our writing elsewhere

Our church has a newish writers' group to which, by virtue of being "bloggers", we are tenuously connected. But tenuous or not, when we heard there was a plan to put together a collection of writing pieces on Advent we jumped at the chance to be part of it—you might have noticed that we enjoy sharing our thoughts over the internet. The first post went up yesterday: "A mixed up animal house", by Leah.

My post is coming up sometime later; I don't know exactly when, so you should subscribe to the RSS over there to be sure not to miss it. Because, you know, there's at least a three percent chance that I won't mention it again when it does come out.

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bad credit user

I've had one credit card or another for more than 15 years, and the whole time I don't think I've ever carried a balance. Well, not on purpose: there were a few times when I accidentally paid less than I owed—strangely, I never get any interest payments from the company the times I accidentally paid too much—and more than a few times when I accidentally forgot to pay my bill at all. In fact, I can safely say that over the years I've paid less than $20 in credit card interest and several hundred dollars of late fees. Clearly, I'm doing it wrong.

Just as clearly, I shouldn't actually be using a credit card at all. If I can always pay the balance at the end of the month, then most likely I don't need credit; I might as well just pay for whatever it is the old fashioned way, with my debit card. The only reason I haven't stopped carrying a credit card before now is the lingering worry that I might someday for some reason have to pay for something important, something that costs more money than I have in my bank account at the moment. Of course, I'm not sure what the next step would be in that scenario. Sell an organ? Fake my death and flee the country? Cancel my cell data plan?! I can't imagine. I suppose the normal-person thing to do would be to pay the minimum every month while the interest kept piling up, but that seems as desperate to me as the organ thing.

Leah manages without a credit card; for some reason I have three. People keep telling me that it'll do bad things to my credit rating if I cancel any of them (not that I should care too much about that, since I have this debilitating fear of indebtedness thing going on). I also worry about making the issuing banks feel sad and rejected; it's not like they did anything wrong! Oh wait, yes they did. But not to me—nothing beyond what I let them do myself when I forgot to give them back their money. But no more! My wallet is now empty of credit cards. Now I have one less way to not buy anything, and I'll save even more money than I did before. Especially in late fees.

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December harvest

I dug my parsnips this afternoon—all two of them. I sowed a whole row, but the seeds' germination was slow and inconsistent, and then once the sprouts emerged they proved to be irresistible to nibbling pests. But protected by weeds the two brave survivors grew to full size among the slightly more successful carrot crop, and are now resplendent in the crisper drawer awaiting Leah's culinary genius. I could have waited even longer: I'm told that parsnips get sweeter after a freeze, and I don't know if what we've had so far qualifies. Certainly, they would have been fine in the ground until early spring had we wanted to leave them. But I wanted to take advantage of this recent warm snap to get more of the beds ready for winter, and the two plants were standing in the way of progress. We'll enjoy them more now, anyways. Next year (always next year) will see more success: some to eat in December and some to save for spring.

Hand-sewn iPad case

wrap your ipad in a cozy sweater

My friend Luke asked me to make a pattern for an iPad case that could come together without the help of a sewing machine.

peaking out to ask if you want to watch trains. WE DON'T RIGHT NOW!

If you enjoy hand-sewing, then maybe this could be a fun and easy project for you too! I sew a lot of things on the machine, but I find a quiet hour of hand sewing particularly restorative for my soul. If you want to try it out for yourself then follow the steps below.

The finished iPad case will be 10 inches high by 8 inches wide. I use 1/2" seam allowances for the whole pattern.

Here are the materials:

the materials

actually I ended up using brown thread instead of white. But if I wasn't doing a tutorial I would have used coordinating thread as shown above.

I need 3 fabrics: outer layer, puffy fabric, and lining. For the outer layer I'm using an old sweater. For the lining I'm using some white cotton. For the puffy layer I'm using quilt batting but you could use fleece or another layer of sweater. I also have thread, embroidery thread, and a needle. Oh, and in the end I use a button and a strand of elastic, but these are optional.

