Saturday, January 30, 2010

Where to put it all: Part 1

I wanted to share one of the central design elements within our home: the tops of our bookshelves. When five people share a small apartment, and especially when several of these people are the tiny, grabby sort, the placement of collectibles or other treasured possessions sometimes has to be rethought. So, when storage space is limited, go vertical! (Within safety limits, of course).

Here's the top of one of our tall bookshelves. Don't worry, it's been checked for stability. I think you might notice that one of our collections is old books. I bought the old clock today at a nearby antiquities shop called "50 Hats." Rob thinks he might be able to get it going again.

And another bookshelf top:
Inside the jars are memorabilia from places we used to live or treasures from vacations, complete with the sealed air from that time. One jar holds a dried four-leaf clover. The tins hold collections of crystals and buttons. Again, Rob's old books reach up like Rapunzel's tower. But the shelf is very safe, really. It not about to fall on little people (or me).

Rob had originally left this bookshelf top nearly empty, leaving it uncluttered and highlighting the mirror. But I decided it looked odd next to the other bookshelves in the room. Anyway, I like the way the books on top offer a contrast to the mirror. It's no longer the central focus. I'm not too keen on the magazine holders, but decor is generally a work in progress. They can (should) be moved.

What you're not seeing are the bottom shelves, which are similarly loaded with books. With the first two bookshelves, these are mostly kids books. We also have two other bookshelves in bedrooms, but I wasn't so happy with how the tops of these are being used and didn't want to share!

How are the tops of your bookshelves being used? Maybe we're not the only ones with strange storage options...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Woodland Elf Hat

I found a cute pattern in a book I have out from the library: Bend-the-Rules Sewing. It's a woodland elf cap! For the material I used a green wool sweater I bought at my local thrift shop. I felted it in the washer/dryer, and then followed the relatively easy cutting and sewing instructions.

And finally, here is the finished project, modelled on Rowan's head. The hat was meant for Ben, but he's very particular about which hats he wears, so he just kept pulling it off.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Sad, happy day

Yesterday was a sad, happy day. My father picked Ben and me up and drove us to my grandparents' old apartment. They've both moved into a nursing home, so they had to say goodbye to many of their belongings. I was the happy recipient of many of these items, many of which are absolutely beautiful.

This is one of my favourite things I was given. It's a soup tureen. It's almost hideous, really. But I still love it! It reminds me of hobbits. When I see it, I think earthy flavours such as a mushroom bisque or potato and onion soup.

I couldn't even begin to list everything I was given--and for the record, most of my grandparents possessions are immediately lovely. I have a brand new sewing kit, many craft books, more knitting needles, a beautiful Native American box loaded with embroidery floss. It's very sad that my grandmother cannot use these anymore, but at least they'll be used well and appreciated (by me). And they're so full of memories. My grandmother was a very careful person; every needle, every measuring tape, everything is put away so carefully. I'm not by nature so fastidious, but I will try to treat all her cherished things with the care she would have given them.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Wet felting

It's cold and drizzly outside, almost cold enough to snow. I prefer snow over rain in winter, because then you have the chance to brush it off before it melts and gets you wet. But raining it is, and we came back from our playgroup somewhat chilled. So we plunged our hands into dishes of very warm water and tried wet felting. We got warm and made something pretty!This is a very easy project. I followed the instructions in Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children by Sharifa Oppenheimer. I wish I had thought to take photos at the beginning of the project, but rest assured that it was very easy!

The children simply laid clean, carded white wool in one direction of my pan, then laid coloured wool the other way. Add some hot and sudsy water, then begin the felting! Start gently to prevent the wool from wadding all up. As the wool felts into a pad, you can play with it a little more vigorously. It takes a while for it to be durable enough for play. Here's what we ended up with.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sewing bug

The sewing bug hit about the same time as my cold bug. I've been working on a summer dress for Emma. Here's the skirt pieces, ready to be pieced together, along with the finished bodice.

I finished it this morning. The problem with sewing, for me, is getting the correct size. Emma is tall but very, very thin. According to the pattern back, Emma is a size 3 chest size, and size 8 length. So, I cut out a size 7 and lengthened, as a compromise. It still ended up way too large through the chest. I had to tuck in 2 1/4 " in either side of the zipper, and it's still loose! For my next go, I think I'll try to make size 4 width, but size 8 length all-round (including the bodice).My sewing has inspired the kids. Emma made dresses for her paper dolls out of fabric scraps while I was sewing, and I gave Rowan a piece of material with a threaded needle secured to it. Here he is busy at work.And here is the finished project. Rowan wasn't sure what it was, but I think it's a ball.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Under the weather

Two nights ago, I felt unreasonably tired. I'm a night owl, so I knew something was wrong when I was exhausted by 10 pm. Then yesterday, I developed the sniffles. Today my cold has finally arrived, and there is no denying it. So I've stayed put and gently puttered inside.

I've taken several doses of fresh garlic to help me ward off this cold. Garlic has natural anti-viral properties, so it helps our bodies fight against viral infections. I usually mince a small clove of garlic and swallow with (soy)milk, though I may try making an oil preparation as described on page 96 of The Way of Herbs (1990) by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D.

