Friday, December 30, 2011

Handmade Holiday: Pileated Woodpecker

And, last but not least, I needle-felted this pileated woodpecker for my (ex-step-)mother-in-law. She had mentioned last winter that she wanted a life-sized pileated woodpecker for the top of her Christmas tree (and as we have an elf on the top of our tree, and I grew up with a scarecrow as a tree-topper, this did not strike me as the least bit odd). This one falls just a bit short of full-sized, at 16" long. I hope she won't be too disappointed. He was a lot of fun to make, and my knitting group had a lot of fun watching me needle him, as many of them had not been around the year of the needle-felted flock.

And, like all needle-felted creatures, he didn't feel quite real (in fact he looked most ridiculous) until I put the eye on him. Z has put in a request for life-sized osprey and California condor. I think I'll need to get a multi-needle holder before I embark on anything that ambitious.

Provided all has gone as planned, we should have arrived home from Colorado early this morning (how odd to write that sentence 10 days in advance), and I'll be back next week with a report on our trip and a last post or two before grad school begins in earnest and I become scarce around this space. Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, whatever you celebrate (we like to celebrate them all), and a Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Handmade Holiday: Kid-Made Pillows

M came up with the idea, all on his own, to make pillows for people using these pieces of turquoise velour that have been everything from capes to turbans to bed curtains to tablecloths in the boys' room over the last couple of years. We cut a couple of them up and I introduced M to the sewing machine. The fabric was not a good choice for a first sewing project, all stretchy and curly and pilly and slippery, but he forged ahead valiantly. We stuffed them with buckwheat hulls and lavender, and I have no photo of the finished product because he was finishing them up late the night before we left (in fact he has a few more to do after we get home).

And, apropos of nothing, I had to take a picture of this little sign M made when I took it down to make room for Christmas cards. What an awesome little radical he is. Take that, Charlie Summers!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Handmade Holiday: Kid-Made Twig Frames

One weekend I said to C, "can you think of any carpentry-type project the boys can make for the grandfathers?" And he said, "I dunno. Picture frames?" And I said, "Great. Can you spearhead that this afternoon?" And so I have no idea how these were made (other than they made liberal use of old pizza boxes for the backing). But I do think they came out great, and I think I kind of like delegating. I must do it more often.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Handmade Holiday: Kid-Painted Silk Scarves

For the grandmothers and granmotherly types and, ahem, the Mama, the boys painted silk scarves with Kool-Aid, just like we did at their birthday party.

I took a bunch of bandana-sized silk scarves from Dharma Trading (Kool-Aid will only work when dying animal-based fibers like silk or wool, not cotton), put them in a pot of water with a few glugs of white vinegar and brought the water to a boil. I mixed packets of Kool-Aid powder with a small amount of hot water and vinegar, laid a hot, wet scarf onto some big paper, then let the boys go at it with Kool Aid and brushes. They tried different effects with brushing, blotting, splatting and dipping. 

After they were done I hung them out to dry (above), then rinsed them in cool water to get the vinegar and Kool-Aid smell out, dried them again and ironed them to make them soft again (they get kind of stiff from the Kool-Aid, but soften up with use).

Monday, December 26, 2011

Handmade Holiday: Kid-Made Freezer Paper Stencil Shirts

I decided to have the kids make freezer paper stencil shirts for their peeps again this year. (We did a few two years ago). It's a relatively painless gift-making process that results in a useful object. Yea.

M made this for his uncle K, stealing a scorpion design from a book he's been reading:

When I asked Z's auntie E what her favorite color and animal were, she said "If you're getting me a pet, I want a unicorn with a rainbow mane." So that's what she got:

For E's uncle E, I used a picture he'd drawn at school of the Brothers in their Brothermobile, from the ongoing saga of The Gold and Silver Stone, which takes place in Tom Lighthouse's World.

M did some fancy lettering to make a #1 PAPA shirt for C, and Z traced some stars:

For Grandpoppy, M drew an owl. I've never in my life seen my dad wear a shirt with any kind of picture or lettering on it, so we went with small and subtle. Maybe he'll make an exception for his grandkids' work.

