Friday, September 27, 2013

Autumn Wee Folk

If you catch a movement in the corner of your eye, it might just be the Autumn Wee Folk, enjoying the morning sunrise. They blend in with the changing hues around them, but they will let you see them if they feel that you are a kindred spirit.

Their sleepy eyes speak of a long nap through the winter. Their heads are kept cozy by acorn caps, and they've fashioned themselves some sweet oak and poplar leaf sleeping bags (as only those with a bit of magic in them can)!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ode to My Wood Stove

My husband lights a fire in the wood stove in the early morning so that the kitchen is cozy by the time the kids come downstairs for breakfast. Still, they wrap themselves in sweaters or blankets, or prop their feet up on the oven door to prolong the warmth of their beds a wee bit longer. If it's a weekend, they relax in front of a live concert while I get busy processing more apples. The heat of the stove is enough to simmer a pot of apples, and before the baby's first nap, I have some sauce sealed in jars.

I remember reading once that the middle square of a log cabin quilt was traditionally sewn in red fabric to represent the hearth. In this modern age, we still depend on the warmth of this fire, and spend these Fall days nearby, singing, colouring, winding yarn from skeins, or (if you're lucky enough to be a cat at the Knitty Gritty Homestead) napping. 

This early Fall weather is a window that closes quickly, where we can get away without using the furnace to heat our rambling farm house. By the time the sun rises above the trees that trim our piece of land, its heat has has warmed up the house. We let the fire die down by early afternoon, putting on just a small piece of wood here or there to keep the embers alive until evening.

Then, as we finish dinner, we build it up again so that by the time the children don their pajamas, the kitchen is once again the coziest place to be. Snacks of toast and warm milk are doled out, then we snuggle under blankets to read another chapter of whatever we're reading (fittingly, Little House in the Big Woods at the moment).

We go to bed knowing that in the morning the embers will still glow, to be built up again into warmth and light that will welcome us as we begin another day.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Keep Calm, Craft On: Wool Felt Winter Birds

As I work to process the many, many apples our trees have gifted us this Fall, my mind wanders to winter, and specifically to the offerings I hope to gift to others as Christmas approaches. In addition to the jars of apple-bounty I hope to tuck into baskets, I like to add a handmade ornament or two.

This year I find myself drawn to the winter birds that visit Ontario. I've been watching Cranford with so much love and delight (as I wait for Downton Abbey's fourth season to begin), and am spending evenings stitching away those precious bits of time when all the children are refueling their busy selves with sleep.

The first birds to come to mind were a cardinal on birch trees (inspired by one I saw on Pinterest), and a snowy owl, her silhouette traced from Violet's "Birds of Ontario" field guide. I decided to get creative with her plumage, drawing inspiration from Inuit-style colours and stitch work.

I love how each stitch leads to a new idea to be sketched out for the next ornament! Creating begets creativity. What are you creating today?

Please stop by Frontier Dreams to see what others are crafting!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

This Thing

I laughed last evening when a new friend, clearly a kindred spirit, said she visited my blog looking for knitting but scrolled and scrolled and couldn't find any. Our little Norah is the baby that changed the game in this house, and I feel excited if I manage to have the dishes done before we collapse into bed at night. Knitting? I tried yesterday but by the time I found the right-sized needles, an argument needed mediation and everyone was hungry. 

In spite of a lack of time for myself and my own pursuits, I am pouring myself into this game of mothering. Each day spills over with discoveries, by the children and by us parents. 

We are always learning about this world around us. The big wide world, 

where alien-caterpillars come to visit, 

where the afternoon sunshine urges us outside for quilt-cuddles and apple-picnics while we wait for the older kids to come home on the bus, 

where trees overflow with gifts of beautiful fruit just calling to be made into jewel-colored jars of jelly and sauce, 

and where a diminutive rooster has decided that Violet is a predator and attacks when he sees her, bravely defending his hens from a threat 20 times his size (we've had much fun re-enacting his attack, feet up and splayed, wings flapping, and "mouth" open in a terrifying display).

Then there is the world that is contained in a family, always growing and changing, adapting and listening to one another's needs, learning to navigate the different demands and personalities of each person. 

A big brother who always helps out with a smile, especially when it involves caring for his little sister. Imagine his delight in learning that the Ergo could be adjusted to fit him! He gets up for school with nary a complaint, and is growing so tall and handsome my heart can barely handle it. He also kicks and hits his sisters when they get on his nerves. He's not perfect, but we love him anyway.

A big sister who insists that everything in the world must be fair, and makes her voice heard loudly until it is so, whether it means doing what her brother does, having the same number of jelly beans, or sitting in a certain beloved spot on the couch. This is the one who brings home caterpillars. She is a bit of a wildlife-whisperer, this one. Curious about everything, a crusader for justice, a vocal advocate for her rights, she likes to kick and throw things when frustrated.

A little sister who is happiest "with a grown up from her family", who loves to play one-on-one with children her age but is just as content to be on her own. She loves her blankie almost as much as she loves her Nanny. Her daily wish is that Nanny would come and live with us, and I don't blame her. She sings made-up songs and dresses in the wackiest colour combos we've seen yet.

