Tuesday, November 30, 2010

So. Far. Behind.

Zoiks! How can it almost be December already?? I have done nearly nothing to plan or prepare for Christmas gift making. In fact, I've been a bit in denial--and still on my campaign to get the holiday moved to somewhere around January 28 or February 6...to give us something to look forward to in the depths of winter.

For the last two weekends I've been meaning to plow through a stack of craft books and magazines and make lists of things to make and do and buy, but I keep getting derailed (this weekend it was an epic basement cleaning project that threw me off--but it had to be done; the disaster I made down there in the process of cleaning one room was quite out of control and my 15 minutes of daily clean-up somehow fizzled out a month or so ago).

I looked back over my Handmade Holidays posts from last year and the year before (here, here, here, and here) and it's downright frightening. What kind of crazy machine was I to make all that stuff?? And why didn't you throw something really hard at me for being such a show-off?

I have one knitting project started:

And that's all. I don't have nearly the big plans to make as much stuff this year, but I do want to make some things, and I want to keep up the tradition of helping the kids make gifts for grand-people and whichever aunt/uncle/cousin whose name they draw. And I want to make a few things for C. I don't have anything handmade planned for E and Z, and for M, I've already given up on finishing (and, ahem, starting) the quilt that's gotten pushed off the docket for at least the last three holidays (birthday-Christmas-birthday), but I do want to stencil a t-shirt I bought for him. Oh, yes, and a dozen-and-a-half ornaments for the ornament exchange and all the various mothers-in-law.

Not to mention the weekly celebrations all month--St. Nicholas (and Krampus) Day; St. Lucia Day, Hanukah, Solstice--I'm exhausted already. What I really need is the month off.

I'm not the sort of person to decorate for Christmas the minute the turkey and stuffing are tossed in the compost--I like a bit of a breather between holidays--but in an attempt to get in the spirit, I picked up a few decorations at Goodwill yesterday (I promise I got rid of much more stuff than I brought home): these four cute tiny candleholders (made in "West Germany" so they're at least 20+ years old), some pretty Christmas balls and three plaster nativity characters for my mom (though she informs me she needs angels and camels, not more wise men, mangers or Josephs--they, together with the candleholders, were only 99 cents).

How about you? Are you ready?

P.S. Don't forget to leave a comment before midnight tonight for your chance to win my blog anniversary giveaway!

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Gratitude Journal

When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was more about grievances and guilt than gratitude.

To tell you the truth, it's not a holiday I care for much at all. Between the food, most of which appeals to me not at all, and memories of the women heading to the kitchen after a two stress-fraught days of cooking and an hour of gluttony for hours of hand washing and drying china, silver and crystal while the men retired to the rec room to watch football. Ugh. Give me crepes any day.

For my children, I want the holiday to be less about the cut glass relish trays of perfectly arranged olives, pickles, carrots and celery (though that is my favorite part of the meal), and more about feeling gratitude for the relative comfort and ease of our lives. It's not always easy, I know from personal moments of crankiness and general ungratefulness, and it's always easier to feel grateful for something when you know the experience of not having it (case in point: when I had four-day weekends every week I did not appreciate those days nearly as much as I did this past weekend's rare length now that I work full time). But of course I don't want my kids to go hungry or homeless in order to understand what they do have here. Nor do I want to burden them with the sorry state of the world...they're too young to curl up in the mental fetal position of despair that I feel much of the time.

I'm not sure how to really instill that sense of gratitude in them, other than doing my best to model it. We do take a moment before dinner each evening to "Thank the farmer, the gardener, the cook, mother Earth and father Sun" (and, occasionally, "Mother Hera and Father Zeus"). And each year on Thanksgiving Day, we write a small note about what we feel grateful about in a little journal I made.

It's a small gesture, no doubt, especially compared to all the suffering that many people in the world endure, and from which we have--by shear luck of birth--so far been spared. But it is a start.

How do you teach your children gratitude?

P.S. Don't forget about my blog anniversary giveaway...one more day to leave a comment!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Another Table Runner

Inspired by this, this and this, I made another table runner, this one more autumnal than the last one.

This was one of those walls I had to break through--I struggled with what to use for artwork and I struggled with the crazy-quilt effect of the patchwork; it was very hard for me to put together fabrics that didn't "match." I kept trying to put together ones that had similar color schemes, but that left me with orphan fabrics.

