Sunday, January 26, 2014

ice play

Last week, I brought some muffin trays into my classroom and we talked about how long we thought it might take water to freeze. We speculated about whether or not our ice muffins would freeze faster in the shade or in the sun. We added food colouring, a dash of glitter, and a pinch of sequins just because it was fun.

Within an hour, our muffins were ready for some full-on sensory play. I sat aside and just observed their play and listened to their wonderful observations. They stacked them, sorted them by colour, arranged them in patterns, used words like slippery, wet, cold, melting, and so on. They invented a game kind of like curling but messier. 

The next day I brought in a donut pan and they played ice wedding. The heart-shaped cake pan was also a hit (the ice from it became a hanging decoration on the tree outside our classroom window). 

At the end of each play period, we stuck them all in a container, and set it back outside for later adventures. Of course, a few muffins were kept in the classroom so we could watch them melt. 

We created a rainbow hanger by adding food colouring to six muffins, then laying a piece of yarn through them. They also hang on the tree outside, twirling and reminding us that Spring is still a ways in the future.

Check out this lovely ice craft over at Twig and Toadstool!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Scandinavia-Inspired Hat...Finally Finnished.

If you are a knitter, you might recognize this scenario. 

You have plans to celebrate a birthday with a loved one. You start a smallish project two weeks ahead of time thinking that you'll have it finished and wrapped long before the party. That's always the plan. The reality is maybe not so tidy, particularly if you work full time and have a toddler.

A certain friend of mine has Scandinavian roots, and this certain friend had a reason to celebrate recently. Two weeks ago I cast on this hat, making it up as I went. I found some inspiration on Pinterest, charted out some little motifs on graph paper, and worked away all day Saturday between bathing four children, feeding them, and keeping a toddler both busy and safe.

A few inches in, I realised that it was coming out too small. That happens with colour work...the strands crisscrossing the wrong side of the hat tend to pull it all a bit tighter (which makes if cozier, yes, but tighter). It fit my six year old's head perfectly. So, I frogged it (for you non-knitters out there, that's ripping it Get it?)

Away I went, going against my better judgment and making the ribbing in the same size of needle that I used for the rest of the hat. When it came time to decrease for the crown, that ribbing was just a tad floppy and well, it bugged me. So, I finished the top of the hat. Then I started raveling the cast-on edge. Tedious work indeed, and at this point I had about 2 days left to finish this hat.

Finally, I took some scissors to it. Gasp! I know. I carefully snipped out one row of stitches just below the heart motif, picked up the stitches, then knit down, adding some white lines and specks, then switching to a smaller needle for the band of ribbing.

I finished it after school yesterday, wrapped it, and delivered it to its grateful recipient.

My intention was to present it here with a beautiful pattern to share. But you can see that it might be a convoluted kind of pattern if I write it all down as it came about. So.

It's Finnished. I'm going to make another one all in the right order, with no scissors, frogging, or floppy ribbing to be found. And then I will share the pattern here.

The End.
Or maybe it's the beginning.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Celebrating Robbie Burns at the local Legion.

After I wrote this post, immediately after I wrote it, Norah had two nights of craziness. We decided it was time. My man took over the first shift of the night, calming her by picking her up or by patting and shushing her back to sleep. I slept in the attic, alone, with ear plugs in, a toque on, and a pillow over my head. One can never be too careful, you know.

Since then, I've been getting a few hours' sleep, uninterrupted, each night. We switch places somewhere after midnight, and I snuggle and nurse my baby girl till morning. It's working for us right now. This feeling of being in it together is a good one, even though now we're both kind of tired instead of me being tired all alone.

These days, I've found this well of peace and patience deep inside. It might be because I'm getting more sleep. What I really suspect is that it's because I've changed my eating habits. I've cut waaay back on my caffeine intake, and am avoiding gluten, sugar, and dairy. 

