Monday, January 31, 2011

cloth diaper update

Oh my goodness.

I am in love

Why didn't anyone ever tell me how fantastic cloth diapers are? ohhhhhh, you did? Well why didn't I listen? Not only are these things soft and cheap and cute -- they DO NOT LEAK. After five months of blown out diapers leaking up his shirt literally every single time, I'm not sure how to react when I hear him rumble. My instinct is to jolt him upright, unsnap everything while holding the top of the diaper tight on his back, and just pray it all stays contained while I bolt for the bathroom. But no longer. Now I just coo at him "hmmmm, sounds like you might need a change, but I'm a little busy at this exact moment. Give me a few minutes . . ."

And speaking of awesome, what do you think of those back rolls? The other kids keep asking how his skeleton can hold up all the chub, which has led to some very interesting discussions involving bone density, physics, and why 23 pound infants are better off not walking. Deep stuff, I tell you.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Biker pants

Who is this crazy biker girl?

Our family loves biking. When we lived in Indiana, our only deterrents were lack of bike lanes, freezing weather for part of the year, and those less than enthusiastic motorists who insisted on yelling insults at us or revving their engines as they drove by. I used to joke to my husband that I was going to make myself a shirt that read "I'll be alive and biking long after you're dead." Sounds vindictive, I know, but I was completely mystified by the pleasure those drivers found in pointing out that we were not in a car. Biking is a wonderful way to exercise, good for the environment, and a lot less expensive than driving. The most ridiculous response we ever received while biking was having water balloons thrown at us. Once we began having children and added a bike trailer to the back of our bikes, Indiana drivers showed their kinder side and stopped harassing us for the most part. I regularly carted the girls around during the non-snowy months for trips to the grocery store, library, farmer's market, etc.

When we were planning our recent move to California, land of eternal summer, I seriously considered the option of selling our '87 Camry and relying solely on our bikes for transportation. My husband vetoed that idea right away. It was a good thing. That first evening as we drove to our new home in Family Student Housing, my heart sank as we started up a hill, and continued our steep ascent... up and up, on and on. Our apartment was at the top of a steep hill that stretched on for a relentless two miles. I'm sure the more intense bikers out there would ridicule my reaction, but the thought of having to conquer that hill at the end of every bike ride was pretty discouraging to me, especially when I thought of pulling my two daughters behind in the trailer.

I did ride up that hill a handful of times, but sans bike trailer after the first attempt with it just about finished me off. The lack of regular riding, of course, makes it increasingly difficult to find the motivation or energy to make the trek, especially since I've arrived at the stage of pregnancy where I feel as though I'm carrying a bowling ball on my lap.

Our four-year-old had her own frustrations with biking in our new home. We moved from a large student housing complex surrounded by a long, level private road. She had watched longingly as other kids biked around and was thrilled when she was finally big enough to ride a non-tricycle. Despite a nasty fall off her bike soon before our move and the resulting missing front tooth, she was still devastated to have to leave her bike behind. After I found her a replacement (bike, not tooth) here, we realized how unbikeable our new home was for our daughter as well. The family student housing is arranged disjointedly on the hillside and is filled with steep parking lots and tiny green spaces with short paths in various states of disrepair. We have to walk for 20 minutes or so before arriving at a place suitable for her to ride.

My husband, however, diligently continued to make the steep commute up to campus every day by bike. Earlier this month, I arrived home to find him showering after a biking accident. His bike had begun to slide on the wet pavement while braking on his way back down the hill at the end of his workday. He toppled off and continued to skid on his knee and side for another 10 yards or so. The result was ghastly. For the next week, his daily routine was to don shorts after work in an attempt to let the bloody mess that was his knee scab over.

Our girls weren't sure how to respond to this new aspect of dad. Our younger daughter simply pointed it out during any lull in conversation: "Daddy big owie knee." Our generally unfazed four-year-old, on the other hand, was surprisingly disturbed by the whole thing and actually banned him from sitting nearby because she didn't want him "blooding all over" her.

The pants he was wearing were obviously quite mangled by the experience. Our older daughter is growing like crazy these days and I have a hard time keeping her in pants. And so, rather than toss his slacks, I decided to memorialize my husband's biking accident and clothe my daughter at the same time.
I've resized shirts for her before, but never attempted pants. It was surprisingly simple, though. In a little over an hour I had finished them. Elastic at the back and some resizing of the zipper, and voila! A pair of pants with buttons, pockets and belt loops already in place.

