Friday, December 31, 2010

Gifts, revealed: alphabet rocks

For those girls in my life who are learning to write, I made these little treasure boxes:

Filled with rocks I'd gathered this summer in Maine,


I loved this idea.

(Full disclosure: one recipient did say that "this is not a cute present," but she was seen playing with them later. Those are the kinds of gifts I tend to give kids: boring in the throws of unwrapping a zillion things, but appealing later.)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gifts, revealed: cousins' capelets

I've been busy with family this week, so no time for posting. But I'd still like to share some of the last-minute (or secret) Christmas gifts I made this year. First--I'm happy to report that I did, in fact, finish all three capelets for Lucy and her cousins!

I ran out of white yarn for the second capelet (yes, running out of yarn seems to be a theme for this Christmas!), so I switched to green and stopped when it, too, ran out. In the end, I like the look, but the yarn I used was far too limp and floppy for this project. Shoot.

Lucy's capelet, on the other hand, came out beautifully! Her cousins won't wear wool, but Lucy doesn't mind, so her capelet has much more structure than theirs. I am in love with the yarn I used (a gift from a friend). So soft and beautiful! Working with it was a pleasure, and was really my first understanding of why people rave about yarn! (Sorry for the hideous photos, but when you finish gifts in the wee hours of Christmas Eve, you have to click it quick and wrap it up!)

I never did get the three-cousins photo I envisioned, with each in her capelet (and, in fact, I'll need to move buttons for the older girls before theirs really fit), but I do think they're awfully cute.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Yarn Along 7

I'm working on the second of three capelets for Christmas--I doubt I'll make it at this point. (I haven't given up yet, though!)

Among many other things, we've been reading variations on the Gingerbread Man story. In this last week before vacation, the kids and I are making our annual batch of gingerbread cookies--quite an undertaking with 6 little ones!

See what other people are making and reading over at Ginny's Yarn Along.

Monday, December 20, 2010

An oasis of calm in the midst of the bustle

Our winter table:
two fake-but-I-still-like-them little trees,
a new nativity picked up at the thrift store this weekend so Lucy could have a set to play with,
a favorite book,
a new doily bowl I love, love, love,
and some of those horrible-but-I-can't-resist-'em craft-store cinnamon pinecones.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Making, making, making...

I'm in the throws of last-minute gift-making here; been working like mad all weekend. Here's what I made in the wee hours of the morning. I thought my childhood doll bed would be a perfect gift for Lucy this year; she's a devoted mama, taking care of babies all day every day. But it was in need of some new bedding. Its adorable cat-patterned flannel was ruined. So I made a new mattress and pillow:

And a new quilt (which matches the larger quilt I was making for her birth...uh, 1st birthday...uh, maybe 3rd birthday??):

Here it is all together, ready for "baby":

Back to making! I have a long way to go...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sea urchin newsboy cap

I finished it. And there was (just barely) enough yarn. I cut a few corners to finish it off, but it's plenty big enough.

If I'd known I was cutting it so close, I'd have made the brim a bit smaller--I'm not thrilled with how big it is.

But otherwise, I love this pattern. The hat is soft and cozy and super warm. (And the large brim will be just right for keeping rain off glasses.) Rosina commented on my last yarn-along post that it looked like a sea urchin. Exactly! I hadn't thought of it, but it's the perfect description.

One more gift down. Many more to go!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Yarn Along 6

I'm joining Ginny again for her yarn along. Not much time for reading for myself this week, so here are the most-requested books by the kids lately.

First is Alfie Gets in First by Shirley Hughes. We've been reading lots of books about Alfie. They are perfectly written for young children--stories about the little details of real life. Here, Alfie gets into the house first--with mom's keys--and shuts the door. He's locked in, and can't reach the lock! The whole neighborhood gathers to help, but in the end, it's Alfie who solves the problem himself. Suspenseful and satisfying; we love it.

