Tuesday, December 27, 2011

classic book and a Christmas gift

My little brother's favorite book growing up was Where the Wild Things Are.
His most requested bedtime book, he would usually "read" it to us instead of the other way around, reciting it perfectly from memory with intonations in all the right places.

Sent to bed without his supper, Max embarked on an adventure, arriving at the place where the wild things are. I can't think of many things more adorable than a three-year-old who can't say his R's properly quoting the part where the wild things "woared their tewible woars, and gnashed their tewible teeth, and wolled their tewible eyes and showed their tewible claws." But Max kept his cool and soon was made king of all wild things.
"And now," cried Max, "let the wild rumpus start!"He took poetic license with the blank pages after the wild rumpus began, chanting, "rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus..." as he turned the pages.
My little brother grew up and got married this summer.

On the brink of the grand adventure of marriage, trying so hard to be grown up, but really not any more grown up than before you came to that point. I think of Max. In the midst of the wild rumpus, he cried "Now stop!" and sent the wild things off to bed without their supper. Funny the things we do that we think make us grown up.

"[But] Max, the king of all wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all... so he gave up being king of where the wild things." And upon returning to the night of his very own room, he found his mother had relented and brought him his dinner after all.

Sometimes the grand adventure of life is grandest of all when we give to and accept simple kindnesses from those we love most.

Geoffrey, hold on to the best childlike qualities as you embark on your life as a grown up with your beautiful wife. I hope this drawing reminds you to be eager to learn, trusting, loving without holding back, excited for the simple things in life, and willing to compromise and share (with only a reminder or two).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

And to a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. All around.

Monday, December 19, 2011

homemade tree

At first I planned to just forgo a Christmas tree this year. Our current apartment is far too small for one. We aren't even going to be here for Christmas. But I felt like such a scrooge.

And so the children and I went off to collect sticks. They were in their element. I bowed to their stick-choosing expertise. They revelled in it.

We drilled holes in them and slid them over a dowel. The kids decorated the tree, first with leaves. Then we carried our teetering tower inside and hung the ornaments and strung the lights.
Note to self: next time, use rebar. It lasted a grand total of one day. Our Christmas tree was short-lived, but well-loved.

trees that smell like trees

When I was growing up, our Christmas tree was always freshly cut. Freshly cut, and then flocked and covered in pink lights, pink bows, and clip-on pink birds. To paraphrase a four year-old we once knew, it looked like a flamingo threw up in our living room. Granted this was the 70's and 80's, and granted we were a household of girls, girls, girls, but pink? My aesthetic sensibilities of today recoil, but back then I loved it all -- the colors, the fluff, and most of all the smell.

Ahhh, the smell of fresh pine. Forget cinnamon and nutmeg -- this is the smell of Christmas. Even entombed in gallons of flocking and pink.

When we first got married we didn't even discuss the option of a fake tree. No, we just took a week's worth of grocery money and headed to the tree lot on the hill. Some years we bought trees, others we cut our own on some desert property my dad had. But we always had fresh pine for the holidays.

Then we moved to Indiana.

For seven years we made do with a student-housing-mandated-fake-tree, but only barely. Fake trees, it turns out, don't smell like pine. They smell like plastic. All the simmering cinnamon sticks in the world can't make up for it.

So imagine just how thrilled we were last year to make our way back to pine. And not just any old pine, but family-picked-and-cut-pine from the Forest Service property up the canyon. It felt so good to dig out the saw and hatchet again; so good to get up in deep mountain snow.

So good to have a home that smells like Christmas again, and a tradition reborn.

Friday, December 16, 2011

new in the shop

I combined some of my favorite holiday-ish fabric with my favorite shirt design and ended up with a ridiculously comfortable, elegant shirt for the holidays. Now available in the Etsy shop.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

more (teeny) tiny: doll knits

Judging by all of the matching outfits in that doll magazine that keeps coming (and coming and coming) to our house, I'm going to venture a guess that it's not just my girl who loves to coordinate with her inanimate wee babe. So a little Christmas knitting has been happening around here on the sly.

Remember the sweater I made for this girl? Well, here's my attempt at a matching ensemble.

It just so happens that Premie-sized knits are perfect for a 12" doll. I created a modified version of the "cardigan, beanie, & mittens" in Tina Barrett's Natural Knits for Babies and Toddlers -- shortening the sleeves and adding bobbles and eyelet holes toward the top. I also kept all the buttons near the collar, rather than spacing them down the entire front.

Not an exact match, but close enough. Hopefully.

