A magic box with a never-ending supply of yarn? A little girl who knits sweaters for every living thing in her town? An evil archduke who wants the box for his own?
Yes, please! Every knitter should have this book on their shelf.
We are also loving Kate DiCamillo's The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane...I sat to read a bit of this while eating my lunch yesterday and read the whole book. A wonderful, wonderful read...one of those full-circle type stories with themes of attachment, abandonment, loss, grief, and of course, love.
Jude's been into Greek Mythology so we've been reading up on King Midas and the Olympian Twelve. We may need to order a book that he can read himself!
I've been playing Bingo at our library. We have a Bingo card with different types of books on each square (e.g. Read a book everyone has read but you, read a classic, read a book you heard about on the radio). I've read 14 books so far, and have 10 more to go. Right now I'm reading a book I should have read in high school: The Catcher in the Rye!
And knitting? Well, I am afraid I don't have much time for that these days. I'm poking away at my sock (for those who asked last time, it's Regia World Circus, colour 3754!), and am preparing to cast on for this Christmas project (because there's no sense in waiting till December, right?) This will take me awhile! I just love it and enjoy picturing it on top of our piano next winter.
(picture from Alan Dart's website)
Please stop by Small Things to join in Ginny's Yarn Along!
Yesterday, my husband got set to cross the road with the older three, Violet's birthday gift in tow (a beautiful butterfly kite). I realised as they headed out the door that this was an outing I could easily join in on! I popped Norah into a sweater and bonnet, and out we went.
The wind, open space with no power lines, breastmilk, new freckles, and pinecones. As the saying goes, sometimes the best things in life are free.
She was born at my mother's house on a beautiful May evening, moments after the midwives arrived. We were awestruck when we first saw our first daughter. She cried and cried, then nursed like a champ. We named her after my childhood doll (who was named for my favourite colour), and for my Grandmother. I always wanted a little girl named Violet Pearl. She's six today. She is so darn smart. She is brave and bold, and won't back down if she thinks she's right (which is pretty much all the time). She doesn't like "pretty" things, she just likes "cool" things. That means she wants stuff to DO for her birthday, not just stuff to play with. She's too grown up for Polly Pockets and My Little Ponies, but will cry if her little sister gets them and she doesn't. She wants to be like her big brother, and loves to wear his hand-me-downs. But she won't say no to a twirly pink dress if it's offered. She loves to boss her little sister around, and is not above manipulating her to get her way. The threat for months has been, "If you don't _____, I won't give you a treat at my birthday party", to which Margot huffs, "Okaaay." She tells me, "I'm interested in everything", and she is. She asks a million questions a day, and loves to be read to from non-fiction books. She listens to every single word, and remembers what we read the next day. She is skilled at reading people's faces, and reading between the lines. She is a shark when it comes to games, and is possessive about putting the last piece in the puzzle. She cries when she loses, and one of her favourite complaints is, "It's not fair!" I think maybe she'll grow up to be a social rights activist, a lawyer, or a midwife someday. She has nerves of steel. Last summer when I found a gigantic spider on the laundry pile, she put a jar over it because I couldn't even look at it. She didn't flinch. The other night she woke up in the middle of the night and cried out that the chicken had peed in her bed. When daddy told her that it hadn't, she said, "Okay", and went back to sleep. She is my tiny girl. She was the same size at birth as her siblings, but is slightly built, like a fairy or a will'o'the'wisp. Her jeans all need taking in at the waist, and her sleeves are too short if the shirt fits her body. Her hands are long and fine, and she wields paintbrushes and sewing needles capably and gracefully. Her feet are beautiful; I wish mine were like hers. She is a girl of passions. Huge smiles, loud laughs, louder protests, giant tears. Great rages, deep love, profound wonder. Her face is different in every photo, and her eyes are so deep and expressive, I could sink into them and read everything in her heart. She is her mama's girl, for sure; I get those sweeps of emotion, those mercurial changes, because I'm like that too. She is six, and she still sucks her thumb, voraciously, when cuddling or watching a movie or listening to a story. Her blankie is grey and smelly and starting to come apart at the corner where she rubs and nuzzles it. We told her that she'd have to stop sucking when her adult teeth came in, but so far I'm a bit stumped as to how to force the issue. Her front teeth are loose, hanging by threads, and she won't let me near them. She likes to push one forward and one back, and laugh at her reflection in the mirror. She hates potatoes. She loves fish. She loves Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and plain broth with noodles. She was once notoriously picky, but is becoming more adventurous. She is not squeamish. She's curious about birth and life and death, and coolly examines the remains that the cats leave on our porch. She holds worms and toads and slimy things with wonder instead of revulsion. Violet Pearl. Sometimes when we see her asleep, we're astounded at how tiny she really is, because herspirit is so big. Six years of loving this wild, wonderful girl have flown by. As I always do, I wish I could keep her as she is for a little while longer; still, I can't wait to know the woman she grows into.
