Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Favorites From 2011

Over the beginning part of this year, I gradually realized that I had more time to make things. Bit by bit, my days and evenings were opening up, and I found myself with time to experiment with different ideas. Partly this is because my youngest was getting older, and partly, I think, it's because I'd made a commitment to get creative with my children on a regular basis, and the general air of creativity and experimentation was at least as good for me as it was for them. (This was one way I solved the problem of not having time to do my own stuff; I simply focused on art activities we could all do together instead.) At any rate, as I had more time to make things--things that didn't fit into my kids and art blog--I really wanted to talk about and share them, and I started this blog.

Of course, besides a way to share, a blog is a great way to document. I learned to embroider this year, and I sewed clothes for myself for the first time--just skirts, which are easy, but still! I got very crafty in little ways, and I challenged myself to write tutorials for several items. I wanted to pick out some of my favorite projects from 2011. First I thought I'd make a little photo collage, but the more I thought about it, the more I leaned towards Pinterest. I've been avoiding, thus far, pinning my own projects, because I don't want to come across as all hey! look at my blog! But for my own personal use, it's really great to have a board set up with pictures of my favorite creations from this year. (If you want to see all of them, the board is here. But don't feel obligated!)

So what makes something a favorite? I noticed the projects I tend to like best are often the ones that stretched me in some way, like this two-layer drawstring skirt. During the spring and early summer, I set out to sew several skirts for my daughter and myself. This was the last one I sewed, and the best--it felt sort of like a final exam (although I still have much to tackle with skirts--like zippers, for example). I had an idea of what I wanted and I set out to do it, without a pattern, and what I ended up with pretty much matched the picture I had in my head when I began. There is so much happiness in that for me!

What else makes something a favorite? Being so thrilled with the end result, like with this boy dolly (which, by the way, my daughter loves--she says he has a "beautiful smile"). I fiddled and finagled with enough here that it was interesting to make; I knit the overalls pretty much winging it; and the hair, the hair, the hair!! I love his overall personality. I also like making gifts, I like making things for my kids, and this was a gift for my daughter. Of course it's a favorite!

I can't post pictures of all my favorites here (which is another reason I decided upon just making myself a board), but one more--our wool felt Advent calendar, photographed in the proper season this time.

This is a favorite for so many reasons. I loved making it--hand sewing wool felt is really lovely, even though I did it in July. Working with materials that feel good in the hand leads to a really enjoyable experience. This is another project that I envisioned and set out to do. Each of those numbers was cut first from paper and then from felt, carefully, with precision, because I intended to make something that would last. All month, as I've seen it hanging across our window, it's made me happy. I am as pleased with the finished product as I was with the process, and my children love it, too. While I had no problem with temporary countdown calendars that lasted only that year, I am really happy to have "our" Advent calendar, that will come out every year from now on, as do the (handknit) stockings--a touch point for my children when they look back on their childhoods.

So, this is a sampling of my favorite things from 2011! Truly, I was all over the place with my efforts this year--stamp carving and bookbinding and sewing and embroidering and knitting and things I can't even categorize, like making crayons and candles. Sometimes I wonder if I'd be better off focusing--would I then really excel at that one thing? But I can't imagine doing that, not yet, anyway. I am having much more fun following my scattered interests and seeing what I decide to do next. (Quahog beeswax candles? I totally didn't see that one coming, to be honest!)

What about you? What did you create in 2011 that stands out for you?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sewn + Embroidered Closet Sachets

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! Ours was very relaxing, which was just right this year, considering the lingering fatigue. Of course I still baked and cooked, but lots of time was spent in jammies, resting, reading, and knitting. This is a gift project that wasn't quite done heading into the last week before Christmas, so I finished it up in small bits. These were begun in September--I embroidered the pine cone motif on linen, then cut squares, hand sewed them, and finally, filled them with cedar shavings. Turns out there was really no shortcut for this part; it had to be done by hand, bit by bit. The shavings weren't going to fit through a funnel, and they didn't pour from a paper cup, either. When all four were filled, I sewed the filling holes shut.