Next is In the Snow by Sharon Phillips Denslow and Nancy Tafuri (yup, her again!). I pulled this one out when we set up Lucy's bird-watching station. Again, a simple moment from daily life--a child puts out seeds, and backyard animals gather to eat them. Simple and perfect, with those gorgeous Tafuri animals.

And, of course, with Lucy, we're reading our Christmas favorites over and over.

Meanwhile, I finished the necklet I was working on last week, and I've started another crocheted gift. This time, it's a hat. (Picture me standing out in the drizzling rain with a ball of yarn in my raincoat pocket, crocheting while the children play.) I'm loving how it's coming out. But the once-giant ball of mystery yarn from a tag sale is getting smaller and smaller. Will I make it? Cross your fingers for me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Made by buttons

Here's the pink necklet I was working on last week.

Partway through, I realized I was doing something wrong--I'd had 9 bobbles, then 8, then in "correcting" it, I worked my way up to 13. In frustration, I stopped for a while, and moved on to a greenish-blue one.

That one was wrong, too. Correct number of bobbles, but see that scalloped edge? Not supposed to be there. (That's ok. I like how it looks.) When I returned to the pink one, I had apparently figured it out. From halfway through, it finally started to look just right.

I was disappointed. But then I went to the store and found some gorgeous buttons.

Thank goodness for great buttons. I think they made these necklets.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Great Christmas Books for Toddlers

The Christmas book basket has been out for a while now, and we've been reading one book at dinner each night (as well as other times). It's crammed full of books, but these are our favorites right now, perfect for Lucy at 21 months.

The First Christmas by Robbie Trent, illustrated by Marc Simont
This was my first Christmas book, and the one I remember reading over and over as a child. It is the absolute perfect introduction to the Biblical Christmas story for toddlers: "This is Mary. This is the donkey Mary rode..." Simple and sweet with fabulous illustrations (though very "white.") I was devastated that I couldn't find my copy to read to Lucy this year, so I bought her a new board book. A must have, I think.  (edited to add: I found my original, and discovered that the board-book version is abridged and is missing one of my favorite illustrations of the baby Jesus, as well as other pages.  What a shame!  Get the original if you possibly can.)

The Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats
This, too, is an absolute must. It's the other Christmas book I had as a child, and really, these two were enough. Keats' illustrations are wonderful, as always (and more ethnically appropriate than the first). Of course, we sing it, and Lucy loves the song (doesn't every child?). She sings favorite phrases ("baby Jesus," "Mary nodded," "me and my drum") to ask for this book.

Who is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate, illustrated by Ashley Wolff
This is relatively new to me. I first read about it in Under the Chinaberry Tree (a wonderful resource!) and so was thrilled to find it on a sale table one year after Christmas. It's not appropriate for a public-school teacher's reading list, so it has sat waiting for a few years, and I'm only now getting to share it with Lucy. She loves the anticipation of the animals preparing for an arrival, knowing herself who's coming before the animals do. At first glance, I hadn't thought it would hold a toddler's attention, but it definitely does, with many requests for more.

A Child is Born by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
This is our newest book, bought for Lucy just this weekend because of her many requests to hear more about "baby Jesus." I knew she'd love the cover illustration of the baby, and I loved balancing some of the other books with this view of a dark-skinned Jesus.

The First Night by B.G. Hennessy, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
Another very simple and lovely introduction to the Biblical story, written for toddlers. This one, along with The First Christmas, are the reason Lucy can tell the whole story herself. ("Mary and Joseph. Mary rode on donkey. Bethlehem. No room. Keepers said. Manger. Baby Jesus!")

The Donkey's Christmas Song by Nancy Tafuri
If you've read my other book lists, you know I'm a sucker for the animals in Nancy Tafuri's books. They are just so sweet, I want to hug them! Here, the donkey doesn't want to frighten the baby, so he hesitates to sing his song. So all the other animals sing their songs first. When the donkey finally he-haws, "Jesus laughed" (Lucy's favorite line). We grownups pretend we aren't getting teary-eyed when we read this one.