When I was a little girl, I used to save the silks when we'd peel corn-on-the-cob. I'd turn my bicycle upside down, and turn the pedal to get the back tire spinning, then I'd feed the silks into the spokes. I was spinning straw into gold, or wool into yarn. I was fascinated by the process and remember wondering how the expert spinners I'd see at country fairs and local pioneer museums made it look so effortless.
Although it was a lifelong dream, the cost of learning seemed like a tremendous obstacle to me: hand carders are costly, not to mention the cost of a spinning wheel! Courses that teach spinning seemed pointless if I didn't have my own wheel on which to practice. Over the years, I've housed other people's wheels, but these seem as quirky and unique as their owners and I just didn't have enough basic know-how to produce anything.
So, I took my hand-made drop spindle, a gift from a friend, into my hands last month. I delved into a bag of roving I'd accumulated during my needle-felting phase, and got to work spinning funny little balls of colourful thick-and-thin yarn. I was hooked.
Once I got through the roving I had, I was hungry for more. Coincidentally, my husband has been at work learning about wool with his Kindergarten class, and had arranged to visit a farm where they'd be shearing sheep. He came home with a big, smelly, filthy fleece, and I dove right in, so to speak.
The first ball of uncombed, unprocessed yarn was brownish, pungent, and greasy with lanolin. I washed a small bit of fleece in a bowl of water, and the next ball came out whiter and softer.
I'd read about washing larger amounts of fleece in the washing machine. As I had no lingerie bags (alas, having no lingerie), I improvised, stuffing two net onion bags with filthy fleece and putting them to soak in a washer-full of hot water. I added less than a 1/4 cup of dish soap, and checked back now and then. When the water was really gross, I carried the bags up to the kitchen sink and let them soak in a rinse bath.
They still didn't seem as clean as I'd like, so I opened the bags up and let the fleece free. I continued adding a bit of dish soap, rinsing, and very gently swishing. I know that heat and agitation signal death to wool (unless you're intentionally felting); I was experimenting here!
I stuffed the fleece back into the onion bags and ran them through a spin cycle in the washer, then spread them to dry on a beach towel. They still had way more specks of grass etc. in them than I wanted, but I figured this would be as good as it gets.
Well! When it was dry, I carded it (on borrowed hand-carders), and almost all of the flecks of foliage ended up on my lap. The wool is white, lofty, and just calling to me to be spun!
If you're new to a drop spindle, or if you've always itched to spin but haven't the budget for it, here are a few tips:
1. Borrow Abby Franquemont's excellent book, "Respect the Spindle" from your library (I got this one through inter-library loan!). Read it!
2. Make yourself a drop spindle using a wooden toy-wheel, a piece of dowel, a small hook, and some wood glue. A bit of sandpaper is handy, too.
3. Procure a fleece...ask around! Although the world's economy was built on wool at one time, fleeces are pretty much worthless (read: FREE) now (the shearer told my husband that it would cost him money to transport it to the processing plant).
4. Clean it (you can follow my dodgy method or find better tutorials on youtube). Use onion bags if you don't have lingerie bags. Be resourceful. Women have been spinning on spindles forever, and didn't need fancy, expensive tools to do it.
5. Card the dry wool. Guess what? You can even use dog brushes (the kind with wire-bristles) if you're in a pinch. I learned this by asking a friend's mother, who happens to be a master-spinner.
6. Play, and practice! It's not about the product, at this point. I may create some silly hat with all my funny balls of yarn, but it's not the point right now. The focus is on the process, not the product...which makes it fun!
There you have it. My first forays into spinning. When my children get older, I'll hopefully find time to take a course or two, and will start saving for a wheel as quirky and unique as I am. Until then, never fear: my hands will not be idle for a moment as they spin balls and balls of imperfect yarn.
At first I thought she was an apple blossom fairy. Then when I got the whole picture: the barns, the boots, the cat...I realised she is more Tomten than fairy. She is the Tomten that visits in Spring, and whispers to all living things that winter is really and truly over.
She twirls and giggles and poses, and wrestles with the cat. She wields an apple branch like a wand, and wonders about her shadow. She climbs fences and perches on steps.