They smell so nice, and they can be tucked into a drawer or hung in a closet. I gifted three of the four today. I really enjoyed making them. I didn't realize until I went looking for the first post that these were actually three months in the making. Of course it wasn't three solid months; I'd do a bit, put it aside, do the next step, and so on, in between other projects. But there's something nice about passing along, as a gift, something I've lived with for a quarter of the year. I hope they're hung in a visible part of the closet. I like to picture the recipients (my mothers-in-law, my sister-in-law, and my sister, who hasn't received hers yet but knows it's coming so this post is perfectly okay) opening the closet to grab a coat or sweater, seeing their hand-embroidered and -sewn sachet, and smiling. Because making these certainly made me happy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Turning: Winter Solstice

The kids and I made luminaria to celebrate winter solstice--I like to bring in the light to remind us all that it will return, same as always. These ancient rituals make a lot of sense to me. Since the solstice occurs at 12:30 am on the 22nd, I'm not quite sure if Wednesday night is the longest night, or Thursday night. We decided to play it safe and light our luminaria both nights.

In actuality, they will be lit most of the winter, or else other candles will be lit--I like to have a centerpiece of candlelight when the evenings are dark and cold.

Directions on how the kids and I made these (with two versions, one for younger kids and one for older, both very easy) can be found here.

Happy Winter Solstice to my fellow northern hemisphere dwellers! Here comes the sun... (no, really!!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


It's a good thing I didn't leave too much to this last week, since the treatment for Lyme appears to be, at least at the beginning, worse than the disease itself. I'm doing small things in small blocks and I keep falling asleep. This is very frustrating! One of the tasks I've left to do is the wrapping, so last night I wrapped the teacher gifts, which are the first to be delivered.

The lighting is so poor! And I'm too tired to arrange them nicely out on the deck with some natural grey light, instead of the indoor grey light. But those are my brown paper packages stamped with trees, and some have pine cone tags. Inside, of course, are notebooks (and coffee cards), and the larger ones are mitts.

And recently, I received a package of my own in the mail from Lamina at Do A Bit. I was the lucky recipient of one of the items she gave away for her 100th post, this screen-printed tea towel:

She has a much better photo of it on her blog, because she lives in Australia and they have all the natural light this time of year! (And plus, I didn't iron it before I took a picture of it. Blame the Lyme for my laziness!) I began to follow her blog thanks to Our Creative Spaces, so not only have I found inspiration and some new blogs, but I've a lovely new tea towel, too. If you haven't visited her blog, go do! She shows lots of screen printing and stamping and loads of other fun creative stuff.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Must Needs: Stockinette

I've had A Week, one of those weeks where small thing after small thing requires dealing with, until by the end of it you feel a little gaspy from the weight of all those small things. Since my husband was away this week, I dealt with all the small things single-handedly, which, to be honest, he's traveled so much in the past ten years since we had kids that I've gotten used to it. He gets on a plane, and weird or difficult things happen, and the kids and I handle it all because we have no other choice.

This week, among other things, the cat, who likes to sleep on the TV when it's on because it's warm, woke up and vomited where he lay, so it trickled down the ventilation cracks, into the TV, and shorted it out. And then everything smelled like baked cat vomit. I unplugged the TV, cleaned it up best I could, and went to bed. The next afternoon when I got home after school with the boys, the heat had come up in the house and I could smell the TV. So, with my 10yo's help, I got it off the stand and to the top of the stairs, and then, slowly and carefully, I walked that extremely heavy TV down the stairs and into the garage, because I wasn't living with that smell the rest of the week, waiting for my husband to get home. I wasn't even living with that smell for another hour. I don't even care about the TV that much, except for watching football, and luckily my sister has a spare so we don't have to buy a new TV before 4:15 tomorrow afternoon.

That's only the most unusual thing that happened this week. The dishwasher broke--again, something I don't use that often or care that much if we have, but it had soap and drippings in it so I supposed I should at least be able to turn it on one more time. (The control lock key wouldn't shut off, so I couldn't turn it on.) There is head-stressy stuff I can't blog about, and head-stressy stuff I won't blog about, and I finally went to the doctor because of the joint pain I've been having and the Lyme test came back positive. This is far better than, say, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, which were also possibilities, given I already have an auto-immune condition, so my first instinct is to be grateful, but then there is a little part of my head saying, Really? Really??? I started 30 days of doxycycline yesterday, which is the regimen for Lyme-induced arthritis, and I'm hoping the side effects don't wreak absolute havoc in the meantime. (I also needed to write a cheat sheet to help me figure out what I could and couldn't eat between what hours if I took it at a certain time.) I hope it helps. Some days I can't even pick up my three-year-old, and my knees are unreliable, and we won't even talk about my hips. Or toes. Toes!

