posts tagged with 'christmas'

twelfth night

Christmas is over.; we took down the tree this evening. I wasn't sure it was going to make it, given its shaky beginnings, and another near fall Friday evening had us planning to be done with it Saturday. But circumstances did not permit, so we ended up going the official twelve days after all. And despite being a little crooked, it looked great up until the end.

Taking everything off was a little sad; when Zion came in after I had removed the lights he said, "hey! the tree is off! Turn it back on!". We really enjoy Christmas in this house, as you may have noticed. But even endings have their happy benefits: for example, the boys were delighted to get to eat the popcorn garland they made from stale popcorn not quite a month ago (they were kind enough to save some to put out for the birds). More usefully for the rest of us, the room the tree lived in—which is now, as of about a year ago, called the playroom—now seems wonderfully spacious.

Not everything of the tree is gone. We cleaned up many of the fallen needles, but maybe 2,000 or so are still around until our next pass with the vacuum (Harvey and Zion did most of the vacuuming this evening, which was nice). But there's enough lack of tree to get us thinking about the next big festival event. What'll that be, I wonder. A new baby?

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Christmas making 2013, part 2

a grown-up doll for my grown-up niece

My Waldorf doll technique is improving, as demonstrated by this doll I made for my niece, complete with a cute little button nose. Dan says all the dolls I make in the future should have cute button noses. I also seem to be getting a bit faster sewing on the hair. All this bodes well for any girls who might invite us to birthday parties in the future. Unless it's a baby's party, in which case I might have to make blocks.

Yes that's a full bag of feed in the background. For ambiance and also because we didn't put it in the basement yet.

These blocks are part of an ongoing investigation of mine titled: What Can I Make from Chicken Feed Bags? So far it's just been bibs, tote bags, and now blocks, but I have some more ideas if I get really creative in the new year. Meanwhile, these blocks were super fun to make, because I got to use the serger on plastic which makes a VERY. LOUD. SOUND. If you have feed bags of your own (or vinyl from another source) here are the instructions: cut 6 equal size squares, serge all the edges, sew it on the regular machine in the shape of a block. Leave one side open, stuff with stuffing, sew up the last side. I know, right? Rocket science.

fun to stack and to topple

Last but not least (especially not least in terms of time spent) were the hand woven dish towels.

better than regular rags

These were supposed to be my crowning glory this Christmas, but I'm not totally in love with the way they turned out. Because I tried to make them as thick as possible, and because I'm limited by the number of heddles on my loom, each dish towel turned out a bit narrower than standard dish towel size. Also the cotton shrunk a bit in the wash, so the length now leaves something to be desired as well. Still Dan assures me they are the loveliest hand woven dish towels he's ever seen, and I have more cotton to string the loom again. Just as soon as I get new years cleaning out of the way.

There is a part of me that is glad Christmas is over for another year. I have a list of things I was putting off until after Christmas, (switch health insurance plan, clean laundry room, sort and wash the baby clothes) and now I can use my free moments to tackle these life-organization projects head-on. Not that I like de-cluttering any better than I like making things, it's just that TOO MUCH making things swings the pendulum in one direction and awakens the cleaning monster within. And now that the beast is fully awakened I cannot imagine crafting one more thing until the house is perfectly livable again, down to a freshly sorted drawer of newborn onesies. Sorted onesies, stacked tupperware, and then maybe we can get to weaving again. It's going to be a busy January.

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Christmas making 2013

Here are the presents I made for Christmas this year, in reverse order of completion:

Zion's PowPow with his stocking and teddy

Zion's PowPow with his stocking and teddy

This is one of the PowPow teddies I made on Christmas Eve. Zion and Harvey helped me make the little stockings sometime during Advent, but it was only the day before that it sunk in I might have to make something to put IN the stockings. I used this online pattern for the teddies. Even I am not dumb enough to free-hand a softie pattern the day before Christmas.

Harvey said on Christmas morning: "Who made this little teddy? You did? I love him!" Of course, now his is lost...

Then there was the play house I made TWO DAYS before Christmas:

a shot of the play tent from the outside

a shot of the play tent from the outside

I made this felt house to fit over my desk, which the kids were playing under anyway. First, they pushed the chair away from the desk so often that I donated the chair because I was tired of seeing it in the middle of the room. Then they started playing house under there, asking me to take the covering off the couch and tuck it in on all sides. This irritated me, because I like the covering on the couch where it can catch Rascal hair. So I designed this custom-fitting play house desk cover as a solution.

close-up of the working mailbox

close-up of the working mailbox

The mailbox fits a regular sized letter, which Harvey discovered immediately. The fence can also hold a stuffed animal prisoner, but they haven't figured that out yet and I want to see if they come up with it on their own.

The flaps behind the windows were Dan's idea. I had a mind to make curtains, but Dan said they would be too hard to open and close. The boys would mostly want them closed anyway, with the ability to peak out quickly to check for intruders. So flaps sewn at the top was the best solution, plus they were far easier to sew than curtains. The whole house was easy to sew, in fact. I cut everything freehand without measuring and I finished the whole project within a 24-hour period, a personal record made possible by two hours of work before the kids woke up and two hours after they went to sleep. Plus it only cost me $10 in brown felt (the colors were left over from other projects.)

Here's a peak into their house from the side window. They requested not one but TWO inside lights.

inside the playhouse

inside their lair

You can see Zion brought in a blanket and a pillow. He likes to be cozy.

Of course, after the house has been up for a few days and I see how much the boys are playing in there, I realize this might mean the permanent loss off my desk for desk purposes. Already I'm typing this blog post from my bedroom, and I've moved my charger and camera cords up here. Sigh. If I realized I was ceding ground, I might not have had so much fun making this thing.

Four days before Christmas I sewed up the last ends of their bunny sweaters.

both boys in their christmas sweaters by Grandma's tree

This is the first time I've tried a knitting project with the intarsia color-blocking technique. It was not at all difficult, either to figure out or to accomplish, but all the same it's not my favorite technique because it means you have to knit a sweater back and forth over knit and purl instead of just knitting in the round. But it is the way to get a giant bunny onto a sweater, and Harvey like his so much that he wore it for two days straight and slept in it in between. (Zion took his off after an hour because he hates sweaters.)

Now for a color-work technique I like, here are some fair isles hats I finished at least a week before Christmas.

harvey, zion, and dan in their new hats

three frozen peas in a pod.

Harvey had asked for a hat to match his Dada's, and then Zion asked for a hat to match Harvey's. Here they all are playing kick the snowball down the street. The hats are made from Drumlin Farm undyled wool, and the pattern is made up out of my head.

ready for an expedition

ready to go out in the cold

Here the boys are ready to go out on an expedition in their new hats and new backpacks (not a homemade gift but packed with awesome factory-features, including a built-in whistle!) The backpack is a good example of something that's good to buy from a store. Look how well PowPow peaks out of the mesh pocket.

harvey with powpow in his backpack

peaking out from behind

I made some more things but I see now that I'll have to split this blog post into two parts to save on reading fatigue. So that's all the exhaustion inspiration you get for now. Next up will be: hand woven dish towels, waldorf doll, and baby blocks.

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christmas magic

For the past few days Harvey has been really excited about Christmas. REALLY. EXCITED. So excited that on Christmas Eve we could barely contain his excitement within our house, and I offered to take him to an indoor playground to run around, but he said No, he would prefer to run around the house, and just wait... for... christmas... to come.

In the evening when we got back from church Harvey helped Dan lay out the stockings on the couch. I reminded them to put out PowPow's stocking, since we had gone to the trouble of making it and all. (Never mind that I hadn't finished the presents for the PowPow stockings. Really, how long could two tiny teddy bears take?)

Harvey looked a little worried and confessed "I forgot to make a present for PowPow."

"Maybe the stocking will get filled magically," Dan said.

Harvey furrowed his brow and considered this statement. "I don't think magic is in our world," he said finally.

Later when I put Harvey to bed he repeated the story. "Dada says PowPow's stocking will be filled by magic."

"If you put out a stocking," I told him, "It will get filled."

"How?" he asked.

"Mama and Dada fill it. Mama and Dada make sure there are presents in every stocking."

"Oh." Harvey exhaled deeply and looked relieved.

Perhaps my explanation isn't festive enough — indeed some might accuse me of stealing all the magic away from Christmas. But I never grew up with Christmas traditions, so I don't have fond memories of fabricated gift origin stories. My current approach to Christmas is wonder within the context of reality. I don't know if the thought of magic elves in my living room after dark would make me feel more excited about the world, or more safe in it for that matter. Mama and Dada staying up till 11pm to make sure everyone has enough presents in their stocking? At least that's an explanation that lets my children know they're loved. Plus it's the truth. A truth, at least for me, that still feels alive with magic.

