Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2009 New Year's Resolutions and To Do List

-Get finances in order (joint checking act? write budget. deferred comp plan?)
-Write will (life insurance? who gets kids????)
-Finish works in progress (8 year old orange scarf; 10 year old rayon skirt--send to sister)
-Write daily (Wild Mind; What If?; Writing the Natural Way)
-Finish/Submit more work
-Practice Mindfulness
-Go to yoga/pilates classes at lunchtime
-Organize house (kids' room--bunk beds, book shelves; basement; arts & crafts)
-Do more spontaneous creativity with kids
-Read Dickens
-Continue w/ Zine--3 issues
-Carve out creative time daily
-Be patient
-Return to Nature Journal (daily? weekly?)
-Finish "Drawing on Right Side of Brain" workbook (started in 2005!)
-Practice Gratitude (Xmas Thank-You Notes first)
-Deal with anxiety/stress (yoga? pills? Rescue Remedy?)
-Suspend disbelief more often
-Join YMCA (Xmas gift certificate)
-Learn to shop at thrift stores
-Swim weekly (need goggle strap--old one melted--and poss new suit?)

P. S. Check out my essay in my alma mater's alumni newsletter.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Handmade Holiday, Part II: The Sweatshop

There is great relief in knowing I am DONE...other than a couple of pies and some Stollen...one big project I just had to let go of, and decide I would finish it after Christmas; several others I never even started (maybe some other time). I had wanted to make something for all seven (seven!) of M's teachers (and the bus driver) but that will have to wait until the end of the year (better get started in March). Overall I am quite pleased to have pulled off a largely handmade holiday. I did buy some things...socks, underwear, a stereoscope microscope for M, a lyre for E and Z (part of my quest to be a Waldorf wanna-be), a pair of axes for C (hope they get here in time!), some used books for everyone, some art supplies...not a totally buy-nothing Christmas (to which my bank account will attest), but not too bad overall.

A Million Mittens
(that's E's foot in the corner)

A flock of birds.

Three kinds of candy.

I packaged mittens, candy and a bird, along with a jar of handmade beeswax handcream from the farm down the road for most of our adult relatives. After I made the candy, I learned my dad has been diagnosed with diabetes and then I remembered my sister and her husband are on Weight Watchers. Oops.

Freezer Paper Stencils Shirts

I found two brand-new white turtlenecks in our hand-me-down box. Score.

Crazy Pants and Stenciled Shirts.

Now I know why everyone's addicted to freezer paper stenciling. Even with very limited artistic skill, you can produce great results!

C's bucket hat.It's supposed to look like this, but I don't know...it's my first attempt at crochet (see that little tail of yarn? I have to have someone at work show me how to finish it!
A superhero cape for M, who's the only one to not get one at birthday time.

And finally, gnome ornaments.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More Gnomes and Villages

Lone Star Ma asked for more on the gnomes, but first I want to talk more about the village. C's grandmother gave me these little wooden houses years ago, and while I normally am annoyed by all gifts from my in-laws on principle, I love these houses because they are exactly like one from a set my mom has. The weird thing is, my mom bought hers in Denver and C's grandmother has always lived in New England, and I've never seen any other houses like them elsewhere. I always loved setting up all the little pieces on some snowy white batting fabric at the base of our tree. My mom's collection is more extensive, with little people and animals, a train and a nativity scene. Every year I hint that she should give it to me, but so far she hasn't fallen for it.

Now, onto the gnomes. The pattern comes from this book but I think you can manage to make them without the book. I used little wooden people bodies from here. They come in several sizes and shapes, including dwarfs with already pointy heads. I believe I used the "small wooden folk" size. I used wool-blend felt from a nearby quilting store, which is nicer to the touch and more durable than the acrylic craft store kind, but much less expensive than the 100% wool kind. But if you want to use the all-natural kind, try here.

Cut a rectangle of felt the height of the doll body and the length of its circumference. Wrap around and glue on. Cut a circle of felt about 1/4 or so bigger than the doll base; cut a small circle inside of that and cut out a wedge (like a doughnut with a bite out of it). Sew around the inner circle with a running stitch, wrap around the doll's neck, pull tight and tie off. The hat is basically a lopsided triangle, wider than it is tall and the two side pieces slightly curved (you'd never know I got an A+ in geometry would you? I can't even remember the parts of a triangle). Fold in half and sew the curved sides together. Glue onto the head. Wish I had pictures of the process, but fiddle with it and you should be able to come up with a passable gnome hat. You could probably do the whole thing with glue and no sewing, if you have the patience for the glue to dry.
Gnomes surveying the damage to their ransacked village. The one on the right E made by gluing scraps of felt around the body...even easier than measuring and cutting.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