This cleansing felt necessary after the many indulgences of Christmas time. Yes, I've lost a few pounds, but the unexpected side effect is this calmness. I don't find myself bubbling over with anger or impatience in moments of stress anymore, and I am finding more energy to engage with my students and family more consistently. I'm sleeping better, too.

We even ventured out last weekend to celebrate Robbie Burns. We borrowed a bunch of tartan skirts (even Jude wore one!), and enjoyed the piping, the Ceilidh, and the strange Scottish horah-like circle dance that took place while we all sang Auld Lang Syne. I brought snacks and the kids danced way past their bedtimes. 

We are often reluctant to mess with our routines, especially the bedtime routine. But it was so worth it to get out, to have the kids enjoy some live music, and to get involved in a community event. The kids loved it, we got to visit with friends and neighbours, and I even had a dance with my husband's arms around me...well, his one arm. Norah was in the other!

I'm feeling very grateful for this moment of peace in our lives. It's a good place and I hope to stay here for awhile.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

awake, asleep, gently

Once again, a toddler in the house.

Things pulled off low shelves. 
Always wanting up (the stairs, into arms, on chairs, on the table). 
Always wanting things put on (hats, socks, goggles), or taken off (hats, socks, goggles). 

The energy of a toddler astounds me, even with the fourth. 

She carries the kitten around like a purse.
She scribbles on whatever she finds, with deep concentration. 
She stamps her feet in frustration, tells us that she wants to brush her teeth by pointing at us then thumping her chest like Tarzan. 
She dances to Jungle Boogie and the Mexican Hat Dance, The Irish Washerwoman and Cha Cha Slide. 

She goes hard when she's awake and I swear I'm sprouting a new gray hair each day.

Then there are the nights. To bed, only to wake up. And repeat. I've never had a baby that wakes up this often. To say things seem a bit blurry by morning is putting it mildly, as I drag myself out of bed at six to get myself and two children ready for a day of school. The first week back at work after a two week break can be summed up in one word: grueling.

I have often wondered about the flaw in nature's design, that a mother (who is generally the busiest person in  most households) doesn't get the sleep she needs to sustain the energy levels required for all those things she does. My sister reminded me that nature's design is perfect, but that it's our messed-up society that makes it difficult. 

She's right, of course. If I were not working full time, didn't have a large house to maintain, and so many errands to run in a week, I'd nap during the day when my baby did. I'd go to bed with her instead of staying up late trying to squeeze a bit of "me time" out of the last hours. 

As it stands, we are taking steps to do some gentle sleep coaching

I remember us as first time parents, letting Jude cry it out (for way longer than my heart will allow me to admit now). I remember myself then, feeling terrorized, panicked, desperate, and exhausted. I was willing to take the hard road if it meant, ultimately, that we'd all get more sleep. We'd lock ourselves in the bathroom, fan on, deck of cards and bottle of wine at hand, to pass the torturous minutes of listening to him cry.

It's hard to admit that now. 

I forgive that mother I was, because I know her frustration and exhaustion, her sense of surrendering to what all the experts were telling her about babies needing to learn to settle themselves. 

It didn't take long to realise that it didn't feel good, for me or for him. 

One night I finally gave in to my instincts and ran up the stairs, to find that in his distress he'd scratched his cheek with his fingernail. I think there might be a tiny scar on his almost-nine-year-old face to remind me of that last time we tried the CIO method. (For the record, Jude and I cuddle every night now, read Harry Potter together, and he is a well-adjusted, closely attached, independent, lovely young man, in spite of my early blunders).

Violet kind of found her own way with the sleep thing, once she found her thumb. By 18 months she was out of a crib and into a bed with her big brother, and snuggled happily to sleep (often with her exhausted, pregnant mother drooling beside her after a day of teaching). Aside from giving speeches in her sleep, she's had no trouble.

I can't really remember much about Margot as a baby, as I was raising three children in diapers, had survived the trauma of open-heart surgery on my infant, and spent that first year or two in survival mode. Margot was bottle fed so I think my husband had more of a hand in the night shift then.

Enter the fourth baby.