At least for me, homemade Christmas at our house was magical.

zion playing with a wooden chicken puzzle Dan made for him for Christmas

harvey hugging his new knitted sweater

the first time one of my children successfully wrote my name on a gift tag. Swoon.

The kids peeping out from their new play tent, which we had to coax them out of to open other presents

zion playing with his gingerbread action figure

I feel like we finally right-sized Christmas at home this year. We spent precious little on store-bought gifts: the boys got two books and a game, Dan got a new pair of Carharts and a calendar, and I got a thread organizer and thimble. The rest of our gifts were handmade. I made the boys some presents they were expecting (knit hats and sweaters) and some they weren't (a giant play house, and tiny teddy bears for their PowPow stockings.) Dan made some things that they had asked for (pickles, marshmallows) and some things that were completely surprising (wooden action figures with removable swords, shields, and standards.) Harvey made me a framed picture of himself and Dan made me a picture frame ornament, both of which made me cry. I made Dan a hat that I gave to him two months ago, because he needed it then, and some hand woven dish towels because we need more dish towels.

Some will read this and think that yes, I do not understand Christmas magic.

But as I was walking the dog this morning I passed a street called Colonial Ct, and I had this flash of an idea, a feeling of connection with our colonial ancestors who wove and knitted and whittled and baked up until Christmas day to bless their families and fulfill the desires of their hearts through the work of their own hands. It was a really lovely thought.

Of course, maybe our colonial ancestors would have killed for Amazon Prime. I am not an objective judge.

I do not get to control Christmas for my children any more than I control the rest of their lives. Their grandparents shower them with other gifts, and my version of Christmas is merely that, a version among many that they get to experience. In the same way, my ideal world is just an opinion. In the end they each get to choose how much magic they want, and where it comes from.

both boys in their christmas sweaters by Grandma's tree

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Christmas day snapshots

Harvey and Zion by our tree playing with their presents; Harvey looking excited

Christmas morning joy

We did presents and breakfast at home, then went to Grandma and Grandpa's for more of both.

Zion playing with new duplos

immediately captivating

There was also much other eating, and cousins playing, and some sleeping (only by the mamas) and pacing nervously (that was Rascal). All in all a good time.

Harvey on Grandpa's lap with a puppet

Grandpa entertains endlessly

Thanks Grandma and Grandpa for having us over!

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Christmas Eve, barely

If visions of sugar plums dance in my head tonight it'll be because the concentration of sugar in my blood is dangerously high, thanks to tasting as I made peanut butter cups (came out great), royal icing (I love it when icing dries properly), and caramel (sadly a near-total failure). Also the regular desserts I ate. As to why we're still up this late, I blame church—well, that and the royal icing. Our regular church had a Christmas Eve service for the first time in years, and it was wonderful to be in that setting with that community—plus Tom and Nisia and Grandma!—to celebrate Christmas. And it was at a reasonable-ish hour too, but by the time we got home and got Harvey nestled all snug in his bed it was half-past nine. And even though I thought I was in pretty good shape, there were still things to do. Leah is still up too, surprisingly; this Christmas, Santa can take credit for vacuuming as well as for the presents.

our stockings arrayed on the couch, with gingerbread men for the boys and the tree lights' reflection in the windo

placed on the couch with care

I can't wait til tomorrow, when it's all over but the celebrating. And wrapping the presents for the other Archibalds that I didn't get to yet. And maybe a little more baking...

Merry Christmas everyone!

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oh Christmas tree

our Christmas tree, illuminated

the playroom is smaller and prettier now

This is a busy time of year, and not only because of all the presents I want to make—even more important is taking time to party! We designated our church small group time this past Friday as a Christmas celebration for the group, and were all set up with crafts for the kids and a fine spread of food and drink, but in the even only one person was able to come. So we were happy yesterday when, after attending a delightful birthday party, we were able to invite folks over for dinner and bring out the leftover goodies from the day before—supplemented with yet more treats that we accumulated in the mean time.

Zion in an elf hat at a birthday party

partying hard

I love being hospitable, especially when I can put together a big plate with five or six different dessert choices, but I have to admit that my real motive for wanting folks to come over this time of year is to show off our tree. It's standing up now, and it looks pretty nice. I certainly spend less time on the computer this time of year than otherwise, because when I weigh going upstairs to stare at the glowing screen against sitting on the couch reading a book by the illumination of four strands of lights, the computer doesn't stand a chance. But all that beauty shouldn't be wasted on me: other folks should be able to enjoy it too! So parties. We're here most of the time, so if you want to stop by just give us a couple minutes' notice and we'll have some cookies ready for you!

(An added feature to the tree this year is that the position of the lower ornaments is constantly changing. Ever since we first started decorating the boys have been enjoying playing imaginative games with a variety of ornaments—and not only those that can be obviously anthropomorphized. I say to them, "don't you have toys?!", but they're not convinced. Luckily in just a couple days they'll have some new things to distract them so the ornaments will be left in peace; maybe a few of them will survive until then.)

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tree-zaster

Zion doesn't like picking out a Christmas tree. He finds it too cold. So Harvey and I did the honors, rather hurriedly, as Leah and Zion huddled in the barn looking at animals. Harvey actually picked the tree, and the one he chose is a monumental specimen. We had to cut it down a bit to make it fit under the ceiling at all, both top and bottom; it's been a couple years since my sizing has been that far off.

Of course, it's only right that Harvey was the prime decision-maker, because he is five or six times more excited about Christmas than anyone else in the house at present. And that's not to say that the rest of us are failing to get into the spirit! In fact, we're probably all above average in our seasonal high spirits—he just is so far beyond average that we can hardly keep up. He had a terrible time waiting until the lights were on to start putting up ornaments, and as soon as the ornaments were done he was asking for help wrapping his presents. He got three done before we cut him off.

Given all that it's just as well he was safely tucked in bed when the fully-decorated tree fell over. It turns out that, not only is it a bit too tall for our house, it's also too wide for the stand we have. Since it couldn't settle all the way down as per design specifications, there was enough wiggle room that when something started it swaying it overbalanced and came right down. At least, I assume that's what happened; we were all upstairs at the time. Only three ornaments were smashed, and Harvey's presents just got a little damp.

I put a ring bolt in the molding behind the tree and secured it with twine; I hope that'll hold. If it does you should totally come and see our tree: it's very impressive, and very well decorated up to about four feet high.

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a few thoughts and observations

The boys—Harvey especially—have expressed with certainty the opinion that winter doesn't start until there's snow on the ground. They care nothing for my theory that it's temperature and light levels that matter (as far as I'm concerned when I can't grow vegetables and the hens aren't laying it's winter), to say nothing of that nonsense about waiting until the days start getting longer. With the three light snowfalls we've enjoyed over the past four days they're now satisfied that winter is at least trying, even if Harvey might wish for a little better depth of snow.

It was certainly winter riding on the commute this morning, since yesterday's snow had been partially melted by rain and then frozen solid overnight. On the way to work Monday I was feeling smug about how I could zip right through the inch of snow on the bike path without hardly slowing down, while the cars on the road needed the service of plows and salt trucks and were still mired in ferocious traffic; today I was very glad that most of the path had been plowed late yesterday because otherwise the frozen landscape of footprints and wheel tracks would have been seriously tiresome to ride over. The flat ice that covered most of the path, on the other hand, was just fun, and in moderation so was the lumpy stuff. I much prefer challenges of skill to those of endurance, so anything that makes my commute harder technically is welcome—for the first couple days at least!

I have to do all this commuting because they keep making me work. As a substitute teacher I can theoretically stay home when I need to; a couple weeks ago I was complaining to friends how tired I was after having to work all the working days in a week, something which I was forced to acknowledge that most people have somehow found a way to deal with. Well I've been dealing too lately, since I'm signed up to work every day of December until school lets out. When you add in the church work I do that means I'm working 17 out of the first 20 days in December, which would be a bit much in any month, never mind one where I'm also trying to get ready for Christmas! So if I don't get you a present, that's my excuse.

Regardless of how much I personally am getting done, Christmas is definitely in the air around here. The Advent Calendar is out and we're enjoying the daily ritual of the boys fighting over who's going to get to pull out each day's felt piece. Harvey and I enjoyed a orchestral Christmas concert Sunday (Zion was too sick to come, sadly). The boys are having fun playing Christmas, making presents and hanging their nutcracker ornaments on the rosemary plant. And all the neighbors' houses are beautifully decorated with festive lights! (our house is lit up by the second-hand glow; that counts, right?).

I should really be working on the Christmas card instead of writing here, but I'm afraid if I don't write these things down I'll never remember them—and as frantic as I feel these days things are pretty good, and definitely worth remembering. So.

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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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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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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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Merry Christmas!