Cut one piece 11" x 9" out of each fabric. (I cut this piece out of the cotton first because it was the easiest to measure being the flattest. Then I traced that piece for the other two fabrics.)

cutting out the pieces

the lining fabric cut out and on top of the outer layer

Note: If you are using a recycled sweater, it's best to cut off the sleeves and cut through the side seems first so you have a flat single-layer of fabric to work with.

Cut another piece 9 inches wide and 11 inches high with a trapeziod shape coming off the top for the closing tab. (because this part can be any shape I cut it free hand on the first piece and then traced that piece for the other two.) For those being finicky, the top of my closing tab was four inches higher than my other piece, and 5 inches less wide at the top. Just look at the photo if you're confused.

ipad case pieces

all the pieces, 6 in total

Now you'll sew each half of the ipad case seperately. Make a sandwhich, stuffing down first, then inner layer right side up, then top layer right side down. What's important is that the top and lining layer have right sides facing each other. Sew around this piece using a running stitch and a 1/2 seam allowance. Leave 2" unsewn for turning it inside out. I used regular thread for this part. I'll use dark brown so you can see what I'm doing.

one side of the ipad case inside out

one half of the ipad case sewn all the way around, less 2 inches

Note: my running stitches are 1/4 to 1/2 inches apart. This doesn't need to be your life's work because you will sew on top of this again later.

Do the same thing for the other half of the ipad case. I made the turning holes in different places so they wouldn't stack on top of each other when the case is assembled.

Now turn each piece right-side-out through the hole you left so you can see the top layer on one side and the lining on the other.

halfway done!

halfway done!

Lay the pieces together in the way they will look in the finished case.

take a long piece of embroidery floss or yarn, (I used three lenghts of my 2 arms). Pull the needle from the bottom to the top through all the layers about 1/4" away from the edge. Lay the tail over the working thread.

the start of the buttonhole stitch

Take a stitch, 1/4-inch from the edge and 1/4-inch to the right of the previous stitch, entering from the upper piece. Pull the needle out through the sole keeping the needle on top of the thread coming from the previous stitch, as shown above. This is a buttonhole stitch.

finishing the first buttonhole stitch

keep it going! It gets fun after a while!

Continue around the whole piece with buttonhole stitches. When you get to the part where the opening for turning is, hold the edges folded closed as if they were sewn and sew the buttonhole stitch on top of them.

At some point you will reach the top of the case where the iPad goes in. Don't sew it closed! Instead, continue buttonhole stitches straight across the shorter part leaving the curvy part unstitched. Then rejoin when you get to the other side of the opening.

After I've sewn across the straight part of the opening and I'm rejoining the two sides of the case together.

And then continue down to where you started. Tie a knot with the beginning string.

two strings ready to be tied in a double knot. I confess I always use a triple knot for safety.

Now for the top flap. Attach a new long piece of embroidery floss to a stitch on the inside of the case. Button hole stitch around the top part. When you get to the end make another knot on the inside.

where you attach the string to edge the top flap

Lastly for the closure. I sewed a button to the short side of the case roughly 2/3 of the way up. For a button hole I threaded a piece of elastic through the lining and tied a knot.

Tah dah!

Tah dah!

So there you go, a soft iPad case that you can make without any loud whirrs that might wake the babies. If you make this and it gets you out of buying someone a Christmas gift, please consider kicking back some money to the hard-working moms at Embracing Hope Ethiopia.

And Luke, if you want this as a more printer-friendly PDF Dan can make that happen for you. Um, after Christmas.

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where my tutorials at?

These past two weeks have been as difficult as any since Zion was born. Yesterday was probably the worst day ever, worse than the day Dan went back to work when I had a 22-month-old and a 6-day old and Harvey ate 80% of an edible arrangement of fruit and then pooped non-stop with me running up and down the stairs trying not to rip my stitches. That day was bad, but yesterday was worse. At one point yesterday I actually shouted:

"It's a fucking show! What's the matter with you two that you can't stop screaming and fighting during a four-minute fucking show!!??"