But I didn't care for a totally random look either.

Finally I realized that if I just alternated lights and darks, I would have a pattern, but the colors didn't need to match. Whew. (I'm generally very not type A, but sometimes I have my moments).

I have to admit that I was surprised by Z's unorthodox approach to decorating a handprint turkey, and must have said something to that effect, because I found it crumpled in the recycling bin the next day. Only then did I realize how great it was...and now Z will forever make a conformist handprint turkey with beak and wattle...sigh. When will I ever learn?

I also love M's comical turkey with pilgrim shoes and a braided, bowed wattle (which didn't turn out all that well in the embroidery).

And of course I adore E's classical turkey too.

I was feeling nostalgic for the present while I put this together, imagining myself as an old woman, all alone on Thanksgiving, my children in far-flung corners of the world, taking this runner out and putting it on the table, measuring my shrunken, gnarled, withered old hands against the turkeys. It was a sad scene, I must admit.

When the handprints make me too sad, I can just flip it over on the back, which is wide strips of late-autumn golds, aquas and olive greens.

Hope you have a great and grateful Thanksgiving, however your table is decorated, and, speaking of table runners and gratitude, don't forget to sign up for my blog anniversary giveaway.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Blog Anniversary and Giveaway

So yesterday marked the three-year anniversary of my starting this blog, which almost as amazing to me as having a nine-year-old kid...truly, where does time go?

I don't really have any wise words about why I blog or how much I have grown and changed since I started keeping track of the minutia of my life here. Mostly I just feel like the Whos in Whoville, shouting "I am here, I am here, I am here!" However, I do want to extend my gratitude to those of you out there who come to this space daily, or occasionally--or even if this is the first time ever that you've been here.

So to show my thanks, I have a giveaway for you:

An autumnal table runner in blue sky with oak leaves and acorns on one side:

and cream organic cotton canvas on the other side (that may have a slight pink tinge to it due to my pre-washing the fabric with a pair of red Guatemalan napkins) with a smiling acorn embroidered in the corner (drawn by Z).

It will come with a bar of my new favorite kind of chocolate (carmelized, salted peanuts...yum!) and felted acorns.

Yes, I do realize it will practically be winter by the time the winner receives her/his prize, but that's the good thing about seasons--they always come back again.

To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment on this post between now and midnight November 30. In your comment, tell me something about yourself--say your favorite kind of chocolate, or your favorite season, or your favorite cartoon, or what kind of tree you would be if you were a tree. Really, anything. I talk your ear off about me--now it's your turn!

Be sure to leave your email address so I can contact you if you're the winner (even though you give blogger your email, it doesn't pass it on to me).

Friday, November 19, 2010

November Updates and Miscellany

I wrote that last post while C was watching TV last night, and I must have been paying more attention to Doc Martin than to what I was writing, 'cause I managed to get an awful lot of wrong words in there, forgot my links and forgot to tell you so many things! Plus, I didn't mean to sound so depressing...I'm not really depressed, just Novemberish. Anyway what I wanted to tell you about was:

*Last week, having a day off in the middle of the week (thanks Vetrans!), I played "this is what it will be like when I'm unemployed." It was kind of nice...I lounged around and read most of the day. Made breakfast all three meals (cereal--pancakes--hash browns and eggs with solar-oven-baked applesauce. Yes, it has not been completely gray and gloomy all November, and it's actually still possible to solar cook this time of year!). Let the kids watch Superfriends (after I dragged them outside for some fresh air and exercise--to walk to the mailbox, which would remain empty because of the holiday and all).

*Over the weekend I had warm fuzzy homeschool feelings, sitting on the couch embroidering and watching the kids build cities with blocks, and make chain reactions with blocks and balls and marbles and matchbox cars and dominoes, and write their own chapter books. Even their bickering didn't bother me. I know I would be the worst homeschool mom ever (except for those crazy Christians who homeschool just to prevent their children from actually learning anything) because I'm totally self-absorbed and would be like "go out and play so I can work on my blog." But it was fun to imagine for a moment.

*Over the last couple of weeks, I gave the camera a rest and just experienced life, rather than trying to document it (driven in part, perhaps, by the insanely overwhelming number of pictures I had just gone through on our computers, and, I think, driven also by my little unplanned bloggy break which resulted in the little narrator in my head quieting down for a while).

