Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Yarn along: easy reading and tricky crochet

We're having a sick day here--all of us with fevers--so I'll keep this brief. But I did want to share a project with the Yarn-Along, as I'm so happy to be crocheting again! The Christmas-gift bug has hit! I'm making (and unmaking, and making again) a Cardiff Cowl. For some reason, I'm finding this pattern a bit tricky to follow, and have ripped out and started again several times. But I'm loving the look, and the yarn is fabulous, so I still have high hopes. If it works, there will be more.

I'm reading something very unusual for me, a suspense novel: Every Secret Thing, by Laura Lippman. Too much going on right now for "serious" reading.

The photo was taken on the picnic table, as it's been unseasonably warm this week and I've been crocheting while the kids play outside!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Long-awaited Advent calendar

I've been wanting to make an Advent calendar for years, and this was the year that I finally did it. Rather than look at all the beautiful options out there and try to create the perfect design and fabric choices for us, I decided to just get it done. I remembered that somewhere I had a red corduroy pillowcase I'd gotten once at a thrift store, and I envisioned maybe linen pockets, or maybe vintage tablecloth bits? While I was fighting my way through the heaps of mess blocking my sewing closet door, I found a linen napkin I'd pulled out for another project last Christmas (yes, it takes us that long to put things away sometimes!). Hmmm... That got the ball rolling, and I began to cut and stitch, taking sizing cues from the already-cut-into pillowcase (what did I use that for?) and from the smaller-than-originally-envisioned tags I bought. As I began to sew, I realized the pockets were going on crooked and un-symmetrically, but I just kept on, telling myself when it was all done, the overall effect would be fine.

And you know what? It is. Done and ready to use is what I really needed--not perfection. (Might be a little more perfect with some paint touch-ups behind it though, huh?)

The tags are simple, too. My goal was to make sure we scheduled in all the things that matter most to us, so that the things that matter less won't crowd them out. The activities are mostly things we'd do anyway, but ritualizing them by putting them on our calendar and treating them as special changes them from to-do-list items to family events.

Here's what we have planned:
1. Let's write Christmas cards today.
2. Today, let's decorate the house for Christmas.
3. We're going to Boston today to buy books for gifts. (We do this every year, to visit good friends and shop at a huge bookstore that sells remainders.)
4. It's the second Sunday of Advent. We'll light 2 candles and add plants to our creche.
5. St. Nicholas comes tonight. We'll set out our wooden shoes.
6. It's St. Nicholas' Day. Let's surprise our neighbors with gifts.
7. Someone is coming to visit us today! (Uncle David, but I left the card open-ended so I could re-use it in future years.)
8. Christmas cards are coming. Let's find a place to put them.
9. Let's look for Christmas decorations today. (This might be a special walk or drive, or it may just be as-we-go-about-our-business, depending how busy life gets. I wanted to cut us some slack now and then.)
10. Today we will cut our Christmas tree.
11. It's the third Sunday of Advent. We'll light three candles and add animals to our creche.
Today we'll put up our tree and string it with lights. (I liked the idea of adding the Sundays of Advent to the calendar, but after I'd written up all the cards and tried to figure out how to work everything in, I realized that some projects only really work on weekends, and there are only so many weekend days! So sometimes, I put two cards in a pocket.)
12. Let's choose our gift for Project Heifer today. (We put this in here because this year, we want to include Lucy in the decision.)
13. Let's make chocolate-chip cookies today. (Andi's family's tradition.)
14. Let's wrap our gifts today.
15. Today we'll put ornaments on our tree. (Our tree sits ornament-less for a while, because I have so many young children playing here each day, and lots of fragile or precious-to-me ornaments. We like it just fine with only lights in the meantime.)
16. Time to mail our Christmas packages.
17. Tonight is the Florence Luminary celebration. Let's go.
18. It's the fourth Sunday of Advent. We'll light four candles, and add people to our creche.
Today, we'll go to the Messiah sing.
19. Let's write some more Christmas cards today. (We'll have to do a lot more than 2 evenings to get them all done, but I figured these would be the times we'd include Lucy in the project.)
20. Let's sing carols at the piano today. (I hope we'll do this often, but just in case, can't hurt to schedule it in!)
21. Let's wrap presents today.
22. It's the Winter Solstice. Let's celebrate with a fire. (Again, trying to allow for simplicity. Maybe we'll go to some event with a bonfire. Or maybe we'll just have a little one at home.)
23. Let's make vamino bars today. (My family's tradition.)
24. It's Christmas Eve! Let's read our favorite Christmas books. (We'll have read them all a zillion times by then. And we may do something else more exciting that day. But again, we're leaving room for last-minute craziness...)
25. Merry Christmas!

I finished it a couple nights ago, and am having a hard time not hanging it up yet (and by the way, it's just weird that Advent begins in November but Advent calendars begin in December). I still remember the Advent calendar my mom made when we were girls, and I hope this one will be as special to Lucy.

Bringing Advent home, bit by bit

We headed out yesterday morning for our annual "greens gathering." This year, we stayed very close to home, hiking into the bit of woods at the end of our block.

Our destination was this--the tangles of downed trees from our pre-Halloween snowstorm, which brought with them masses of bittersweet we can't normally reach.

We snipped and snipped until our bags were full.

Then, clippers in our back pockets (and heavy layers shed--it was warm out!), we headed for home.