Yeah, I haven't slept in a long long time.

I don't want to write a long thing about Zion's sleep problems or Harvey's anxiety dash willful testing me problems. I just want to write a short thing to say I'm canceling my plans for awesome December blogging and crafting tutorials. I'm sorry for letting you all down, but I'm sure you understand.

I've been reading a book on Playful Parenting which seems helpful, though I often read things on attachment parenting or un-schooling and they make me feel just awful like I totally have to do more better with greater enthusiasm. Then I try for one day and when Dan gets home I have to go lie down in the bed because I'm so exhausted, and I realize they're probably written for an audience of people who don't already spend six to eight hours a day sitting on the floor playing with their children. Maybe I don't need a parenting book as much as I need an hour away from my children here and there.

Or maybe the boys will just spontaneously like sharing. Anything is possible.

In all this the advent calendar has been a ray of light and togetherness in our mornings, so I'm very grateful that I finished that before December came in terror, even as I struggle to re-evaluate my gift production goals for the next 13 days.

So anyway, if I don't rap-at-ch'all before then, have a very blessed Advent and and even better Christmas!

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I can't believe this worked

Okay, so I mentioned in my rant the other day that I've been reading this book called Playful Parenting. I requested it from the library not because I was having parenting problems (I wasn't in November!) but because a parent on the playground recommended it and I value her opinion as the only person I've ever heard say out loud, "Do you ever feel sometimes you just don't LIKE your child?"

The book is written by a child psychologist who is very interested in letting children express their emotions. This is different tack from the other parenting books I read, those that tend to offer instruction from a behaviorist approach. As in, if your kid is being a little shit it's because you're rewarding him for being a little shit. Stop that. This book is all: use play to help your children work out their fears and frustrations. Use it as much as you have to, up to 100% of your time. If they act crazy and frustrating that's good, it means they're working out their feelings. At one point I exclaimed, "Why, he doesn't even CARE how my child ACTS, he just wants him to FEEL GOOD!"

This probably underscores my own prejudice, one that John Holt aptly identifies as society's prejudice, that children are ungrateful spoiled brats, little vacuums of time and resources, and if you give them an inch and they take a mile and also your wallet.

But after the first half of December I was up for anything. My biggest problem has been Harvey's sudden inability to leave the house. Part of it is free-floating anxiety and part of it is just experimenting with defiance. Maybe the supermarket is a little bit scary, but also why should he do anything I say just because I say it? He doesn't WANT TO! But I should do everything HE says because BLARGH NO ONE HERE RESPONDS TO LOGIC!

Like I say, I'm maybe prejudiced against children, the little brats.

(I'm speaking of myself at my worst mental state, here. The one where I never sleep and the kids fight all day long. In my better moments I remember how I lovingly gave up everything in my life to stay home and stare into the faces of my sweet angel babies, but those better moments have not been in December.)

Anyway, I started using some of the techniques outlined in this book, to give Harvey extreme amounts of focused attention and to also help him cope with some of his (stupid) anxieties. The book mentioned making up a story that helps a child deal with troubling emotions. (I think I also saw this on an episode of Full House one time.) Well, my problem with Harvey is that he feels conflicted; if I say it's time to go out he wants to do a fun thing with me on the one hand, but he also wants to disobey me or stay in the comfort of the living room. Where he can fight with Zion over every stinking toy the he picks up.

So I came up with this story about a mouse who had a problem. He always felt two emotions at the same time. He wanted to play but he wanted to sleep. He wanted to eat a snack but he wanted to take a bath, so he ate in the bath and got his crackers all soggy and his bath all dirty. (Harvey thought this was hilarious, by the way. "And then he had to get a towel and spray and wipe out the bath!!!" he squealed, as if we ever do that in our house.)