Bikes painted on the rear pocket and knee were like a trophy for her to cart around of her daddy who uncomplainingly healed amidst the horrified and pitying looks of his family.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

pixie boy

Well, considering that this 5 month-old baby is busting out of his 12 month clothes, it is no surprise that he has outgrown his hat as well. But I'll be sad to see this acorn go.

I think this makes four (or is it five) of these little beanies I've made in the past two years. Although I've been knitting for decades, Debbie Bliss's "baby knits for beginners" is still my go-to book for a quick gift, or increasingly for my own kids. Something about the combination of simplicity and speed that sucks me right in, I think. But this baby is rapidly outgrowing baby sizes and in need of a little stretch. I found a great little ball of sock wool (Maxime Print soft socks) I had stashed and opted for the pixie hat

What is it about babies with little points on their heads? irresistable, I tell you.

The hat, however, has opened up some minor debate among the kids, mainly centering on whether it makes this baby look manly enough. Some think he looks more manly because of the pink and purple stripes; some think he looks like a girl. Others think he looks like an elf, which has opened up an entirely different debate over whether or not it is good for one to look like an elf. I myself think he looks edible (a conclusion causing some concern throughout the kid ranks).

Tonight I found someone else wearing the new hat. I think the 5 year-old (who is leading the "not manly enough" chorus) is just angling to get her hands on it.

Can you blame her?

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

all in a morning's collecting

My daughters love collecting. For a hard-hearted mother who despises clutter, knowing the proper way to respond is a challenge. Frequent purgings of extraneous items seem like a necessity to me in a small apartment. Yet I imagine how important those crumpled stickers, balloon animals long deflated, every picture they've ever drawn, and every fancied rock from the sandbox are to them. The results are frequently stumbling upon stickers in our bed and rocks in kitchen drawers.

I have a particularly hard time going through their art and trying to decide what to keep and what not to. Who am I to judge the relative importance of their drawings? I once tried involving my four-year-old in the process of paring down her massive collection of drawings. The result? An hour of her carefully examining every drawing, explaining why each was important to her, then placing them all in the "keep" pile (there were approximately four drawings in the discard pile that were rejected purely for cosmetic reasons: wrinkling or a tear at the edge). Afterwards I felt like a criminal for even contemplating disposing of anything. The flat nature of most of their art has enabled me to mostly not face up to the problem. But as the designated art box in the closet has reached its limit and is now overflowing, I realize my days of denial are rapidly coming to an end.
 The temporary nature of objects collected outside helps me feel a bit less criminal. Both girls love carting the outdoors into our home (after a careful selection process, of course). I happily keep the leaves and flowers around for a few days until the flowers have thoroughly wilted and the leaves have crumbled. I have on occasion moved the growing rock collection to the back porch (the four-year-old only protested for a minute). Pine cones and driftwood sometimes last months before either being carried back outside by my younger daughter or removed back to their natural habitat by me without a twinge of guilt.

I, myself, am actually fond of selecting objects outdoors that catch my eye. Perhaps it is because I know they are often so fleeting in their beauty and will soon be back outside.

My younger daughter's collection this morning reminded me of a pair of leaves I once carried home. Any amount of time outside with her results in a pocket full of rocks, leaves and flowers (mine almost certainly, and hers as well if she happens to have pockets). This morning it was a handful of smaller leaves and a few flowers nestled in a larger leaf, dried and curled at its edges. I love the embracing shape that leaves take on as they dry. This is my daughter's collection today, paired with mine from a few years ago.

Monday, January 24, 2011

bikes and scarves

One of the best perks about moving to this western town is the plethora of bike paths and trails. The whole city is laced with them. From our house, for example, the school lies five miles directly east -- 2 1/2 miles of bike lane on a quiet residential road, followed by 2 1/2 miles of bike trail along the creek. With my husband teaching at the K-12 school they attend, the go-to commute is by bike. At six-thirty every morning (unless the roads are iced over or under more that four inches of snow), the five of them bundle up, click on bike lights, and head out. Ten miles a days has added up to hundreds of miles each this school year, not to mention all of the energy usage (you're very welcome, teachers). Ten miles of winter riding a day has also necessitated some good winter gear -- gloves, heavy shoes, and balaclavas, coupled with a nice batch of scarves. The red/pink/orange one was first for the oldest girl, which prompted a slew of requests. The brown one came second for the second boy. And the blue/yellow/brown one? It's in process for the dad at the request of the oldest girl. Apparently he's been stealing her scarf. I'll take it as a compliment . . .