*I finished reading the Little House series (I had been reading them to the boys, but they got tired of it in the middle of By the Shores of Silver Lake--we're saving Farmer Boy for this winter) and it left me feeling all empty inside...like my life is filled with too much of nothing, and not enough simple joy and pleasure (and hardship, deprivation, blizzards, near-death experiences). It started an obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder. I'm finally reading Little House in the Ozarks, which has been sitting on my night stand for about two years, and I checked out a pile of biographies of her from the library (apparently I'm not the first one to be obsessed; our tiny library had no fewer than seven biographies in the children's section alone). It's an interesting lesson in the difference between "truth" and "fact" in memoir. I know her books were written as novels, not memoir, but I do think they are Laura's--we're on a first-name basis now--Laura's "truth," even if the events in the story don't exactly conform to the "facts" of her life.

*Sunday is my three-year blog anniversary. I know. Crazy. We'll talk more about that next week.

*Sunday-Monday I'm going on a little mini-break to western Massachusetts, where I'll spend some time with three of my dearest friends and some time with just me. Looking forward to lots of restaurant eating and wandering into little shops. Maybe I'll take my laptop and/or notebook and actually write a few words. We'll see.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


November descended on me with the weight of its leaden gray skies. Suddenly everything began to seem like So. Much. Work. Like a great big stone wall rose up in front of me and I had to break through it before I could accomplish anything--creative projects, writing (although the Wall is kind of a permanent feature in my writing life these days), basic housework (I've been able to keep up the weekly Bewitching, but the basement project has come to a screeching halt), even real work.

And my blog of course got caught up in the un-momentum, though part of the problem was that I had a sudden urgency to upload all of the photos I've been ignoring on our for the last three years to Snapfish right now, prompted by a three for one sale on photo books. This involved a complicated process of copying pictures from one computer onto CDs and then uploading them from another computer with a more reliable internet connection online, trying to cull out a few gazillion photos at each step along the way. Flipping though those millions of photos was like watching my life flash before my eyes--or at least the part of my life that has taken place since 2007 (and of course the sale ended by the time I got all the pictures online, without even starting to organize them into books, but I did get our holiday cards ordered, somewhat impulsively just to keep my account from expiring).

Anyway, back to the walls, I thought perhaps if I could break through one wall, in one realm, the others would come down too. And it's true that each wall demolition was accompanied by a little surge of energy--a manic to my depressive--new ones would spring up all around--bam, bam, bam. I felt like a mime in an invisible box.

Maybe it was the drizzly winter the first couple weeks of November. Maybe it was the hangover from the election, a realization that not only is my future very uncertain, but perhaps I actually care about it a bit more than I thought. Whatever it was, I had thought I'd spend this month getting ready for NEXT month, getting a jump start on holiday planning and creating, but as it turns out, I'm just dreading next month.

So I don't know what exactly the point of all this rambling is, but consider it another wall broken down--bam!

Monday, November 1, 2010

New Attitude

Surrounded by much wailing and gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair the last couple of days, I have been able to maintain my new-found equanimity, that is, I repeated the mantra "people are stupid and they get what they deserve" so many times that I think I became a Republican for a little while. These are the lows our sorry excuse for a democracy plunges otherwise decent people to these days.

Before going too far down this low road, I decided to focus instead on the little things in life--minutia, perhaps, or maybe the only things that really matter. Things like:

Giant pumpkins,

and the wooden leaf-shaped bowl I found in the basement all covered in dust, which I cleaned up to hold all the bits of fall we've been collecting for our centerpiece,

and those bits of fall. Fall is arguably the best season for collecting little bits of nature. I found these crazy acorns near my office. C (who is a tree geek on the side) identified them as "mossy cup" (not to be confused with "mossy oak" the camouflage pattern ubiquitous in these parts). It's actually an endemic species around here, so I plan on planting a few on our land (which I should probably hurry up and do, as the ground is freezing up quick). I found some conkers, which may be buckeyes or horsechestnuts (or they may all be the same thing; I haven't set the tree guy to work on those yet) and a quince on a walk in Hallowell with a friend. The big oak leaves are from the mossy cup and the red maple ones I pick up when walking around the campus at work (oddly, we don't have many maples on our five acres). The gourds I bought, so they don't count as "finds" but they are so funky and fun and they seem to last forever (though one day in December I'll pick one up to find it rotten through).

and spooks, of course.