So, clearly, I needed some stupid knitting, the kind you can do while your brain is elsewhere, the kind that hopefully brings your brain back with just enough numbing repetition that it shuts up already and calms down. I cast on for the Adult Channel Island Guernsey. I knit one for my middle child a few years ago and my daughter recently wore it. When I saw it again, I remembered how it had been a quick, soothing knit and thought I could use another throw-over-anything sweater. Here it is in my lap this morning, as I was sitting up in bed after taking my medicine at 6:15, because I'm not supposed to lie down after taking it.

I have miles of stockinette in the round to go, and I think that's a Very Good Thing.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Superhero Cape

About four or five years ago, when my boys were smaller and before I knew how to sew, I saw some superhero capes that looked handmade in a local independent toy store (now, sadly, closed). The owner confirmed that a local woman made them, and I asked if she thought she’d be interested in making a couple custom capes, in my boys’ favorite colors, with the first letter of their names on the back instead of a bat or a superman symbol. I like the idea, see, of an open-ended cape, so a kid doesn’t feel he has to be superman or batman or whoever. The sewist—who I never met, or found out her name—agreed, and I bought my boys some capes. They are still in the dress-up box, and my 7yo still wears his regularly.

Now, though, I can sew. Good thing, too, since it’s no longer an option to buy one at the toy store. I thought my husband’s three-year-old nephew might like a personalized superhero cape for Christmas, so I asked my sister-in-law his favorite color and got to work, using a yard of red Kona cotton (although it didn’t take nearly all of it) and a dark blue fat quarter. I know there are many cape tutorials and patterns out there, both free and for sale, but I figured I could work backwards from the ones in the dress-up basket. It’s a simple construction, with a sewn-on collar band held closed with Velcro. While Velcro isn’t my favorite item to work with, and I hate how it snags on everything, it’s probably the safest choice for this age group. (Although I admit: I tie capes onto my own three-year-old when she asks me to.) I ended up sewing the Velcro on by hand, because I thought that would give me the greatest control over the slippery little suckers, and I could check both sides of the collar band as I worked.
Grey day, everything is grey, and I needed to use the flash.
All in all, this was relatively simple, yet I think it’s so cute, and it was interesting enough that I didn’t feel like I was just churning out product at the sewing machine (like I feel when I’m sewing jammie pants, actually). My 7yo asked if we were giving this in person, since, he said, "I like to see people open their gifts and I bet he will love it and put it on right away and we can all be super heroes together." My daughter has requested one of her own in blue; perhaps she’s tired of wearing her oldest brother’s initial on her back? I told her that would probably have to wait until after Christmas, though.

(I would like to thank my wonderful husband, who gifted me with the time to sew this cape...)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Finished Knit: Boy Dolly

It's a good thing this boy dolly is going to my daughter, because I'm not sure I could gift him outside the house.

I finished his overalls Friday night. The last time you saw him, he was felted and stuffed but he had no personality at all--no face, no hair, no clothes. I think he is chock full of personality now. I know he's not mine to name, but in my head, I've christened him Zeke. I love him so much.

The pattern is F. Pea's Scrappy Doll, but I made the head a little smaller and eliminated the thumbs. I also, obviously, made him a boy. For his hair, I knit a circle in the round, increasing where it seemed right to shape to his head, then sewed it on. Then, using a crochet hook, I added his hair, knotting it like you'd knot fringe on the end of a scarf. This took most of an evening. I trimmed the hair up a bit when I was done, but not too short, because Zeke is a bit of a free-spirit.

For the overalls, I looked at both Winter's Overalls and the top of F. Pea's Soxxy Dress for inspiration. I actually knit them from the leg join up twice, because I wasn't happy the first time--they were too big around and looked like clown pants. Zeke may be a free spirit, but he has style. Clown pants Would Not Do. So I pulled back and did it again and got just-right overalls.

