Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Yarn along: even more cowls

I've finally finished all my Christmas crochet projects, and it's time for one for me. I've been wearing the not-good-enough-for-a-gift cardiff cowl a lot, and have been wanting to make myself some more scarves for wearing all day as part of an outfit (not just for outdoors). I'd made my wool-sensitive sister a cotton-and-cashmere version, and loved it so much, I decided to make myself the same one. (And Lucy's requested a smaller matching one for herself.)

After the first version of this cowl, I learned to do a foundation single crochet, which made subsequent ones so much nicer (I love the helpful comments on ravelry for tips like that). I'm terribly slow at it and not very tidy yet, but I'm getting there. Meanwhile, I'm still reading Astrid and Veronika, which is turning out to be just the right pace for Christmas vacation.

Now that I can reveal the past month's work, here's one of the finished cowls, made as a gift for a friend:

And, if you're interested in that kind of thing, here's the ravelry link for the replacement red one I made for my sister.

I'm joining in to Ginny's Yarn Along. There's lots more yarn-and-book inspiration there!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The perfect gift

There are many stories to tell this Christmas, but for now, here's just this quick one--the story of a girl and her bike. I'd suspected that Lucy was just about ready for a balance bike (truly a brilliant invention!), and had my heart set on a Skuut, but for various reasons, we went with this sturdier style. I'd worried because I thought it was ugly, because it wasn't exactly the one I'd thought I wanted, because it wasn't a lovingly mama-made gift. But, oh, the joy! It turned out to be the perfect thing. She rode it Christmas morning, and again in the afternoon, and the next day, and today all the way to the post office. She's already starting to experiment with lifting her feet to glide, and you can see the glee on her face. "I'm always riding my new bike. Because I'm loving it."

What an incredible thrill to give a gift that brings such joy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Yarn along: beginnings

Haven't much to show for the yarn-along today, just beginnings. I finished The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (which I liked, but didn't love like the reviews made me expect I would), and I think Astrid and Veronika will be next (for the simple reasons that I love the cover and it starts in dark winter, which seems just right about now. Choosing books is an odd process, isn't it?) I've also finished my last (secret) crochet project, and next in my queue is this coffee cozy for my sock-monkey-loving sister. I don't have much time for either crochet or reading at the moment, but only one more work day and a couple days of cleaning and wrapping, and then I'm on vacation for a week! I'll be hanging out with family and--I hope--crocheting a lot as we chat.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

16th-20th activities of Advent: gone in a blur

This photo was taken on our walk to our village's luminary celebration, an annual event complete with luminarias; a bonfire; cider, popcorn, and donuts; a concert of Christmas music; and--Lucy's favorite--horse-drawn wagon rides to see the lights. I took it minutes after we narrowly missed being hit by a truck as we crossed the street. (I do mean narrowly: 2 cars had stopped for us, we began crossing the road, the 3rd truck didn't stop, we heard it crash into the 2nd car, Andi screamed run!, and we ran, avoiding getting hit by the ricocheting truck by only a foot or two.)

There have been Advent-y goings-on this week. There's been wrapping and mailing and lights and card-writing. But like the luminary celebration, they've been mostly lost in bigger events and emotions this week-- three days of croup, two nasty phone calls, and a crazy driver in a speeding truck...

I've been up too many nights crafting, wrapping, cleaning, so tonight, I'm just sitting in the mess and my exhaustion, ignoring the to-do list, listening, listening, listening for that scary cough, and planning to go up very soon to wrap my baby in my arms where she belongs.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

15th activity of Advent: ornaments

Our tree is both extra-beautiful and tinged with sadness this year. My mother and sisters and I recently divided our family's ornaments into three piles, and now my tree is full of childhood memories, my mother's felt dala horses, my grandmother's and great-aunts' crocheted snowflakes, and even more red, straw, and white. I don't want to think about why she gave them to us now, so I'm just trying to focus on the beauty.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

14th activity of Advent: wrapping gifts

Well, let's get a start, anyway.

Here are a few wrapped, but not yet done up with bows and tags (that part comes after bedtime, when I can concentrate). The poor lighting doesn't show it well, but these packages are spectacular. For wrapping paper this year, we're using our vast collection of Lucy's paintings and drawings from the past year (with her permission). I don't think we've ever had such beautiful gift wrap!