So one day the mouse (his name is Lebright because I thought it should sound like he's saying he wants go left and then quickly changes it to right) takes a walk in the woods. It's slow going because he brought along his bike because he wanted to bike too but also walk in the woods and it's hard to pedal in the woods. ("Like I want to do!" Harvey exclaimed. It seems psyche 101 bullshit really does work on 3-year-olds.) And while he was going slowly through the woods he found a lion trapped in a net. The lion was a magical lion and said if Lebright freed him from the net he would give him a magic present. So Lebright gnawed all the ropes one by one and the lion was freed. The lion presented Lebright with a magical ax. This ax had the ability of cutting two emotions apart that were stuck together. So if Lebright wanted to go out and stay home, and he was all conflicted, he used his magical ax "CUT" and suddenly he had TWO DIFFERENT EMOTIONS! He could go out first, and then stay home later. He could eat dinner and then go to bed. ("Like you're supposed to do" said Harvey.) Lebright wasn't conflicted, he was happy again.

Harvey liked the story. Then I gave Harvey a plastic knife and told him it was a magical ax. We pretended to cut each other with it for a while. Each time he said, "I still want to go-out-stay home!" and giggled.

Then I said it was really time to go out. And with slow baby steps, using the plastic knife as a ax every three steps or so, Harvey walked out the door and into the car. And we went to the supermarket.

It was magical.

I can't believe that shit really worked!

At first I felt like a parenting genius for tricking him into doing something I wanted him to do. But upon reflection I feel a little bit like an asshole. Not for the whole mousey story, obviously that was helpful for all of us. But how can I not sound like a jerk writing this blog post? I'm talking about an emotional challenge that is very real for Harvey and I'm all: "How can I get this to stop ruining my life?" instead of "How can I free my child from painful anxiety?"

Good Lord, I hope by the time he reaches adolescence he will have no interest in reading through these past entries. With any luck he'll be all: Mom whining about us as babies AGAIN? Psssh, Snoresville!

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tree's up

a look at the middle of our newly decorated tree

well-lit

We put up our Christmas tree Wednesday, and Harvey and I decorated it yesterday afternoon. Maybe that'll motivate me to get going on making some presents. This was the first year that Harvey was actually helpful in putting up ornaments—rather than, you know, hooking himself like a fish on the wire hooks. He hung some 20 or so, and was a delightful cheery presence all through the process, commenting happily at each new bauble. "Oh, it's a Santa head! No body, just the head."

Zion was asleep through the process, thank goodness. At this point he's somewhat crazier than Harvey was at the same age, so for the first time I have some concerns for the safety of the tree and its decorations. It's already fallen once, actually, though that's my fault: I didn't notice that a kink in the trunk put the center of mass out over the edge of the stand, despite the setup appearing straight when viewed from a distance. Weren't we all surprised! Coming down it didn't hit Harvey very much.

Leah and I already spent an evening enjoying the tree's calming beauty; we even spent more than fifteen minutes sitting on the couch together gazing at it (and she at her computer and I at my book). It would have been even longer if I didn't have to jump up to photograph the moment for this blog post. Still, that's the most time we've spent together at a stretch since the beginning of December, so I'll take it! Rascal was there too, but he never has any trouble relaxing after dark.

Leah and Rascal on the couch by the tree

basking in the glow

Leah wanted to get the tree up so she could start putting presents under it. She has some quantity accumulated already, I understand. As I intimated above, I'm still trying to get started on the process. No problem, still eleven days left!

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shepherds at the manger

Dan's poem is up on the Waiting Well blog today. The first time I read it I teared up a little bit. My husband, who is so much like a shepherd in his calm approach to birth and mess and and caring for his animals (children included) is also so beautifully poetic.

[edit:] Here's the poem, for posterity after Waiting Well is no more:


Then quiet stillness, dark, absence;
back to night’s chill, sifting mist,
breath wreathing, charged with questions:
was that—
did you—
It doesn’t happen but it did:
heaven’s message boldly delivered,
go and see.

The second stable—breathless search—
look in, enter uncertainly;
used to stables, used to births,
unsure about
messiahs.
But there’s the baby, straw-bedded,
new-born king anointed of heaven:
worship him.

The mother in the background, waiting, still;
resting and recovering, witnessing silently
the first brushes of the world’s attention.
So few
hours old:
their messiah, story for grandsons;
her suckling child, sole charge,
baby boy.