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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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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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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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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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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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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advent calendar

For the past two weeks I have been hard at work on an Advent calendar. That turns into a felt board. Made of very. small. pieces.

little guy

Come have some story time with me!

God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

sup?

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end."

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

everyone must go!

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

nativity

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

in that country


An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

they were sore afraid

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Letís go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him."

we three kings

They followed the star until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

presents!

Of course, when I tell the story to the children it'll be spread out over the month of December so they get a little bit each week. Each day there is a different felt character to find, and some days have bits of the story printed out as well. This is what it looked like laid out before I stuffed the pouches.

what a lot of stuff!

Well good thing that deadline is over! Wait, I have to make Christmas presents now???

Happy Advent!

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online shopping for moral qualities

I started a new rule today that Harvey is not allowed to look at any online stores. My mom asked us to go on her Amazon wish-list and show Harvey three play tents so he could pick out a color. He started pointing to unrelated items on the sidebar, saying he wanted cars and trucks and legos and other unrelated items. This is a bottomless pit that goes on and on forever; the internet is absolutely MADE UP of UNRELATED ITEMS.

These days I talk to Harvey a lot about "demandingness." As in, don't ask me for juice while I'm serving you toast. When I make a lego house for you, take a breath before asking for a garage. It's probably too much to expect him to notice my effort and care in his service, but at the very least he can learn some habits (like speaking in full sentences) that piss me off a little bit less.

In the same vein I have been scanning the mail for catalogues to file directly into the recycling. Do not pass Harvey, do not extract $100 dollars. But when the World Vision catalogue came a few months ago I couldn't be so harsh. I brought it to Harvey and Zion so they could ooh and aah over all the cute animal pictures. Then I heard my self say something dramatic. "You can pick out any gift in this catalogue to give to a child in Africa."

When I said it they were looking at a $30 flock of chickens. I didn't expect Harvey to jump at the $75 goat!

"$75 is a little bit expensive," I explained to Harvey (after I explained again very clearly that the goat would be going to Africa and not by way of our house.)

"I have some money in my piggy bank," he said. "I could give it to you."

Then he asked me to get down his piggy bank, and he asked me to help open it, and he pulled out a handful of nickels and quarters.

I tried to show him all homeschooly how many quarters makes a dollar, but he wanted nothing to do with putting them in stacks. He just kept grabbing handfulls of money out of his bank and handing it to me, as if to say, Not enough? How about now? Still not enough? How about now?

In the end we filled a mason jar with coins and took it to the coin-star machine at Stop&Shop. He helped me put them in and saw a receipt print out.

"Does the paper say about our goat?" he asked.

"No," I explained, "We have to put this money on the computer and buy the goat on the computer at home."

"Oh. Okay."

At home I made a big production of buying the goat online. I showed Harvey a video of a family whose goat had changed their lives.

"Is that the girl who got our goat?" he asked.

"No, they already have a goat." I said. "Someone like them will get our goat."

A week later a catalogue came from Episcopal Relief and Development. It also had a goat on the cover, held by another adorable African girl."

"That's the girl who got our goat!" Harvey exclaimed.

I was so bowled over by his joy and exuberance that I didn't stop to correct him.

I guess I felt pretty smug about Harvey's generous spirit. Until I noticed that every time he sees someone who looks African he now says, "Hey! She looks like the girl who got our goat!"

So. Is Harvey overwhelmingly greedy or overflowing with compassion? The answer is Yes. Or more truthfully, the answer is he's three and he feels every desire big big, whether it's selfish materialism or selfless generosity. And even these labels are false distinctions I create. Since money has no concrete value to him, why shouldn't he ask for everything he wants and everything everyone else wants too?

I try to teach him many things, but "the value of money" has been low on my list. To tell the truth I'm a little ambivalent about it myself. I want him to get excited about getting gifts, because it makes me happy. I also want him to abound in compassion. I don't hold those things in opposition, though perhaps I should. He certainly doesn't.

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The last of the Christmas sewing

Here's the rest of the sewing I did for Christmas. Mostly pragmatic things. An apron for Dan.

dan in new apron

what's cookin?

Some oven mitts, to replace the ones with the stupid silicone thumbs that keep wearing off, defeating their main purpose of not getting you burned.

oven mitts

already food stained. all is vanity.

I thought making oven mitts was a no-brainer since they seem so easy to sew. Unfortunately the thickness of the heat-proof material jammed my machine like seventy thousand times, making this one of those projects that you just want to be OVER ALREADY but it takes more and more hours trouble-shooting the machine, and then when you give it finally it's like, "Oh. Oven mitts. They must be easy to sew."

I'd probably like Christmas better if I didn't get so frustrated over things.

judy's pillows

smooooosy

I also made some pillows, by request. These actually were easy, though I had to learn a new skill to get the piping in. The piping turned out to be rather fun and I hope I get another chance to add piping to something in the future. I had three special requests this year from non-immediate famliy, these pillows, a skirt that my mom wanted the waistband shortened, and a pair of mittens that needed darning. I feel no small degree of pride that people ask me to mend things. It's nice to make presents without needing to come up with ideas sometimes.

And that's all I have to blog for Christmas! What a relief! I'm feeling a big of post-Christmas depression at the moment. I've been sick for over a week, the baby has been sleeping poorly for a month now, and I'm having trouble getting to that higher altitude of thinking where it looks like I will ever feel normal and rested. At least I can stop sewing on a deadline!

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Amazon fights passive aggresively with your wife so you don't have to!

Dan bought me some shoes for Christmas and I rather untactfully asked him if he was still within his time window to return them. This morning he handed me the packing slip.

passive aggressive return authorization

is ALL CAPS part of Amazon's pull-down menu?

I wonder if that's part of Amazon's pre-populated reasons for return. If so, they probably also include:

"There's just no pleasing this woman."
"What am I a mind reader?"
"Seriously folks, take my wife. Please."

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crafting receipts and vacation's end

Rascal on the couch with his chin on Harvey's Hannukah monster

he enjoys Harvey's Hannukah present

Rascal doesn't know it yet, but vacation is over. For me, anyways; I guess he's pretty much on permanent vacation and you very well may find him in the same spot tomorrow. Harvey will probably have taken back his monster, though: that's the purple object on which Rascal is resting his chin. We're highlighting our own crafting here, but a few awesome people crafted for us too. Well, for the boys, which is all that matters, right?

From Leah's cousin-in-law Arthur Harvey got a knitted purple monster that's a perfect size for toddler hugging, which he immediately did. It was also in his bed its first night home, but as the photo above shows it made its way downstairs where Rascal was able to appreciate the coziness. Our friend Amy crocheted a pair of monkeys for Zion and Harvey, each of which was marked with the appropriate initial. Not only are they super silly and cute, I will also credit them with teaching Harvey his letters. Today he picked out a small wooden 'z' from the box and said, "It's a 'z' for Zion!". Of course, when he says for somebody it means he actually wants to give it to them, which I had to stop: that little letter had choking hazard written all over it! (well, one letter of that phrase, anyways). But the intention was good, not to mention the pre-reading skills!

Speaking of which, I'm not super excited to go back to teaching children who are not my own tomorrow, and my body has chimed in with its agreement by coming down with quite a fever. Leah's sick of me, though, so hopefully a good night's sleep will see me fit and ready for the trenches again. If nothing else I can keep popping Tylenol. Man those things really work; I never would have got this blog post out otherwise! Now to bed.

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Christmas Critters

I had it in my mind to make Harvey and Zion matching toys for Christmas. I wanted to make Harvey a version of the chicken I made for baby Reuben, with a few small alterations. I eliminated the egg channel for ease of sewing and I cut the eyes in one piece rather than two because I found them difficult to line up as written in the pattern.

close up of chicken face

well, bok then.

Harvey opened the bag and exclaimed "Oh! It's a chicken!" He reacted with similar glee to every christmas present, but it was extra cute for the ones I made him.

harvey and his stuffed chicken

Harvey pointing the chicken in the direction of greenery

I also made one for Zion, but because the stuffed version would be as big as he is I made a flat blanket/chicken hybrid.

i have feeties too!

I can't tell if this one ended up weird looking or just weird to photograph. I was trying to get a shot of the feet on the bottom but it just kind of ends up looking like a smushed chicken. Oh well. A blanket doll is more about tactile experience than presentation, after all.

zion and his flat chicken

i'll chew on anything

I also made a toy for our niece Nisia, a pink cow at Dan's suggestion. The cow is kind of a big multi-step project, so I agreed to try only after the sweaters were finished. Dan was so excited about it that his eagerness carried the project through, and I sewed this up insanely fast. The previous cows took three hours to sew; this one I made in just an hour and a half. I didn't pin anything. I just crossed my fingers, whispered "this is a well-made pattern" and hoped the ends would line up on the other side. And with a lot of last-minute grace, it worked.

pink cow

Le Moo

Dan came back from walking Rascal on Christmas morning and I was just about ready to stuff the thing. "Should I give it eyes?" I asked.
"How long will that take?"
"Two and a half minutes."
"Okay, yeah, I guess give it eyes."