Counting to Christmas by Nancy Tafuri
This is a lovely introduction to the Advent season, because it depicts a young girl getting ready for Christmas in simple, non-commercial ways: opening an Advent calendar, making gifts, sending cards, decorating cookies, playing music, making bird feeders, decorating a tree for the animals. I love it. And though I don't think Tafuri's people are quite as perfect as her animals, Lucy loves the wide-eyed, open-mouthed surprise when the girl awakes on Christmas morning.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Shadow dancing

With the changing light, the children have been noticing, exploring, and talking about shadows. Yesterday, Lucy danced with her shadow outside.




With a friend.

Like an airplane.

With another friend.

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, And what can be the use of him is more than I can see. He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head; And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
-Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Yarn Along 5

I'm trying a different style scarf so I can continue on with this yarn. We'll see.

I'm reading Another Place at the Table. I'd read its sequel, One Small Boat, which I loved (though "loved" sounds like an odd way to describe something so devastating). So I was thrilled when this one finally came up through paperbackswap. It's just as compelling as the last, though possibly even more upsetting. (We're planning to adopt through fostering at some point in the near future, and I tend to prepare for things by reading, reading, reading.)

(I'm playing along with Ginny at Small Things, where you can find other "Yarn Along" contributions.)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Play keys

Lacking the piano I grew up with and crave at Christmas, Andi decided to dust off her high school flute and learn some carols. She began with "What Child is This?" Of course, Lucy wanted to "play keys!", so she got to join in awhile. No carol ever sounded sweeter.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sinterklaas, Kapoentje

Oops. I was feeling so sick Saturday night, I mixed up the dates and thought it was time to put out our wooden shoes for Sinterklaas. I was desperate to get into bed, and sad to think that this first Sinterklaas celebration that Lucy would remember would be so lacking. I had managed to get to the store for some once-a-year non-local citrus and a few tiny other treats, but had made no other preparations. But...

Over dinner, I told Lucy about Sinterklaas. She knew our wooden shoes well (my Dutch-descent family decorates with them), and I told her we'd put them by the door before bed. As soon as she got down from the table, she got her shoes and ran to set them right by the front door. We followed with ours, singing. In the tiny front hall, we held hands in a circle and sang "Sinterklaas, Kapoentje" again and again, dancing in that funny lifting-feet-high way of toddlers. It was glorious. I couldn't have wished for more.

In the morning, Lucy was thrilled to find an orange, a special candle, and raisins in her shoes. Thank goodness for the infectious joy of toddlers!

Happy St. Nicholas' day (even if the rest of you are all celebrating a day "late"!).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A crochet success!

Hooray! I finally made something that came out just as I'd hoped!

It's the first of what I hope will be three capelets for Christmas. (Ravelry details here.) I love it! Oh, I hope it'll look as cute on as I'm imagining it will (I'm kind of guessing at the size, but the style is very forgiving).

Horrible photo of cool vintage buttons (must learn how to use my camera!):

Yay! Two gifts down, only a million or so more to go...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Yarn Along 4

Yep, I've been "reading" the same book for 3 weeks now. No reflection on the book, which is a good read--I've just been the kind of busy and exhausted that allows for only a page or two at a time.

I'm trying again with the cowl with bigger yarn, and again, it's coming out too small. I mean, seriously, this is half the scarf--look how skinny it is! Nothing like the picture I'd seen. Argh!! At this rate, I may never make a satisfactory Christmas present. I probably should have bought the exact same yarn she mentioned until I know more about what I'm doing. It's too bad, because I really love the color of this yarn, and think the person I'm making it for would, too. I've actually quit working on this scarf and started the matching hat to see if that'll convince me to keep going with this idea.

I'd think I was a big fat crochet failure if it weren't for my capelet, which came out pretty darn cute. I just have to weave in the ends and sew on the buttons, and then I'll show you.