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comment craziness!!

I was going to write a post this evening about why I drove instead of riding my bicycle today, but I got distracted by the awesome comment thread we've got going on a few posts down. Check it out if you haven't already, and add your two cents!

And maybe I'll write about cycling tomorrow, especially if I'm continuing to procrastinate over getting my Christmas presents made. The delay is getting epic!

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non-cycling excuses and explanations

So I drove to work again today, the second day in a row. I feel so guilty! But I have reasons, even if they're not good ones. Yesterday we woke up to freezing rain and a quarter-inch of ice on top of an inch of snow, and after walking the dog Leah told me that biking would be a no-go. As I sadly waited for the car to warm up a little so I could chip it free of its coating of ice, I brought the bicycle down just for a little experiment. After a few moments of remembering what winter cycling was like I decided I could probably make it after all—but not in the time I had left. It was warm enough out that my narrow tires broke through the ice in most spots so I'd be able to have at least some semblance of traction; but unfortunately pushing through that mess would be slow, slow, slow. Since I hadn't left myself any extra time I reluctantly put the bike away.

You can see that a good part of my problem is lack of preparation. I also confess that my winter bike is far from ready to be ridden; I abandoned it last spring after it pretty much fell apart and never managed to do much to get it back in working order. But the current machine, with road gearing, narrow tires, and no fenders, is pretty poorly suited to bad-weather riding.

But it's not all my fault. The roads were passable, so I could have ridden an alternate route that avoided the untreated bike path—could have, that is, if I weren't afraid that winter-crazed drivers would run me off the road in a fit of rage or lack of attention (something that occurred even more strongly to Leah). Today the weather was fine but I drove so I could go into Burlington on the way home and pick up our Christmas cards from the printer; it's not far, but even in mid summer I'd be wary of braving the maelstrom of Middlesex turnpike on a bicycle. Heck, I'm nervous every time I drive there!

Do I wish the bike path were salted and sanded? I don't. I appreciate that it gets plowed (though the plowing after Sunday's snow probably made the surface worse when it started raining yesterday) because deep snow lasts and lasts and creates truly impassible conditions. But ice never sticks around long over the whole path, and the externalities of salt or even sand totally aren't worth the momentary advantage they provide. If it were up to me, in fact, I'd argue against salting roads too: what an ugly mess it makes! If we weren't all in such a hurry we wouldn't need to crush all natural phenomena under our wheels in order to keep to our schedule regardless of weather. Are our jobs really that important?!

Oh well. Staying home tomorrow, then back in the saddle Thursday!

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addressing the comment madness

So, I have been kind of shocked and amazed at the negative comments generated by my little blog post the other day. I mean, I knew that I had a bad day and that I said something unhelpful to my kids regarding Thomas the Tank Engine. But I didn't imagine strangers would start saying that I should have my children taken away or worse that they, the faceless internet masses, were somehow responsible for ensuring my children don't grow up to become deranged school shooters.

(In the latter case I tend to think sensible gun-control policy would do a good deal more than nasty blog commenting, but that's just from an effectiveness side of things. Certainly it's not as emotionally fulfilling.)

Look. There are some things I want to clear up here. I have said the f-word to my children twice in my life, and last monday was one of those times. I don't advocate cursing at children, neither do I advocate yelling at them. It doesn't seem to be effective parenting. And yet, parents do it, yell at their kids, a lot. You'd have to be a crazy person to disagree with me. If I see parents yelling at their kids every time I go to the playground, I HAVE to believe they also do it at home.

