Monday, December 30, 2013

a clean bathroom

I don't often blog about my bathroom. We only have one in a house containing two adults and four children. It's the place where we all, ahem...well, you know what one does in the bathroom. And with children it all adds up to a general grottiness. Spotty mirrors. Toothpaste splodges in the sink. A ring of ugh around the bathtub. And the toilet? Don't get me started. 

I love the feeling of setting off into the New Year with a more organized home. Today I armed myself with a broom, some window cleaner, and some grocery bags. I cleaned the bathroom shelf by shelf. I scraped out my candle holders and rinsed them with hot water to polish off the soot and wax bits. I dusted shelves and scraped dried toothpaste off of many surfaces you wouldn't expect to harbour toothpaste blobs. I emptied jars of homemade lotions, shampoos, and salves, as they have a tendency to smell rancid after awhile. The smell of this shampoo was indescribable beyond telling you that I actually gagged when I smelled it.

Ah! The joy of a bag filled with emptied shampoo, body wash, lotion, and face cream containers to put in the recycling! Of a basket filled with "man stuff" (shaving cream/lotion, face wash, beard trimmer, deodorant, and so on), and drawer filled with my "lady stuff" (makeup, jewellery, lotions, and so on). Of knowing that the gunge that settles into the bottom of the toothbrush cup and around the base of the toilet has been scoured away!

Cotton swabs and dental floss picks have been replenished and stored in pretty pottery containers. A fresh bar of goat milk soap has been placed beside the sink. Books have been carefully selected to ensure good reading while bathing or doing other things in the bathroom. And the old rake I found in the barn has been added as a point of visual interest.

The plant I keep in the bathroom has not, as of yet, committed suicide out of despair at being neglected which is a triumph in and of itself. I'm guessing this is because the steam from our baths keep it adequately hydrated.

Tomorrow we will celebrate New Year's with a gathering of friends with children. And my bathroom is clean, sparkly, and organized! 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

the days between


I love these days between Christmas and New Year's. The buildup to the big day has dozed off into a quietish lull (because, let's be honest, things are never quiet with four children in the house), and we can really settle in to enjoying the company of family.
We spent a few days at my parents' home, the house I grew up in, where we gamboled with cousins, had a Christmas concert where all the children performed a song or two, opened and assembled presents, ate many sweets, consumed much wine and rich food, and had our traditional games of cards which involve much good-natured cursing and competition between my sisters and I and our husbands.
The baby watched joyfully as her siblings built a snow person, then splashed in the sink that once bathed her uncle, cousins, and siblings.
These days between allow us a bit of rest before we ring in the New Year, after which we will be fully committed to napping, cuddling, playing in the snow, and watching children's movies before heading back to school.

Friday, December 20, 2013

wintry things

Today is a day for all things wintry.

It's snowing steadily, and after finally getting everyone dressed and out the door, I reflected upon the word trudge. I expect it was invented specifically to describe the way in which a four-year-old makes her way through deep snow. 

I also reflected on the full sensory experience of playing in the snow. Burying each other, scooping it out of the back of your collar, eating it, making angels in it, feeling it melt on your face, listening to the quiet sprinkle as it falls all around, and that wintry smell of almost nothing but cold and white, which aren't really smells at all, but there you go. Wintry.

We've slapped some gluten-free graham crackers together into small gingerbread houses, which was really just an excuse to eat a whole lot of candy before lunch. Jude, clever soul, filled his house with candy before he put the roof on. 

There are requests to string popcorn for the Christmas tree, and hopes that I will actually sit and watch a movie with them (instead of running around trying to tidy up and make dinner). Maybe we'll just have popcorn for dinner. Or maybe I'll order pizza.

After five weeks of the dizzy dance of full-time work and a week-long illness that sent us to the hospital with Norah twice, kept Violet out of school for four days, and put Daddy out of commission for awhile, the holidays have begun.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Do as the Romans Do

In my son's room, quart-jars filled with tiny soldiers line the windowsills. Lots of them. My husband collected them as a child, inspired by his father's passion for painting historical military figures. In my father-in-law's basement squadrons, battalions, cohorts and legions fill wall-to-wall cabinets. Zulu warriors, Celts, Redcoats, Civil War soldiers, and French revolutionaries stand at the ready, weapons poised, all hand-painted down to the tiniest detail. My husband and his dad like to set them up on battlefields and play war games with them. I don't really get it, I confess.

