first fruits of the loom

Everywhere I look in this house there is work to be done. The chalkboard reminds me seventy times a day that something must be cooked for dinner tonight, and something must be purchased from Whole Foods, and after that if I can stay on my feet we really need more soap set up to cure.

Meanwhile, the dishwasher and the washing machine are ravenous beasts that can never be satisfied. Though I offer them sacrifices at least twice daily, still it is not enough. Their tribute piles up on every surface, demanding to be fed to the hideous dirt demons.

So for a few minutes every day I am actively trying to stop looking at my house. It will never meet your standards of cleanliness, I remind myself. Not with two kids and a dog and a wheelbarrow of soil-covered parsnips drying in the middle of my living room. (Yes, that is a real thing that's in my line of vision right now.) Look at something pleasant and orderly for a moment, I tell myself, and don't think about the next ten years.

So for now I am looking at my loom.

a crappy flash photograph because I'm too busy cleaning dring the daytime to take pictures when it's light

The first slap-dash warping job I mentioned is already used up and off the machine. I had hoped to turn the product into Christmas gifts, but as with everything I make the first fruits needed to be immediately tithed to the children.

Harvey: "It's finished! Can it be for me?"
Me: "Well, I was going to give this as a present."
Harvey: "It can be a present for PowPow!"
Me: "What is PowPow going to do with a dish towel?"
Harvey: "He can use it for a blanket."
Me: "PowPow already has a blanket. I made him a quilt and a pillow!"
Harvey: "He doesn't have a WARM blanket. And Suzanna doesn't have a blanket!"
Me: "Okay, you can have this for Suzanna, but I am NOT making a separate bed for her; she needs to share with PowPow and that's final."

Okay, don't look at me that way. I put my foot down on A LOT OF OTHER THINGS. Besides, Harvey helped weave this textile, so it's only fair that he should help decide what it's used for.

All tucked in and warm

Meanwhile I poured a hundred bucks into my new hobby and ordered a warping board from Etsy to try to take the set-up down from three hours to one. While I waited for that to arrive (plus the other warping tools and some yarn which tipped the scales over the free-shipping mark) I strung a small warp to make some headbands for Chanukah.

Harvey didn\'t ask for a headband at least

This headband was made from some heavy wool I found left over in the box of loom accessories. Thanks fourth-grade self! You saved me some money! (Although you really should have bought us a warping board, just saying.) I made the headband in plain weave and sewed some fabric-covered elastic on the back. I hope it wasn't too rustic for my brother's fancy girlfriend... I tend to make things I might like to wear, forgetting that I'm a filthy hippy while my brother only dates brilliant accomplished tiny women. (This one is a doctor!)

This headband is made with relics!

The second headband was for my mom. In the box of ye old goodies I found something that really brought me back in time; a ball of yarn I had spun from Chocky's fur. Chocky was a samoyed my parents owned when I was young. He was a very special dog for my family, a dog with a larger-than-canine personality that was only matched by his thick white coat of fur which needed constant maintenance. It was my mother who did all that brushing, and even though she cursed when she hit a snag in the fur, and even though she yelled till she was horse when that dog wouldn't come back in the woods (which was most of the time) she loved Chocky dearly. She keeps a photograph of him in the place of honor above her kitchen sink.

When it came time to bury Chocky's ashes in the backyard, the whole family assembled. My brother even drove in from the city for the funeral. But it turns out my family is terrible at acting formal and we had some trouble striking the right tone. Dan was there, though, and he had brought his trumpet. So when when everyone was standing around cracking stupid jokes because we didn't know what to say, Dan walked a few paces off and started to play Taps. As the notes of the music drifted over us in the setting sun, the weight of the moment finally settle on us. We all realized how much we really loved that dog. I have never been prouder to be married to a horn player with an appreciation of high church ceremony.

So I wanted to make something for my mother with that tiny bit of fur, but it was too thin to hold together on its own in either weaving or knitting. After a few failed attempts, I paired it with some blue mohair and cashmere and alternated rows unevenly to create this woven look. Again it came out rustic, but like Taps it was just beautiful enough to stir the right emotion. Mom really liked it.

sentimental gifts for my mom

Meanwhile, the warping board came in and I am ready to start on actual dish towels.