Now. Folks seem to be particularly shocked that I used an obscenity, not only an obscenity but the worst obscenity ever because fucking stands for SEX. And sex is dirty. Well, I don't have a problem with sex (except logistically, haha) and I don't have a problem with the word "fuck." It's impolite to say in mixed company, and it's probably good policy to keep such words away from one's children if you don't want them repeating them and risk misjudging their audience. But I also know that a parent can say "in a minute" with the force of "fuck off," or slap dinner on the table in a manner that screams "go fuck yourself." In other words, I agree that cursing Thomas is unloving to my children, but a great number of other unloving things are much worse. It's my desire to root out those other things, like resentment, that could be real troubling issues in my relationship with my children, while forgiving the minor blow-outs like cursing Thomas the Tank Engine. Because he's an annoying little shit the way he's always "weeshing" at everyone.

The troubling thing these recent blog comments reveals is how quick we are to judge others as "unfit" parents. It's a good thing it's actually very difficult to get your children taken away, and that 80% of calls to DSS ara dead-ends* (to say nothing of THREATs of calls to DSS). But I wonder if it's some kind of cultural schizophrenia, if we're trying to pillory other parents for something all parents do. I mean, yelling at kids? I totally agree, we should all stop yelling at kids. If the f-word is very precious to you then by all means don't use it with your kids. Save it for your dirty sex games.

Look, I yelled at my kids and I apologized to them. I don't need to apologize to you, blog readers. And I'm speaking now not to the readers who are my dear personal friends (which are 99% of you) but to the assholes just cruising for a scapegoat parent to criticize. Whoever you are, you are not my child, so if you don't like me or what I'm writing you have the unique ability to leave my website and never think of me again.

Do you think this entry will draw any negative comments? If not then it's a weird direct link somewhere going to that other post. We soon shall see..

*I'm quoting this statistic from memory out of Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids — feel free to read it for yourself and tell me if I'm wrong, it's a GREAT book!

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home-made hardships

The problem with doing a home-made Christmas is you actually have to make the stuff. That's easy enough for some people, but as I've lamented in the past, I'm not that good at it. Especially the sewing, where I'm in fact aggressively, embarrassingly bad. Yet I persist, for lack of any better ideas. Between that and the wood-working attempts—not to mention the Christmas baking—I'm pretty busy, and I also have to make sure to give Leah some cover to work on her own projects; you know, the ones that actually turn into something beautiful and useful.

Not that I'm a complete failure. The jam and pickles I suppose are passable, and this year I should get some credit for growing yet more of what we put up (and for an ever greater variety of preserved product). I may also have ventured once more into the world of beer-making, with a little more independence this time, so that's something too. But it's all hard work, and keeps me up well past my bedtime night after night. Despite what you might think, the hippy crafting lifestyle isn't always joy and rainbows!

It sure does make us feel proud in the end, though. I think that makes it worthwhile, right?

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pageantry and lack thereof

Our contribution to Harvey's Christmas pageant was a pound of fresh clean straw to fill their cardboard-box manger. Unfortunately, last week I could only get straw in 60-lb increments, so even after re-stocking the chicken run we have a lot to deal with.

lots of straw

big straw

From Harvey's perspective, the pageant at pre-school kid's church was also "a lot to deal with." Even the thought of a situation where adults might want him to do something specific was enough to make him vomit during the car ride over there. That's not an exaggeration. He puked all over his nice new fancy outfit that matched Zion's identically. He had to go to the pageant in his (gasp) back up clothes. Yeah, typing this, I guess I have some performance/appearance expectations of my own that might induce stress.

With two children gripping my arms in abject terror I didn't get to take any pictures this year. You can refer to last year's post to get a sense of the proceedings. Also, I was a bit irritated with my class. I was leading a whole group of angels all who absolutely refused to put on halos. Mine was the only class with zero percent costume participation. Trying to turn down my sense of failure about that.

Oh well. To whether degree my children want to comply with my wishes or look like angels, we all wait expectantly for Christmas. Me more than anyone else, perhaps. I want God's presence so badly now. In my home, in my heart, in my vomit-smelling car.

And if you want any straw for your own manger, just come on over. I'll give you a real good deal.

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have yourself a tidy little Christmas

The kids are asleep and I am vacuuming the house to get ready for Christmas morning. "Shouldn't I get an elf to do this?" I say to Dan.

Dan says "The house elves in Harry Potter are slaves, you know."

