Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas-gift planning

I've been starting to think a lot about Christmas. I have lofty goals this year; I really want to make almost all of my gifts, and I haven't left myself much time to accomplish it (we have a lot of people on our list!). But I've always loved making gifts, and now with all this bloggy inspiration in front of me, it makes it even more compelling.

We went on a road trip recently, and it gave us plenty of car time to brainstorm gift ideas. Now I'm filling in the gaps, looking through craft books and blogs for inspiration.

A few things we'll be making this year:

a wreath of leaves, pinecones, and acorns
several recycled-material wallets
potholders from Soulemama's latest book
goldenrod salve
and....shhhh...can't tell the rest!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Giving (Thanks) Tree

Found this idea somewhere in the blogsphere, and it felt just right for us. Growing up, we always had an Easter tree--a stick planted in a vase, to hold our blown eggs. I loved that tradition, and this reminded me of it. A Thanksgiving Tree. A place to hold our collective thoughts of gratitude when we come together tomorrow. Andi and I put up a few starter "leaves," and I'm hoping our guests will help us fill it before dinner.

I'm grateful for this place, as well. This chance to share with like-minded people. Thank you for reading, and commenting, and caring. Happy Thanksgiving.

Edited to add: Thanks for the comments! The tree is now full of so many thoughts. My 5-year-old niece particularly enjoyed it, and kept adding things: her own name "because I'm thankful for myself," other people, "babies," "cake," "friends," "love," and so many more. Reading everyone's contributions became our "grace" for the meal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gracing the table

This is how our dining room table looks this week. (Please ignore the wrinkles; we're talking real life here.) We've finally reached and maintained our goal of a clear table where we can easily sit to eat each night (it had become a terrible dumping ground in our first months of parenting). I've been having fun using my beloved vintage tablecloths again, and arranging seasonal centerpieces.

Once I'd put poems all over the house, I remembered this little pink book I'd started several years ago (there, between the salt and pepper shakers). It's a collection of graces. I was on such a roll with the poems, I got all inspired to revive this collection, too.

Andi and I have moved pretty far from our religious upbringings, and are working on defining our own beliefs in a way that we can share with our children. It's important to us both that we give thanks at meals, but without dogma attached. So we began this little collection of graces we like, drawn from a wide variety of sources and traditions: songs we learned when we were camp counselors; favorites from our childhood; children's books; a recent library request; anywhere we come across grateful words we find beautiful and meaningful. As with the poem cards, we're finding that having them right there on the table where we'll see them is helping us to remember old favorites and learn new ones.

Here's my favorite new discovery, by ee cummings, an old favorite:

"I thank you God for most this amazing day;
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes."

Monday, November 23, 2009


Ok, so I've got the old, smashed, camera held together with rubber bands to tide me over until we figure out what to get next.

There's lots of planning going on around here lately.

Planning the menu for Thanksgiving. (We'll be hosting 10 for dinner.)

I'm a bit obsessive about my Thanksgiving planning. I like to do a big long prep list of everything that needs to be chopped for every recipe, and we spend the night before chopping and stowing away all the ingredients to make the next day's cooking easier. I'm behind on that this year. I just went shopping, and hadn't even finalized my recipes yet! I just know I'm going to have to run back out to the store. I hate being disorganized like that. But you do what you have to do, and in this first baby year, things just aren't going to be all Martha. (But my family will accuse me of it, anyway.)

Planning Christmas crafting.

These are the materials we've gathered to make a wreath for Andi's grandmother, who wants a new autumn wreath that she can store away and take out each year. So we're going for sturdy materials. We gathered the leaves while visiting our friend in Boston, where they still had some color, and then dipped them in beeswax to preserve them. Just hoping for a few free minutes to finish the project.

And I'm not even sure what I'm planning to do with these; I just love them!