And the smallest one, the game-changer, who learned to clap this week, who points and says, "Dat!" and the world slows on its axis. Her fuzzy, much-kissed head, her delicious cheeks and thighs, her busy hands and smiling face have brought so much joy into a family that already had an abundance of it.

One day I may post knitting projects and crafts again. For now, I find moments to capture and share briefly, because my days are so full of this: this thing that we call life.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Epic Clothing Purge

Found this image here; I was too busy sorting to take pictures!

Today was the day.

I must have gone up and down the stairs ten times, each time carrying an empty basket up, and a full basket down. I dumped each load on the living room floor, and by the time I'd visited the kids' rooms, the attic, and the hallway, I'd created two walls as high as my hip, that ran from one side of my living room to the other. Two walls. Built of clothes. Just children's clothes!

I always knew I'd gathered more than I needed, but seeing it like this, realising how much space it has taken up in our house (albeit neatly, in under-bed storage bins and boxes), how much time and energy it's taken to wash, fold, put away, pick up off the floor, dig through for something specific really drove home the fact that things had gotten out of hand. 

Figuring out what each of my children would wear each day put me at risk of developing decision fatigue, especially when the clothes I laid out each evening were met with rejection or disdain because of the weather, the itchiness of the fabric, the style of the skirt...whew. More often than not, my daughters' shared bedroom looked as if the drawers had barfed their contents all over the floor, with no rhyme or reason. Dirty socks mingled with formerly folded clean t-shirts, the status of underwear was questionable, and every item had to be individually inspected to ensure that it hadn't been sullied through the day.

One of the problems of keeping clothes in order in Canada is that we have four distinct seasons. They don't end and begin on specific days, and they often overlap so that one day your child needs shorts and sunscreen, and the next is chilly enough for tights and a sweater. The shift from season to season is met with futile attempts to dress your child appropriately for school, so that they often go out the door in rubber boots only to have the temperature soar to 30 degrees Celsius by afternoon. Still, I was going to do my best.

1. First, I carried every article of clothing down into one room. 
2. Then I sorted all the clothes into baskets, one per child, while also creating a discard pile for clothes that were stained, faded, torn, too small, or out of season.
3. Next, I scrutinized the contents of each basket carefully, using this guide to help me decide what to keep and what to give away.

I managed to reduce the mountain of clothes into one laundry basket per child! That is a tremendous reduction in clothes (time, energy, clutter)! I carried these three baskets back up the stairs, sorted everything into their dressers, and marveled at the fact that the under-bed storage bins were now completely empty! If you are a mother of many as I am, you'll know the compulsion to set clothes aside for when your children are older. I decided today to let those "too big" clothes go, and am choosing to trust that more wonderful hand-me-downs will find their way to us when the time is right.

I didn't have the stamina or time to tackle the second wall-mountain, consisting of baby clothes up to size 3. But I am bolstered and energized by the growing pile of "donation" garbage bags that are being carried over to the potting shed for storage each day. I filled five bags today, effortlessly. I let go of items I've held onto because I love them (but my children don't). 

This task had taken on gigantic proportions in my mind. I felt overwhelmed just thinking about it. But now that I've done it, I am planning other epic purges: of toys, of yarn and fabric, of kitchen glassware and appliances. I am already breathing more easily. 

All it took was a plan, and one day.

Special thanks to this blogger for inspiring me with this post, way back when.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Maximizing Minimalism

When I saw an episode of Hoarders at my sister's house, I was horrified and fascinated. It was like watching a car wreck: terrible and compelling. I found it impossible to stop watching, even though I felt so sorry for the people who assigned such deep emotion to their stuff, to the point that they couldn't sleep on their beds. One family had their children taken into protective services because they were unable to clear out their house! I mean, really!

I think part of what made watching Hoarders so disturbing was that it made me examine my own tendency to collect and hang on to stuff. I'm not talking about a room full of creepy porcelain dolls in their original packaging, but of the stuff that comes into my house stealthily: yard sale finds, cute dishes, toys, bags and boxes of children's clothes, crafting materials, books and magazines, video tapes, decorative items. There's the stuff I hang onto in hopes that I'll someday use them (three flat bed knitting machines?) And then there's the stuff I've carted from house to house for years in boxes out in the barn. I haven't opened those boxes in five years. I can think of a few books I'm missing, but as for the rest of it, it hasn't been needed since we moved to the homestead.

I've worked in a half-assed way over the years to sort a box here or there. Energy and time have been limited. But lately I find that my attachment to the things that used to be important to me don't seem to affect me emotionally anymore. The urge to minimize is at an all-time high right now, to the point that I'm even wondering if we need to live in such a big house. I've been drawn to blogs about tiny houses, sites that give advice on minimizing, and real estate websites. 