On Sunday morning, before the Halloween rush, I planted a few dozen flower bulbs that I bought in an overly-enthusiastic school fundraiser spending spree. As I dug the icy ground and placed four precious hyacinth bulbs in the cold mud (with no good reason to believe that hyacinths can even live in this climate), I had the thought, "I can't wait till spring." Not exactly the right attitude for Halloween morning, with spring 4 1/2 months away on the calendar, and another month or more in the future, weather-wise.

So my new perspective, both in response to politics and winter, is to slow down, pay attention, focus on what is here and now before me. Stop. Look. Listen. Breathe. Enjoy.

What other choice is there?

Face Lift

So I spent the day feeling depressed about the impending election and hostile toward friends who did or were planning on voting for the spoiler candidate, until this afternoon I had a revelation: why should I care any more about who is elected governor of Maine any more than, say, Arkansas? So I lose my job (hopefully by getting spectacularly fired for insubordination) and C's business dries up and they double class sizes and start teaching creationism in public schools? So what? It will be a career opportunity--a chance to finally travel the world like I've always dreamed. I hear Costa Rica is the happiest place on earth. Though my kids love winter best, so we might have to set our sights on Sweden. I'm sure both countries have a dearth of middle-aged women with no marketable skills.

In the spirit of NOT GIVING A FLYING FIG about politics and the demise of the world as we know it, I'll continue with our regularly-scheduled program of fluff, that is, another post about Andrea trying to bring some semblance of organization to her life and home. I know you just sit on the edge of your seat waiting for my next re-org post.

One major "hot spot" in our home is the "art table"--the area where I try to keep art and craft supplies at hand for the boys to use at any time (when I was a kid, my mom kept the crayons on top of the refrigerator, and we were never allowed play dough, and paint was only a rare--and later--option, so I like to keep stuff in my kids' reach for whenever the creative urge strikes). But it does tend to collect clutter and get messy.

Exhibit A:

We have a lot of cans of various pencils and writing implements that crash to the floor at least once a week, scattering their contents, when someone squeezes between the art table and the dining table. We also have this cute art caddy which I bought for M when he was four, but we had not been using it effectively. M, who had a graffiti artist's urge (if not skill) to cover every surface with his scribbles at that age (one down side of keeping the art supplies at kid level--lots of crayon and pencil on walls, cabinets, windows, etc.), had thoroughly decorated it with tape, marker and pen, and it was filled with those stupid holiday-themed erasers that we acquire everywhere somehow, broken pencils, pencil shavings, glitter and other miscellaneous and unused junk.

I decided to clean it up a bit and make it more attractive to use to replace all those cans that come crashing down on a regular basis. First, I threw away (in that trash!) the erasers and anything broken or not usable (yes, as the hoarder this is amazing, but really, we'll never use them and I'm sure they're made of PVC and full of phthalates). Then I gave it a coat of paint (the color from the boys' room), and filled the slots with just enough pencils pens, colored pencils and scissors, putting the majority of them--we had dozens--in a box in the basement.

Ahh, I feel more relaxed just looking at it. Maybe I'll even bring it with us to Costa Rica.

Devil, Devil

This is my favorite Halloween book:

The e.e. cummings poem, "hist whist"

with delightfully spooky illustrations by Deborah Kogan Ray.

It's one of my very most lucky library book sale finds.

I managed to encourage E and Z to be the devils for Halloween (E was right on board, but Z persisted in wanting to be a soldier--again--but I had a feeling that once E's costume came together, Z would come around, so I assembled the materials for both.

I have a friend who lets her kids be anything they want for Halloween, as long as the costume can be made out of a sweat suit.

So we started out with sweatsuits and, just as I was trying to figure out how to papier mache my kids' faces to make masks, we received a fortuitous visit from a little friend who had a felt devil mask.
Ah, yes, felt. The wonder fabric. I even used fusible webbing so they were completely no-sew.

Z, on the right, is the great green dancing devil, devil, devil...and E is just your basic orange devil.

And, apropos of nothing, there goes Percy Jackson running off to slay various titans with his gold sword slung over his shoulder.

We celebrated in style, with mock-pumpkin soup (that would be small, unripe green red kuri squash) and our traditional hay ride around the neighborhood pillaging the candy bowls at every stop, and rounding out the evening with C reading a ghost story (this year's selection turned out to be not all that frightening and half the audience fell asleep mid-telling).

Hope you had a spooky Halloween!
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