We went to the Winter Fair at a local Waldorf school this weekend, and I couldn't resist these gorgeous things. The beeswax pinecone candles will be used on Thanksgiving. The wool felt and roving? I don't know, but I couldn't resist. Any ideas?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dum ditty dum!

Your camera is nicer than mine. Because mine has already died a very untimely death. *!#*@ lens error! Back to the drawing board.

So, here's a story from 2 days ago...before it died.

This is where you'll find me most mornings: curled up on the couch, surrounded by a heap of children and books. On this particular morning, we'd already read a pile of books, had our snack, and moved on to projects in the studio. There was glitter confetti flying everywhere, and intense big-kid projects in danger of little-kid hands, so I returned to the couch with the "littles." I pulled out a favorite book--Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins--and read it once. As I started it again, the two-year-old left and returned with "a drum so I can play it when you read." I added another for Lucy, and we were off on several more raucous readings.

"Hand, hand, fingers, thumb.
One thumb, one thumb drumming on a drum.
One hand, two hands drumming on a drum.
Dum ditty, dum ditty, dum dum dum!"

(Shall I go on? I could--I've got the whole thing just about memorized.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Poems all over the house

Thank you so much for all the lovely comments yesterday! I've been so inspired by all of you; it's nice to have something to offer in return.

I've continued copying out poems whenever I have a moment. I began with selections from Catch Me and Kiss Me and Say it Again by Clyde and Wendy Watson. This is an absolute gem of a book; new nursery rhymes with great language and rhythms, reflecting a family's daily life. I first read about it in Under the Chinaberry Tree by Ann Ruethling and Patti Pitcher (another must-have book, in my opinion), and I knew I had to have it. I spent an unprecedented $10 to buy it on eBay, and I'm so glad I did! I've used it with infants and toddlers in my program, but this method is going to help me remember so many more with my own children (and, of course, with the others, too).

As I chose from this book, I found so many that were perfect for daily routines: washing hands, clipping fingernails, baking, dressing. The poems suggested new places to put them. So now they're all over my house:

In our office, where we change her downstairs (see them, tucked into the shelf off to the right? And by the way, how do you take photos of a window?):

("This little pig found a hole in the fence...")

In the kitchen:

("Clapcake, clapcake, butter and milk...")

In the bathroom:

("Sing a song of soapsuds, filling up the sink...")

I'm loving them already. And so does Lucy. This morning, she saw me shuffle the cards in the office to find a new one to read. Later in the morning, as she sat on her potty, I started reciting one of the poems I'd already memorized. She looked over her shoulder to the spot where I'd tucked the cards! A reader in the making.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Keep a poem in your pocket

I'm in the midst of a project.

I always supposed I'd have a stash of poetry in my head to share with my baby. I've collected tons of poetry books over the years, with a wealth of perfect choices. But when I want a little rhyme to share as, for example, I change her diaper, only a very few come to mind, over and over. I needed a reminder.

When I was in the sixth grade, my teacher posted short poems all around the room, wherever you'd pause: by the pencil sharpener, the sink, the water fountain. I still remember "As I was going down the stair/I met a man who wasn't there./He wasn't there again today./I wish that man would go away." which I memorized that year, just from seeing it so often.

I decided to adapt her idea to home. I'm copying out some of my most favorite little rhymes to display by her changing table, so we will memorize them by frequent exposure. I'm going for ease of use here, so I'm just using index cards, propped up so that I can quickly switch to a new one as needed.

"Keep a poem in your pocket." Or maybe on your changing table. "The little poem will sing to you."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Independence Days challenge, winding down

Oh, dear, it's time again for Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge, and I've done next to nothing:

1. Plant something:
2. Harvest something: Eggs.
3. Preserve something: Wrapped apples for storage.
4. Waste not: Just the usual.
5. Preparation and storage: This week was the last Saturday farmer's market of the year, so we went, despite pouring rain and a complete lack of sleep the night before, and filled the car's trunk with butternut squash, carrots, greens... and then, satisfied that we had enough food for the winter at last, we were handed a flier about the new winter market to be held on Saturdays right downtown. Argh! Oh, well. We're stocked now. We can use it as a back-up plan if needed.
6. Build community food systems: Nope.
7. Eat the food: More soups. I've been particularly enjoying this recipe, which I make even easier by throwing all the ingredients into the crock pot. Kid friendly, and makes me happy, too.