I'll admit, I thought this passion was a bit weird when I first heard of it. Then my son's hands matured enough to wield the tiny brush necessary to add colour to 3/4 inch miniatures, and I find myself sitting with him to help out when he beings to paint. A base coat of white is sprayed on, then each part of the soldier is carefully coloured in with acrylic craft paint. When it is done, it is finished with a wash of dark oil-paint to create a patina.

They're tiny. They're fierce. They're adorable. And painting them is addictive.

My son's room is a scene from fantastical battlefields: Confederate soldiers rank up with Romans to fight the cowboys and Zulus. The time he takes to stand each tiny warrior in lines astounds me, as does the amount of time he spends playing with them. We are not a family that glorifies war by any means (and have avoided gun-play for eight years now), but the history of war is another story. The fateful weather, the lay of the land, the trick of a zipper or a red coat in betraying its wearer's whereabouts, and the folly of poor strategy are what capture our imaginations as a family.

For Christmas, he wants a set of Vikings and I'm already giggly thinking about painting those tiny, wild red beards!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mermaid Ornament

Sometimes I drive my husband crazy, like when I get it into my head to create a handmade gift the day before it's meant to be given. 

My niece's very special 10th birthday arrived right at the beginning of December, and I was just tying off the last knots on my Advent offerings. My older nieces had arrived for the weekend, and I'd been dreaming of creating this mermaid ornament inspired by ones I'd seen on Etsy. So on Saturday morning I started sewing.

She's just pretty magical, isn't she? I'm not crazy about sewing with the metallic thread but I'm kind of crazy about those circular things on her tail (I don't know what that stitch is called). She's got big blue eyes and curly brown hair like Meredith Ocea, the girl who inspired her creation.

You can read about my sister's extraordinary journey as a mother of a child with special needs here. You can read about their special connection with mermaids here.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In Just One Year

Dearest Norah,

In just one year, you've taught me to surrender, slow down, really see and feel each moment for the fleeting beauty that it is. You've taught me that spinning, knitting, reading, and time to myself are lovely, yes, but not vital at this moment. You've taught me to sit on the floor and play and to ignore the housework.

You've learned to sit up, then crawl, then walk, all in one short year!

You've sprouted three teeth in a many weeks, and have three more working their way through. Your little body has fought colds, and now you're getting over a doozy: a whole week of fever and coughing. 

You've had two trips to the emergency room, once when you were two weeks old because you had a weird cyst in your armpit, and once this week because I was so worried about your ongoing fever.

You love to kiss and bonk foreheads with your siblings. Balloons make you laugh. You love to pet the ponies and cats. You act bashful by shrugging up your shoulder and turning your face into my chest when a stranger talks to you.

You love yogurt and scrambled eggs, cantaloupe, peas, water, and ground beef. You hate cow's milk.

Your face lights up when your siblings come home from school or come down the stairs in the morning. You are held by many arms, kissed by many people, and have brought so much more joy into our family than we could have imagined when I found out I was expecting you back in April 2012.

In just one year, you have established yourself as the sweetest, most easy going girl. You've deprived me of a year's worth of sleep, nursed for a year (so far), and woken up every morning for 365 days to the loving faces of your family.

You pinch our arms and necks as you fall asleep, leaving tiny bruises. I miss seeing those bruises on my arms, now that I'm back at work.

You toddle towards me when I come in the door each evening, with your wee arms stretched up to surround my neck. I crave the softness of your hair against my cheek, your kisses where you lean softly forehead and close your eyes for the gentlest of embraces, and kissing your beautiful, beautiful face.  Your deep brown eye, impossible eyelashes, and wide, squishy mouth inspire poetry in my heart when we're apart. I miss you all day and cherish your warmth all night.

Norah Dell, I love you, and wish you all the joys the world can offer as you set off into the world of one.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent Goodness

Credits: Knitted gnomes, wooden houses, and wood-cut gnomes by the Wabi Sabi Wanderer; felt tree and St. Lucia peg dolls by Erin, needle-felted toadstool and fairy house by Shanti, pinecone gnome, snowflake ornament, and angel peg doll by Maureen, and dala horses, wet-felted/knitted snowpeople, and Wee Felt Folk dolls by yours truly! 

Some dear friends and I revived a beloved tradition this year, that of creating Advent Sticks for our children.

A few weeks ago I fired off an email suggesting we each create three handmade crafts, times five each (down from our usual quota of five times five crafts). Dreaming up sweet, unique, wintry handmades, spending our evenings in quiet (or hurried) creating, and finally gathering to exclaim in delight over each one's offerings before finally wrapping each one in tissue paper...this is why we do it.