Even though I did this completely in secret--including the photograph--I don't think I can let Santa take the credit for this one. I think the boy dolly has to be my daughter's gift from Mama and Daddy. Because I know I have to let him go, so he can be a much-loved and played-with boy, I'm sure I get to visit with him, since he'll be right here in the same house and all. (And in my head, I'll be thinking of him as Zeke.)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Photo: Time to Sew

On Saturday my husband took the kids to Main Street to say hello to Santa, pick out comic books at the newsstand, and maybe (shh, I'm not supposed to know!) pick out a present for Mama. Meanwhile, I had two quiet hours to work on a gift for our three-year-old nephew. (Finished photos to come later in the week.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Forest of Holiday Cards

Holiday cards--hand-carved stamp
 Last week I carved a couple of tree stamps. I decided this one would be perfect for the front of this year's card. Usually I order photo cards but this year I just don't feel like it. For my own amusement, I added a salamander to the back of each card.

This is the other tree stamp. (Oh, the shadowy taken-at-night photo!!) I think it will work nicely on a gift tag or plain brown wrapping.

These were carved from sketches, rather quickly, last week when I was feeling prickly and needed to sit quietly by myself and make something--and my three-year-old, thankfully, cooperated with that plan.

What are you planning for holiday cards this year?

(You can see lots more creative folk here!)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gluten Interlude

This is a warm loaf of poison to me.
This isn’t a gluten-free or celiac-focused blog, but occasionally the disease inserts itself into my life, so I guess it’s only fair it sometimes finds its way onto my blog, too. For a week now I’ve been dealing with symptoms, having accidentally glutened myself somehow last weekend. The best we can figure is that a product we’ve used safely in the past, that has no gluten-containing ingredients and is listed as gluten free on the brand website, was cross-contaminated in this batch enough to make me sick. The increase in people who are giving up wheat or gluten because they feel better off it—and my homeopath reckons just about everybody would feel better eating less wheat—helps in that there is a corresponding increase in the number of “gluten-free” products available, but not all of these are tested or certified or safe for someone with celiac, not just a dietary preference. (Really, I can’t wait for the FDA to get its act together and define “gluten free” in a meaningful way.)

So anyway, the week began with some stomach upset—not a usual symptom for me, actually, so I assumed I had a little bug or something had just disagreed with me. Then the mouth sores appeared—quite painful, as they are with a bad glutening, and they’ll stick around for a couple of weeks. Then the exhaustion, the kind of fatigue that sent me to bed two afternoons, trying to keep an ear on my three-year-old because I had no other choice but to lie down. It was like early pregnancy exhaustion; I couldn’t fight it in the least. Then the depression and irritability. I can’t explain how an invisible protein can affect my mood and stability and brain like it does, but I know I’m not the only one.

Even as one part of my brain was saying, You know this is just the gluten, it wasn’t making much headway against the part that felt—well, depressed. No need to go into details there. And although I can apologize to my kids for my Friday afternoon meltdown and tell them it was the gluten talking, that’s no excuse, no excuse at all. “Irritability” doesn’t even cover it. It makes me feel like a cross between a porcupine and a pit viper; it’s like there is no connection between my head and my tongue, for starters. I knew the best thing to do was hole up by myself until I felt better, but there’s no way to do that in my life, and my kids got the brunt of my gluten-altered mood.

The worst of it—besides the guilt for being a terrible mother for an afternoon—is worrying about what unknown damage this latest gluten poisoning has wrought. Celiac is an auto-immune disease; that means that my body attacks itself in response to gluten. The initial bloodwork tested my body’s antibody response to gluten and its antibody response to itself. All three numbers were sky high—double to triple the normal level. When the tests were run 15 months after I stopped eating gluten, the anti-self antibodies were still very high—heading downwards, but still high. I have three kids. The idea that my body is attacking itself scares me more than I can say, and every time I accidentally poison myself, I’m making it worse.

This happens periodically, no matter how careful I am. It all makes me a bit crazy. Invisible stuff that transfers easily and makes me sick, eating food that ought to be fine and getting sick anyway—of course it makes me crazy. I have (more or less) cheerfully altered my diet to keep myself healthy and whole, and it’s so frustrating to stumble this way.