He's turning eight today. His wiggly baby teeth give way to giant Chiclet teeth that seem too big for his face. Freckles jostle for space every time he goes out in the sun. His hair is thick and dark, as it promised to be when he was a newborn. Those eyes...grey-green, ringed by black lashes. He winks back at me and my heart squeezes, imagining the loves he'll find in his life thanks to those eyes.
His legs grow more quickly than I can find jeans to fit him and I am thankful that the season for shorts has arrived. He dresses in his own quirky way: tweed caps, cowboy boots, knitted sweaters, neckties. He plays with Bionicles for hours, making battle sounds. He takes a long time to figure out how to play games, but loves to play anyway. He loves to be outside, sword fighting and bike-riding and tree-climbing. He wants to be a farmer or a ninja or a step-dancer or a soldier when he grows up.
He loves to dance. We sing Gangnam Style phonetically now, and know all the moves. He makes up new routines and shows me his creative moves daily. He draws complex pictures that he needs to explain to me, aliens and deep-sea kings, guardian warriors and robots. They're full of movement and sound and his pencil can hardly keep up with his ideas.
He sets up cohorts of tiny Roman soldiers, lies on his tummy so that he can have them at eye level, and I know in his mind that he marches off to conquer with them. His body never stops moving: headstands, somersaults, playful kicks in the butt, cuddles. He likes to read now, although he was a late-bloomer. He takes pride in helping me with his little sisters by reading to them, getting them a snack, or holding the baby. He laughs his head off when I pretend that Norah is kung-fu-kicking him in the face, or when I do baby-voice overs as she gnaws on his robots (I AM A GIANT BABY. I WILL DEFEAT YOUR ROBOT ARMY WITH MY POISONOUS DROOL!)
He tells me the truth about everything. He confesses immediately if he gets in trouble at school, and owns up to the quirky things he does even though we've told him a million times (since he was two) not to: turning up the thermostat, or squirting window cleaner all over the place). He hates time-outs and getting in trouble, and is just starting to get the concept of impulse control. When I do send him to his room, he lowers angry notes down through our heat-vent, tied to a string ("Be Quite, Mom"). I bite my lip so I don't laugh.
He's a great traveller, and eats anything we feed him. He brings his gluten-and-dairy-free food with him to birthday parties and never complains that he eats different stuff from his friends. He cries at the sad parts of movies, and hides his eyes during the scary parts. He occasionally wonders why he's the only one in his class without a Wii/DS/i-pod but accepts our family values. He has no concept of time or money. He wishes he could go on a sail boat, an airplane, in the ocean. I promise him that someday, he will.
He loves to spend time alone with me, his made-up jokes make no sense, and he is the joy of my heart.
I tell him that I always hoped I'd have a son just like him, that he is the fulfillment of a dream I held for many years. He looks just as I imagined a son of mine would. Sometimes I don't get him, but I got him. He's mine, for a little while at least, and I surely am grateful that he is.
This beautiful linen was begging to be made into something lovely. So, I created three field naturalist bags, lined with lovely green-and-white-striped cotton, complete with a notebook, pen, field guide, and themed patch! Perfect gifts for the three birthday girls who invited Violet and Margot to their parties this past weekend.
In case you're thinking, "How does she find the time?", let me say that there is much hair pulling and teeth-gnashing in this house as I stubbornly insist on handmade gifts. I stay up too late, I curse the sewing machine, I call my mother for advice, and I book time for my husband to take over with the kids so I can create. And my kids arrive late to every party because I sewed up to the very last second.
That is how I do it.
I thought that maybe having a fourth child would cure me of my insistence that handmade is nicer, but somehow it hasn't. When I picked Violet up from the second party, the birthday girl was running outside in a herd of kids, with her bag slung over her shoulder. She proclaimed that she would find every single bug in her field guide by the end of the summer!
I hang on to the best of the mixed tapes I've received over the years. The very, very best came from a friend I had in Belfast; I still keep it with me in my van though I'm afraid to listen to it now. It is 18 years old, after all, and a treasure.
I remember cuing up all the cassettes I was using to make a mixed tape, calculating how many minutes each song would take so as not to go over the 45 minute-per-side rule (I hated when the tape ended in the middle of the song).
As I recorded each song, I'd write notes about why I'd included it on the tape. I'd decorate the liner to personalise the gift. The endeavour of making a mixed tape was always a labor of love, a task that required creativity and time. Whole rainy afternoons and every feeling in my teenaged self would go into their creation.
Well, 20 years later, and the mixed tape is a thing of the past. I click and drag to create playlists, and burn them on to CDs. It takes minutes, really.