Of course, Harvey is eyeing the red thread that I bought and keeps asking when it's time to work in HIS weaving. And Zion, apropos of nothing, asks if I can sew him a robot. So it's not like the to-do list is getting any shorter...


too much Christmas spirit, the expensive kind

In the pitch black of yesterday morning, before my children were awake, I bought crafting supplies online while riding an exercise bike in the middle of my living room. JoAnn stores had emailed me that the out-of-stock hair clips I was looking for were suddenly in stock, and this needed immediate dealing with in order to turn out more embroidered hair clips by Christmas. But perusing all the other deals took a little bit of time, and in the end it stretched my work out session to 60 minutes when I had only planned 30. In some ways, this is the life I always dreamed of.

I also enjoy going out each morning to the freezing water tap to give the chickens new water. I like banging the ice off the edges of the waterer, and I like the little coos the chickens make as they greet me. In some ways, THIS is the life I always dreamed of.

I would like to feel calmly that one life enables the other, rather than that two ideal lifestyles are fighting to the death in my head.

I appreciate that technology has made it easier to live a simple life, one where I can spend more time reading to my children and less time taking them to horrible greed-inducing stores where there are TVs playing everywhere. At the same time, I appreciate that technology has merely offered me convenience choices, en-lazying my decision making in turn. So my evaluation of environmental externalities (shipping and the like) as well as budget externalities (just $9 more to get free shipping!) is not improved by the ease and speed with which I can make online transactions.

And though I make a lot of things for Christmas (hair clips on order, weaving coming along, knitting progressing frightfully slowly), my $30 JoAnn order yesterday, on top of what I already spent at JoAnn last month, on top of what I plan to spend on fabric next week, doesn't exactly make me feel like a frugal pioneer.

Okay, so maybe I'm feeling just a mite guilty because Dan pointed out I spent a little extra money these past two months. Okay, like, a thousand extra moneys. And I knew it was true, and I tried to get around it by saying "I'm paying the midwife!" and "Our freshly painted hallway has birds on the wall!" when in reality I know exactly where the money's gone.

Because in reality I was ordering disposable diapers off Amazon just because I was so damn tired of washing four pairs of pants every day. And buying expensive hippy laundry detergent at the grocery store (shame the lack of bargain) because every day I swear I'll get out the lye and make my own laundry soap and every day I clean the kitchen and go to bed early because there are more things to do the next day that require sleeping in the interim. And spending $100 cash over my food budget every month because pineapple and grapes twice a week, though they're horribly expensive and not in season, keep Zion from getting constipated without a daily toddler tantrum brought on by a lecture on the digestive system that sounds like "blah blah blah NO MORE CHEESE!"

In other words, in my life right now there are a lot of physical chores and difficult conversations that I can avoid for the low low cost of $500 a month. It's not sustainable or morally desirable, but given the right combination of hormones and exhaustion I find I'm ready to opt into that convenience.

What this sounds like is a confession with uncertain repentance. Of course I want to go back to my normal frugality, it's probably a virtue and all, but I'm planning to go to the feed store today, and after the feed store comes our monthly trip to the kid crafting cafe Dabblers and the opportunity to spend $15 on a very small lunch. And I'm already feeling rise in my throat the horrible guilt over buying prepared food, mixed with the sweet sweet anticipation of pulled pork.

I have a lot of aspirations for my life. I want to live my values, and to serve God in whatever He's doing. I can't do that well if I give into every temptation to make life easier. Nor can I do it if I'm stressed and overwhelmed and yelling at my kids to leave me alone so I can cut them a day's worth of fruit.

I don't actually know the answer...


when I said family meeting, I didn't mean that kind of meeting

Leah: Did you circle back with your mom about plans for tomorrow?
Dan: silence
Leah: You're not acknowledging me because I used the term 'circle back?'
Dan: That's correct.

drawing from real life

Harvey's representational drawing is really improving by leaps and bounds these days. I feel like it was just a few months ago I was impressed when a dot "eye" made it correctly inside some kind of circular "head." But now look at this kid go! He can draw a whole monkey!