Judging by the lack of activity this week, I think it's time for me to stop posting about this challenge for this year. Back next spring, with renewed energy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Down by the riverside

Thank goodness for mid-week holidays! We've been worn down and exhausted and overwhelmed, and we were in desperate need of a break. So on Wednesday, freed from work, we took a family outing to the Chesterfield Gorge.

I was thrilled to see that Lucy takes after mama in the need to touch the water, despite the temperature.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


I suddenly realized that the Craft Hope "Hope Squared" quilts are due on Sunday...and I hadn't started yet! They've said what they still need is quilts for "older boys"--a huge challenge for me (as if a quilt in less than a week isn't enough of a challenge). No time to write...I've got to sew!

(As you can see by this terrible photo, I only have time after dark these days.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Night, night

All tucked in and ready for bed by 8:00 tonight. Just what this weary family needs.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Independence Days challenge, week 28

Time again for Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge:

1. Plant something:
Bought a big hanging pot of thyme, sage, and parsley and a big rosemary plant to add to my indoor herb garden.
2. Harvest something: Eggs. Sorrel, Good King Henry, kale, swiss chard.
3. Preserve something: Froze 12 pts. pumpkin puree.
4. Waste not: Am frantically at work on a quilt for Craft Hope, which is made entirely of seen-better-days fabrics, now given new life.
5. Preparation and storage: Added on-sale pasta, olive oil, lentils, beans, and spices to storage. Stored 6 bunches of leeks, 30 lbs of squash, 90 lbs of potatoes, 5 cabbages.
6. Build community food systems: Inspired by this post about a neighborhood garden, we started talking more seriously about where we could find some sunnier land to grow veggies next year. Andi came up with a perfect solution! There's a many-years-abandoned public-housing house across the street from us. Why not plant a garden in the back yard there? If they ever decided to use that house again and take it away from us, oh well. We'll have had use of it for a while. We talked to our friend who lives next door to that property, and she'd like to go in on it with us. So this week we'll lay a tarp to kill a patch of weeds there, as a beginning.
7. Eat the food: We've started to break into this year's stored food: frozen blueberries, some jam, "root cellared" carrots (stored in the shed) and sweet potatoes (stored in the bedroom closet) and apples (stored in the baby's room). We're still eating "green eggs" weekly, and now lots of soups. We've started to get a bit better about using our dried beans from storage: this week, made kidney beans and used dried split peas for soup.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A peek into Lucy's room

Lucy's shelf

I was tidying up Lucy's toy-strewn floor this afternoon, and I realized I haven't shared any photos of her room here. That's because it's not finished, and I tend to want to wait until everything is just so before sharing it. But I love seeing photos of other people's homes, so thought I should show a bit of it (it will never be "finished," anyway).

This is the main storage in her room. We use her closets for other purposes (they're tiny, and better suited to--for example--cold storage of apples, than clothes. Doesn't everyone store apples in their baby's room?) so we wanted a lot of storage in her room. Ultimately, this room will be shared by two children, so eventually these shelves will be chock full of stuff, but for now, we can keep them sparsely populated.

Like everyone else on the planet, apparently, we envisioned the IKEA Expedit shelf in this space. But the big one wouldn't fit, and the small one was too small. I loved the shape of the Markor, but it was dark, dark brown. Five coats of paint later, we have this. (I swear I spent all last winter in that room, painting.)

My best friend, organizer extraordinaire, arranged things on the shelves for us originally. I recently re-arranged a bit, to make the bottom two rows of shelves just right for our now-mobile baby. (And there's the fact that we just can't fold blankets in the perfectly neat way she could...)