When I reconnected with Nic, I wanted to reignite our shared love of music. I created a playlist for him, and was inspired to recapture the nostalgic charm of the old mixed tape.
Here's what I made! It's a B-side, of course, with blue thread reminiscent of my high school blue ballpoint pens. This CD case is three layers of felt to contain the two CDs it holds. It will be on its way to Wales this week!
We've had many conversations about gender roles in our home: that it's okay for men and boys to be nurturing and gentle, that it's okay for girls to be rough and tumble. That women are really strong and powerful. That men can be vulnerable and can cry. We talk about gender stereotypes in movies and storybooks, and try to have a healthy balance of heroic girls who don't need saving, and gentle boys who take care of others. As parents, we are curious about where this life will take our children and we work hard at controlling the inadvertent limits we set on them because they're "boy" or "girl".
We also encourage our children to express themselves through clothes and hair. My husband and I were both "artistic" teenagers, both involved in musical theatre, both creative when it came to hairstyles and fashion. I wore a strapless polka dotted dress and a pill box hat with red nylons to our rural high school. He had a banana-coloured suit. I favoured red lipstick, he loved his short-on-one-side, long-on-the-other hair cut. While this may sound tame compared to today's tattooed and pierced teenagers, we were certainly considered "different" in the universe of our middle-of-nowhere high school. We talk a lot about how we'll handle our children's fashion whims as they grow, and agree that blue mohawks are okay, for Jude or for the girls.
Still, we hesitated when Jude brought up getting both his ears pierced. I love the way this looks, personally, but I also remember the reaction my brother got when he came home from university sporting this look, along with a beaded necklace (if I recall, he got roughed up at a local bar, was called a fag, and had his necklace ripped from his neck, Cinderella-style). We live in rural Ontario, where traditions and gender roles are not questioned, generally. Girls wear pink and play with dolls. Boys wear camo and play with guns. Period.
We were worried about Jude getting teased at school. And admittedly, we were concerned about being judged as parents, not because we felt we'd be wrong to let him get his ears pierced, but because others wouldn't understand our idea of the bigger picture. The irony, of course, is that we were worried about what others would think about our attempts to let our children do things without worrying about what others think. Ha!
Then Violet spotted this suit in the give-away pile. It's three-piece. It's pin-striped. In short, it's awesome. It reminded me that I once upcycled my dad's pin-stripe suit into a skirt-vest ensemble as a teenager. But this little suit was too small for Jude, so I was about to give it away.
Violet nabbed it, tightened it up with a belt, and wondered if we'd be able to find some shiny black (boy's) dress shoes to go with it for her uncle's wedding in August. She rocks this look, and I love that she claimed this as 'her' style. She wants a chemistry-themed birthday party. She wants to cut her hair short like mine.
Which brought up another uncomfortable realisation: I'm more comfortable with my girls bending a bit towards "boy" things, than I am about Jude bending towards "girl" things. It's based in fear, of course: fear that others won't understand, fear that my boy will learn hard lessons about what is considered "acceptable", fear that his feelings will be wounded by cruel words.
But then I remember: my best friends in the world are the people who were drawn to me because they noticed my quirky style, or because I noticed theirs. One of my first high school friends was a boy who wore a dress to a wedding when he was five, because he just wanted to and his mom said yes.
Those are the kinds of friends I want my children to have: friends who love them because they're not afraid to be different and because they face the world with a sense of adventure, fun, colour, and openness.
So. The next time Jude mentions getting his ears pierced, I'll take a deep breath, and say yes.
The front porch becomes another room in our house once Spring arrives. We haul out the wicker furniture and carry our meals outside. Mornings are when this spot is the sunniest; the clatter of woodpeckers finding their breakfast and the coo-cooooo-coo of mourning doves provide background music.
I suspect it is part of nature's design, that after a long night of interrupted sleep, mothers find their children so sweet when they wake up. Soft, warm cheeks, rosy from deep slumber and tousled hair, topping off the darling ensemble of homemade pajamas and blankies. Bare feet and growling tummies. Ramblings about their nonsensical dreams that go on and on. I could eat my kids for breakfast first thing in the morning.
When they add sunglasses to the look? Irresistible.
Norah and I sit quietly while they chatter and their spirits come to full wakefulness, munching toast and imagining the adventures promised by the rising sun. These moments remind me to breathe gratitude deeply into my self, to be surrounded by these beautiful tiny humans that keep me so busy and sleep-deprived.
These moments promise me that I can get through another day with patience and love and some fun thrown in.