The Fly Lady says that when you feel overwhelmed by the mess in your house, clean the sink. Monday night, after spinning my wheels on the computer all morning, then taking two hours to get out the door to go to town for bagels and the library and while there spontaneously taking the twins to a salon for emergency haircuts to try and repair the hack jobs they gave themselves/each other (when I got home C said, "that's a professional haircut?" which I guess I should take as a compliment of my own haircutting skills, but I don't know...), then doing damage control after M got off the bus and found the mess his brothers made of his stuff while I was on the computer, and then finally having a slightly more productive afternoon while they went rock-hounding outside and watched TV (my personal savior this Christmas is the library's vast Peep & Quack DVD collection)....after all that, and a dinner of bagel melts and leftover Thai food, I surveyed my ransacked house and felt despair. So I washed the sink.

I followed the Fly Lady's technique, only substituting vinegar for the bleach, Bon Ami for the Comet, and vinegar and water for the Windex...you know, just to avoid deadly chlorine gas when the ammonia and bleach react with each other. And my sink GLEAMED. So what if the floor looks like a family of giant hampsters lives here (what's up with three year olds and cutting up paper?)? So what if the bathroom smells like pee? So what if we haven't folded laundry in a fortnight? So what if I have to avert my eyes from the bathroom sink? My kitchen sink is SHINY!

I would have taken a picture, but it was night and the light was poor, and C filled it with dishes almost immediately (but he did vacuum the hampster cage, er, living room while I went to the co-op).

I can't really bring myself to follow the rest of the Fly Lady's program. The task for the second day is to keep your sink shiny and get dressed. I can't imagine being in such despair (or having the leisure) to not get dressed (barring occassional wearing jammies while I clean the house all morning days). I skipped ahead a few days and found the task of tackling a "hot spot" for five minutes, but everywhere I look there are hotspots (bedroom chair, kitchen table, kitchen counters, bathroom counters, washing machine top, kid's art table, sewing table, hutch, mudroom dresser, entire basement) and I get overwhelmed, which only leads to washing the sink again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Handmade Holiday, Part I: The False Sense of Security Hats

I started these hats for E and Z back in September, with yarn I bought in July. I used this pattern, which was super easy (and the first time I used circular needles, which I LOVED), and Noro Kureyon self-striping yarn (C was very impressed with my color choices until I told him the yarn did it by itself...but I did pick out the yarn!) and knitted away merrily on car trips and during evening movies throughout September and October, finishing the second one on Thanksgiving weekend. Ha! I thought. Way ahead of the game, I boasted. Ha, ha, ha, indeed! Joke's on me. But they are done and other projects are chugging along, with hopes of seeing the light of day Xmas morning.

I was going for this look, from The Land of Elves by Daniela Dresher. I'm afraid my stems look a little more like nipples. I'm also afraid they won't fit E and Z...they seem a little loosish and the pattern was rather vague about where you should stop knitting and how much to decrease. In any case, it's two presents down...god knows how many to go...the Mitten Maniac will be at the machine tonight, alternating swigs of red wine and black tea.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Holiday Spirit

Here's a useful service Snapfish could provide—send them your mailing list and they address and mail all of your cards. I just spent as much time trying to figure out how to print out mailing labels as it would have taken to hand-address all of my cards. I even went as far as calling in to work for help, but Boris, our receptionist who usually does my mail merges was out for the day and the only other person who knows how to do it was in a meeting. The rest of us avoid such knowledge at all costs for fear we might actually have to use it. On top of that, I only ordered 60 cards, but there are 67 people on our mailing list, so I've been trying to weed out 7 card recipients based on a complex calculus of how closely related they are and how recently they've seen the kids...not exactly the spirit of giving.

And what I really want right now is to send the twins to daycare (remember that daycare that I don't want to send them to?) so I can GET SOMETHING DONE. Right now they're in the kitchen eating cold cereal right out of the box—usually a big no-no in our house, but hey it's keeping them quiet and not breaking things. I saw this video last week, and I liked it a lot (except the worshipy bit), except I have to say that MAKING more things (rather than buying them) and spending more TIME with people are mutually exclusive. As usual I've taken on way more than I can manage (and I've been eliminating things from the list—good-bye hand-sawn tree blocks), and it just makes me crazy, anxious and cranky...not at all jolly or ho-ho-ho. Then there's the fact that I'm finding it impossible to find an axe that's MADE in Maine sold in any stores in Maine. I've concluded I'll have to order it from Ohio. What's up with that?

Meanwhile, C, as if there's a certain amount of consumptive energy in the world that must be expended, has done more Christmas shopping than I've ever seen him do in his life, now that I'm trying to BUY as little as possible. When I first met him, he would fish around in the junk drawer for presents, and before M was born, he insisted the only toys he'd ever need were cardboard boxes and rocks, and he's always going around ranting about all the toys we have in our house. Yesterday he called me from the TOY STORE, asking if there was anything I needed him to pick up there. Huh?