Crafters have weird conversations. As much fun as this all was, there's definitely a part of me that's glad December's over.

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holiday beer

an empty

this one didn't last long undrunk

Leah's new project for the holiday season was soap; mine was beer. She had the harder task, though, since she did all the reading and collecting of ingredients by herself. Me, I just tagged along with our friend Luke to the homebrew store to pick up a kit and brewed it up in borrowed buckets. Still, I take some pleasure in the achievement.

The beer came out pretty tasty, if I do say so myself. Good enough that I didn't mind handing some out as a present to various relatives. Of course, to give anything away I have to design packaging for it—I'm as much about packaging as I am about content, you should know. For this, a Christmastime brown ale, I couldn't do anything but go with the words of the song, and then find a picture to match.

Luckily I have a few friends who share my enjoyment of old-timey carols, so I wasn't forced to keep the joke entirely to myself.

There will probably be more beer-making in our future, especially once we get used to drinking what's left of this batch and then run out of it. Despite the suggestion of both Luke and my brother, though, I think it'll be a little while before we start growing our own hops.

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Christmas sweaters

I had a simple wish for Christmas this year. To see all my boys wearing matching hand-knit sweaters on Christmas morning.

archibald boys in sweaters

the adorable archibalds

Okay, so actually that wish wasn't so simple.

Dan had asked for a fisherman's sweater, and I asked him about five trillion times to clarify what that meant to him. Really I didn't need much clarification, I just tried to force him through my constant pestering to agree that what he really wanted was a casual-style wool sweater and not an intricate show-piece with owls and cabling an popcorn stitches in between. In the end he got the intersection of what he wanted and what was possible for me to do with a baby on my lap; a casual wool sweater with simple vertical stripes. One day he will have his cables and owls, but not while our children still whine and suckle.

I adapted a pattern from my favorite men's knitting book, using smaller needles and worsted weight and knitting the bottom part in the round. (Though I did end up knitting the sleeves straight and then sewing them up... I tried to pick up and knit from the shoulder down but it was too much for me to figure out on a pattern with so much fudging already.)

dan sweater close up

so handsome! and nice sweater too.

I started Dan's sweater in July and finished knitting by the end of November. That left me a month to do two child-sized vests. Which would be crazy any time of the year, but doubly crazy in December. When I show all the crazy shit I sewed this month, you'll understand. But out of everything I made this year, the sweaters were really a project for ME. I'm the one who wants to see my boys matching on Christmas morning, to beam with pride and parade them in front of extended family and friends so that everyone can compliment me on my work. Also, God promised me I would be able to finish the sweaters before Christmas, and I didn't want to make him a liar.

harvey sweater close up

insisted on wearing it atop his other Christmas sweater

I finished the neck ribbing on the two vests the afternoon of Christmas eve. I left off the ribbing around the arm holes because I was starting to hate knitting. Maybe I'll do it some day. Maybe not.

zion head

THIS IS MY BIG BABY FACE!

This is the only picture I could snap of Zion because I was holding him. He looks like he's floating in a sea of gray stitches. And I guess that's the point of mama knits, really. If anything is a physical symbol of what I want for them, how much I want to wrap them all in love and warmth, squeeze them and spoil them with the work of my hands, it's these sweaters. Merry Christmas to my most loved boys. You all look darling in gray.

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a few Christmas snapshots

our wide christmas tree shining late on christmas eve

65 minutes to Christmas

We had a wonderful Christmas with some great presents and delicious food. And wonderful company too, of course!

Harvey and Grandma singing Christmas carols

hark the herald angels sing!

Harvey really entered into the spirit of the holiday, on his third try at it. Not only did he consent to sing with us, he was very properly appreciative of all his presents. I'm mostly excited about the three new duplo sets.

Of course, we're all pretty tired out now, even those of us who didn't stay up past 11:00 last night. Good thing this holiday comes with some vacation days afterwards, so we can recover!

Rascal resting in front of the fire

the celebrating wore him out

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season's greetings

Merry Christmas to everyone out there in the internet!

Despite strong temptation to reference the suckling child and the weaned child and their respective snakes (we'll never have the setup so perfect again!) we went with an angel theme for this year's card. What with Harvey's hair it would've been tough not to, and I don't know how many people in our card-receiving audience would have picked up on the reference.

Just a few more minutes of work until I'm ready for Christmas to come here at the squibix household—though not before, I hope, I get a sufficiency of sleep. Everyone else is long abed, what with their superior planning and motivation or their blissful unawareness of what, besides simple breathless expectation, will be required from them on Christmas Eve. A couple years.

Of course, Christmas on the blog here will keep on going for at least 12 days. Leah has a lot of crafting that I'm sure she's eager to share!

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And suddenly there was with the angel all these other little guys...

After reading to Harvey ten different retellings of the Christmas story this year, I had a new insight. The crescendo of the story is when the heavenly host appears to the shepherds. What if angels were excitedly bursting out of heaven all over the middle east and the shepherds were the only ones who saw it because THEY WERE OUTSIDE? Of course that can't really be true, or we would have Jesus worshiped by hordes of wandering Bedouins. Still... my interpretation this year is that to get the most of what God has for us we need to leave our homes. And maybe also be outdoors.

Harvey has asked me several times this week to "tell the christmas story." Of course this is the kind of moment in parenting where a spotlight shines down from heaven and I turn on my thousand-watt smile and say "of course my little darling!" and drop whatever dishes or laundry or christmas present I happen to be wrapping. (Yes, I'm so exhausted now I've started wrapping dishes...)

I vacillate between trying to put the story in words Harvey can understand and reverting to scriptural recitation because I don't want to leave anything out. Harvey would prefer the latter, I think. When I was saying yesterday "The Glory of the Lord shone roundabout them and they were very afraid," Harvey interrupted and said, "They were SORE afraid, you mean!"

At any rate, whether you'd prefer goodwill towards men, to humanity, or only for those on whom His favor rests (I'm referencing translations here, not trying to provoke an ideological battle on Christmas Eve) I pray that you will feel a bit of peace on earth today, peace that only God can give, which feels the same no matter how you put it.

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preschool pageantry

harvey at the kids church pageant

sheepishly curious

The kids' church preschoolers put on a Christmas Pageant yesterday during church. They didn't present it to the whole congregation—probably a good thing, considering the very little amount of preparation involved—but a select group of parents attended and enjoyed a sparklingly entertaining presentation. Harvey had a great time, except for being in a strange room in front of lots of people.

He—along with the rest of his class—was a sheep. It took some convincing to get him to put on the delightful hand-made hat when I dropped him off; but as he is a fan of both hats and sheep once he had it on he consented that it was kind of cool. His friend Ollie declined to wear his hat, or to carry it, or even to touch it, but on the other hand Ollie walked into the pageant room calmly and quietly, even if he was visibly rather apprehensive about what on earth was going on. Harvey, on the other hand, was carried in literally crying and screaming. He wanted everyone to know that while he—barely!—was willing to spend some time in his classroom, he wanted absolutely nothing to do with any other rooms and what were they trying to do with him and oh my goodness. He wouldn't have made it in if his parents hadn't been there, needless to say.

angel and mary

"fear not" ?

With a comfortable lap to sit in, though, he settled down to enjoy the show. Sure he didn't baa on command—that responsibility was outsourced to me—but since most of what he tells me about kids church are the things he didn't do I take that as par for the course. ("I didn't sing a song." "I didn't drink any juice." So go his typical reports of his formal religious education.) He stood up to see what was going on when the angel Gabriel mumblingly appeared to Mary—wonderful acting for four-year-olds, it was!—and enjoyed the singing, even if he typically declined to take part.

zion holding lantern

practicing for the part of innkeeper someday

If he could walk Zion would have shown his big brother how it's done: he had to be restrained from raiding the props bin, conveniently located right next to where we were sitting. But then, Harvey too was pretty outgoing at <1 year, if I recall, and we see where that's gotten him now!

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what pre-christmas looks like around here

Sometimes the best thing we can do for children is to contain their mess. Unclear what course of action is best when the parents can't do so themselves.

harvey and zion in the messy office pre-christmas

elves in captivity

Dan just set up the playpen in the office. This is allowing bursts of christmas crafting in one-minute increments. The great thing about the playpen is we can all be in the office without Harvey breaking the serger... any more. The bad thing is they can still break each other. And pull all the dictionaries off the shelf. And that's not even the primary source of mess in the office...

where's us?!