But. Now that the doll has a hat, it looks like I'm going to have to cast one on for the girl. (I'm thinking that Soulemama's Favorite Hat might be a good, quick, option -- close enough, do you think?) Of course, if I've done a sweater for the doll to match the girl, and I'm doing a hat for the girl to match the doll, does that mean I'll have to do fingerless gloves for the doll . . . to match these ones for the girl?

Oh my. Just don't say the word "socks."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

Monday, December 12, 2011

wooden wreath puzzle: a tutorial

We've started decorating around these parts. A little late, I know, but festive enough to make up for the tardiness. This not-so-little boy, in particular, is fascinated by all the new things to look at and pull down and smash with a hammer. Ahhhh, the sweet explosions of holiday cheer.

Post-holidays, we keep all of our decorations in one box in the basement, and every year it's something of a mystery as to what will emerge from the depths unscathed. Something always manages not to. (Speaking of, how is it that a string of perfectly functional lights can be carefully packed into a box in January, and emerge eleven months later no longer functioning? Exactly what happens in that box all year?) But the mysterious state of the contents only adds to the anticipation; a whole year later, everything is brand new again.

But even with the novelty factor, the favorites are the somehow always the same. My animal-girl bolts for "the bird of wisdom" while the youngest girl twirls the star on its stick. The boys dig for lights and the 10 year-old sorts the breakables. Then everyone pulls back and comes to watch as the wooden wreath puzzle emerges, and the pieces are laid out on the table.

Hands down, this wreath is the family holiday favorite.

The wreath was designed and hand carved by my husband the first Christmas we were first dating. I'm telling you, for a girl who begged for a pocket knife and spent hours whittling soap bars in the garage, this was about as impressive a gift as he could have come up with. Every year when we pull it out, the intense smell of wood knocks my mind back twenty years. A good twenty years, and every Christmas between then and now.

The kids always jockey for turns putting the puzzle together and taking it back apart, while it stays down on the table. But once the wreath goes up on the wall, the enjoyment is more of a visual nature.

{See it back there on that bland cinderblock wall? Way off in the distance . . . }

So for today, an attempt at a holiday tutorial.

Wooden Wreath Puzzle
The wreath in its entirety is 16" diameter. You can either shell out for a 1x16 or, as my husband did, use a (much cheaper) 1x10 or 1x12 and cut the puzzle in two sections. Follow the instructions below for both options.

  • A 1x16 piece of wood, at least 16" long, or 2 pieces of 1x10 or 1x12, at least 16" long.
  • A hand saw OR scrollsaw/jigsaw OR bandsaw.
  • Sanding equipment. Either an electric sander, or plain old sandpaper is fine.
  • Beeswax polish, or other finish.
  • Ribbon for hanging - at least 1 yard long.
Safety: Wear safety goggles and proper ear protection if using a scrollsaw/jigsaw, bandsaw, or electric sander. Make sure they are in proper working order to ensure safe use.

  • Print out and trace the above pattern pieces. (If you have any trouble with the pdfs, please email me or comment below and I will send them to you directly.)
  • Lay the puzzle pieces out on a table, making sure the places where they meet fit well together.
  • If you are working with a 1x16 piece of wood (or have printed the pattern smaller and can fit the entire wreath onto a smaller width board), lay the entire puzzle, completely put together, on the wood. If you are working with a board that is too narrow for the entire puzzle, put it together in two halves (4 pieces each) and lay them on the board/s in two separate places.
  • Trace carefully around the pieces, one at a time.
  • Cut out each piece using either a hand saw, scroll saw, or band saw. (Note: if you are using a hand saw, be very careful to cut between the pieces as vertically as possible. Any slant in your cut will make it difficult to get rejoin the pieces from both the front and the back). If you have cut out the pieces in two sections, make sure that the end pieces of each section join to the other section well. Adjust the cuts on these outside pieces as necessary.
Finishing the puzzle pieces:
  • If using power sanders, gently and evenly rotate each puzzle piece along the sander. Be careful not to remove too much from the points of attachment, so the pieces still fit snugly together.
  • If using sandpaper, start with a coarse grit (60) and sand all surfaces until smooth. Use progressively finer grit (higher number) sandpaper until you are happy with the feel of the surface.
  • Wipe the sawdust carefully from all pieces.
Finish the pieces.