Friday, January 21, 2011

Another bit of symbolism

 Botanical symbolism is my venture into the realm of the romantic with my husband. My husband is not one to adhere to tradition simply for tradition's sake, so when we began planning our wedding we closely examined the origins of practices commonly used in modern-day weddings. The tradition that amused us the most was that of freezing the top of the wedding cake and eating it together on the first anniversary. Can you think of anything quite so unappealing? The wedding cake, in my experience, is easily the least tasty part of wedding reception fare. I admit there are exceptions, but I've found a delicious wedding cake to be an unexpected surprise rather than a fulfilled expectation. So imagining how an arguably edible cake would taste after being in the freezer for a year... not appealing. Plus the tradition seemed to be a wistful hearkening back to that perfectly orchestrated first day of matrimony rather than looking at the progress of the relationship.

So we adjusted the tradition to meet our hopes for our future life together. What if we could eat something together on our first anniversary that symbolized the fruits of our attempts to take two separate people - with striking differences and backgrounds - and mesh them into one family united by common values and goals? And what better representation of the fruits of our labors than actual fruit? So originated our central theme of trees and their fruit.

I designed our wedding announcements using ink, and drew two separate trees with their branches growing together (in a celtic knot design - a nod to my irish heritage, and reference to the eternal nature of the family we would form) and laden with fruit.
The culmination of this idea was a matrimonial tree planting the day after our wedding. We planted two apple trees, hoping to someday eat the fruit they produced.
 It's funny how all this symbolism was so important to us, and yet we now only occasionally remember the trees maturing in my parents' backyard. But when we go to visit and see them, it is a poignant reminder of what we hope to accomplish. And our daughters are getting old enough to perhaps appreciate their meaning and see how they themselves fit integrally into our relationship.

My mom will sometimes pass along a report on the health and progress of our trees. Both are still alive but only one has produced fruit thus far - some years only a piddly apple or two, but others a bumper crop. I take comfort in knowing whose tree that obviously must be as I waddle into my seventh month of pregnancy.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

in praise of Bendaroos

I found this latest creation by the seven year-old on the drawers in the girls' room last night. They have been begging for Bendaroos for at least three years, and I finally picked some up this Christmas. In general, anything that makes noise, flashes, or sticks to things makes me nervous. But these wax covered strings are the hands down new favorite of all five mobile kids.
They have come up with the most incredible things. Aside from these circus-Mûmakil (which I am informed by the boys are the elephants in the Lord of the Rings movies), the kids have made crowns, words, food, traps, lassos, balls, and pretty much anything else you could possibly think of. So here's to toys that piques their mind, imaginations, and mischief. What is stirring your kids these days?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

ode to fall skies jumper

 Have you ever seen a brooding dark gray sky with bright yellow autumn leaves set against it? This, to me, is the very definition of an autumn day. And it thrills me.
I set out to capture that feeling with this jumper (which, by the way, turns out to be the perfect beach romper). It reminds me of those striking Midwest autumn afternoons, even at the beach on an unseasonably warm January weekend.

Monday, January 17, 2011

bags bags bags

I've been using reusable grocery bags for a number of years now, but have been a bit stuck in regards to produce bags and sandwich bags. I've seen reusable versions of both, but the price . . . oh my. I think they are fair prices for the work that has gone into making them, and I'm a huge fan on buying handmade and local. But my budget just won't flex enough to include them. Now that I'm making lunches for five every night, the sandwich bags have become a top priority. I bought a yard of BPA-free coated cotton from Hart's Fabric (along with some great fleece and flannel for pajama pants and cotton for a dress for the ever-growing 9 year old -- superb quality all around). Isn't this pattern great?

I've been slicing it up and pairing it with all sorts of cotton for the outside of the bags this week. Fingers crossed they are done in the next few days and I can show them off. But I was stuck on the produce bags until I found a great tutorial last night.

There seems to be an ongoing debate over material options, in hopes of balancing breathability, stain resistance, and clarity for the checker. What do you think? cotton or vinyl? new fabric or reclaimed sheer curtains?