I approve of the monkey, though not of the mess on the table underneath

And here's a lady's shoe that made me smile in particular, because as he brought it over to me Harvey said, "This is a lady's shoe I made. It has that bumple that makes the foot stand up like this" and he put one foot on tip-toe as he said it.


Where he learned about high heels, I'll never guess. Grandma Beth, maybe.

But this next one is my favorite. He came and showed this to me, and I was a little bit afraid to ask what it was.

a fairly accurate representation

"It's you with the baby in your belly, Mama."

"Oh, I see. So that's the baby?"


"And that's my big belly around it?"


"And that's me in the corner with my little hands kind of peeking over the edge of my belly?"

"Yes and that's your eye."

"It's very good, Harvey."


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.


hunger games - but not the fun kind with killing and stuff

Here I am, awake in the middle of the night, trying to decide what to eat.

If I am honest with myself, I will say that I hate food right now. I hate that I have to choose what to eat, every day, every hour, over and over and over again. Its the choices, the choices of choices, the choice between decision-making metrics of choices... unbearable.

For example, foods are usually safe and healthy if they're vegetables. But if I'm eating only vegetables then I'm not getting enough protein and I'll be hungry again in an hour. But if I eat some egg I'll have to have some bread with it, and bread makes me nauseous and bloated. And vegetables by themselves are boring. What about cheese, could I put some cheese up on there? Have I had any milk yet today? More than one serving and I become lactose intolerant.

So okay, let's say now I've ruled out bread and cheese. There are some cold carrots and turnips in the fridge, but I'm afraid that the sound of the microwave might wake everyone up. Maybe I can wait and make it till breakfast time. But what will I eat for breakfast? I could make a shake, fruit won't make me sick all day, but I threw up a shake last time and even if the cause was unrelated now a shake just looks like throw-up to me.

Cold cereal and almond milk sound appealing. They're just a pour away. But cereal is bread, and bread is poison, and the nausea will be so much worse in the middle of the night.

Maybe I should just wait until morning. But what will I eat then? Yesterday I had a vegetable curry for breakfast. But that's all gone now, and making another one will take an hour, and I just can't get excited for early morning squash soup with a side of roasted root vegetables.

But imagine I line up a day's worth of balanced meals: shake for breakfast, avocado on toast for a snack, rice and veggies for lunch, bean tortillas for dinner that Dan puts together while I lie down somewhere quiet. Then I still have to figure out what to feed the two children, two little baby birds with gaping beaks whose tastes and schedules are mutually exclusive from mine.

What's that Harvey/Zion? What am I eating? Well, I'm eating toast and avocado right now, but you already had your toast at breakfast so if you want a snack then it's time for you to have some fruit. We have melon and grapes and — no, a banana makes it harder for you to poop, have something else first. No, not a glass of milk, that's not a solution to that problem. Do you want a whole apple? Apple slices and honey? Stop screaming for milk. I'm putting the grapes on the table, you can eat them if you want. No sweetie, this is mama's snack. Okay you can have a tiny piece. Hey, that avocado is expensive, you can't just eat the bread and spit the green part on the floor!

Human being, what are you, most bizarre of animals, that feeding yourself makes you absolutely miserable?

I could blame the pregnancy, oh how I wish I could blame the pregnancy for everything. But my hatred of food choices far predates reproduction. The latter only makes the former much more intense.

For example, I am almost incapable of waiting in line for food and then following that up with actually purchasing food. The longer the line, the more health objections I raise to everything on the menu. So that, if I have to wait longer than two minutes before ordering, I convince myself to "just get a drink," and my family has sandwiches and enjoys the rest of their afternoon, while I crankily suggest we go home because I don't feel well.

The first time I noticed that food made me sick was my sophomore year of high school. I wanted to be thinner so I didn't eat anything all morning. Then at noon when I'd voraciously consume a sandwich, and my shrunken stomach would wake up all of a sudden, enzyme cannons blasting against the surprise attack. "Intruder! Intruder!" my gastric juices screamed. "How dare you come up in this skinny bitch. We'll fucking kill you!"

What is more socially acceptable these days? Worrying about food because it'll make you fat? Or worrying about food because it'll make you sick?