We're pretty busy around here getting ready for Christmas and also, you know, having two kids under three and everything. I've had all kinds of awesome thoughts for blog posts but in every case they'd require a good solid hour or so of drafting, and any free time I have is taken up with seasonal preparations. Well, it ought to be; it's actually mostly taken up with cleaning up and organizing and trying to prepare the ground for seasonal preparations. I don't want to get out of the gate too fast, you know—it might spoil the stress.

The Christmas card is also well underway. This year's edition will feature our two little catalog models; luckily we managed the photo shoot before Harvey attacked the coffee table with his face, giving himself some serious cuts and a lip that's so swollen you can just about see it from behind. He may heal up before Easter.

So yeah, not so much blogging lately, and we apologize for that. My mother tells me that a friend of hers has seen something suggesting we're the target of persons even more nefarious than the comment spammers; she writes, "Has Squibix been hacked??? try it....a weird monster comes on and says hacker or something." We haven't seen anything like that, unfortunately. A monster would certainly keep things interesting between our sporadic updates!

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surprise christmas

Along the former narrow-gage railroad, the site of our daily doggy walking route, someone has decorated a small pine tree with golden lights. Harvey is delighted to point it out every time. "Oh!" he yells with delight. "It's a Christmas tree!!!"

Yesterday the babies were asleep as we walked past, so I whispered to myself "oh, it's a christmas tree!" Then I saw something shiny peering up from the ground underneath.

"Oh," I said moving closer, "It's a teething ring. It's OUR teething ring!" One of six we have lost in the past month, actually. Someone had probably found it along the path and put it under the tree like a little pre-chewed present. How happy I was to reclaim it and place it back in the stroller!

So here's my prayer for each of us this christmas. May all that is lost be found again. May our children sometimes sleep. And may you find small blessings in surprising places.

christmas list

At my age it seems a bit declasse to make a Christmas list (please mentally insert the appropriate accents so it comes out day-classay... I don't know how to type in french or haughty WASP on this computer). Dan and I usually have a conversation with our parents that goes something like this: "What do you want? Money? You guys probably want money right?" To which we reply, "Well, um, yes, money is useful for things like paying bills. We'd like to pay our bills so yes, please give us money."

And then we get some lovely checks with which we pay our January real-estate tax and water-and-sewer and student loans and we generally feel pretty responsible, though not very festive.

Oh God, this is just about the whiniest blog post I've ever written. How can I go on when I start off with "Wah wah, people give us money and it's no fun!" What an ungrateful little brat I am.

I'd better start over.

The thing is I made a Christmas list, and I feel guilty about sharing it and angry about not sharing it.

I've been a little depressed lately over this idea that once I was a person but now I'm a mother. I used to run around the block for fun but now I walk around the block to put the baby to sleep. It's not very novel, the idea that with two young kids you don't get much time to yourself or time to sleep. It's just that I've been in some pain recently with the repetitive stress of caring for 50 pounds of very needy children, and it's making me rather cranky. And then I think of Christmas and how everything is about making it magical for the two little princes while I just wait around till the end of December to buy new shoes I needed at the beginning of October.

And then I think, but there's nothing I really want anyway. I want a nap and some time to do some sewing. I want to play with my children without worrying about getting hurt and without worrying that I should stop soon to do chores. I want to have some time when it's quiet. These things you can't put on a Christmas list because they're impossible.

Anyway, I have four things on a wish list and one of them is a humidifier. It feels stupid to bother with the html and even stupider not to ask someone to make my holiday with a $40 elephant that shoots steam out his trunk.

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christmas preview: Harvey's backpack

I have a secret drawer in my closet filled with finished Christmas presents. (For those of you who weren't reading last year, it's kind of a thing for us to do home-made Christmas. We're both poor and over-zealously ambitious, you see.) My drawer not as full as I'd like it to be, but it's coming along.

things in drawer

lying in wait

You may well wonder who's that spotted friend peaking out from top. Let me introduce you to Harvey's new back-pack.

front of back pack

I can't wait to hug my Harvey!

He saw the examples in this book and declared that he wanted a back-pack that was both a penguin AND had spots. I fought him for a while saying it should only have spots, that a beak and wings and feet would make it too busy. Then I got over it. I do so like to make him happy.

back of back pack

so much edge stitching!

Here's the gratuitous strap shot. I started this bag just after Halloween, and finished it just after Thanksgiving. I cannot tell you how many hours exactly... somewhere between ten and thirty. There were a lot of details. And the fact that the iron lives in the same room as a sleeping baby.

ready for an infinite number of pennies

I had originally wanted to make him a backpack in September to celebrate the start of kids church, Harvey's first away-from-mama activity. Buuuuut there was fabric to choose, and then a zipper and buttons and strap adjustors to buy, and then strap adjustors to replace the first ones which were really belt adjustors, not to mention the ten to thirty hours of sewing. Now I'm just happy to have it done for Christmas. Every bone in my body is fighting the urge to give it to him RIGHT AWAY just to see the smile on his face. He can wait four weeks for the bonus Christmas excitement, can't he? CAN'T HE?

Yes, because if I get nothing else done the backpack will make him so happy.

But oh how I wish I had a shot of Harvey carrying it. Neither of us are good at delayed gratification.

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The tail end of Christmas crafting

Our Christmas tree is coming down today, so I took an hour yesterday to finally make Harvey an ornament for this year. Here it is.

snowman ornament

noman

He is, or course, a recreation of Harvey's favorite storybook character, and a nod to Harvey's current obsession with all things snowman. I swear... you could have a snowman the size of a pencil head drawn on wrapping paper and Harvey would plow through a room of excited children and dogs to point to it.

Indeed, when I gave him the ornament this morning Harvey exclaimed "noman!" and shook it excitedly.

Come to think of it, this guy needs a scarf if he wants to match the drawings in the book. Okay, so there's one more thing to do before all the ornaments go into the box.

Before we close the book on Christmas crafting 2010, I wanted to share with you this picture book I made for Harvey. It started off as a fun thing to do while we're coloring together and turned into a billion-hour project with far too many steps going into binding and prepping for binding and gluing and binding.

cover of harvey's board book The Great Thanksgiving

Go ahead, judge it by its cover

The book uses the text of The Great Thanksgiving (according to the Book of Common Prayer - I used Eucharistic Prayer C if you want to get technical) to tell the overall story of God and his people.

a picture from the book about creation

creation

God created us, we turned against him, yaddah yaddah yaddah, then came Jesus.

mary and jesus

my drawings are kind of crude, but you get the idea


I tried to use pictures that Harvey could recognize. This one he can call "huggie."

One day Harvey slept for a whole two-and-a-half hours, letting me complete the last of the pictures and do all the lettering in one amazing afternoon. The hymn singer picture below was one of the two drawings I made during that session, and I'll always remember it as a testament of praise to a toddler in slumber as much as to God.

hymn singers out of harvey's book

unending hymn

I consider it one of my better qualities that I often plow into projects without thinking through their completion. This book was a good example. I can now tell you much more about binding your own board book, perhaps enough to put you off the project. I thought I would glue each page to cardboard and then laminate with contac paper. The gluing took about ten billion times as long as I thought it would, since each page needed to be lined up on the cardboard just right. I thought I would use rubber cement but that ended up being slippery, so I went back to using glue-sticks, which as it turned out were out of stock in our office four days before Christmas. One of the low (or high) points of this project was me promising Dan sexual favors if he would run out to Staples at 8:30pm on a Monday evening to buy me more glue. Then Dan used his school's laminator to seal the pages, and I taped down the laminated edges using $15 of invisible tape. Well, I only used about 50 cents in the end, but I had to buy $15 because the packages were sealed in the store and I couldn't tell which kind I needed.

And so, on the verge of switching to all cloth bags for all future Christmases, we nowown about ten years worth of scotch tape.

No matter. That's what Christmas is all about.

back of harvey's book

love mama

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quilt

blue and yellow quilt hanging on the line

a baby quilt 2 years in the making

I started this quilt before Harvey was born. It was supposed to be a baby quilt for a few-month-old to lie on top of, but the finishing stages were such a pain in the ass that I never got it done. I made a valiant effort to finish it before last Christmas, but I stupidly thought I would save time by not changing the foot on my machine. That 10-minute time saver turned into six hours of ripping out stitches. At the rate of an hour a month. If you're a quilter, you don't need me to warn you to change the foot on your machine before quilting. If you're not a quilter, DON'T START!

another picture of the blue quilt

meticulously randomized color gradations.

Anyway, I finally got the last of the bad stitches out and decided to make a go of finishing it before Christmas this year. When properly executed the finishing wasn't the end of the world - about four or five hours all told, and I did it in two days during naps and nights. Boy did that make me feel stupid. Because, you know, here's Harvey now with a tiny quilt he can't much use, that I could have finished when he was 6 months old if only I stayed up an extra few hours.