See this great tutorial on freezer-paper stenciling, see my friend Sara's blog. This time around, the kids got more involved than last time (when I did the actual tracing, cutting and painting after they went to bed). They drew the pictures, picked the colors and did some of the painting. I traced the designs onto the freezer paper stencils, and wielded the Xacto knife and the iron.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Handmade Holiday: Acornaments

Every Chrismas, I do an ornament exchange with my mom, one of my sisters and three of my aunts. I usually end up making lots of extra ornaments to also give to various other family members. Two years ago I needle-felted birds and the year before I sewed birds (last year I bought little wooden birdhouse ornaments on Etsy). This year, to keep things simple, I broke from the bird theme and made felted acorns.

In two separate sessions, I wet-felted a whole lotta balls, with some help from E and Z, and then glued on acorn caps and gold thread hangers.

Hopefully everyone likes them and doesn't think I cheaped out.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Handmade Holiday: Travel Journals and Stocking Stuffers

I made very few gifts this year, compared to years' past, and almost nothing for the kiddos. Instead I've made Etsy my best friend. But I did zip out these travel journals:

It's so hard to find ready-made notebooks that are short enough for a ten-day trip. I bought two 99 cent writing tablets--one lined and one blank--and, alternating lined and blank pages, stacked up 20 sheets of paper, folded part of an old Rocky Mountain National Park map over them for a cover and zig-zagged up the side with the sewing machine to bind them off. I hope to encourage the kids to write and draw something every day of the trip, especially since they're missing several days of school.

I had bought a lot of little toys and things for the road trip that never happened last summer, so I was pretty much all set on stocking stuffers (I did buy socks and undies out of tradition). For the two magnifying glasses I had for E and Z, I made these cozy drawstring bags, lined with fleece to protect the lenses (which are real glass). I did the world's worst job sewing up the bags, but hopefully the boys won't notice (I'll just tell them the elves were really really tired when they made these, which is true).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Handmade Holiday: Easy Watercolor Gift Tags

If you have young children, it's likely you have an excess of abstract watercolor paintings--especially if you have a tendency to play Waldorf school now and then. What to do with all those paintings? They're too pretty to throw away, but I assure you your kids won't thank you if you save them in the musty basement and hand them over in a huge box along with all their spelling tests and vaccine records when they're 35 years old.

I've used ours for Mother's Day Cards, Valentines and gift tags.

For the gift tags, I just stick on blank mailing labels (there are usually a few blank ones left over at the bottom of a sheet after I print out our Christmas card labels or GEMINI mailing labels), cut out rectangles and punch a hole in the corner, then tie them to gift bags or packages. Pretty, fun and recycled. Yea!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Big Thing

Remember the Big Thing I was expecting to come and fill the north wall of our living room? Well, it finally came last Wednesday.

This piano was literally on our doorstep nearly 10 years ago, and C sent it away. Another time it was in a moving truck, ready to come to our house and again he said, "no." Finally, finally it made its way into our home, and would you guess who has played it more than anyone? You got it. Apparently he remembers a bit more about those old piano lessons than he wanted to admit (his memory of the piano, however, was faulty--he had it at seven feet tall in his mind), and now he can be found sitting before the keys, picking out Christmas carols throughout the day.

Of course, everyone else is enjoying it too. M pounds out "Let it Be" and "Axel F" several times a day and E and Z take their turns tickling the ivories. It appears we have become a very musical family (with the exception of me--I took two semesters of piano in college, but it's been so long ago I could not even point out middle C).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Deep Breaths

We leave for Colorado tomorrow afternoon, and I'm in that pre-trip "What the heck were we thinking?" stage. I'm at home now with two "sick" boys, who both look much better now they're not at school (though one did legitimately throw up). Since I'm very good at imagining the worst case scenario, I'm now picturing us stuck in the Detroit airport in a blizzard, with three vomiting children. So compared to that anything else will be just fine--we could be all sick in our hotel room, but people could visit us there, bearing ginger ale and Lego sets, right? So now I'm taking deep breaths and reminding myself that everything will be Just Fine.