I debated about posting this here. I've set the parameters--this is a craft-focused blog, a happy and (hopefully) fun place--and this topic doesn't fit. But I decided to go ahead and do it anyway because it sounds so crazy, that eating the wrong thing could not only affect me physically but mentally and emotionally too. It's hard to maintain happy and fun when my brain starts misfiring, and I don't think there's much (any?) awareness in general of how this disease can affect mood and stability, nor of how wide-ranging the symptoms can be. So here's my little interlude; happy, fun, crafty posting as usual will return with the next post.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Handmade Holidays: Progress Report

On this, the last day of November and the last day of my daily posting challenge, I thought it appropriate to report on my progress with my handmade holiday plans. Despite my tendency to add things to the list, I'm not in bad shape. I've been busy in November!

This is the status of my embroidered pine cone project. They're sewn up and just need to be stuffed and sewn shut. At first I thought these might be mainly stuffed with wool with some pine needles added, but as I sewed them (by hand, which meant I could sit in my rocker upstairs and chat with my husband while I sewed) I realized they wanted to be filled with cedar chips, and then they could hang in a closet or among woolens and be pretty and useful, a combination that I adore. After thinking it through, I realized a pet store or perhaps garden store was my best bet for red cedar chips. I've confirmed this, and next time I'm up near the big pet store, I'll buy a bag, and then these will be finished.

As for teacher gifts, I knit the final pair of cabled mitts and made a bunch of cute notebook covers, so that's a big ol' check mark--done! My daughter made her bookmarks (no photo of those, though), but the boys haven't made their chosen handmade gifts yet--school takes up SO much time. My daughter and I also made recycled crayons, which are so cute I just had to include the photo here again. Then I decided to make something else for my youngest nephew--I have the material, but it's a sewn something, and getting a chance to use the sewing machine is still a Big Production around here.

So remember how I thought maybe I'd use beeswax to make some ornaments? I decided upon seashell candles instead, and those are done too.

That brings us to my own kids. I've spent the month knitting them hats and mittens, which are not for Christmas, of course, but still need making. I haven't made the spare mittens yet (although there are plenty of spares floating around from prior years anyway), since I took a break to knit my daughter a sweater just because (almost done, too!). In between, I started a boy dolly for her. This is what he looks like as of last night, in a poorly lit flash photo because he only comes out at night, of course. His stuffing hole needs to be sewn (I like to let it sit for a night so I can see if I'm still pleased with the stuffing level) and he needs a face, hair, and some overalls, I think. I also wanted to sew up some play felt envelopes for my daughter--I ordered and received the wool felt, I just need to trace out a template and get sewing and embroidering.

So, as of right now, I need to finish the dolly, make the envelopes, and make my nephew's gift. That sounds completely reasonable, right?! Unless I forgot something, or I see something else I really want to make for somebody...

How are you doing with your handmade holiday plans?

See more super creative people here!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

(How To) Make Quahog (Clam) Shell Candles

(When I had this idea, I assumed others had as well and went looking for tips. I found some good information here, here [PDF link], here, and from the local beekeeper of South County Honey who sold me the beeswax at the farmers' market.)

Materials: Quahog shells (that's what we call clam shells in Rhode Island), beeswax, wick (large cotton braided), hot glue gun, old pan (not used for cooking), and large tin can.

When I looked online for information on how to do this, I found lots of pieces here and there. I've put it all together in case you want to try this too. I'm not only loving the final product here, but I love how it's so very local. The shells were collected at a local beach, and the bees who made the beeswax live down the road.

To start, I rinsed any sand from the shells and boiled them gently, just to make sure they were clean. I used the same pan I later used for the water bath (same water, too). Once again, I borrowed the pan I long ago handed over to my kids' play kitchen. You don't want to use a cooking pan for this, just in case you get wax on it. Once the shells were dry, I used the hot glue gun to attach the lengths of wick to the bottom of the shells.

The beekeeper suggested large cotton braid wick. He said the melting point of beeswax is high and you need a large wick to create a large enough flame--something like that, anyway. I was able to find it locally in a craft store by the spool. I cut the lengths of wick generously; they'll get trimmed later.