Rascal on Harvey's Christmas quilt

he relaxes after opening presents

Fortunately Rascal redeemed the project by lying right on top of it as soon as the quilt was spread. We even used it later in the afternoon to protect my in-laws couch when Rascal wanted to take a nap. So all's well that ends well I guess.

I love the look of quilting, but it turns out that I hate almost every step in the process. I hate cutting fabric, especially geometrically. I hate lining up the top layer with the batting and backing. I hate making bias tape only slightly more than I hate buying it. And I hate the long boring and crazy-OCD-making process of quilting. The only thing I like is sewing the pieces together. That 1/10th of the process is so satisfying.

I've been debating whether to start some sort of blanket for the new baby. A knitted blanket plays more to my strengths, but a nice patchwork quilt would use up some scraps and not require the expensive outlay of a full blanket's worth of yarn. But, you know, would fill my house with cursing. Decisions decisions.

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my Christmas accomplishments

some of the preserves we gave as Christmas presents

giving the gift of summertime flavors

As I mentioned, I did my best with the limited skills I possess to come up with a minimally acceptable set of homemade presents this Christmas. Preserves I can handle, but all that I needed to do for them last week was applying labels and making boxes. All the hard work was way back in the summer, which doesn't quite seem fair.

I did manage a little bit of baking: I made some well-received orange-chocolate shortbread and some ugly and deformed peanut-butter cups. Perhaps I would have done better had I started the whole project earlier than 9:30 in the evening on Christmas Eve. Next year.

My other project was a set of calling cards—mama cards, if you will—for Leah. She asked me to make her some: they're apparently a thing, and really do seem like a good idea for when you happen to meet someone at the playground. Not that that's likely to happen for a couple months; Harvey and I tried to go yesterday, but the snow cover was complete enough to prevent any fun from being had. In any case, this was one task where I could fully leverage my core skill-set of putting a little bit of information on a document with a whole lot of white space around it and calling it elegant design. Really, Harvey is so photogenic that nobody will be looking at the text anyways. Unless, I suppose, they want to call Leah. Luckily her number isn't blurred out in real life.

calling cards for Leah, featuring Harvey's cute little mug

look at that little model

I also made that stable for Harvey's nativity set. Oh, and a spice rack for Leah's use! Can't forget that! Except that I haven't managed to put it up yet, so full credit is yet pending.

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Harvey's Nativity

This was Harvey's "big" christmas present from this year. Not that he liked it the most - that prize went to a bouncy ball and two wood cars I got at the paper store. No, this 20-hour present is more of a gesture, a holding place, stock for later Montessori moments in his life when he may want to learn more about Jesus' birth.

the members of harvey's nativity set

all together now!

Every doll in this set is hand-sewn, even the sheep, because they're too small to put through the sewing machine. That makes for about 2.5 hours per doll, not counting the clothes.

mary and the baby jesus

the virgin mother mild

All the dolls in the set use the same pattern, except for Mary who has a special pocket in her nether regions from wence the baby can emerge. It's a play set with a life lesson thrown in to boot! Don't worry, I've spared you the detailed pictures here, though you're welcome to come over and play with them yourself.

For his part, when I showed Harvey the baby coming out he said, "No? No?" Too bad junior. That decision isn't up to you.

nativity exterior shot

a place to creche

Dan made this awesome stable out of wood to hold the playset. The roof even comes off for easy access! It was very exciting to collaborate with Dan on a project, especially since I don't do wood working, and I was less excited to try my hand at a felt stable than I was about the arc. In the end the set could use a few more things... a manger out of popcicle sticks, three wise-men which I wisely declined to make at the last minute. That just means there are some no-brainer gifts for next year's stocking. You know, when he might actually be interested in playing with dolls.

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hatties

The one thing that Dan requested from me this Christmas was a thick knit hat with a fleece lining inside. A seemingly simple request, so I started on this one quite early. I had picked up some un-dyed yarn from our local sheep at last spring's woolopolooza, and it seemed like the perfect thing. Two skeins ended up being enough a matching set of boys hats. Indeed, a third hat came out of the lot too - a casualty from my habit of always knitting the first Harvey hat too small. That one went to our friend baby Noah, since it's too much for me to keep two identical hats of different sizes in the house, even if we do have another baby on the way.

harvey and dan in their new christmas hats

harvey dada hattey?

You may notice a row of black stitches on the bottom of Dan's hat. That's holding the fleece lining in place, the key detail in Dan's initial request. In theory it seemed like a cinch to sew a fleece layer to a knit cap. In practice it's not something I'd willingly do again outside of a special Christmas request. I had wanted to use the grey hat yarn as thread, but it refused to go through the thick fleece. The next best choice was black thread which matched the liner, but my OCD over making messy sewing stitches over the nice neat knitted ones made the last step of this project stretch to almost three hours, about half as long as it took me to knit the whole dang hat! Also, the knit and fleece stretch differently, which means I had to set up the spacing with about a zillion pins. All surmountable hurdles in theory, but not the thing you want to be dealing with at 10pm two days before Christmas. Anyway, I think it came out looking pretty good, although that Drumlin sheep wool pulls together like crazy. I was expecting more stretch with wearing, but after two days Dan says it's still a bit tight. I just might have to wet block the thing over a bowling ball this week.

I made some other hats for this year's holiday season. Here's one for my mom featuring a cute little knit leaf. I also make one for my Dad and one for our sister Nelly, although I didn't snap good pictures of these. Oh well, such is life.

beth in her chanukah hat

elegant for an elegant lady

The other big knitting project I completed this season was a vest for my brother. You'll notice the resemblance to the vest I made for Dan last year on his birthday.

jake in his chanukah vest

pass the chopped liver, man!

It's a fantastically simple pattern, and a good semi-big knitting project for boys. It's not as mind-numbing as a sweater since there are no sleeves, but it certainly makes me feel more accomplished than a hat. I'll always think of this vest as the sandbox vest, since I knit most of the base while sitting next to Harvey in the sandbox this summer. That's the key to getting in six knit gifts by Christmas - starting in July.

So those are the things I knitted this year. Resolutions for the new year include working through my stash of odds-and-ends (baby mittens anyone?) and trying out my first carrying-color pattern for Dan's birthday. Which is less than three months away! For a sweater with sleeves! Eek! Better get knitting!

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Christmas Sweater

A brief programming note for our faithful 100 readers: I aim to write a few separate posts about my Christmas craft projects this year, if only to spread out the self-congratulatory photo dumps a little longer. So we'll celebrate Christmas on the blog for another week, and starting in the new year I think I'll start a series of posts about being a full-time mom of a toddler. Because, you know, that's ground-breaking blogging right there. But for now, onto the knitting porn!

I give you Harvey's Christmas sweater:

harvey in his new orange sweater

happy to be warm outside

Harvey picked out the yarn for this himself, way back in the summer when we were more mobile and could bike all the way to the Lexington knitting store. That's only to demonstrate how frigging long this sweater took me to knit. With 168 stitches around the middle and 87 around the sleeves, I could have knitted a while adult sweater in the time it took me to make this 2-year-old version. That's due to the small size of the needles (2 and 3 US, respectively) which for some reason didn't give me pause when I picked up the pattern. Although I love the way the tiny stitches look and the amazing elasticity of the ribbing, I'd still prefer a 7 or 9 for future sweaters.

orange sweater side view

steppin out in style

The sweater is knitted almost entirely in the round, which is lovely for the base rows and would be more lovely if more than half the sweater wasn't ribbing. Still, it's a nice technique on principle, though I'm not super keen on the gigantic external seam along the shoulder that's left by casting off two sets of stitches together. I know the point of the round method is to be seamless on the inside, but after working all those tiny sleeve rows on double pointed needles I've decided that I rather like seams in the end. They're handy for hiding your yarn ends, after all. Another point of contention with the pattern: what's that weird neck gusset interrupting the ribbing? Does anybody find that odd? I am told by the now-out-of-print Debbie Bliss pattern that this is a traditional guernsey sweater, but I don't know how many fisherman I've seen walking around with big neck and gussets.... maybe I don't see enough fisherman.

orange sweater back

what Christmas magic lies ahead?

No matter how many curse words go into knitting a sweater, it's always an unspeakable joy when it's finished. When I opened the package for Harvey on Christmas morning he looked at it and said, "ninning?"

"No sweetie, mama's all finished knitting this. It's a sweater now." I held it up for him to see that it was in fact a garment and not something he would get yelled at for touching.

"On?" he said immediately, sticking out his hand.

For the rest of the day he refused to take the thing off, even when it reached 80 degrees next to the fireplace and his cheeks turned apple red. Of course this makes the whole project worth it, all the late-night error-fixing and the times these past two weeks when I let him watch an extra episode of Phineus and Ferb just so that I could get in a few more rows. All that is more than doubly worth it for that one moment of "On?"

harvey watching computer in his orange sweater

I love that boy so much it's stupid

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Christmas snapshots

the tree and 18 butler with many many presents

think there's enough presents for all us Archibalds?

a cloth-wrapped, gold-ribboned present

cloth and classy

Rascal on Harvey's Christmas quilt

he relaxes after opening presents

Much more later.