"Yeah I know." Then upon reflection I say, "So am I!"

...

Jesus said:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18)

I don't know who will clean my house in the kingdom of God... maybe still me but I'll be less snitty about it. Maybe the kindgom of God is less dusty. Maybe these things are beyond my imagination.

At any rate, I know who came to vacuum me and the world of our sins. He as already done it, even as we look to him to do it more. And so on this eve of Christmas when in stress and exhaustion I think, "I just want to get this over with!" I say instead, "Come Lord Jesus!"

So on that note I share this prayer with you. May your home be filled with the presence of our Lord tomorrow. And may he not track in any mud or straw.

Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas!

a picture (sorry, that\'s all we got for now)

Previous cards: 2011, 2010, 2009, and earlier.

Some people haven't gotten their cards yet, because of reasons. If you think you should get one but haven't yet, give us a holler!

And more generally, have a blessed Christmas, filled with joy and relaxation!

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some of my home-made Christmas output

two pot-holders and an ornament

the best I can do

I lead with the sewing because I'm so inordinately proud of myself. Leah is a great teacher but can't be blamed for any of the flaws in the finished products: I'm rather a poor student.

several jars of jam, jelly, and pickles

new lables for 2012

With the preserves I'm more in my element; ditto for the label design. The hardest thing here was figuring out what to give everyone: we put up so much this year that I had to restrain myself from giving each family member multiple jars of various jams and pickles. I know not everyone goes through preserves as eagerly as we do.

I didn't spare my immediate family from the jar-based gifts either. Leah graciously accepted a jar of apple butter that she had as much of a hand in making as I did, and Harvey delighted in his little jar of bread-and-butter pickles. He opened it right up and ate who knows how many right away; apparently they went very well with his Christmas banana.

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Christmas woodworking

I'm gradually scaling up my Christmas woodworking. Two years ago I made a spice rack; last Christmas it was a much-needed shoe rack to go by the front door. This year I made an attempt at a bed for Harvey—well, a headboard—and I think it came out fine.

Harvey's new head-board on its test run

testing if it fits

It was motivated by my desire not to have Harvey resting his pillow, or his head, directly on the baseboard heater—and to make the room just a little more beautiful, of course. As well as being necessary to fit around the windows, the design was inspired by Handmade Houses, a book the boys and I very much enjoyed looking through last month. Only I haven't sorted out access to any sustainable or repurposed lumber, so I settled for good old #2 pine from the Home Depot, which was lovely soft and easy to cut and sand. Smells nice too when you're lying in the bed.

This is not great carpentry; it's barely even acceptable carpentry, in fact! But I like it, and Harvey likes it, and it cost about $30 to make, so that's not bad. I think there can be many good arguments made in favor of enthusiastic amateurism: as I reported to Leah in regards to the sewing, "I made lots of mistakes, but most of them not more than once. That's called learning!" The same applies to my woodworking. I'd probably do even better if I made more than one thing a year!

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how do we do this again?

As you may or may not know, I try and pay attention to the weather we experience here on the squibix homestead. Enough attention to write down a brief daily summary, at least, and to know that it's been a very long time since we've had any significant snow around here—though not enough to notice this afternoon that snow was currently falling pretty heavily and that, oops, the bicycles are all outside following a lovely brisk trip to the bank and library. Luckily the snow so far is very light and fluffy and brushed off nicely; I detached the trailer and shook it upside-down to get the snow out of there.

We're forecast to have 6-8 inches, which would make this the biggest snowfall in the last 23 months (since February 2nd, 2011... is my math right?). Last year we saw only a couple of significant snowfalls, on Halloween and at the beginning of March, so while snow itself isn't quite foreign to our experience I'm still not quite used to dealing with actual winter weather. Like, is this snow going to stick around for a while? I never even brought in my hoses this fall! I still have lettuce in the ground!!

Harvey, though, knows what to do with proper winter weather. Going to bed he was already planning to make a snow fort tomorrow; he was only one and a half last time such a thing was possible, but he clearly remembers it very well. He should get together with Grandma; she was talking to me on the phone about sledding tomorrow. Could it be true?!