For my sore throat, and also to help fight the cold, I boiled up a strong ginger tea. Tierra's recipe is simple: grate one ounce ginger root and simmer for about 10 minutes in a pint of water; serve with honey and lemon! This tea also relieves nausea (Tierra 95).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Knitting arm-warmers

We went to our library for a homeschoolers group today. Some of my friends, who had also brought their children, had their knitting with them. I had considered bringing my own knitting along, but I knew my toddler wouldn't give me much chance to sit and work on it. Also, I'm working with four needles right now, which isn't all that easy to transport (at least not when I'm also bringing home several backpacks full of books).

So, I thought I would post a photo of what I'm working on here. It is the first of two arm-warmers for Emma.

I 'm using a self-striping sock yarn (Patons Kroy; 75% wool, 25% nylon) and 2.75 mm needles. I cast on 44 stitches over three needles and k1p1 for 1 1/2 inches. Then I work in stocking stitch (straight knitting) until I reach the length I need, making sure to leave enough yarn for the end ribbing, which will again be 1 1/2 inches of k1p1. Cast off (weave in ends, etc.). Then I'll make another one. Easy! It would probably go faster if I'd used slightly larger needles with fewer stitches, but these are what I had on hand. I'll post another photograph when they're finished. Happy knitting!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Winter Books

After New Year's, we stash away all of our holiday picture books and pull out the winter ones. These are the stories we go to when we need a pick-me-up when winter seems oppressive. I wanted to share some of our favourites with you.

Many of you will probably already know this one--The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren. The opening words and pictures show a hushed, snow-covered homestead. In the dead of night, the Tomten roams the farm, tending and speaking to the farm animals, and promising them that summer will return again. The story is very reassuring, especially to those of us in a Northern climate!

The Mitten by Jan Brett is a beautifully illustrated rendition of a Ukranian folktale. A lost mitten becomes a cosy den for first a mole, then a rabbit, hedgehog, owl, badger, fox and bear. The mitten is already overfilled by the time a mouse arrives, but still it climbs in upon the bear's nose. The bear, tickled by the mouse, sneezes and all the animals go flying. The mitten is found, though is rather stretched. This book is eye-candy, and I cannot take in enough details. Like many folktales, it inspires creativity. Last year, my children created beeswax animals and a mitten to enact the story.

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson is more fun than anything. The rhyme is dead-on and onomatopoeic. A bear snoozes in his lair, and while he sleeps he is visited by a number of woodland creatures: a mouse, hare, mole and badger, a wren and a raven. They feast on tea, popcorn and honey-nuts. As mouse seasons the stew bubbling over the fire, a fleck of pepper lands on bear's nose, causing him to sneeze (this sounds vaguely familiar!), and BEAR WAKES UP! After he is done growling, he begins to cry. He missed the party! The illustrations (by Jane Chapman) of the lair are warm and inviting, a distinct contrast to the pictures showing the cold, dark forest in the opening image before the title page.

Days of the Blackbird is Tomie dePaola's story of how Le Giornate della Merla (The Days of the Blackbird) came to be celebrated in northern Italy, and also about the loyalty of a dove (la colomba) and of a daughter. The text is sprinkled with Italian phrases and culture, similar to dePaola's Strega Nona books. It is especially nice to read this book in late January during the Days of the Blackbird--the coldest days of the year.

Martin Waddell's Let's Go Home, Little Bear is probably my favourite of all these books. Big Bear and Little Bear have been walking through the snowy forest. When it is time to go home, Little Bear keeps hearing things, such as plodders (their feet in the snow), ploppers (snow falling from tree branches) and the like, which make him pause to listen. A warm den is waiting for them once they finally make their way home, but not before Big Bear has to pick Little Bear up and carry him the rest of the way. I like this book because, as anyone with small children will agree, it can sometimes be difficult to coax children (and bears) to come along home.

I know there are lots of other books I should have mentioned; this is just a list to get started. Please let me know your favourite winter book, too!

Playing Outside... important. Yes, even when it's cold. It can be really hard to get the kids outside in the winter, but I find that if my kids don't get outside for free play, we all suffer for it. My daughter, Emma, wanted to stay inside today, to rest, read, and stay warm. I understand, since that's what I want to do as well. But I eventually coaxed both Emma and Rowan outside, where they immediately began playing and enjoying themselves. I know that they both will come in cold but happy, refreshed from their time outside in the fresh air. Then there will be hot chocolate and fresh muffins waiting for them. That's the time to settle down with a good book!

There are plenty of books brimming with ideas for outside play. I prefer, though, the play that develops naturally when children are engaged with nature. Cynthia Aldinger (from LifeWays North America) has written a wonderful article, "Children and Nature."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A fire in the gnomes' cave

This is a part of our nature table. It is a gnomes' cave, now covered with snow, but a fire burns and brings warmth. Deeper within the cave is a sack of gems. I wonder what treasures these might be transformed into in the cold weeks ahead.

In our home, too, we are using this icy time to bring forth inner warmth and forge new promises and begin to bring them about. Before we know it, this seemingly neverending winter will be past and this quiet time will come to an end and bring forth the a busy spring. It is so easy to wish the snow and slush away, as it can damper even my children's desire to play in nature. I have to remind myself that this time is important, too, and can help us grow and mature (yes, me too!!) in unimaginable ways.