Check out what other people are reading and making at Ginny's yarn along.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Changing station to bird-watching station

I've been wanting to set up a bird-watching station for Lucy ever since reading this post, but I didn't have the right spot. But when I dismantled the changing station we've had on our office window seat for the past year and a half, we suddenly had a perfect spot. As soon as we thought of it, we had to do it (excuse the horrible evening photos!). We made some pinecone birdfeeders and hung them in the bush right outside the window:

Come and get it, birds!

We gathered some bird books, and watched and waited for the birds to arrive.

They didn't come right away, so we contented ourselves with reading bird books. As Lucy looked at this book, she recognized something, and asked me to find it in this book:

Sure enough, two almost-identical pictures of a cedar waxwing.

And then, of course, we had to play around with the binoculars, just in case:

(Oh, and the hat? Andi made it; details here. Isn't it the cutest thing?)

Monday, November 29, 2010

How to get your toddler out of diapers in 4 easy steps

1. Spend 2 precious, rare, weekend hours to yourself sewing two new pairs of longies. When you find out they're too small, in a fit of frustration, spend tons of money to purchase two pairs of longies.*

2. Buy a pattern for big butt baby pants, designed especially to fit over bulky cloth diapers. Cut out fabric to make a pair. Cut it out again, because you foolishly cut the corduroy in the wrong direction.

3. Begin crocheting a pair of longies. Realize they're coming out too big, but continue on because she can wear them at some point.

4. Realize they're all unnecessary, because your baby has outgrown the need for diapers**.
*I must say, they were worth every penny; and no, I have no connection to this company. She'll continue to wear them as super-warm longjohns.

**After 17 years of teaching young children and advising parents on toilet learning, I learned about EC shortly before Lucy was born. It sounded like a great idea--for parents who could be one-on-one with their baby all day. But for a teacher of 6 toddlers? No way. So I put it out of my mind until she was 5 months, when I read some more about it and decided maybe I could do it part time. The first time I put her on the potty, she peed, and I was sold. I have been amazed and stunned by the whole process ever since. Hurray for teaching old dogs new tricks!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tiny blue cowl

I'm thankful for some time to crochet--enough time to actually complete a project! If all goes well, I should be posting several completed gifts in the coming weeks.

This one didn't go quite as well as I'd hoped. It's nice, but not as the gift I'd intended. It's due to my inexperience with yarn. The pattern called for bulky yarn, so I went out shopping, because I had none in my stash. But what on earth does "bulky" mean? There were yarns labeled "bulky" that looked just as thin as anything else I've used, and some that were as big around as my pinky! How could those possibly be the same thing? I clearly chose the wrong "bulky" in this case, as this cowl came out significantly smaller than I'd hoped. It's modeled here by my wife, but fits my toddler better. I think Andi will be keeping this one (it matches her eyes), and I'll try again with thicker yarn. I do hope the next one comes out cute; I think the pattern has great potential!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Unofficial Yarn Along

There's technically no yarn along today, but I've been having fun doing them, so here's what I've been crocheting and reading this week:

I'm still reading Velva Jean Learns to Drive, and though I haven't yet finished Lucy's diaper cover, I've begun working on this capelet as a Christmas present. I have this vision of three cousins lined up for a Christmas photo in matching capes, but we'll have to see how much gift-making I manage in the next month (once again, I've waited too long to get started on all the ideas I have). I think it's coming out pretty cute! I struggled with the increases, ripping out one row over and over because the close-together stitches were bunching up in a way that left me wondering just where exactly I was supposed to put my next stitch, but I'm past that all now and just doing the same cluster of stitches over and over. Fly, fingers, fly!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Books for my bird-loving babe

Writing about books yesterday reminded me that I never gave you a closer peek into my recently-found treasures, as promised. Here's a start.