For a while, Lucy helped to choose each piece of wrap and to apply the tape to the gifts. Then she moved on to creating "a road" with tape and the discarded pieces of paper I'd cut off.

Everything is more fun this Christmas season, with this cheerful, chatty helper by my side.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Yarn along: cowl factory

Joining in to Ginny's yarn along again today. Not a lot of reading going on this week (though I'm still enjoying this book when I get a spare moment). It's been all late nights and freezing fingers outdoors while I crochet cowls, cowls, cowls. Here's the latest, finished at midnight last night. This one's a gift for my sister, who can't abide anything even slightly itchy, so it's made with cotton/cashmere yarn that feels oh, so yummy! (I may be making a second in January for myself...). Back to work; there are lots of gifts yet to make!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

13th activity of Advent: chocolate-chip cookies

Growing up in Andi's house, if there were chocolate-chip cookies, it must be Christmas.

(Lucy was pretty sure the cookie dough ought to be squished before baking.)

We must have done them right, because Andi declared "now that tastes like Christmas!"

Monday, December 12, 2011

12th activity of Advent: a goat and some bees

This morning's Advent-calendar tag required some explanation. For many of them, Lucy's been able to "read" the illustration, but she seemed a bit baffled about this one: "it's got a chicken on it?"

Each year, we make a donation to the Heifer Project, but of course Lucy doesn't know that. We thought it would be nice to have her opinion this year as we made our decision about what to "buy": chickens? bees? a water buffalo? a camel? At two months shy of three, Lucy is very generous and thoughtful, and is absolutely ready to participate in such decisions.

I love talking with her about things. At first, she thought we should buy a lamb. (The first thing in the catalog.) I encouraged her to look at everything first, and then decide. As we looked through, she was curious about what each animal was for, asking questions like "does a water buffalo have udders like a cow so they can milk it?" We talked about wool, milk, eggs, manure. She thought we ought to buy a camel. (What a fun idea, isn't it?) I explained that we couldn't afford a whole camel, and asked if she thought we should contribute money toward one, or find something we could pay for completely. Like me, she felt most satisfied knowing we'd "bought" something concrete. (They actually put your money where it's most needed, but it's fun to think you've decided.) So then she chose a goat. I've always wanted a goat, so I liked that plan, too. And I always like to buy chickens and bees, so I gave her the choice, and she chose bees. So it's settled: a goat and some bees. Pretty satisfying, for a family whose focus is so much on local food.

This year, we're also making an additional donation, here. Flower Patch Farmgirl is one of those bloggers I love to read: she makes me think, makes me laugh out loud (which is very hard to do!), and I can't get enough of those cute kids. She and I approach religion in very different ways, but I really respect her faith and conviction, and when she says she want to build a well, I know she'll do it. And I want to help.

I love making this choice a part of our Advent activities. It's a good way to keep the emphasis on giving, rather than on getting. And boy, is it extra fun when your two-year-old helps. Isn't everything?

11 activitiy of Advent: animals and lights

Lucy and I added the sheep to the creche. They were a bit lonely, so we added the shephards, too.

Soon they were rearranged. And again later. Now the big woolly sheep is on the roof of the stable. (That big woolly sheep was a later addition to our childhood creche, made by my cousin at church. It's lamb's wool, and irresistible to cats. It will never look perfect again!)

This creche is the one I grew up with. I find it hard to let it be played with (though it's wood, and mostly sturdy), because we didn't play with it as children; it was for looking. But even though I worry for the fragile bits, I love seeing how Lucy plays with it, and have to let her. (But I happen to know another creche is on its way for Christmas, just for Lucy.)

The tree is up. There were lots of spare greens from the bottom of it, so I've begun using some of them for decoration elsewhere (shown above is my kitchen, looking into our main living space).

Lights...not so much. These are all the strands we have left. Sigh. LEDs, here we reluctantly come. Maybe by tomorrow it will be fully lit.

(edited to add: Oh, thank goodness, there are still normal lights in the world! It's now lit top to bottom.)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

10th activity of Advent: cutting the tree

One of our favorite traditions at Christmas time is cutting our own tree. We've been doing it for years, usually with good friends.

This year, Lucy led the way.

We tried a new farm this year.

It's an old farm, in operation since 1955. Some of the trees are the original ones, planted all those years ago. They use a method new to us: "stump culture." Rather than cutting the tree at the ground, you leave a stump with some branches, which will bend up and become future "trees." Fascinating and sustainable.