1. Protect with beeswax.
  • Apply beeswax with a soft cloth, working it into the wood.
  • Let dry.
  • Apply additional coats as desired.
  • To maintain your puzzle, periodically reapply beeswax.
2. Protect with paint, stain, or other sealant. [Note: If you prefer to finish the pieces with a clear polyurethane or paint, be cautious with the joints; any build-up between pieces can make them difficult to fit together.]
  • Apply with a fine bristle brush.
  • Let dry.
  • Apply additional coats to surface (not between pieces) as desired.
  • When finished, double-check that pieces are able to fit together smoothly, and sand lightly at attachment points if necessary.
Hanging puzzle.
  • If your pieces fit snugly together, it should be safe to hang your wreath on the wall. Make sure to first attempt hanging it against the wall very close to the ground, with a soft surface to catch any pieces that might slip out. If your wreath does not stay together when vertical, you can put a small piece of finish-safe tape at the joints to keep it from coming apart.
  • Put puzzle together on a solid, movable board or piece of cardboard, on a flat surface such as a table.
  • Slide ribbon under the puzzle and tie at the end.
  • Carefully move the horizontal board to the wall and attach the ribbon to the hook or nail on the wall. For the safety of your wreath, do not hang it on a door or other mobile surface.
  • With the wreath weight on the ribbon, hold the pieces to the board with your hand while you shift it from horizontal to vertical, hanging against the wall. If the wreath is secure, remove the board.
And enjoy.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Black Friday ride (and a sweater dress)

The day after Thanksgiving found us expending our energy rather than spending money. It was the longest bike ride yet we've attempted with our five-year-old on her own bike rather than in the trailer. And it may have been a bit overambitious.

Our bike riding enthusiast, though easily distracted (and with an inevitably itchy nose that must be scratched an average of two times every block we ride), is a trooper. She thrills at moving herself from point A to point B on a bike. I'm her enthusiastic cheerleader each morning as I bike alongside her, pulling the trailer behind. She's her own coach, willing herself on with shouts of "Come on, come on, you can do it!", "Almost there!", and "Don't stop! Don't stop!". That day that, careening down a hill, she shouted out "I'm free as a bird!" was classic.
But oh, those inevitable mornings that we're running late for school and she has to ride in the trailer... the accompanying grumpiness is a bit over the top as well.

I'm not sure if it was the unfamiliar bike route (and the accompanying novelties that distracted her), or the preceding day of Thanksgiving festivities and travel, but she was struggling on this blackest of all Fridays. Our suggestion that we simply lock her bike to a tree and she continue on in the trailer was not an option for her. Until it was. Beaten, she defeatedly climbed in. But the next moment was in tears, desperate to go home rather than ride in the trailer of shame. Some crackers and clementines smoothed things over enough so that we could finish the ride.
Her younger sister, though, seemed blissfully unaware for the most part of her sister's turmoil. Her feet stuck out of the trailer as she reclined back in her chariot, snug in her homemade sweater dress.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

trying to be a giant

{photo via stylebyemilyhenderson.com}

Have you seen the I'm a Giant Challenge? I don't surf around much, but somehow I happened upon this and couldn't get enough of all the variations in progress. Maybe the addiction was my past resurfacing: I built my very own dollhouse, you see, way back in the preteen days, electrical wiring and handmade quilts and all. Apparently I was a budding design guru back then, when all along I just thought I was a little extra dorky.

When I stumbled upon it, this official Challenge seemed like a gift from the heavens, dropped right at the opportune moment. A little something to redirect the design impulses of my 10 year-old. Maybe if she had a mini-kitchen to revamp, I thought, my actual kitchen could go back to . . . usable.

So I pulled out some wood glue and went about repairing the kids' dollhouse. I glued the front panels and stairs back together, took the stickers off the outside, and even put the lintels back on the front windows. And then I told that girl of mine to have at it.

"You can paint it or wallpaper it!" I said. "We can make rugs and curtains and quilts if you'd like! Heck, we can even decorate the thing for Christmas! It's all yours to rearrange and redecorate over and over and OVER!"

"Hmmmm," she replied, considering carefully. "That sounds fine . . . as long as I can still rearrange and redecorate my room. And stuff."


How in the world did she know where this whole idea was headed? I knew I should have left off the exclamation points.

The 7 year-old seemed to know as well. That night she stormed into her room, furious about one thing or another, and took a sharpie to the exterior. The entire front now looks a lot like an Andy Warhol variation of the word "NO!"

Of course, a little NO is nothing a can of paint can't take care of. Or maybe a layer of fake bricks? Siding? Even if I'm the only one redecorating the dollhouse, it looks like it's going to be getting a little facelift in the coming days.

At least there will still be one home over which I've got some creative control . . .

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings -- sunrise edition.