If only, then and now, I was able to apply reason to my problems. After all, a well-measured approach to sudden onset eating discomfort might be: calm down. Drink something warm. Eat something different in a half hour if you're still hungry. Not: invent more rules about more foods that are evil, slowly sweeping through the category of ALL FOODS, until absolutely nothing is safe to eat except that which costs even more money or takes even more time to prepare. Make your life about a quest for that magic food, one that is an oasis or fear-free calories in a vast desert already covered in manna.

And what then is a well-measured approach when I am awakened by hunger in the middle of the night? Calm down? Drink something warm? Go back to sleep - for the love of God why can't you ever just sleep when it's time for sleeping?

Oh right, because I was hungry...



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.


so much

While we were driving home from a party this evening, Harvey asked me if I would read to him in bed even though it was late and he was tired.

"Yes, I'll be happy to read to you," I said, "because I love you."

I didn't say what would be more accurate, something like, 'Yes I'll be happy to read to you because you just ignored me for three hours while you played with your friends, and I have a lot of good will stored up from not interacting with you. Also I believe you'll be asleep before this ride is over.' Good thing I held my tongue too, because the next thing Harvey said was so sweet it literally made my heart leap in my chest:

"I love you so much it reaches heaven."

That boy. Knows how to charm a chapter of Prince Caspian out of a lady.

These days I have been noticing the love that my children give me, noticing how much I love them, and savoring the easiness of our life right now while it includes time for one-on-one doting with each of them. Perhaps I only notice this against the back-drop of terror over the upheaval that will soon come into our lives. I don't know for sure that a new baby will be bad for our family (that's optimism!) only that it'll be different. So for now I'm trying to soak up all the long cuddles and quiet times with my children as long as I can.

What Harvey says with words, Zion says by crawling into my lap and resting his head on my neck, his sweet little thumb in his mouth. To say I love those two boys does not say nearly enough. I love them so much it reaches heaven.


an almost-Christmas poem

Twas the week before christmas, deep hours of the night
and Mama was riding the exercise bike.
She'd fallen asleep with the children at seven
and there went her sewing time shot straight to heaven.

Then one in the morning she woke with a fret
to the four-year-old screaming "Maaamaaaa! I'm all wet!"
Quick off with his PJs, quick change all the sheets
quick cuddle two shaken boys safe back to sleep.

And then in her head there arose such a clatter
to out-shout the stress of a child's active bladder.
What presents are finished? What still to be made?
Do you have enough thread for the doll's coat's brocade?

How long will the knitting take? How long the baking?
How much are you counting on children not waking?
And what shall they eat while you fill their gift sacks?
Yes, what are you serving for dinner and snacks?

So down from her bedroom she floated etherial
to pour almond milk in a bowl of cold cereal
and try to set goals for the upcoming day
all while biking a few stress-made hormones away.

And as Mama sat cycling she thought of the reason
why Mamas work so flipping hard all this season.
She thought of her children in (pee-smelling) beds
while visions of wrapped presents danced their heads:

The sweaters with bunnies in colors they favor,
the candy like that which we gave to the neighbor,
The robot they asked for in felt that is washable
because they still believe her that ANYTHING'S POSSIBLE!

They still think that Mama makes all things from nothing
that all good things come from some felt, fleece, and stuffing
that whatever they think of, whatever they need,
they can get if they help, choose fabric, and plead.

So she gets off the bike, puts the dishes away
knits a few rows of sleeve to keep worries at bay,
And she prays in her head as she turns out the light:
"Happy Christmas to all! And to Mamas, sleep tight!"


early winter

the front of the house with snow

afternoon after one storm

Never mind the calendar, winter has us in its grip. With two serious storms so far we've already had more snow than we did all last winter up to February, as I figure it. First on Saturday night and Sunday morning we got eight or ten inches topped off with some rain (which froze Sunday afternoon), then today we got another six plus inches of beautiful light fluffy snow, with more still falling as I write this.

The boys didn't get much chance to play in the first snow, what with the rain and then the crust that formed after the rain making it pretty tough for them to walk, but the timing today was much better. They went out this afternoon and when I came home at 4:00 Harvey was still out by himself, so I joined him and we played about an hour—long past dark, for sure. Who cares that it was just 14°F (7° with the wind chill!) he was warm as toast in his new snowsuit, so much so that he was happy to sit still for about 15 minutes and eat snow.