Instead of feeling panicked at letting go, I'm finding myself pumped with adrenaline and challenged to find MORE to get rid of. Yesterday I spent the day in our sun porch, a lovely space that was packed willy-nilly with boxes of toys, bins of clothes, bags of craft supplies, and containers of papers. My mom kept the kids fed and happy while I worked. By the end of the day, I'd packed up three large garbage bags of clothes and six boxes of stuff to donate, a recycling box of paper to burn/recycle, and a garbage bag to discard. Picture the space those things took up in my house! I am getting through the toys now, and will attack our clothes tomorrow using this guide. I have found a new ruthlessness within.

Big changes are afoot at the Knitty Gritty Homestead. We're not sure where they're taking us just yet, but one thing's for sure: at the end of the journey, I'll be freeing up time and space to grow and dream, unfettered by the stuff that has tied us down for years.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Homeschooling, Unexpectedly

She carefully picked out her clothes and donned her backpack with excitement for her Junior Kindergarten interview. She met the principal, secretary, and teachers, saw her siblings' classrooms, and spent some time in the classroom that would be hers. All that remained was the moment of truth: when the first day came, would she climb on the bus with her big brother and sister?

This morning the verdict was in: no. No, she would not.

She woke up crying this morning, and her tears quickly gave way to that inconsolable, incomprehensible sobbing that children in hysterics do: "I don't want to go-ho-ho-ho!!" I took her on my lap and spoke calmly to her, as her older siblings tried to sell her on the idea of school with enthusiastic promises of new friends, birthday invitations, kind teachers, and recess. All the while I examined my motivations for sending her to school when she's been insisting all along that she wanted to stay home.

A primary motivation was to help her get past her anxiety when it comes to new experiences. Since she was a baby, she has been afraid of: men (especially with beards), dogs (especially big black ones), horses, boats and water, and being away from me/Nanny/Daddy. I wanted to see if hanging out with children her age would end up being fun enough to outweigh her misgivings. I'll admit, the idea of being home with just one child to care for for the last two months of my maternity leave had its appeal as well!

Those ideas flew out the window as I looked upon the distressed, mottled-with-crying face of this little girl. I don't want her first memory of school to be that she was forced to go when she didn't feel excited and ready. I'm home anyway, and when I go back to work, first Nanny, then Daddy will be home. She may decide to come with me when I return to work (as I'll be her teacher), or she may not. Either way, I know she'll be in the loving care of those she loves most.

A butterfly of joy and anticipation opened in my chest when I called the school to say, Not yet. We'll work on early literacy and numeracy concepts here at home, arrange play dates with her four year old friends, and maybe she'll be ready in November. Or maybe not. But I feel that this is right for this individual child, regardless of what was right for her siblings at the same age. 

So. Unexpectedly I'm homeschooling, for a few months at least. 

Interestingly enough, her mother (who was also a third child), felt the same way about Junior Kindergarten. Every morning, I'd cry as I boarded the bus. I can remember my mother waving to me from the porch, my baby brother in her arms, and all I wanted to do was stay home. Eventually, my mother let me stay where I wanted to be, and I started Senior Kindergarten without trepidation.

And now, that Junior Kindergarten drop out is a Kindergarten teacher!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

apple abundance

Last year, a late Spring frost killed the apple blossoms so we had no apples to speak of.

This year, the trees are bowing low, offering us (and the bears and the deer, judging by the scat I'm finding) their bounty. Ancient trees that in previous years have had scant, spotty fruit are showering the ground with a variety of apples in all texutres, sizes and colours. The further we walk into the bush, the more old trees we find, each bearing its own unique apples: tiny red beauties with crisp, golden flesh, tart green crabs, fist-sized fruit with a blush of pink on one side that are my favourite for fresh-eating. 

I sigh in frustration each time I buy a bag of overpriced apples, grown in the USA no less (no offense to American growers, but apples are something we CAN grow in Canada). My children love apples and eat several a day. Apples used to be kind of cheap to buy, so I made lots of crisps and pies. Now I ration them because of the price!

This year, I'm determined to make the most of this bumper crop. I've made a few jars of sauce, and will use these early-September days to make juice, jelly, and pie-filling. Some friends came by yesterday and backed their truck up under one of the trees, shaking the fruit free of their branches to finish off the pigs they're raising. You could say that this year, apples are my farm's zucchini...I'm leaving them on doorsteps and hastily trying to preserve as much as I can!

The other night I called my parents with a fleeting, vague memory of eating tiny apple preserves. I can remember biting soft green apples from their stems, dripping in syrup. I hadn't eaten them in recent memory, but mom assures me that we used to eat them at my Nanny's house. I expect that this was the quickest way for our forebears to save the apple harvest (and ensure a winter's worth of Vitamin C), and to make the most of the abundant crab apples that are not sweet enough for other purposes. So I'll be adding whole crab apple preserves to my to-make list. They're good with pork, or toast, or over a plain piece of cake. 

I also hope to save some whole apples and will see how long they'll last in our cool (but damp) basement.

Needless to say, my children got on the school bus this morning with a beautiful, organic, homegrown, heritage apple in their lunchbags. And they didn't cost me a cent!

This fall, I'm going to read up on giving these old trees some love. We'll clear the grass and brush that surround them, and prune them to encourage the future's harvest.