We did manage to make two batches of Christmas cookies this weekend (sugar and chocolate gingerbread), which is a big improvement over last year when we made the cookies (or was it candy?) the day AFTER Christmas. Although now that I think about it, that was kind of fun. We also went out into the woods to collect our tree—one of my favorite traditions—and after the ice from Thursday and Friday's ice storm melted off we decorated it (and rebuilt the village with more little wooden houses and trees—it has since been ransacked by the household barbarians several times). But I'm all the time thinking (Sew! Knit! Crochet! Saw! Bake!)

Even if the Christmas Spirit is not seizing me, I do feel something. This time of year turns me from the emotionless Ice Queen I normally am into a weepy sentimental heap reminiscent of the first few weeks of new motherhood. One of my favorite ways to celebrate is to put John Denver and The Muppets A Christmas Together on the record player (it must be the record; the CD lacks crucial songs), turn off all the lights but the tree and sit in the semi-darkness weeping into my eggnog and rum because both John Denver and Jim Henson are dead and because the songs on that album are so damn melancholy.

M has been interested in WAR lately (always...damn Y chromosome) and was reading a pretty dry book on WWI. I was on the lookout for more human stories of war and ran across Christmas in the Trenches while at the library recently. M read it Sunday and then put on the accompanying CD, which tells the story and also has Stille Nacht and a song with the same title as the book. It's about a ceasefire on Christmas Eve 1914 when the Germans brought over a tree to the British and the two sides sang and exchanged gifts before returning to their own sides and the war. I sat under the tree, untangling my childhood ornaments and various Styrofoam and cardboard ornaments M has made since preschool, tears streaming down my face. Stupid Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Winter Village

Last Monday M was home sick from school and we decided to build this winter village. I briefly considered digging the Christmas decorations, which include some tiny houses and people, out of the basement, but thought better of it. Instead we used some wooden houses from our train set and a mini farm that we got as a hand-me-down and which I was hanging onto for a rainy (or snowy) day. M built the quartz mines and Z put in the rainbow fences.

We made some gnomes to populate the village...and one tiny gnome is guarding one of our tiny terrariums. These projects seem to work better spontaneously than if I try to plan them, but there is a saturation point, and once they hit it, things start flying. I need to get better at detecting when we're going to lose interest before it happens.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


We are rapidly barreling toward that Day of Days (barely two weeks! Yikes!). Every time it snows, E asks, "Santa Claus coming tonight?" Dear god, I hope not! We're not quite getting the concepts of time and waiting...even with the "help" of advent calendars.

There are a lot of wonderful Advent calendar ideas out there in the internet craftland, but I just don't have the energy (or time)...also I don't love the idea of my kids opening 24 presents leading up to Christmas, when they'll get MORE presents and family friends gave each boy two Advent calendars--one paper with pictures and one with chocolates. I'm kind of lusting over one of these pricey little jobbies...do you think I could saw, sand and drill myself one in time for next December?

Instead of an advent calendar, for the last few years I've wrapped up some of our Christmas books and we've opened one a day. The first couple of times it was only M opening them, so it worked out well, but last year we had fights over who got to open them. This year I considered wrapped three books for each day (yeah, we have that many Christmas/winter books...but in my defense most of them are hand-me-downs), but that just seemed crazy, so I just labeled them with the day and each kid's name (happily 24 is divisible by 3)...still there is much drama over who gets to open the books and then issues around the person opening the book thinking he owns the book...tis the season for fistfights! And M is (sniff, sniff) getting a little too old for picture books, so he usually opens his and then heads off to read Captain Underpants or Encyclopedia Brown, although he did read The Polar Express to us the other night.

Some of our favorite Christmas and winter books:

Anything by Jan Brett, especially if it includes Trolls (last year I had to hid Trouble With Trolls under the bed because I got sick of reading it), but also The Mitten and the Gingerbread Baby.

A Jolly Christmas at the Patterprints by Vera Nyce. We inherited this book when C's grandparents moved out of their farmhouse and it is probably the most fun Christmas story I've read.

A Christmas Stocking Story, by Hillary Knight, which I got as part of a set of four teeny tiny books when I was little.

Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas, by Russel Hoban. Such a sweet story (by the author and illustrator of the Francis books)...also my favorite Christmas movie.

How the Rabbits found Christmas, by Ann Scott. One of my childhood books.

My Wonderful Christmas Tree, by Maine Artist/Illustrator Dahlov Ipcar.