I won't be blogging on our trip, but I've set up several Handmade Holiday posts to run over the next two weeks and I'm going to reveal the Big Thing that moved into our living room last week, so do come back (unless you might possibly be one of the recipients of a holiday handmade) . 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

This Weekend...

I made Lucia buns Friday night (I had meant to make them last Monday to have for breakfast the 13th, but we were out of butter. I ended up mixing lost of raisins right in the dough and skipping the S-shape) and ate them on our holiday place mats and table runner (which are happily acquiring a patina of pomegranate spatters and orange juice splashes).

M and I made sugar cookies,

and Z helped us make peppermint bark,

 (this time I used four bars of Green & Black white chocolate instead of a bag of white chips, because all the chips are made with palm oil and I recently read an article---M makes fun of me every time I say something he goes, "Let me guess, you read an article?"---about palm oil bringing about the destruction of the last of the rain forests).

And we made paper heart ornaments.

We read a lot of Jan Brett books around here, and I've always admired--and wanted to make--the woven stars that appear on the Christmas trees in many of her books. We used the template from the activity section of the Jan Brett web site, enlarged to 175% and traced onto heavy red and white paper from the scrapbook aisle of the craft store. The directions included with the template were rather vague, and I couldn't wrap my brain around how to weave the paper so it makes a kind of basket in the end, so I googled something like "Swedish paper heart ornament" and found some directions that were a bit more helpful.

M was able to make one all himself and E and Z got through the first three rows of weaving before it became too tricky (or they got bored), so it turned out to be surprisingly more kid-friendly than I'd expected. I glued a little loop of ribbon to them and hung them in the tree. They're meant to be filled with candy, in which case I think 175% enlargement was a bit too much.

The whole time we were making them, I was thinking about all the other things I *should* be doing--packing for our trip, reading for school, cleaning the house--but at the time, weaving hearts just seemed more important, and fun. I did eventually pack some stuff and clean. And some other things I had hoped to do before we left didn't happen, but they can wait.

Just before bed, we did light a couple of candles on our tree, which we normally do on Christmas Eve, and sang some carols.

 This is the thing I'm discovering about traditions--it doesn't really matter what day or date you do them. And it's OK to skip one here and there and add in new ones. It's not about doing the exact same thing the exact same way year after year. Traditions can grow and change with you and your family. As long as you're having fun, who cares?

The winner of the Christmas in Scandinavia book giveaway is Aunt Kirstie. Congratulations and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Magic

This is what the underneath of our tree looks like these days:

E and Z are in their mode of wrapping up random things and giving them as presents. They've done this every year since they've been old enough to not eat wrapping paper. M wrapped up a couple of his old things as real presents for his brothers, and because none of them could wait, E and Z opened them almost right away--a small radio (which the two of them had been fighting over earlier: "It's not fair that M has two radios and I don't have any!") for Z and a book of rocks and minerals for E. I was too busy doing other things to butt in with a control-freaky "don't you want to wait and open them on Christmas?" and both boys were thrilled with their gifts. Magic.

The other night I pulled into our driveway at the end of the day, grumbling inward about kids not putting on their seat-belts when they get into the car and wondering what to make for dinner and thinking about my arm-long to-do list; when I swung by the big open field and turned into the woods Z saw the stars coming out in the dark sky out his side window and started to recite, "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight..." My mind flashed to this post by Jaimie about magic, and it struck me that the magic is there, we just have to be receptive to it (which is basically what Jaimie said, only I missed the point when I read it the first time).

So last night, while M was at guitar, E and Z and I started rolling out another batch of cookies (chocolate gingerbread this time), and I put the Chipmunks Christmas album on the turn table. E handed me back his apron and went to sit with his ear to the speaker so he could hear every chipmunky word, then, when the record was over, he sat counting his money (he's my second Scrooge child) and looking at his new rocks and minerals book singing, "Deck the halls with jolly!"