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... and to all a good night!

We spent the evening busily finishing and wrapping, and I felt like I was in pretty good shape with the whole day off tomorrow until I remembered that we have to go to church. You know, the reason for the season and all that. Still, things feel very much under control, so I take a moment to present you with this year's Christmas card. It is the latest in a long series. This year's version is inspired by an old poem, and it has it's own page of explication.

As always, if you want to get on our Christmas card list just drop us a note (or a card of your own!): we love making them and sending them out!

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what I'm working on

With just a few days do go I'm feeling more confident than I have ever been about home-made Christmas. This year I made more nice gifts than I ever did before, on account of starting in June on some bigger projects. This means that not one, not two, but six members of my family will get hand knit somethings this year, several others hand sewn somethings, with lots of other mini projects here and there to fill in the gaps.

As always, there are set-backs, like finding out that the mice ate Harvey's handmade stocking from last year, finding out at the same time that Dan hates his current stocking, and running out to JoAnnes to confidently purchase $25 worth of wool that has yet to become 5 new stockings. Errr, that's a project for tomorrow night.

Today I'm finishing up the cuff of Harvey's sweater, and it looks like a real Christmas miracle will occur and my tiny ball of yarn will hold out another 20 rows. If that gets done before 10pm I'm going to finish binding the board book that started out as a whim and ended up in 20 plus hours of work. Harvey's nativity set has already taken about three billion hours from September to present, and as of yesterday I officially gave up on adding Wise Men. That set already contains six dolls and two sheep all painstakingly hand-stitched, so I'm ready to call it a day, or rather call it a Luke-version Nativity and leave it at that.

All of these projects are to be photographed and blogged about in time, but probably not before the holiday, so in the meantime I leave you with two short Christmas projects that I blatantly stole from someone else's blog. The first is Peppermint bark:

peppermint bark

not just the thought that counts

I made this on Sunday and when Dan tried a piece he said, "I demand you make more of this." This is good stuff, y'all. I would be making more at the moment but it only takes white chocolate chips with real coco butter in them, which only come from Trader Joe's, and after the JoAnnes run the other day I have refused to drive anywhere near Burlington until Christmas is over. But if you can find the ingredients (and can slog through a recipe the size of Moby Dick) I strongly suggest you try it.

peppermint bark

that shit is good

My other new obsession this year is making re-usable wrapping sacks. They're like wrapping paper except reusable and more time consuming and you need to get out your stupid iron and why aren't you making Christmas stockings what on earth is your problem?

cloth wrapping paper

getting there...

I've made three more bags since this photo, and I would so much like to do ALL my wrapping with cloth bags, even though it adds so much time to the already late evenings. I don't know, something about the idea that it might ease my time next year, that makes it justified in my mind.

If knitting and book binding and stocking sewing go smoothly (and why should they?) then I'm sure I'll find something else to do before Saturday. Ornaments? Another hat? I really love Christmas.

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elvish effort

We're working hard here at squibix enterprises, inc. to get ready for Christmas. Well, some of us are working; Harvey does his part by going to bed early without a fuss to let us get some serious holiday prep done between the hours of 7 and 10 pm. Leah of course has a variety of craft disciplines well in hand: sewing, knitting, even book-making. It's harder for me without any actual skills, but I'm doing as much as I can with graphic design and preserves (and the intersection between the two). I'm even branching out a little into sewing and carpentry!

We won't have an entirely home-made Christmas, but a significant percentage of the gifts will be products of our own industry. It's very gratifying to our hippy sensibilities—and it's also a great way to save money, especially when your hourly labor is valued as low as ours is.

You'll notice, though, that even with all the work we're doing we still make time for blogging. That's our gift to you!

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it's beginning to look a lot

the mostly-decorated Christmas tree

surge illuminare

The accouterments of Christmas are starting to accumulate round here. Now all we need is a little snow. Oh, and to finish making the presents.

our nativity set

now with wise men

gingerbread house

pray the mice don't decide to move in

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Christmas Making 2009

The last few months have been a blur of yarn and thread and the same three rows of stitches ripped out over and over. Now that it's all over, I think the little elves in our family are entitled to brag a bit. So here, in short, is a sampling of the projects we made for Christmas 2009.

First off, here's Harvey's new stocking (from Santa's point of view).

... which got filled with ornaments by Dan:

And Dan really took strides in the quilting department this year, turning out some nifty potholders, including this one for his mom:

I had a quilt in the works for Harvey this year, but it's back in the to-be-finished pile after being hurled across the room a few hundred times. To calm myself down I made some embroidery for some of our bible study friends:

And finally finished a new Hat for Harvey (as seen in this video). Third time's the charm in hat patterns it seems this year... I've got one too-big and one too-small hat waiting in the wings for any friends with children of deformed head sizes.

You can see from the photographer's angle that Dan was most charmed by the pom pom. I guess more pom poms are in the future for the squibix family.

Returning to the sewing machine, I refused to be out-done by Dan's beautiful white and blue ornament for Harvey, and so I knocked out this lamb-headed taggie blanket between the hours of 6 and 9 on Christmas morning.

This present is also pictured in the video. Edited out of the video was Dan's mom saying "Can you imagine making a toy from scratch on Christmas morning for a 6-month old who doesn't even know that it's Christmas?" Yes, I can imagine. It's called having a mental illness.

But the big present this year, the one that I had planned from September and which took me perhaps three months to complete, was this sweater for Dan.

My first adult sweater... indeed my first adult knitting project that doesn't fall under the category of "accessory." This project came from the book Men's Knits by Erika Knight, and I can't recommend this book enough. Unlike a certain baby knitting book that deserves to be burned for kindling (I'll never get those hours back, Natural Knits for Kids!) this book has patterns which are well written, beautifully photographed, and generally do what they say they're going to do. Which is to say, make an awesome sweater for my special snowbunny.

As always, there were some projects that took weeks in the knitting but somehow can't make it to a five minutes photo shoot. These include hats for Tom and Lisa, a beautifully cabled cowl neck for Dan which he will likely never wear, and the Jam, oh the Jam, that deserves a post for itself!

We've already got big plans for Christmas 2010! Including plan #1, start earlier, #2 photograph more, and #3 chill the f—- out, it's only Christmas! Merry Christmas everybody!

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My Christmas Angel

On Christmas morning we all went out for a walk, my three boys and me, and as sometimes happens on such occasions Harvey fell asleep on the journey home. I slowly removed the straps from the baby carrier, placed the sleeping bundle down on the bed, and backed away. This was what I saw:

That's my little Christmas angel!

Christmas review

We celebrated Christmas at my parents' house just like I've done every year of my life and Leah's done for the past five or six years. Tom and Nelly were there this year, which was nice. So was Harvey, of course, and he made a difference to how we did things. Stocking presents here at home, for example. Which we did at 5:00 in the morning, for some reason... (you may blame me, I believe).

So after that it was nice to have a relaxing day. We got over there at around 10:30, ate some breakfast, opened some presents, took a walk, opened more presents, sat around... things like that. We may have gotten a little cranky towards the end, but that was just due to lack of sleep. Leah is remedying that right now for herself, and I will do likewise in just a moment.

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Harvey's first Christmas!

For Chanukah my parents gave us a HD video camera. In this case, HD clearly stands for Harvey Douglas. Please enjoy our first forays into home movie making with these scenes from Harvey's first Christmas.

Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord!

Imagine, if you will, that you are sitting on a linolium floor, staring up at a high school boy in a dress who is telling you, somewhat haltingly, that you will "conceive in your womb and bear a son." And then you must say, with all the holiness you can muster, "How can this be since I am a virgin?"

This is the theatrical challenge I face in lo three hours. The costumes are sown, the lines are memorized... all that's left is the improbable portrayal of the holy family that we must execute this afternoon. Acting ability = stretched.

On the other hand, Harvey is going to be the cutest baby Jesus this town has ever seen!

We will post pictures of Harvey's acting debut, as well as results from all our holiday elfing in not too long. In the mean time, may heaven's wishes of peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind manifest themselves in your household this evening.

Merry Christmas!

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busy elves

Despite all-encompassing fatigue, Leah and I stayed up late this evening—til now, in fact!—to work on Christmas. It's some fun! There's a few more things I might like to get done, but if none of it happens that's fine too. Well, a couple things to wrap are less negotiable. Leah is a little more stressed, but I think we're going to make it. Plus, we're skipping the late service tomorrow night so we might actually get some sleep!