Harvey, snowsuited hooded, smiles for the phone camera next to the chicken coop


I love all weather, but snowstorms are my favorite, and I'm glad to see that Harvey shares my enthusiasm, and I was charmed Saturday afternoon to hear his joyful proclamation that "the winter storm is starting!". I can't help but notice that when he about the age Zion is now he was already delighting in winter sports; though in his defense Zion is quite a bit smaller and probably feels the cold more. And I'm sure that with a few readings of Snowy Day and the promise of some (tame and safe) sledding he'll come around in no time!


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.)


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!


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!


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


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.


no, please, tell me how fat I am, I haven't noticed

Pregnancy briefly puts one in a very odd social position. When I am not with child, my body and my sexuality are private matters. I may gain or lose weight, I may do things with my vagina, but these are not the subjects of polite conversation. Yet when it is clear I am pregnant, strangers suddenly feel free to come up to me and comment on the distribution of fat in my body. They even feel at liberty to palpate it with their hands! And then they suggest what the width of my stomach or the roundness of my ass may indicate vis a vis the gender of my child or the time at which said child might emerge from my nether regions. At church or at the gym or even in the grocery store I have these conversations.

"How many babies you got in there?"

"It must be a girl because you're SO big."

"It looks like that thing's coming out tomorrow!"

My belly has jutted far enough into the public sphere that nothing about my body is now private.

Of course, pregnancy is a temporary condition, and there are worse intrusions that I escape being white and privileged. (If I was a person of color, for example, I might never have an end date for feeling scrutinized in public.) Still, it's hard to not feel a little bit aggrieved, when some stranger asks for the zillionth time whether there's a risk of my water breaking while I'm in this store shopping. Or when the woman in the row behind me at church asks "How far along are you... that's it? You look SO MUCH BIGGER!"

And I prayed very earnestly for that bitch's hump-back, too. Maybe she doesn't remember that, what when there's FATNESS in front of her, demanding to be POINTED OUT.

Of course there's nothing for it. I could stay in the house for the next two months, or I can try to manage my emotions better. It seems a shame that I have to do all the hard work of forgiving, when so few people seem to be able to do the relatively easy work of keeping their opinions to themselves. But I guess that's the burden of motherhood.

Someone's camera phone photo, emailed to me with the caption "BIG memory." Camera phones should be illegal.


2013 Year End review

In 2013 we:

  • Went down to one car and bought a really big bicycle.

proof that federal tax credits DO stimulate the economy

  • Put a lot of miles on our bicycles, Dan riding to work and Leah riding with children in the back, stopping ever two minutes to adjust seat belts or pick up a dropped stick.
  • Lost 10lbs due to bicycling, gained 35lbs due to pregnancy (Not Dan, he's still very skinny).
  • Froze 15lbs of tomatos that Leah couldn't eat because of pregnancy-induced acid reflux. Froze ten servings of snow peas that went in less than a month. Note to Dan: order more snow pea seeds.
  • Started weaving on a loom. Stopped wearing make-up. Cut hair at home, and everyone was very forgiving about the mistakes in their haircuts.
  • Logged 1000 individual events of waking up in the night to take care of children. (This does not look likely to improve in 2014.)

And I'm sure we did many more interesting things that we can't remember, but that's what we keep this blog for. Right now we are planning a New Years party for 30+ people. By the end of the day I will be able to add to this list: "made chopped liver for the first time." And "cleaned my house for 30 people." But can't jump the gun yet...

A very happy new year to all of you!

happy new year!

We had a great party this evening: not quite 30 people—but close!—and over eight solid hours of fun. We ate a lot of food, chatted with a lot of folks, and wrecked the house pretty good. Harvey somehow managed to stay up until midnight; he convinced us to play Stone Age with us, and the excitement of the game easily kept him awake until it ended at five minutes before twelve. Then it took a little work for me to motivate him to hold on for those last couple minutes, since he wasn't quite sure what was really going on. But he made it, and fell asleep on my lap three minutes into 2014. We'll see what that means for us when the year really starts, at sunrise tomorrow!

Here's to a wonderful year for you and yours!