I have a bird-lover in the house. Lucy and I have spent tons of time watching our chickens, the turkeys at the farm, the sparrows outside the window by her potty, the crows in the compost bin. She can identify a "dee dee" (chickadee) by its song. She nightly asks for "story: birds" as I put her to sleep. So when I spotted this book at the book sale, naturally, I snatched it right up.

It wasn't until I brought it home and took a closer look that I recognized it. A few years back, I'd had it out of the library at the school where I then taught, renewed and renewed and renewed for a group of children who were interested in learning how to paint birds. We'd used its large, simple illustrations as models for many of our own paintings.

Lucy loves them, too. Most of the birds are ones we've seen, and it's become routine for us to discuss on each page "Mama know? Me know?" (In other words, do you know that bird, mama? Do I?) At the moment, we just look at the pictures, name the birds, and talk about our personal connections to each one. Later, we'll enjoy reading the text.

And then, I spotted this one. Oh, was I excited! Pretty much, if it's by Brian Wildsmith, it's going into my bag. But this had the added bonus of being about birds...

...and fascinating vocabulary. (It gives the language for groups of various birds, as in "A wedge of swans. A sedge of herons.") We love looking at the gorgeous illustrations, and repeating the intriguing words.

Lucy particularly enjoys this illustration of turkeys, which reminds her of those at "our" farm.

One of the things I love so much about vintage books is their beautiful, artistic illustrations. So many of today's books are super-realistic (photos) or condescendingly cutesy-cartoonish. Books like these respect children's intelligence while offering up artistic inspiration. Lucy and I can't get enough!

Let me know if you enjoy these reviews. If so, I'd love to share more of my finds with you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Yarn Along 3

Hmm...apparently, if it weren't for Ginny's yarn along, I wouldn't have a blog right now. Sorry about the lack of posts lately. Life has taken over. Here are the most-pleasant bits of it:

Taking a cue from some of the other participants, I decided to add a few of our most-read children's books of the week, as well.

This week, I'm reading Velva Jean Learns to Drive. I received it recently from PaperBack Swap, and I think I originally read about it on the Indie Next List from my local bookstore. After Little Bee, I was feeling the need for a lighter read. So far, I'm enjoying this one quite a bit.

I'm still working on the same diaper cover. It's coming out pretty huge. Crossing my fingers it'll work anyway.

The most-requested read-alouds of the week?

Beaver is Lost by Elisha Cooper. We have this one out from the library, but must buy it. It's the (nearly) wordless story of how beaver got carried off to the city by a logging truck, and how he returned. It's one of Lucy's current favorites--especially perfect after a recent trip to Boston (the setting?) and recent readings of Make Way for Ducklings (subtly referred to in the illustrations). She sighs with relief at the end, saying "no lost!" But if your child is older, don't hesitate to check it out--the 5-year-olds love it just as well.

Mouse, Look Out! by Judy Waite and Norma Burgin. This super-suspenseful tale is a perennial favorite here. If I read it once, I have to be prepared for four or five readings in a row. One child, who was sad at drop-off time every day, stopped once I brought this book out--now he comes in asking for it.

A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak. Lucy's other current favorite: she asks for "dee-dee-dee-oh" (its first line), and quotes along with much of it. Delightfully-childlike nonsense. Again, perfect for my 21-month-old, but also great for older kids.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Yarn Along 2

Well, this could get boring quickly at the rate I am reading and crocheting these days--the photo would be the same each week! So, here's a bit of a cheat--I actually finished crocheting this hat last week, and it just needs a bit of sewing (the button band and button) before it's complete. This will be a Christmas gift (the first I've made this year), so I guess I stuck to my resolution a little bit--it's not December yet, anyway! I'm still reading Little Bee, and enjoying it quite a bit, though there are some truly gruesome scenes I'd rather not have in my mind.

The hat's brim is a little wonky--probably because I used a soft cotton (due to a sensitive recipient who wouldn't put up with the wool I'd prefer). But the pattern was great, and I look forward to making another.