I did happen to notice, looking back over the weather records, that our tremendous 2010-2011 winter didn't see any significant snow itself until December 27th, so if we're in for another season like that one we're not far off schedule!

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quick, let's play in it!

Harvey pushing the runner sled on the street, viewed from behind

on Harvey

It ended up snowing about 6 or 7 inches; entirely satisfactory. And we did go sledding, or at least Harvey and I did: we took a couple of runner sleds out on the street and slid around on the ice and packed snow (the advantage of living on an oft-ignored side street is that they never salt or sand!).

Aside from the Flexible Flyer pictured above, we also used a baby-portaging sled that we picked up at a yard sale a few summers ago. Harvey is in love with it: every time he's seen it in the basement over the past year and a half he's talked about how much he wants to go out on it, preferably with Rascal pulling him. Well this morning the moment arrived, and while Rascal was otherwise engaged Harvey was quite delighted to have me pull him around and sling him crack-the-whip style up and down the street. The conditions were perfect for the metal runners—well, if you ignore the lack of any sort of a slope. Ah, for the days before salted roadways (and, I suppose, motor vehicles) when any well-trodden hilly road would be prime sledding territory for carefully-waxed runners of countless sleds...

Zion looking nonplussed in his snow jacket hood

what is this white stuff?

I tried to get Zion interested but he couldn't get over the fact that it was pretty cold out. Also he refused mittens and then got upset when he put his hand in the snow. Oh well—in his defense, this is his first real experience as a sentient being of proper snow. Harvey and me'll teach him up right before too long.

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I guess I should blog the Christmas crafts some time

I made my family several from-the-heart gifts this year. To Harvey I gave these three wise-men dolls to go with the nativity set I made two years ago.

the three felt kings held in front of the Christmas tree

bearing red, orange and green

Also to go with that nativity, I made a (cashmere) donkey for Mary to ride on. But mostly for Zion to cuddle.

stuffed donkey in a sunbeam

soft and cuddly beast of burden

Of course, the boys promptly threw these gifts over their shoulders in search of the Thomas trains. Indeed, I was going to title this post "Shit I made that my children didn't want," but then Thursday morning I came downstairs to see Zion hugging the donkey and I exclaimed: "Oh Zion! You just saved Christmas."

I also knit my children sweaters, and forced them to pose for a picture. Because I want my love to be associated in their minds with torture.

Harvey in his sweater on Grandma's porch--motion blur on his arms

One more second out here and then I'm running back to play with my trains

Harvey liked the sweater well enough but didn't want to be photographed. Zion didn't want ANY part of any of it, but Dan somehow got him to smile for one second. Probably because he feared I would cancel Christmas next year if I didn't get a sweater picture.

Dada holding Zion on Grandma's porch

Dan refused a new sweater this year, so I made him a hat he didn't ask for

Those are new hats too. Dan's was actually a Christmas gift, while Zion's was taken from the open-to-gift drawer at the last minute when I couldn't find his normal hat. (Note for the future: it was in the sleeve of his coat.)

The boys wore their sweaters for over 24 hours each, so I guess this round of gifting was a success. Truth be told, amidst baby sickness and big-boy greediness I mostly just wanted to get Christmas over with this year. It can be hurtful to me when my kids don't like the things I make out of love for them. At the same time, I realize this puts way too much pressure on them, emotionally speaking. I am now an expert on the emotional development of children since my mother-in-law gave me not one, but TWO parenting books for Christmas. So now when I say, "Do you like your gifts?" and my kids shout, "I only like Thomas trains!" I know that what they're really saying is "Do you love me unconditionally?"

"Do you love me unconditionally?" their little subconsciouses cry, "Or do I have to be all getting high on your hippy up-cycled Martha Stewart BS to receive your love?"

And when you put it like that, well no, none of this is important. Maybe I should love you some other was that isn't so time consuming. Maybe Christmas just makes me crazy. Good thing they love ME unconditionally.

outa here!

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