I listened with one ear, while Z and I cut out gingerbread boys, girls and babies and also squirrels, acorns and oak leaves (because we never made any fall cookies) and thought about magic and thought, yes, these halls are decked with jolly. If I only stop grumbling long enough to feel it.

Don't forget to enter my giveaway for the Christmas in Scandinavia book!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Happenings and Giveaway

This post is dedicated to the point-and-shoot camera.

We have been squeezing holiday celebrations in and around regular life whenever we can.

On St. Nicholas Day (last Tuesday) we each found an ornament in our shoe--four charming vintage pinecone gnomes for the boys and a tiny putz house for the mama.

The evening before I had told them this St. Nicholas story from Miri's blog (which I much prefer to the dowry version), and then C opened his big mouth and said "If you're good St. Nicholas will put gold coins in your shoes." So naturally, no one was very impressed with the gnome ornaments. There was also supposed to be a special chocolate which I had bought when I was in Connecticut, but that same big mouth had already helped himself to all of them. 

I had also spent the last month or so threatening them that if they don't behave, The Krampus would come and take them away in his iron basket, and read them a poem I wrote for the speech club I belong to (yeah, I'm that geeky) in which Krampus makes all the bad children into soup. They must have been good enough; they escaped Krampus's basket this year. (I was pleased to hear, coincidentally, this story on NPR over the weekend which indicates that Krampus is finally getting some attention this side of the Atlantic)

E and Z had their holiday concert at school last week (it was the first time in seven years that M didn't have a concert), which was the usual combination of adorable and horrifying. Those are my boys there, the one in red with his hands in his pockets and the one in white and black trying to hide behind everyone else. I especially like how my camera gave everyone glowy white eyes, like they're little Krampuses themselves.

Saturday morning, before basketball practice (oh, yes, another sporting season for me to grouse about. Aren't you happy?), I strung up the "garling" E fingerknitted over Thanksgiving weekend. It wound all the way down the long wall that spans living room and kitchen, the side wall of the living room, the front wall, around the stairway and chimney, and back again. I estimate it is about 130+ feet of fingerknitting.

I had a hard time getting a picture to show the magnitude of it.

Saturday afternoon, we went into full-on sweat-shop mode, making holiday gifts (and Z taking arty photographs of it all). At one point Z, while doodling out ideas for decorating his gifts drew something that was almost exactly a swastika (with one leg pointing the wrong way) and said something like, "How about this?" and I said something like, "Absolutely NOT!!!!" and the whole thing ended up eerily and almost exactly like this incident, with Z crying and burrowing into the couch. Oh my. 

Saturday evening we held our very, very early Hanukkah observed celebration, with our usual half-sweet-potato latkes, and a yule log menorah like the one we made last year. I was so happy to refer back to that post and remember that I made homemade applesauce (which I did again) and bought grape kid wine (they didn't have it so I bought blueberry). The health food store didn't have sour cream this year either, so we used yogurt instead, but I did buy some ruby red sauerkraut, which though it's made of cabbage, looks kinda like beets. I also served fried eggs, because now that the kids actually eat the latkes, so C and I can't have about eight each, they're not that filling (C's hoping I'll make a brisket next year, whatever that is). I couldn't find any fair trade/organic chocolate gelt, so we went without dessert (I think cheese blintzes should be on the menu next year...that sounds much better than brisket).

I had meant to get a CD of Jewish music, but I forgot when I was at the bookstore earlier in the week, so instead we marched around the kitchen with tambourines and castanets singing "Hanukkah is Here" and pretending to dance the hora, and M played the dreidel song on his trumpet. 

Afterward, instead of playing dreidel, we went out for a moon walk.

 (I wasn't going to post this photo until I saw Rachel's post about the lunar eclipse, and the photo she included, and thought, why not? Why not embrace the humble point-and-shoot in all its beautiful limitations?)