Next I needed to hack off some of that big block of beeswax so I could put smaller pieces in a clean tin can and melt them. Easier said then done. Eventually I managed.

This is an old knife and not one I'll ever use for food again, clearly. Here it's holding the tin can down so it doesn't float around in the water bath. The PDF I linked to above had some useful tips for melting beeswax, including the melting point of beeswax (about 145 F). This is far below the boiling point of water (212 F), so I set the burner to medium and kept a close eye, turning it down as necessary. I stirred the wax (with that knife again) once it began to melt, too. Once it was completely melted--and it smelled so nice!--I poured it into the shells. Since the water wasn't boiling, the can wasn't too hot to handle with my bare hands, which made pouring the wax much easier.

So, the first batch of wax that took me soooo long to hack off the block? Yielded two candles. Sigh. Anyway, you can see I propped the shells just a bit to keep them level, and on that back one, I clothes-pinned the wick to keep it straight. On most of them I was able to carefully drape them and it was Good Enough. My oldest was home sick while I was doing this, and we were trying to figure out a way to rig up a wick-holder-upper, but we settled for Good Enough in the end.

I repeated this process until all the shells (13, some larger than others but none huge) were filled.

I have a corner of the original block of wax left. The beekeeper also told me that beeswax burns straight down, so as these burn it probably won't burn all the wax on the edges. He suggested two wicks in a large shell, but I ended up going with one in all of them. I think it'll be fine on the smaller shells; I'm not sure on the slightly bigger ones. There may be some unused wax around the edges--perhaps the recipients will collect it and make new candles?

Here are the candles, wicks not yet trimmed, in boxes on my slightly messy dining room table because it was time to feed the kids lunch and I needed my kitchen counter.

And one last photo, of a candle in hand so you can see the size.

I love these!! I made enough so that we'll have some for us, too. Because these are holiday gifts, of course--a very local handmade Rhode Island gift.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Weekend Project: Teacher Gifts

Have you been following all of Sew, Mama, Sew's Handmade Holiday posts this month? In the Passion for Writing post, they featured these adorable mini memo-book covers, created by Larissa at mmmcrafts. I've had it in my head to give the boys' teachers, aides, and so on little notebooks along with the coffee gift cards, and I thought I'd make recycled scrappy notebooks, because really? They are very, very cute. But then I wondered if it would look a bit snarky to take all those one-sided pieces of paper from school and send them back to school as gifts, even if a main focus of the school's mission is environmental stewardship. I fear I already walk a fine line. So when I saw these adorable notebook covers, I decided to go with it. I already had everything I needed--except the mini notebooks--right in the studio. (I love that. I love a well-stocked studio!!)

Because I am absolutely enchanted with Kraft card stock lately, that's what I used to print out the template. I made a couple on Friday night, and learned that the fastener has to be quite loose and that I didn't like using embroidery floss so much for the tie closure, because it frayed quickly. (I think waxing, as she suggests, would help there. I did that on the second one and it was better.) Then the next day I began making these eight assembly-line style.

Here's a notebook-in-hand photo to give you an idea of scale.

I just can't get over how cute these are! I used the same paper on the spines of all eight (assembly line!) and twine for the closure, because I thought it went well with the brown cover and the colors of the paper (which is from the "Down Under" assortment of these decorative papers). These took the weekend mainly because of the gluing. At each gluing step, I pressed the join between the pages of a heavy book (my art history book gets so much use in the studio for pressing leaves and gluing things) before moving on. For the flaps on the side with the fastener, I had to do one flap at a time, with the covers sticking out from the book at an angle. The fastener gets in the way of doing both flaps at once.

Some of the notebooks wouldn't fit into the book covers correctly. For five of the eight, I sliced a teensy bit off one of the notebook covers--front or back, doesn't matter-- and that did it. I swapped them around to check; it wasn't the covers, it was the notebooks. A wee bit off is all it takes, since these covers fit just right.