This year, the gaps were filled in with kindness coupons and store bought sweets to bring the total up to 25 wrapped gifts, one for each day until Christmas Day. Instead of tying my goodies to a stick, I put them all in a basket. I've set up a space as a winter seasonal table, and each offering will be added to it to create a magical play space for my three older children.

Our Advent exchange is a treasured tradition; sometimes I wonder if I'm nuts to do it every year, but then we gather and the warmth, inspiration, and joy of it all reminds me that it is worth every stitch and every moment of delayed sleep!

Please pop by Twig and Toadstool for Maureen's account of our exchange! Thanks to Maureen for the photos!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

snow and tears

Norah enjoyed her first time being outside in the snow. 
Then she didn't.

I officially returned to work last week and have been running a marathon ever since. I don't know when it starts or ends, I just know that from the moment I wake up, I'm on the go until I fall asleep (only to be awakened numerous times through the night). And repeat.

Still, all is well. I have a very busy class full of healthy, noisy, curious children. The snow has finally covered the depressing drab we call November, and there is a whole new pile of stuff (mittens, hats, boots, neckwarmers) to manage and search for every morning before school, and to hang to dry in the evening. Our house is toasty warm but we still have to get our winter's wood in (when I finally get paid in December). We're deep into the stews, soups, and shepherd's pie that everyone so loves during the darker months.

The best moment of the day is when I walk through the door in the early evening darkness, to see Norah walking (already??) towards me with excited giggles, for the cuddles and nursing she's awaited all day. She sprouted two teeth just in time for her first birthday (in a few weeks) and is safe in the arms of her Nanny (my beloved mom) every day until January, when her daddy will take over as stay-at-home-parent. For all the dread I felt about leaving her, the transition has been quite smooth. 

The Christmas lists have started appearing. For Jude, all things vikings, Star Wars, and pirates are in. Violet's requests are a bit more challenging (one of Santa's real elves, and a Shrink Ray). I may have to whip one of these up in those rare and serendipitous moments when a) the kids are all asleep and b)I manage to stay awake. Margot has been quiet about her dreams for Christmas morning, but I'm guessing that the gorgeous wooden doll house scored (by my brother at a Toronto yard sale) will be a hit. And Norah? 

I'm busily finishing the last stitches on my offerings for our annual Advent exchange (with my friends at Wabi Sabi Wanderings, Twig and Toadstool, and Embracing the Now...really, we were all friends before we started blogging!) It's gotten a bit ridiculous, really, because although we say we do this for our children, we (all five of us) know that we're crafting out of love for one another. 

I love creating special items to share with these women because I know they will enjoy every single stitch, will appreciate the time and energy it took to find the time to create them, and will joyfully hang them on their evergreen trees every year.

And that is my update for now.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

morning by candlelight

Early on a November morning, I heard the hum of furnace and fan fade as strong winds took our power out. We were a few days away from turning our clocks back an hour, so I crept down the stairs into complete darkness. It didn't take long to get the wood stove rumbling away, and by the time my early-risers stepped into the kitchen, the candles and lamp were lit to cast their warm, beautiful light on two warm, beautiful little faces.

A spell is cast by candlelight, and their morning voices and play were hushed. They picked up their game of Camelot where they'd left off the night before, and were delighted to eat oatmeal cooked over the wood stove. Once again, they referred to Little House in the Big Woods (which we have now finished reading; we've moved on to Little House on the Prairie), musing on how much life stays the same for humans. We need warmth and light, food and family. Seated around the kitchen table in the soft glow of candlelight, we felt as isolated~and as complete~ as the Ingalls family. 

They love when the power goes out, and I have to admit, so do I. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fairy Exhibitionists?

I think some fairy tailors left their work out on my rocking chair the other night. Or there might be some naked fairies around. 

Just kidding. I'm working on some clothes for some Wee Folk to contribute to my annual Advent Offerings (I'll write more about this another day). I get a little carried away with the details. Have I ever mentioned that my dream job, if I lived in Hollywood, would be to work on hand work for period costumes? Think Willow. Think The Lord of the Rings. Rustic colours, natural fibres, tiny stitching. Bless my soul.

These dresses and undershirts are itty bitty, teeny weeny, and so sweet. Wait till they have tiny doll bodies filling them out! 