What's on the shelves?

There's some practical stuff--lots of blankets, washcloths, hats, and shoes.

There's some sentimental stuff--our childhood teddy bears, a yo-yo clown from my childhood, her baby book, and a lullaby book made by that same friend.

There are many stuffed animals and other toys that were gifts from friends and family, as well as hand-me-downs from a friend.

And there are some books--but don't be fooled--most of our bookshelves look nothing like this. I used a few decoratively here, and put some of her favorites down at the bottom, but this is about 1,000th of the children's books in our home.

the owl and the pussycat

Beside the shelf is this little vignette of special objects--a framed card from my aunt (of "The Owl and the Pussycat," a poem we recite for Lucy all the time), a bird I made while waiting for her birth, and a decoupaged light switch (from a Gyo Fujikawa book).

I feel very self-conscious sharing parts of my home--it never feels as "finished" as other people's. But here it is. Maybe I'll go scrape some paint off the windows now, and share another corner soon.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dressing for the weather

It's cold and damp here. Not just outside, but inside, too. A few years ago, I joined "Crunchy Chicken's" "Freeze Your Buns Challenge,"and we turned our thermostat way down. There are a lot of kids and babies in this house, so we kept it above 60, but barely (it's set at 62, but that does not mean it's 62 degrees in here. This is an old, drafty house with almost no insulation.) So we have a big basket of slippers by the door in sizes tiny to giant, and after a while, guests realize that yes, indeed, they do want to borrow some. And we've learned to dress for the weather (well, those of us who don't work in 90 degree offices, that is).

To face the rainy chill yesterday, here's what Lucy had on. Yes, she wears a hat in the house; I dress all the babies in hats in the cold. And that sweater-y suit, which a friend got for a steal at an Iowa thrift shop. Under it, she's got a t-shirt and a long-sleeved t-shirt, wool shorties, her diaper, and socks under her slippers.

I used to worry about the reaction of the families in my early childhood program, or of our parents when they visit. But I've gotten grouchy in my old age. You're cold? Why on earth are you wearing a thin cotton shirt in November in New England? What's made us think this is normal? I had to learn about layering when I moved to Massachusetts. Now I've got it down, and I've become evangelical about it!

Now, I'm off to find my slippers. I forgot to put them on when we came back inside. Brrr!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

9 patches for Amanda Jean

I read a few blogs. Ok, so I read a LOT of blogs. What can I say? It's embarrassing in a way, to peek into the lives of all these strangers, and yet it's so inspirational, and such a good way to feel connected to a community of like-minded people. Anyway, one of the reasons I started a blog was to join that community more fully. I always envied those bloggers who would say "I got this in the mail today" or "I'm sending out this gift to so-and-so."

So I love it when an opportunity presents itself for me to give back a bit and to feel a part of that group. It has to be a smallish contribution, because my life is way too busy. But when I read that Creative Chicks was trying to organize a group quilt for Crazy Mom Quilts, I knew I had to participate.

You see, Amanda Jean (Crazy Mom Quilts) had made 2 9-patch quilts for herself and her sister, and had organized a virtual quilt-along as she did them. (That was too much for me to handle.) She mentioned that she'd like to make a third for her other sister, but couldn't do another. I'm one of three sisters, and I loved the idea of similar quilts for each of them.

So did the Creative Chicks, apparently, and they suggested that readers could make the blocks and send them to her. Now that I could manage. I love seeing Amanda Jean's work and enjoy reading her blog, so I thought this would be a perfect way to give a little something back.

My sewing skills are not on par with hers. I hope she won't be disappointed in my blocks. (They're prettier than the bad-lighting photos, but not so nice as I'd like them to be.) But I had fun making them, and discovered that 9-patches are deceptive--not as simple as they look (I have a hard time keeping all the seams in place as I sew). I can't wait to see what else she gets!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Please don't tell me if your camera is nicer than mine

It's here, it's here! My new camera arrived in the mail yesterday, and so far, I love it.

