by Nancy Tafuri. I love Tafuri's simple animal drawings. In this one, a child leaves out food for the backyard animals, and as they each come to eat, they're identified by specific name--a lovely introduction to the animals you might see in your yard at this time of year.

Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett (again). A variation on the classic tale, in which the gingerbread baby gets to live happily ever after.

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Jane Chapman. This is one of those books that I think has been over-marketed, with too many spin-offs. But this original one, I love. Great language, great rhythm, great illustrations. We read it over and over, every year.

Let's Go Home, Little Bear by Martin Waddell with illustrations by Barbara Firth. This author/illustrator team is always a winner, as far as my kids are concerned. This is probably my favorite big bear/little bear book.

Winter Poems collected by Barbara Rogasky and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Great poems, beautiful illustrations, and nothing about holidays, so it's perfect when what you want is specifically "winter."

Tom and Pippo in the Snow by Helen Oxenbury. I have several of the Tom and Pippo books, perfect for reading with toddlers because they so well represent their experience (here, the fear and then thrill of a first time on a sled).

In the Snow: Who's Been Here? by Lindsay Barrett George. A brother and sister find evidence of animals in the snow and we try to guess "who's been here?" The kids ask for this one over and over again, I think because they're trying to remember all the hard-to-guess answers.

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. A classic wordless book, so fun to study for all the tiny detail. Be prepared to cry at the end!

The Snow Speaks by Nancy White Carlstrom and illustrated by Jane Dyer. The tone of the poetic text of this one is probably better suited to bedtime than to the energy of midday, but I had to include it in the basket anyway, because I am in love with Jane Dyer's illustrations.

Fox's Dream by Tejima. The boys in my group can't get enough of foxes. This one shows fox gently, dreaming of spring and family, which I appreciate as a balance to all the fox-as-bad-guy books out there.

All You Need for a Snowman by Rebecca Bond. I am in love with Rebecca Bond's vision of childhood. In this one, all the neighborhood children collaborate on "this place, full of grace, in the snow"--an amazingly elaborate snow-plow-mountain fort.

What are you reading?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ooh...what's this?

All right, somehow I'm going to work around these annoying technical problems. Thanks for your supportive comments!

I've managed to squeeze in a bit of sewing this week, so more on that as soon as I can take some photos.

In the meantime, here's Lucy on her first day playing in snow on Wednesday. She was born in the winter, but was worn or carried through those first snowy months. Now, she's big enough to crawl in it, taste it, tip her head up to catch the snowflakes on her face, stomp in it...really experience it. What fun to share it with her!

In preparing for the winter, I wanted to get her some soft-soled infant snow boots. How hard could it be? Turns out, it's much harder than I expected. Most of the reviews I read said "keeps baby toasty warm in the stroller!" or "in the car seat." But I want "keeps baby toasty warm and dry while she drags her feet through snow that's deeper than her legs are long," "stays on while crawling," and "won't trip her or hinder her as she learns to walk." Thankfully, I finally found just what I was looking for. And they work! After an hour in 20-something-degree weather today, her feet and legs were still warm. And she was able to stand and dance and maneuver around to her heart's content. Thank goodness for good gear. (And for so many hand-me-downs that when there's something I really want, I can splurge on it.)

[And no, I'm not connected to this company, just thrilled with their product and hoping other mamas who want their babies to fully experience snow might find a review helpful.]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Bad, bad blogger

Camera problems (new camera's broken already and replacement is not yet chosen; old camera's held together with a rubber band and finicky about whether or not it will work today.)
Computer problems (power cord won't attach properly; battery keeps dying and then we can't recharge it.)
Time problems (no time to deal with above issues, make anything to blog about, or write.)

I promise I'll be back as soon as I can.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Basking in the sun

Weird as it feels to have a day in the 60s in December, it was just what we all needed today. Here are my two favorite images from a morning outside.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

One gift down...? to go

Andi's grandmother is wishing for an autumnal wreath for her front door. We bought her one at the Farmer's Market, but ultimately decided it was too fragile for mailing and for her habit of storing it and hanging it each year. Which brought us back to making one, which is what I'd wanted to do all along (those market ones were just too pretty to pass up, but no problem--we just hung it on our own door!)

We spent an enjoyable few afternoons, collecting leaves with our friend and her daughters in Boston, and then collecting pine cones and acorns by the roadside and in a local park. Then came a fun evening of dipping the leaves in melted beeswax to preserve them. Finally, over the long Thanksgiving weekend, we assembled the wreath. I'm thrilled with how it came out. I hope "GG" (great grandma) will be, too.