When I began, I was thinking I'd stamp the front covers with something, but I don't know. I kind of like them plain. What do you think?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Photos: Autumn Beach Walk

Beautiful beach
The waves come in, full of rocks and shells
More collecting--we can't help ourselves!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Preparing For The Countdown

December starts next week, which means it's almost time to fill the countdown calendar with surprises. I have some things I keep in mind when making my list:
  • I include things we're going to do anyway, like cut down the tree and then decorate it.
  • I make sure to ask the kids to tell me their must-do activities for the holiday season; those go on the cards, too.
  • I like handwritten cards, so if I need to change something, it's not a hassle. For instance, if I see a local activity coming up that sounds perfect, I'll trade out cards for that day; or if the weather doesn't cooperate on tree-cutting day, we'll adjust.
  • I like a calendar that allows me to peek, because I'm liable to forget what's coming up.
I printed out some simple business-card-sized rectangles in Publisher, using a green or red star border. I printed eight per page, for 24, but it'll be easy enough to print some spares in case I need to change anything. I also have some chocolate and I'll make sure each child gets some. (We have three kids, and the calendar has three colors--easy enough to assign and keep track!)

Here are some of the items I'm including in our countdown calendar this year. Some are more involved than others, and some--such as reading Christmas stories and listening to music--we will likely be doing all month long. However, experience has shown that even the simplest activities are special and exciting when packaged in a special envelope and opened one by one.

Hot cocoa & marshmallows for after-school snack
Make presents
Go ice skating
Wrap presents
Make luminaria for solstice
Listen to Christmas music
Watch Christmas specials
Take a drive tonight to look at holiday lights
Celebrate solstice
Bake cookies
Make countdown rings
Write letters to Santa
Send out cards
Plan Christmas dinner
Buy gifts for donation
Read Christmas stories
Make ornaments for our tree (I like this time capsule idea!)

Are you planning a countdown calendar this year? Do you have any suggestions for activities?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pinecone Stamp

From this...

to this.

I'm working on some ideas for gift tags and/or stamping onto Kraft paper for gift wrap. (I still love brown paper packages tied up with string best! But I want to add some stamps here and there.) This is a different carving block than I've used before--it's Speedball Speedy Cut. I find it very easy to carve but a little crumbly and probably not the best choice for anything with detail.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Family, Food, Football: Happy Thanksgiving!

And beautiful autumn flowers from our dinner guests!
We had a great afternoon with my husband's family, I didn't ruin the turkey (even though it cooked way faster than expected), and although I've seen just about no football yet today, I'm looking forward to sitting in one spot and watching the night game while I knit. (I hope I can stay awake!)

I am thankful for so, so much, including a husband who does dishes.

I hope your Thanksgiving (those in the US) was full of whatever you like best. Thank you for being a part of this little blog.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Finished Knit: Another Hat

I was hoping to share another handmade gift this week, but I did Something to my back that spread to my hips, and Tuesday was pretty much a complete loss, as I gave in to the inevitable and lay on the couch with my hot sock--a fleecy wool sock filled with rice and sewn shut, given to me during my first pregnancy. You put it in the microwave and then hold it against the pain, and the nice thing is it's portable, too. I've been cuddling with my hot sock for a couple days now, because I need to be functional for Thanksgiving tomorrow, when I am (drumroll, please!) roasting a whole turkey for the first time. I've roasted just the breast, and I've roasted whole chickens, so it's really just a difference in scale. Still, I hope I don't mess it up.

So, I didn't make candles this week, like I'd hoped, but the hot sock fits right behind my back while I'm knitting, so that's no problem. I made the girl a hat and mittens.

We woke up to a deluge Wednesday morning, so these photos are inside and poorly lit. She picked out black yarn for her mittens--Cascade Lana D'Oro, which is like knitting with butter it's so soft--and since I have some leftovers in the same yarn in purple and a deep rosy pink, I thought I'd do some stripes. But her mittens are so small that the stripes were narrow and the jog was really obvious and it pulled a little funny when I twisted in the new yarn...I didn't like it. So I frogged back and made the mittens all black.

Then I decided, since she wanted a new hat too (I am a slave to my children's woolly winter needs), to make another Vertigo Hat. This is a little smaller than a small, since I cast on fewer stitches (to make it shorter). I still made eight wedges though, four in black and two each in pink and purple.

So sorry for the poor lighting. It pains me a bit. Anyway, so the stripe sequence goes black-pink-black-purple-black-pink-black-purple, and I'm quite pleased with it. It's cute as anything, isn't it?