Merry Christmas

To the best of my knowledge everyone for whom we have mailing addresses has already received their annual holiday card from us, unless your name happens to be Matt, in which case ITS IN THE MAIL! At any rate, it seems safe to unveil our latest christmas card design. Dan may have more to say later about its painstaking creation, but for this post suffice it to say that All we like sheep wish you a very merry Christmas!

an update on the condition of local holiday decorations

With all the snow yesterday, I must admit to feeling some concern for welfare of our local inflatable Christmas decorations. Would they be tragically stifled by the falling snow, in this case even before they were able to joyously welcome our Savior's birth? Well, I just got back from taking Rascal for a walk around the block and I am able to report that they all seemed to have pulled through just fine, with a little shoveling out by their caretakers. Good thing we dodged that bullet!

Also, for those of you who feel like creeping secularism is robbing the holiday of all meaning, take heart: newly set up around the corner is an inflatable creche scene, complete with a glowing, internally-lit baby Jesus. Admittedly his swaddling clothes and light level make him look a little bit like mutant radioactive mummy, but it's the thought that counts!

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cards of Christmas past

Since our this year's Christmas card is about to "drop", I thought I'd provide a little retrospective of previous years' efforts. Above you can see the outside of last year's card; the inside is after the jump. The idea to use the song came first, and the design followed.

The year before that Leah had a great idea about featuring Rascal in a scene from Isaiah. She did the photoshopping of the lion and lamb, and I finished up with the other layout.

In 2006 I failed utterly at producing a card for the first time in at least three years, so Leah made some beautiful hand-made cards for our closest friends and relatives. Luckily we didn't know so many people back then!

2005 was the year we got Rascal, so of course he was the main feature; we didn't even feel the need to spruce him up with any photoshop work.

There were cards before that, but I can't seem to find them. There was another computer then, as I recall. If they do turn up I'll add them to this post, for the sake of the historical record. And if you want to get on our Christmas card list so you can see fabulous products like these first-hand, just let us know... or, better yet, send us a card this year! We love getting cards, and of course we always reciprocate.

What about this year's? Well, I'm afraid I can't reveal it until after everyone gets a chance to receive their paper copies: wouldn't want to spoil the surprise! The things always look better on paper anyways.

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Christmas presents!

We heard a sermon a week ago last Sunday (the last time we made it to church) about two ways to have a God-centered Christmas [mp3 link to the sermon here]. The first of them was the boring old "stop shopping so much and just be spiritual" thing that we hear every year, but the second—which was explained at somewhat greater length—was a suggestion to celebrate more wholeheartedly and demonstratively. Decorate like mad! Ply people with food and gifts! Go, in other words, all out! For some people, the theory goes, being fully involved in the holiday is the way to have a spiritual season and "the Best Christmas Possible". Since that was what I think anyways, I enjoyed the sermon.

The theory behind the minimalist Christmas is that celebrating the birth of Christ shouldn't be a commercial extravaganza. Sure, I can agree with that. The Christmas music playing at Whole Foods before Thanksgiving got to me too. But the yearly refrain about making Christmas a quiet family time or whatever misses a very important point. From my point of view, the problem isn't that Christmas is too commercial, it's that the rest of the year is.

Me, I hearken back to an era when Christmas might be the only time you got something store-bought: a bag of oranges or a new pair of trousers or something from the Sears catalog. That was exciting! We're too jaded now, on account of the constant instant gratification of the mall, but the solution isn't to abandon celebrating Christmas by giving presents, it's to abandon going to the mall the rest of the year! Do that, and you'll be ready from some shopping come December.

And spiritual warm-fuzzies are all well and good, but there's something to be said for tangible tokens of affection for family, friends, and neighbors. You don't have to be greedy to be excited about opening presents. And if you like giving as much as getting, I don't think you have anything to worry about in the spiritual department. At least for me, exchanging gifts brings me closer to people, and being closer to people is one way to be closer to God.

On that note, here's our holiday wish list if you want to get closer to God by giving us something!

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Great Entertainment at Surprisingly Low Prices

So I'm on the computer at 5am this morning watching Glee while pumping out a breast (can I get a woop woop from all my momeez in da house?) and in the process I'm finding myself charmed by a series of Target commercials that are cheerfully paying for the content I'm streaming. In this particular one (played twice over the Glee episode) a mommy and daddy argue about the christmas budget while trying to preserve for their youngin the magic of Santa. There's something so funny about the way that the momma cuts off her husband by saying "Maybe Santa doesn't need any help doing Santa's job" that I quoted the commercial to my husband verbatim when he woke up.

So yeah. Two days without TV and this is what I've come to. Watching commercials on the internet and LOVING IT. This is like the methadone stage of cable withdrawal.

Homemade Christmas 2008

We're making initial preparations for homemade Christmas 2009, so it seems like a good time to take a look back at the exciting projects we worked up for homemade Christmas 2008. I never managed to post those pictures last year on account of a camera battery that flickered out like a chanukah candle. What made me think of them now was an email I just got from church about the Advent Conspiracy and un-shopping and other exciting things that hippy Christians do around this time of year. With one knit sweater 99% completed and jams and pickles already stocking our pantry, it's easy to get overconfident with our one-month time frame. But this photoseries rams it home just HOW MANY homemade gifts we'll need to make 2009 match up with precedent.


Knitted felt bag for Rebecca, the midwife of a million bags:


Napkin and coaster set for Judy, embroidery on linen.


Embroidery for Tom, my favorite brother-in-law.


Jams and pickles.


This cabled hat was the big project of 2008. In the process of perfecting the pattern for Dan I knocked off similar hats for Merideth, Ashley, and Jake.


Not pictured here I also sewed a hat for Nelly, a purse for my mom, a sleep cap for Alan, a coaster for my grandma, and pillows for Margaret street. I'd better get crankin!


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standard witch-prevention procedure

Today being the twelfth day of Christmas as I count it, we took down the tree just before bed this evening. Well, it was just before bed for Leah; I've stayed up long enough to write this post here. Thrilling, isn't it! In any case, I always thought that the reason for not keeping the tree up past the end of Christmas proper was to ensure that, at least as you began moving it out of the house, more needles were on the tree than on the floor. This year, though, I heard an alternative justification: that if you leave your tree up too long—past the beginning of Epiphany, that is—witches will take up roost. We wouldn't want that! Now, I can't find any mention of this belief anywhere on the internet at all, so it may just be one family's superstition (or joke); still, I see no reason to take chances! So down the tree has come, though we will surely miss its cheery light.

And I have to say, in any tree discussion, that this year's model was the best one we've ever had. Not only was it a nearly perfect cone shape (except where we had to trim the top to fit it in the house), it stayed green and healthy the whole season. Too bad all our cameras are broken, so there are no pictures of this truly wonderful tree.

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recovery period

I woke up this morning thinking it would be nice to refrain entirely from talking and eating today, in order to give my voice and belly a rest. Christmas was tough on both of them, naturally. The plan went great for a couple hours, but I have to say it was really tough when there were so many delicious treats to eat and interesting things to say. I think I made it until about lunchtime on both counts, and I'm all the better for it; I'm also all the better for stuffing my face with chocolate and reading a couple chapters of a story to Leah this evening. I can recover from those tomorrow.

sick with anticipation

I hadn't missed a day of school this year before today, and I still haven't, but I have missed a couple hours. I revealed that I was feeling poorly and was immediately kicked out of the classroom and then the building, despite my protestations that why don't I just see how I am in half an hour, after lunch maybe, I'll just stick around to take the kids to library... no. Out I went. Which was probably for the best: I went home and lay in bed for a couple hours, which is just what I needed. No being sick on Christmas Eve allowed! Christmas, sure, no problem, but Christmas Eve I need to work!

trafficing with the natives

Oh my goodness. This evening I was trapped for two hours in an unholy snarl of terrible traffic created, I can only imagine, by folks trying to get to the mall to shop. And subsequently to get out of the mall. I was only going to the grocery store, but I wasn't spared for that and I've now learned my lesson: never leave the house in the week before Christmas. At least not in the direction of any conglomeration of shopping locations.

It's really a good thing we're doing a home-made Christmas this year, so I didn't have to go into the mall itself even once. And then there's the fact that, while Leah is obviously quite adept at the handicrafts, I'm quite incapable of making anything at all. That really makes for relaxing holiday preparations on my part!

knisper knisper knisper

Today was the occasion of a bittersweet post-Easter ritual, the dismemberment and consumption of the Christmas gingerbread house (the dismemberment, you see, is bitter while the eating is oh-so-sweet). This year—or rather last year—we created a simulacrum of our own home in miniature and gingerbread, and even though they might be better suited to Christmastime than early Spring, I present a pair of photos that we finally took of the structure.

It doesn't look like that any more, however. One whole roof and half of the porch has already gone into my overstuffed belly.

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