When we found some white pine to add to our collection, Lucy carried it over her shoulder, telling us "I love the smell of these greens! I want to hold it in my nose forever!"

Today, we hauled the whole lot to my mother's condo and made a mess of her dining room and chatted as I assembled two wreaths. I gave her first dibs, and still ended up bringing my favorite one home:

Others of the greens were destined for the dining room, where I set up our Advent wreath in the wee hours of last night.

Coming downstairs this morning, Lucy stopped in the dining room, gazing upwards for the longest time. "Mama, that wreath is so beautiful! I love the way it looks." Then she insisted we eat breakfast in there, rather than our usual spot in the kitchen.

Before dinner, Lucy and I began to arrange our creche scene. Taking a cue from several bloggers, last year we began a new tradition of setting the scene bit by bit--stones in the first week, plants the second, animals the third, and people the fourth. So it's rather barren at the moment, set only with stones gathered by the kids at the river this summer. But isn't that perfect for the beginning of Advent--quiet, dark, missing something, waiting...?

I'm loving this gradual approach to preparing for Christmas, and to decorating our home for the season. Rather than a rush rush to get it all done, we're taking our time, savoring each bit. I hope your Advent has begun peacefully, too.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Craft Friday

Once upon a time, we hosted regular craft parties, getting together with friends to make gifts. In recent years we've had a hard time finding time to do it, but keep saying we want to. Deb, of Bee's Nest, had a great idea: "craft Friday" (rather than Black Friday). I love the idea of getting a head start while it's still November, and of bucking the system by crafting rather than buying on that day. I read about it too late to plan and invite friends, but it's on the agenda for next year, for sure. In the meantime, Lucy and I held our own private craft Friday today.

We spent the morning in the studio (in our pajamas and bed-head, an advantage of no guests). She painted, drew with watercolor pencils, mixed paint colors, and drew on the overhead projector while I transformed some of her past year's art into gifts for relatives and friends.

It was a wonderful way to spend the morning, and now I'm off to a good gift-making start. (I'll show these off with a better photo later.)

Did you make anything today?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tissue paper "painting"

(Bleeding tissue paper, watercolor paper, water. When it's dry, the tissue paper falls away, leaving the beautiful blended colors behind.)

Friday, November 18, 2011

A day to ourselves

I can't remember the last time we had a day completely to ourselves. Nowhere we had to be. Nothing we had to do.

Today, we had just that.

We stayed in our pjs all day long. Did several loads of laundry. Painted. Read a big pile of books. Played with play doh. Wrote some letters.

It wasn't a perfect day. Lucy's got a rotten cold. Nap was cut way too short by a rare accident, resulting in late-afternoon grumpies. The house is trashed, and though I'd hoped to tackle it, taming two rooms of cobwebs was all I managed.

But we baked bread (the "real" stuff, not the 5-minutes-a-day stuff), which is something I've never actually done successfully before. And while we kneaded it, we sang together. At the end of the day, I'm feeling like it was exactly what we needed.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Yarn along: cheating edition

Ok, this is definitely a yarn-along cheat. I'm not actually crocheting anything at the moment, but I did make it so far as to choose some yarn for some Christmas gifts today. Now, let's see if I actually get started on anything this week! (It's been a long time. Do I even remember how?)

I've been reading The Freedom Writers Diary, which is a flashback for me to the kind of books I loved to read when I was in college, studying to be a teacher (I read all kinds of 60s progressive fight-the-system teacher's books, outside of my classroom assignments). I bought this one at a book sale years ago for my sister, then found out she'd read it, so it's been sitting on my shelf ever since. It's fascinating and amazing (a first-year teacher and the "worst" kids in school accomplishing so much!), but I want to know more. How did they get there? I can't wait to talk with my sister (a high-school English teacher) about her thoughts on this one.

And with the kids, I'm finding myself reading Donkey, Donkey over and over again this week. Four donkeys moved in around the corner from us, and we walked down to meet them this week. That made one of the kids ask for "that book about the donkey that cuts his ear on the nail," and it's been requested again and again. (Fine with me; oh, how I love those Duvoisin farm animals!)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Whoo? Whoo?

Way after the fact (but really only a few days, if you consider that our town postponed Halloween by a week after a snowstorm left us powerless for several days...), but I just had to share some (terrible) pictures of Lucy in her owl costume.

(No glamor shots here. Random cooler? Peeling paint? Pile of farm totes? You get it all...)

It's not shown to its best advantage here, but I was really pleased with how this costume came out. I was inspired by this wonderful costume, by Lucy's love of birds, and by a recent visit to "see the hurt owls" (Lucy's summary) at a bird sanctuary. I used a felted adult sweater as the base (the sleeves long ago turned into longies), and sewed on lots of feathers from free-from-the-thrift-store pants. I tried four different hat styles before I made one I loved (thrifted sweater with more pants-feathers). The glasses were my mom's idea; she had a pair of Groucho Marx glasses and told us we could rip the nose off, so we added a beak cut from a plastic lid and we were all set.

At home, Lucy was the cutest owl, whooing all over the place (thus the face in the first picture). Out and about, she was more shy, but we still got a ton of compliments. Makes all the late-night sewing sessions worth it!

(I love the felted-sweater base for a costume, by the way, and will have to remember that for future costumes. She had several layers of clothes on under it with room to spare, and she was toasty warm all night.)