It was a new perspective, looking up and trying to judge height, size, and shape from the ground. (Here, Tim uses Lucy to measure a tree.)

Dave had never cut a Christmas tree, so he got the honors.

Goodbye, trees. We'll be back next year.

Friday, December 9, 2011

7th, 8th, and 9th activities of Advent: hanging out with family (and whales)

Here I am, blogging in the middle of the night, with three days to catch up on in this follow-the-Advent-calendar rhythm I've begun. But my absence has been for good reason; we've got company. Andi's brother ("uncle Dave") is here for a visit, so there's been a lot of hanging out.

Today's planned activity (look for decorations) was vague and simple on purpose, because I wasn't sure what we'd be doing; Andi took the day off for some sight seeing. We ended up going on a road trip, and though we looked for lights on the way home, that wasn't the main focus of our day. Belugas were.

And penguins, sharks, sea lions, jellies, and family.

(I want this guy's job: penguin snuggler.)

(Lucy has started requesting photos of certain things. She commissioned this last one, and Dave took it.)

And, because I can't be that close to the ocean and not visit, we spent an hour on the beach. None of it seems particularly Advent-y, and yet, it was perfect.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yarn along: practice runs

I finished the cardiff cowl I've been crocheting this week, and it's embarrassingly wonky. I'd thought it would be a gift, but I'm going to keep it for myself, as it's wearable, but clearly a beginner's project (the bottom half is all stretched-out with extra stitches and mistakes; the top half is straight and lovely.) I spent a ridiculous amount of time last night trying to figure out how to do a foundation stitch rather than a chain for the next one--I love everything about this cowl except for the tight chain in the middle. Now I'm hoping I have the skills to make the next one better (and much faster, as I'm now one gift behind where I thought I'd be!)

For a quick in-between project, I began work today on some crochet hair ties for stocking stuffers. I'm making some little flowers from a pattern in Crochet Adorned, which I plan to attach to hair elastics for cute ponytail decorations. My fingers feel awfully huge for that tiny hook, but I'm hoping I'll get the hang of it soon.

So I haven't actually created many gifts yet, but let's just call these practice runs for the real thing.

I'm reading The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow. I've just barely started it, but ooh, it's good so far! On our recent trip to Boston, we lucked out at the thrift store, finding a huge heap of good-looking books. I grabbed this one because I vaguely remembered reading good reviews of it, and because Barbara Kingsolver gave the blurb for the cover, but I didn't know anything more than that (the advantage of books under a dollar is you can judge a book by its cover without much risk!). A bad time of year to start a good book, though; I find myself thinking "read? make gifts? read? make gifts?"

See what others are reading and creating at Ginny's Yarn Along.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

6th activity of Advent: St. Nicholas' Day

Here are our shoes, late last night, after I filled them. We've maintained some mystery about how they get filled, but Lucy is very adept at figuring out what's "real" and "pretend." When she asked me, as we set out our shoes, if Sinterklaas coming was pretend, I said yes. She seemed fine with that answer, as it fit her view of the world. But somehow, the magic of childhood always takes over. This morning, upon seeing the filled shoes, she asked "Why did he put those in our shoes? Did you see him come? Maybe you were cleaning. Maybe you were still putting me to bed." I love it.

I love this even more: "Mama, yours doesn't have anything special under the grapefruit! Why? If you want, you can have one of my honey sticks." Honey sticks are one of her very favorite treats, and she'd received two. By the time she realized my shoes didn't have much in them, she'd already eaten one, but still offered me the other. She's always that generous. Wow. (Not to worry; Sinterklaas returned later with a bit of candy for Mama.)

Her attitude suited the mood of the day perfectly: giving.

We quickly made up the new-and-improved cookies before the kids arrived this morning.

I assembled simple packages of cookies and a flower made with some of Lucy's painted-coffee-filter art.

And then this evening, we set off in the drizzling rain to leave our anonymous surprises at our neighbors' doors. What fun we had, knocking on the door and then run, run, running away! Most of the neighbors were not home, and when they open the door, they'll have no idea that it was St. Nicholas' Day today, but it doesn't matter. It was joyful, and meaningful to us, and I think it's bound to be a tradition for us in coming years.

Happy Saint Nicholas' Day!