Speaking of photographic limitations, have you ever noticed how hard it is to take a good photo of a Christmas tree? It's like they're afraid you'll steal their soul or something. I wanted to capture just how heavily laden our tree's branches are with ornaments. (You can also see the fishing line tying it to the window frames)

On Sunday, I ventured more deeply into our swamp to find more winterberry to add to some evergreen boughs I stuffed arranged in a planter on the front step. They're harder to find without the background of snow setting off the red, but they looked so beautiful against the setting sun and deep black water of the wetland.

By the time I got home and got them arranged (by porch light), it was too dark to see the effect, and I haven't been home in daylight since (these days of leaving home and returning home in darkness are so hard to take--last week I had to put the kids on the bus a couple of times so C could leave early, and it was so nice to be home, alone, in the morning light that I lingered a bit too long over my tea).

Which finally brings us to our giveaway, and this picture taken by lamplight because that's all there is.

I had promised another giveaway for last week, but never go to it, and this isn't even the giveaway I had planned (that one will come out sometime in the New Year), but I thought this one more seasonally apt: Christmas in Scandinavia, a collection of folk tales and stories from the North. I somehow ended up with two copies of this book and would like to share one with a blog reader who would enjoy it. Now, as a disclaimer, I must say I have not read it myself, so I can't vouch for the stories (but one is by Hans Christian Anderson, so they must be alright). I can't say if they're heavy-handed in the religious angle, or anything else (I can say I adore the outfit on the little boy on the cover--hmm, I bet E would be game to wear legwarmers, shoes turned up at the toes and a Tomten hat...).

So, if you're interested in Christmas folklore and Scandinavia, please do leave a comment, telling me what your favorite Christmas story is. Also, please, please, please leave your email address so I can contact you if you win. I'll draw a winner Saturday night (December 17) and send the book out Monday if I can get in touch with the winner to get her address before then (if not, it will have to wait until January--we leave for Colorado on Tuesday!). Good luck!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Living Room Overhaul, Part I

The final room on deck for the Complete House Overhaul was the living room, which seems kind of odd, since it's the first room you come into (after passing through the mudroom) and the room visitors are most likely to spend time in, but that's just how it worked out.

I tend to clean in bulldozer fashion, starting in one corner of the house and pushing all the detritus ahead of me. So it has been on a much larger scale with this whole house overhaul, and much of the clutter that had been evicted from other rooms had sort of found a temporary landing place in the living room. Add that to the fact that I kind of neglected general weekly housekeeping since March, and this is what I had to contend with:

I kind of cheated and got started on the living room in November, cleaning and tidying the weekends before and after Thanksgiving. I did all the usual decluttering, dusting, vacuuming and mopping every nook and cranny like in the other rooms (I even kept on mopping right through the kitchen which I have not mopped, apparently, in months), and C patched and painted two walls that had never gotten their third coat, but much remains undone, and won't happen this month. But I want to throw out there my plans for the room in hopes that it will keep me moving forward and getting this room done in the next few months.

In this corner of the room, I'd like to put a tall corner cabinet (though that will deprive me of some high-value photo-hanging real estate) and under one of the windows, I'd like a low cabinet or bookshelf to hold the kids' toys and the TV (C has been lobbying for me to buy him a flat-screen TV for Christmas. I don't believe in spending money on a TV—we're on our third hand-me down—however the smaller profile would be nice and a new TV would be free of PBDEs). Hmmm...

2011 was supposed to be The Year of the Couch. This is the fourth hand-me down couch we've owned and I truly hate it—it's ugly and uncomfortable and I can't stand all the loose pillows that end up on the floor 18,000 times a day. My dream couch has a camel back, scrolled arms, claw feet and is upholstered in midnight blue velvet (like something you might find on the set of a film adaptation of a Jane Austen novel). And doesn't contain chemical flame retardants or stain-proofing. And has never had anyone's butt (or cats or dogs) on it. Do you know where I can find such a couch?