Monday, November 4, 2013

My Little Purple Knitted Pony

 Oliver's curiosity couldn't be contained when I posed this purple pony on the gate, and he had to come over for a closer look. I made this little equine from some bits and bobs of my hand spun wool (leftovers from Violet's Spruce Tree Mittens) in celebration of a friend's fifth birthday.
This little gal is pretty special, so just a horse wouldn't do...she needed a tiny personalized saddle to dress her pony up. Hearts, stars, flowers, purples and pinks...oh my! How could I go wrong when creating something so unique and sweet for a five year old?
Alas, Oliver had to say good bye to his newest herd-mate too soon. My girls got into the hand-making spirit and asked to sew some little tags as gift embellishments.
Somehow I get the feeling that I'm going to be asked for hand-stitched, wool felt saddles for all of Margot's knitted horses. I'll have to draw the line at making one for Oliver. Although...wouldn't that be beautiful?? Oh, just watch me now.
Horse pattern available at Natural Suburbia.

Friday, November 1, 2013

surfacing, for a moment

Our lives have settled into new rhythms these days. 

Night nursing a baby with a cold. Snotty streaks on my yoga pants. The daily crap shoot of choosing coats and footwear for my children in Canadian Fall (and invariably getting it wrong), and trying to keep said coats and footwear from overtaking the house. Preparing for a return to work (in two weeks). Letting the horses out and in each day, along with grooming, hoof-picking, poop-shoveling, and general petting and crooning that they inspire. Trying to stretch our funds through the last few weeks of my maternity leave, and anticipating my first pay cheque in a year! Thinking ahead to Norah's first birthday, snowboarding lessons, and Christmas.

There have been moments where my kitchen floor is tidy (see first photo), small bits of spinning and knitting, and unexpected gifts of wildlife sightings right outside my kitchen window. This doe was an apparition, come to snack on crab apples, then disappearing into the woods as softly as she'd come. There have been moments of sewing, the big (Margot' Dorothy costume for Halloween), the medium (flannel pajamas for Margot's doll), and the tiny (in preparation for Advent).

We've let our home internet go for the time being, and I've found the extra time I have to be a joy (although the inconvenience of hauling the laptop to the local library and navigating the dodgy WiFi connection is not such a joy).

Thank you for stopping by. Bear with me. We're busy and living the real life, the good life, the sleepless but full and beautiful life here at the Knitty Gritty Homestead.

Monday, October 21, 2013

spruce trees and purple mittens

These October days dawn clear and cold, with bouts of chilly rain that keep us close to the wood stove. I've promised my children that they will each have a pair of mitts made from hand spun yarn before the snow flies, and Violet requested a purple pair. After spinning some single-ply from a batt I had on hand, I plied the singles to create a lovely two-ply perfect for the project I had in mind. 

Paired with some alpaca yarn I bought a few years ago at a market, this hand spun wool satisfies the eye in this traditional Spruce Tree stitch pattern. I've adapted a pattern from this book to fit the weight of my yarn and have neglected my housework once again to sit with my back to the wood stove, watching the rows of spruce trees grow. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

the arrivals

They waited, and waited, and waited for the sight of a truck pulling a trailer to come up the road. When it did, they let out a collective whoop and high-tailed it up the lane way to greet the new arrivals.

For Violet and Willie, it was love at first sight. Jude was drawn to Oliver. At one point, Jude seemed overcome with emotion and whispered earnestly, Thank you so much for getting us ponies! I reminded him to say it to Grandma Sue when she arrived later with a delivery of hay (sown and harvested by Grandpa), as it was her idea and gift for them.

They stayed in the barnyard with their new friends until darkness and the cool night air forced them to say their good nights. 

Violet went to bed with my promise that I'd wake her extra early so that she could do the chores before school.

I wish I could explain how I felt about it all. Hearing the satisfying munch of horses eating hay, the resonant clop of their hooves on our old barn floor, and the ancient sound of their whinnies as they greeted us in the pouring rain of early dawn satisfied the longing of decades. When I was in my twenties, I got a tattoo of three intertwined horses as a promise to myself that I would never let go of the dream of one day owning horses. 

Of course, the kids were late for the bus once I'd called them in and reminded them to wash their hands. At the end of the day, back packs were dropped by the fence, and before I could issue words of caution, they were out leading their ponies as if they'd been born with lead lines in their hands.

I had some quiet moments in the barn by myself today, shoveling manure and cleaning out their hooves. My hands had that delicious horsey smell and I just had to get Oliver out for a walk down to the mailbox. I started to jog in my rubber boots and he picked up his pace to stay beside me. Imagine me running down the lane way like a younger woman, the wind on my face and the sure, steady sound of hoofbeats beside me!

I am happy.