It's very handy, having matching hats for all three kids. Different colors, yes, but the side-to-side striping is distinctive enough that I can usually pick all three kids out in a crowd, plus it's obvious to other people that they go together. I can always locate my boys immediately at school pickup!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Doodle Rocks

I love the idea of painting on rocks. We pick up so many on the beach in the summer, and the flat, smooth ones seem to want some sort of decoration. And I've seen so many lovely ones, some of my favorites being those by JenMun(a). Mine are nowhere near that nice; hers are just so stunning. I'm still figuring out the proper tools. Jen at PaintCutPaste gave me a hint when she said she used a script brush for hers. Saturday, after parent/child art class, we actually (for once!) didn't have to rush right off to someplace else, so we went into the art store and I bought a script brush. I also bought some acrylic ink in white and black--Jen is using white ink for hers.

Well. The first two I did are on the right--the heart and the spiral. The black ink showed up fine, but the white didn't show up at all. I've since read that the brand I bought might have to be stirred with a toothpick to get the pigment to really mix in enough. I added to it with a silver metallic Sharpie. You can sort of see some white lines behind the silver lines surrounding the spiral--that's the ink. It kind of looks like dried milk, not quite what I was hoping for.

The three on the left were painted mostly with liquid acrylic craft paint. I really do love that stuff. It's cheap and accessible, which is not a bad thing when it comes to art supplies! The weeping willow-ish tree is all purple. The far left, which is supposed to mimic leaf veins, is red paint with some black ink added in after, and the "Choose to be Kind" is a mix of metallic Sharpie and red and purple acrylic craft paint.

I don't know German in the least, but by clicking on links in JenMun(a)'s post (and using Google translate, which is only so-so), I'm thinking she used fine-point markers for the drawings on her stones, after painting them first. I may try that next. In any case, as the title says, I was doodling here--trying it out, randomly adding things, figuring out the best way to approach it. I carved out a few minutes here and there over the weekend to play with paint and stones. I'm not done playing! I definitely like the last two best--the leaf veins and the weeping willow--and I will build from there.

Do you give yourself time to play with something new, with no idea how it might turn out?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why Handmade

Happy Monday! I'm over at Kidoinfo today talking about why it's so important to me to make at least some of my holiday gifts by hand. I know most people who read this blog also love to make things by hand--if you want to jump on over and chime in on why, please do! You can read the full article here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gratitude Tree

Let me start by saying I don't believe thankfulness should be confined to November or that we should only turn our thoughts to gratitude because Thanksgiving is approaching. I believe an attitude of gratitude is directly linked to the habit of happiness, and that is how I try to live my life. Many many years ago, during a difficult time, I told myself to find something to be happy about every day, no matter how small, and then write it down. When you turn this into practice, it becomes a habit of the very best kind. Thankfulness is there at the core of me; I recognize my life is full of loveliness, both big and small. I no longer need to write it all down.

But because we are hosting Thanksgiving this year, I wanted a centerpiece that visually represented in some way this life full of reasons to be thankful. So I decided upon a tree. I picked up a fallen branch in the yard, stripped it of its dead leaves, and placed it in a clean glass jar, held in place by pebbles and stones. (The bag of pebbles--the only purchase I made for this project--cost about $2 at a craft store. The larger stones at the top are from the beach.)

Using the maple leaf template I traced for the thankful banner, I sized them to fit some tags I already had (bought in an office supply store) and sandwiched the tag inside two leaves.

I had to cut the tag so it tapered, and the leaves are printed on and cut from brown Kraft card stock.

Once the glue dried, they were ready to be written upon and hung on the branches. If you want to make your own, the PDF file with the smaller leaves is here. The left leaves are a mirror image of the ones on the right, so when you cut and sandwich, the cutting lines will be hidden. You also could simplify this by punching a hole in a single leaf to tie a string on.

The tree sits in the middle of our table, with leaves and a metallic Sharpie next to it. Anytime someone is moved to do so, he or she can add a leaf to the tree.

"The house"
I think I'll also be using this leaf template to make our place cards for the dinner table. If our guests want to, they can add their leaves to the tree with something they are thankful for written on it.

For big things and small--the house and Legos, my marriage and coffee, the people in our family and imaginary friends--we are thankful, every day.