I would like new art work above the mantel. Nothing against Modigliani's lady in blue, but I'm kind of tired of her. I'd really like a piece of original art in bright colors. And speaking of mantels, I would like one of those too. I was going to go to a landscaping company and buy a long, narrow, flat stone to lay atop the uneven, unfinished bricks, but suddenly it was winter and I'd missed landscaping season. First thing next spring.

We eliminated a big, ugly old rolltop desk (which served only as a clutter collector) and a filing cabinet from this wall. We have big plans for it that I will tell you all about when those plans arrive (any day now, I think). Right now it plays host to M's guitars (tell me, why does a ten-year-old need three guitars?) and various ukeleles and mandolins (don't look at the left side of the picture, or you'll see my desk is still quite cluttered). 

I bought one of those stair-step baskets that for some reason I remember being The Thing in the 80s (maybe they were on some TV show?) so that instead of piles and piles of toys creating a deadly trap on the bottom six stairs, the boys' junk all goes in the basket and when it's full, they're supposed to take it up and put things away (supposed to being the operative word here). I also want to get a round rack from for the space near the wood stove, for drying mittens and snow pants.

This little art corner has been a perennial problem. I think some kind of cabinet or at least book shelves would make it a little less chaotic.

So, as you can see, still a bit of work needs (OK, wants) doing in here, but for now it is reasonably tidy and cozy (and freshly decorated for Christmas). The original goal when I started all this was to get my house so clean it would just stay that way. I have found along the way that it's easier to keep things clean when you have less stuff. So the decluttering has helped immensely. Also I've been working on just tidying things up as needed—cleaning the sink in the bathroom when it's dirty rather than thinking, oh I better do that Saturday, or picking up (and putting away) items as I pass through a room, or taking five minutes in the evening to tackle a "hot spot." Now I think I can get back to my weekly House Bewitching and be able to stay on top of things without putting too much time into house work.

Here are the Total House Overhaul Archives (in case you missed out on any of the clean-and-declutter excitement the first time around).

My Room Part I and Part II
The Boys' Room Part I and Part II
The Kitchen
The Sunroom
The Mudroom

I would like to say that this concludes my flurry of organization, but there's still the basement... 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mudroom Overhaul Complete

Oh, Mudroom, how you live up to your name. I reorganize you on a regular basis (see here and here), but it never seems to stick. I think it's due to an inferiority complex brought on by your unsightly name. Perhaps if we take to calling you foyer (that would be pronounced foy-yea) or vestibule you would try a little harder to keep up appearances?

This is what I faced in said room at the beginning of the month:

Oh, yes, that's how we chose to welcome guests into our home. "Hello, and welcome to Chaos. We hope you enjoy your stay. And please, take some clutter with you on your way out the door (that is if you don't trip on a shoe and break your neck)."

It only took one morning, really, to clean out all the summer shoes and jackets and hats and assorted school papers and garbage and dust away the spiders and their webs, tidy the shelf, and mop the floor.

And the results? Oh, so much more pleasing.

We added lots more coat hooks and C brought home a pair of end tables from his dad's house that stand in as benches. They work more to define space than anything...I can line my shoes up under one and hide the birdseed bucket under the other. I also switched from a reusable grocery bag to an actual zippered gym bag for my swim stuff, which keeps it much more tidily contained (and perhaps makes me appear marginally more grown-up).

I would like new door mats and some kind of cubby thing for the kids' shoes (rather than a plastic bin), and an attractive receptacle for outgoing mail and my brother-in-law's mail, which comes to our house for reasons unknown to me. I'll keep my eye out, but I haven't felt compelled to hunt for such items. C and I have been riding hard on the kiddos to hang up their coats and back packs and put their shoes in the bin. And, believe it or not, the mudroom foyer has remained reasonable tidy for the last two or three weeks since I straightened it out. Tomorrow, on to the living room (you can get a sneak peek at what that room had in store for me in the second-to-last photo on this page).

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