Our old Olympus Stylus was great in its day. But it's been getting slower and slower, and the battery needed to be replaced, and then...I dropped it on the sidewalk. Even its all-metal casing (a key point for me) couldn't hold up to that. It broke, and I was in immediate need of a replacement, as I use a camera daily in my work documenting the children's play. So I did some quick research, reading all I could during naps and late at night. I started by looking at the cameras of some of my favorite bloggers, but I'd have to win the lottery first!

I thought I'd made a good-enough choice when I ordered the "Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20 10.1 MP Digital Camera with 10x Optical Zoom". It had a great zoom lens, took much better interior photos than my old camera, and when I read about it, it sounded pretty small. I was really excited about the good zoom lens, because when I take pictures of the kids, I like them to be fully engaged in their work, and not posing for the camera. But when it arrived, I found it wouldn't fit in my pocket--a big problem when I need to have the camera available all day but also be able to, say, play in the leaves with the kids. And, I was resigned to the fact that cameras I could afford are plastic now (ugh), but this one had a removable plastic lens cap and a plastic pop-up flash which you had to manually push down after using. Too slow to do all that, and worse, they were sure to break off or get lost. But oh, well, it had that great zoom and was fairly affordable.

I tend to agonize over decisions too much, so I tried not to worry about it and just use it. We shelled out the $40 for a memory card so we could really test it out at the Garlic Festival. We were having a great time playing with the zoom and getting used to the camera when I ran into a friend and her dad. Making small talk, I mentioned that I was getting to know my new camera. Her dad said "oh, what did you get?" and when I pulled it out to show him, I felt like I had to explain "it's kind of bulky, but that's because it has this good zoom." That's when he pulled his new camera out of his pocket and said "mine's a little bulky, too, but it's got this 12x zoom." I saw metal parts, and a retractable lens, and an automatic flash, and my heart sunk! (Dramatic, I know, but like I said, I tend to agonize.) I rationalized "well, it must have been much more expensive," until I got home and looked it up and it was only $50 more than what I'd bought.

I decided I didn't want to regret my decision for years (when I buy electronics, I use them until they're well and truly dead, not just until the next thing comes along). So I decided to return my first choice and try again. So here it is, my new "Canon PowerShot SX200IS 12 MP Digital Camera with 12x Wide Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 3.0-inch LCD".

Now, please don't go telling me there's something better out there. I don't want to know!

Surprise in the mail

I won a giveaway I didn't even realize I'd entered! What a treat! All I meant to do was to comment on a great pair of pants Trish had made for her daughter, and I ended up winning a handmade lanyard and key chain. One of these is destined to become the strap for my new camera.

And you know you're really far gone into craft-land when you look at this:

(which was used as ribbon to wrap the gift) and think "ooh! I can use that for cards!"

Thanks, Trish! They're beautiful!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Independence Days challenge, week 27

Time again for Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge:

1. Plant something:
Nope. But we have been moving a lot of compost to the gardens, and my brain's been busy with dreams of next year's garden.
2. Harvest something: Eggs, various greens.
3. Preserve something: Strung hot peppers from new "houseplant" to dry. Dried turnip greens. Canned 3-1/2 qts applesauce.
4. Waste not: Made more longies from shrunken wool sweaters.
5. Preparation and storage: Stored carrots, squash, and cabbages from the farmer's market. Bought lots of pumpkins which will be pureed for winter baking.
6. Build community food systems: Talked up local food with Andi's niece, who visited this weekend, and showed her how to make and can applesauce.
7. Eat the food: We're doing pretty well here, for a change. I've been doing lots of cooking: sweet potato soup, potato-leek soup, squash-cornmeal muffins, sweet potatos with bok choy, green eggs, and more. Yay! The new crock pot is getting a lot of use; I love the emotional warmth it adds to the house to have cooking smells going all morning.