Friday, January 14, 2011

the great cover-up

As I've mentioned before, we moved here four months ago without any furniture. I'm currently trying to piece together a set of dining room chairs without starting with an actual set of matching chairs. My plan is to tie them all together with a common theme. These two are my first.
These cost me $5 at Goodwill. They were different from most of the old chairs I'd seen on Craigslist, plus I couldn't beat the price. The seats were covered in an ugly vinyl. I only recently found the right material with which to re-cover them. Oh, what a difference a bit of beautiful fabric can make! Now, to see if my plan for the remaining assortment of chairs surrounding my table is as successful.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

taking the plunge

When our oldest was born I checked into cloth diapers, and the options weren't all that great. This was the pre-internet era (otherwise known as "the olden days," according to my kids), and the few sources I could find were still based on pins and plastic pants. Not for me. In the intervening years, it never occurred to me that the whole cloth-diaper-world could have come so far. When half of my friends switched to cloth five years ago, I was enamored with all the colors and fuzz. But our "last kid" was then in the midst of potty training, and I figured I had missed the cloth boat.

Fast forward five years, and the advent of "last kid number two," and my second (or sixth) chance to make the shift has arrived. The new dipes are here, prewashed and ready to go. Wish me luck.

ps. Anyone have good advice for nighttime? This boy is a heavy wetter. I've heard that doubling up the inserts helps? or maybe a wool soaker? Of course, any excuse to knit something sounds good, unless he's going to be soaking through everything until I finish a soaker . . .

wednesday's ode

To beautiful surroundings.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

a little bit of harvest

The most recent dress that I've made using my new pattern:
I loved this fabric the minute I laid eyes on it. The color is vibrant and rich, there is a bit of texture to the cotton fabric, and it is so very soft. I love enveloping my four-year-old in it.
My sense of seasons is all wonky in my new home. I hear snippets of feet of snow falling throughout the country, but it feels like autumn (or maybe even spring) here. But even if you're surrounded by white, a little harvest color can remind you that snow doesn't last forever.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

dress shirt dresses

Have you tried these? My husband had a bunch of dress shirts that were big and baggy (ahhhhh, the nineties) but soft and in great shape. After a decade of nonuse, however, he was getting ready to toss them. Fortunately I came across this tutorial (somewhere, somewhere -- who led me there? I don't recall) and managed to save a pile of them. The first try got a tie waist rather than an elastic one. My daughter, however wasn't interested in actually wearing it until I finished it off with a horse and her first initial. Funny what a horse and a big L can do for that girl.

Of course, I eventually had to modify, since even general tutorials are too much for me to actually follow. The next two both got the bottom half of the shirt sleeves rather than making a short gathered sleeve and, because I cut it too narrow, the blue one also got a stripe of stripes down the center to loosen it back up. I also skipped the elastic waist. They just didn't seem to need it.

I was thinking it might also be fun to keep the collar on the next one. Any other good dress shirt hack ideas? I'm in love with this one from my cousins over at Sugar City Journal.

Friday, January 7, 2011

last one

My final sweater project, this time for my four-year-old:
I made it out of a different sweater this time, so I had more flexibility as to the design. It was already a turtleneck, so I used that to my advantage. The main changes were to make it narrow enough to fit her tiny frame and add mittens. I ended up with a nice, long sweater to keep her warm and bundled. She loves it and has fun flipping the mittens up and down.
No matter how clever the design, my children still seem to have trouble grasping the concept of staying bundled. She is perfectly happy to wear the mittens when inside the house, but then flips them back up when she goes out to play.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

more aprons

My husband's mom made his-and-hers aprons for us when we were married. Over the years they have been well used by all of us. Isn't that plaid superb? When the kids want to help in the kitchen, I usually tie one of these on them, shortening the neck in back, and it's pretty much fullbody cover.

But at a certain point we had more helpers in the kitchen than the two aprons could cover, and I made a few aprons for the youngest ones. I followed my mother-in-law's lead, making a single loop to go over the head, but found it didn't work quite as well for kids as adults. They've got big heads and short bodies, you see. I had to make the loop big to get it over their heads, which then slung the apron so low that their entire shirt would be exposed. So I still have to shorten the neck strap in back each time one wears it. But the fabric is great, and that's something.

Next time, ties for the neck.