Everything is just...more chilled out. I'm exhausted, yes. I miss having time to knit and read. I wish she slept through the night (or at least through some of it). I haven't had more than three hours' sleep at a time in 13 months. Yes, that's crazy making. Yes, I whine and bitch about it, often. I'm not always happy and zen about it all.

But we're working on it, gently. We still do all the things you're not supposed to do

We rock or nurse her to sleep. 
We go to her every time she stirs. 
Sometimes we can pat her to sleep, but mostly we pick her up and sway with her until she settles again. 

I've started going up to the attic to sleep through the first shift (my husband got up with her four times between 9 and midnight the other night), then come down to do the midnight-six shift (with her in my bed...another no-no!).

She stirs, curves towards me, I pull down my shirt, and she nurses until we're both asleep again. I love the warmth of her feet, the shape of her little bum stuck up in the air, the whisper of her breath, the downy softness of her hair, her scent, and the close connection between us as we dance the night away in our rhythm of snuggle, nurse, sigh, roll over, turn, and touch.

Sleep will come, gently.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

one for me

(this is my serious holiday-knitting face)

I don't often knit for myself, but this is the year. 

This is a modified version of the Dustland Hat, (I added more stitches, changed colours, and made up the decreases as I went) using yarn I made while practising spinning and plying. My mentor gave me huge bags of wool, and some of it was in little tiny bags, bits of colours she'd created when she was practising dyeing for her spinning course. I'd just knit up whatever I had until I ran out of each colour.

A randomly striped, kind of made up slouch hat for winter. I love it! It's so comfy, it doesn't squash my (very short) hair, and it looks beautiful against the white backdrop of plentiful snow we have these days.

It's also lovely for covering up the perpetual bedhead I sported over the holidays. Of course, my husband and son have both requested their own Dustlands, but I think I'll finish my sweater first.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

keeping warm

Little Brother embraces Claus (who was born in the reindeer barn at the North Pole and presented to Violet as a gift on Christmas morning).

In the midst of this ridiculous cold snap, we've been busy with the business of staying warm. Carrying wood in from the shed, checking the furnace and wood stove when a draft blows over our feet, replenishing the fuel that keeps us so cozy in this big old farm house. 

The cats stay in these nights, and the ponies are shut up in the barn with extra hay and water checked often (it freezes so quickly). The kids are let out for carefully timed outdoor time as the risk of frost bite is very real this week. 

My Wabi Sabi friend laughed uproariously at my confession the other night that I have Scandinavian-heritage-envy. Of course, Irish knitting from the Aran Islands is beautiful in its own right, but I am drawn to the colour work and patterns found in traditional Scandinavian knitting and fabrics. 

This was my response to the tiny thrift-store socks she presented to me (well, to Norah) on New Year's Eve when we gathered here (with parents and FORTY children. Yes, forty). She CAN laugh uproariously, being of Scandinavian heritage herself.

 Norah traipsed around in these wee knee socks like a little elf, and I have no photo because I was so busy finding places for 40 pairs of boots and mitts to dry after the children's brave forays into the cold for sliding and snowy shenanigans while laying out an abundant potluck feast). 

My husband caught the look in my eye as I sat at the kitchen table last evening, calculating numbers of stitches, adapting the shape of the toe, and figuring out if I could make these socks in a toe-up fashion and garter-stitch heel. 

It turns out, I can (at least so far...I haven't reached the heel yet). And all I want to do today, in spite of the fact that we are belatedly celebrating Christmas with my mother-in-law, is sit in this chair by the wood stove (once I've moved the cats, of course), and work away at these tiny socks. Once I've got it working, I'll attempt to record a pattern and will share it here.

But. I must make scalloped potatoes (I make mine with coconut milk and gluten-free flour), a ham, some cabbage salad, and set out wine. Warming food for a cold Canadian evening. 

My urge to hibernate until March is strong, but I must withstand these whims to knit and eat pea soup with ham all winter long and get on with the busyness of keeping everyone warm and fed.