I'm sure I'll think of more, once we've opened them all (last night was Little Critter's Merry Christmas Mom and Dad and Five Little Foxes and the Snow...both short, sweet additions to the list); and I'm sure MY favorites are not necessarily my kids' favorites, but this way we do manage to get all those Christmas books read during the right season, and then put away so we're not reading Rudolph in July.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


This weekend I held a little party to make baby hats for Soulemama's Mama to Mama Caps to Cap-Haitien project. I picked up a bunch of 2XL t-shirts in lollipop colors at Good Will.

I assembled my materials.

Our predicted snow showers turned out to be an all-day snow, with the temp hovering around freezing. Only one intrepid guest braved the icy roads (and nearly landed in a ditch). I tried not to take the weather personally; we had a very pleasant visit (sans children...we actually finished a sentence or two!) and managed to whip up 25 hats--which is about 25 more than I would have even attempted if I hadn't planned a party, so it all worked out. As collateral benefits, I got to eat 3/4 of a honey cake with lemon icing (I'd share a picture, but it came out blurry) by myself, and my house got cleaned about two-and-a-half weeks earlier than it would have otherwise.

I thought I would feel bad cutting up perfectly good T-shirts, but it was OK (which means I can make some T-shirt skirts next summer!) It was kind of weird to think about these shirts made in sweat shops in Guatemala and Honduras, sold in Wal-Marts and Fashion Bugs, then donated to Good Will, sold again and cut up into hats for babies in Haiti...it was a reminder (like we needed one) of how very messed up our system is. Baby hats aren't going to change this, but if they can make a difference to 25 little heads, then that's a good thing.
Thanks L for braving the weather to make hats with me!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Remedial Blogging

I thought I was being a conscientious blogger...responding to most (but not all) comments when they pop up in my email. And then I noticed the other day that the email address it goes to is "no reply." "Hmmm," I thought, "I wonder if that means I can't send a reply email." So I asked a friend who had commented if she'd gotten my email and guess what? She hadn't. I guess "no reply" actually does mean NO REPLY.

I know that when you leave a comment you give Blogger your email address, I just don't know where it goes. And I know I've gotten responses to comments I've left on other people's blogs, I just don't know how they do it (they probably have Typepad or Wordpress or some other fancy blogging platform...I think I'm developing blogger envy, but I don't have the energy or inclination to switch over).

Basically, I have no clue how to operate this bloggy thing, other than to post my posts. This may be a good thing...I read somewhere that the number of readers you have is inversely proportional to the the number of times that you check your stats. I don't know how to check my stats, so it may just be possible that I have, like, 8 or 9 readers, rather than the 3 or 4 of you I imagine out there.

Oh, and if you do leave a comment and don't hear back from me...I'm not ignoring you...I just don't know what I'm doing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I finally just wrapped up a draft of my next GEMINI issue this weekend...that would be the fall issue, which I have historically (OK, twice) put out in September, but this year was aiming for a more realistic October. Now it's December, still technically fall on the calendar, but Christmas season according to the marketers and the weather (we got our first inch of snow yesterday a.m.).

Much of the delay has to do with the fact that we have one computer, and C is on it pretty much constantly for work when he is home. Then that one computer, a laptop, lost its screen a few weeks ago, and C went through the lengthy ordeal of trying to get it to work with an external monitor, buying a new desktop computer (he's not subject to Buy Nothing Year), moving over all of the files and trying to get the new computer to work properly (what's up with Vista anyway?), and trying to catch up on all that work that he fell behind. Add that to that three-week plague and the all-night butterfly wing marathons, and it has gotten very, very difficult for me to write. Finally I broke down and wrote everything in a yellow legal pad (that's what Annie Dillard uses, right?), snuck onto the computer ahead of C one night and typed it all up,printed it out and let it marinate awhile. In the process, I realized I was going in two different directions and needed to divide my material over two separate issues, which puts me a step ahead for January's (ahem, February's) issue.

This weekend C took the kids to his mother's for a day-after Thanksgiving visit and I connected the old laptop to the new monitor and laid out this issue (apparently Vista doesn't like my old "borrowed" copy of Pagemaker either). I still need to proof it, scan in cartoons and take it to the printer...but then it will be done. But the process has been so frustrating. Of course I don't begrudge C his use of our one computer for paid work, because that's what we live on, but I just hate the sense that what I do--whether it's writing or sewing or knitting or cooking or taking care of my kids--is second-rate because it is of no monetary value. I hate that I've finally figured out what I want to be doing (actually, I've known it since I was in third grade when I used to pronounce that I was going to "be an author" when I grew up), but that I can only do it by stealing a few minutes in the dark of the early morning or on rare afternoons at home alone or scribbling in a notebook late at night (a practice which I have also neglected of late, with no technological excuse).

But then I tell myself, if I really want to write, then I would just write, right? What do you think the chances are of Santa dropping a i-Mac (with Pagemaker--or better yet Quark--and Photoshop loaded on) down my chimney this Christmas? Then I would have no excuses.
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