Wednesday, March 26, 2014

the dregs of winter, part two: snow play

Sometimes the only remedy for a winter that has gone on too long is to get out and play in the snow.

The littlest of the family watched attentively as her older sister created a snow-kid; if she knew how to write, I swear she might have taken notes on carrot-nose application. 

A whole-family snow ball fight made us forget that it was Spring, and I paused to breathe in the fresh, cold air. I nodded my respect to Winter and focused on savoring what I hope will be among our last wintry moments until next December.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

the dregs of winter, part one: green play

When I woke up on Saturday morning to this
 my mind ran through the possibilities of free, creative play for my winter-weary children. I made a quick phone call, and off we went, sketchbooks and green markers and pencils in hand, to our local greenhouse

where we breathed in the green of growing things. Our eyes thirstily drank up the lush variety of leaf shapes, and some of us got up close to draw the designs of Mother Nature.

Everyone picked out a plant to take home (the kids ran towards the cacti, whereas I grabbed some pungent herbs to liven up our late-winter menu.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

winter's last hurrah

Winter is having a last joke on us. 

A week before the first day of Spring, we in Eastern Ontario were slammed with a huge dump of snow. While I'm as eager as anyone for a breath of warm air or a scent of earth, I'm kind of selfishly happy to have a chance to wear my Dala Mitts a few times before the warm weather truly arrives.

They were made with Brigg's and Little Sport (from my stash). Ravelry notes are here. The pattern is a free one, though not for the faint-hearted. I have appointed myself, officially, as an expert knitter now that I've completed these. Next challenges to attack: steeking! Growing my own dye garden! Raising my own sheep! I tell you, diving into a too-difficult project and actually succeeding gives you confidence like nothing else!

No sooner had I finished my pair, that I cast on for the next pair in the same colours for a friend who insisted she must have her own. I'll knit them happily, knowing how much she'll love them...any horse lover would. But first, I'll be casting on for a pair of special mittens for a special someone who celebrates in April...because, according to the weather report today, we won't see true Spring till the last two weeks of April. 


Sunday, March 16, 2014


I grew up celebrating St. Patrick's Day at family gatherings, my aunts and uncles clustered around the piano where my mother banged out the chords for the familiar old songs she learned from her parents. A cassette tape survives of her father, Owen, singing Tooraloora, and it brings tears to our eyes whenever we hear it. I grew up singing the same songs around the piano, and eventually added to the trove of Irish songs I'd inherited by living and travelling in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. 

Now, my sister hosts a St. Patrick's Day gathering at her house. We always head down a few days in advance, and perhaps the best part of the party is the preparing for it: making rolls of sandwiches and loaves of soda bread, swirling thick frosting on the tops of Guinness cupcakes, and making sure there is enough whisky for a toast or two to the ancestors who had the courage to set off to seek their fortunes in Canada in the mid-19th century.

My mother plays the out-of-tune piano, we dedicate "Danny Boy" to my little brother, and we experience the delight of watching our children starting to sing along to the songs that we learned when we were young. We see the ones who came before us in our children's pale skin, freckles, sparkling eyes, and dark hair, and in their love of music, dance, family, and laughter.

We feel lucky to be descended from the Irish.

Monday, March 10, 2014

the things we pass down

In a quiet moment, a life can be changed by the patient guidance of older hands that know a skill. Hammering a nail to make a birdhouse, printing the first letter of your name, counting blocks into a bowl, turning the pages of a board book, or knitting a stitch: these are the things we pass down to our children, along with freckles, skinny legs, or a double cowlick. 

When we can tune in to our child's "readiness" for learning a new (old) skill, we can find the perfect moment, a quiet moment, full of possibilities and empty of interruptions. It took a quiet moment this morning to pass the needles into my oldest daughter's hands. Now, as I type, she hums quietly to herself in the rocking chair, working away at her knitting and smiling lightly at this newfound knowledge. 

Her little sister paints the birdhouse we hammered together, and her littlest sister strums away at the guitar with her daddy.

The kitchen is full today, of the things we're handing down.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

a wee cottage

The wee cottage welcomes all to visit, with a light glowing warmly by its green door. 
Merry yellow primroses bloom by the doorstep and the hinges and latch are 
hand-wrought of black iron.

A rowan tree grows by the door, to offer protection from evil spirits and ne'er-do-wells.

A tiny Aran sweater, complete with cables and a pair of socks with turned heels are hung to air in the Spring breeze, held fast with wooden clothes pegs.

Round windows with freshly painted green frames offer a view inside. What would one see? A table with a white cloth, set with hot tea and biscuits? A cozy peat fire? Perhaps a fiddle or a tin whistle laid by for an afternoon seisun with friends and neighbours?

A hidden storage space hides within, for spools of thread or wooden toys, or anything small and precious. Today, the pot of shamrocks that I've kept on my sill since last St. Patrick's Day seem the perfect fit.

This wee leprechaun cottage was crafted with love, for fun. I knitted Paton's Wool Roving for the basis of the house and roof, then hand-fulled them with hot water, soap, and agitation. Wool felt was embroidered for the windows and door. Brigg's and Little Sport was fashioned into the leprechaun's clothes with 2 mm needles. Everything else was needle-felted, except for the clothes pegs and rowan berries, which were  created with cotton embroidery floss. The roof and house are lined with wool felt, and the roof is stuffed with sheep's wool to keep its shape.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

birthday on a budget: part three

This five year old of mine adores Little House on the Prairie. 

She sat, rapt, through chapter after chapter of Little House in the Big Woods through part of her fourth year and like so many girls before her, she felt that Laura Ingalls was a kindred spirit. We're now in the last chapters of Farmer Boy, and although all three of my older children were happy to hear of Almanzo's adventures (Margot calls him "Ol' Monzo"), they are looking forward to hearing about Laura again.

This doll was a joint project by my mom and me. Mom knew I'd bitten off more than I could chew when I decided to create a Laura doll for Margot's fifth birthday, mostly because I work full time and don't have a working sewing machine. First she offered to cut out the pieces. Then she thought she'd just start some of the sewing. By the time I finally made it out to her place, the clothes were beautifully finished (that bonnet!), and the doll's body was ready for assembly. 

I spent an afternoon at mom's stitching the doll's face, then finished her hair at home later that evening. 

It was with great joy and deep love that mom and I watched "our" little girl open her Laura doll. Then mom handed Margot a little bag. In it was a white nightgown and matching nightcap, sewn from antique cotton with hand-made lace edging its cuffs.

I can't imagine that the real Laura Ingalls would have been more excited when she received her first "real" doll that long-ago Christmas morning than Margot was with her handmade gift. When I put her to bed on the night of her birthday, it was with her Laura doll. She'd been changed into her wee nightie and nightcap. So very sweet.

Monday, March 3, 2014

birthday party on a budget: part two

Two things I'm generally short on lately are time and money. I wanted my five year old's party to be special. I wanted her to feel special because, hey, you only turn five once! 

With a bit of time, I created a corner that was worthy of a celebration for a wonderful little soul. 

This girl of mine is a real artiste. I dug out the huge Ziploc bag I use to store her creations, and created a wall gallery of some of her drawings. I cleared off a little shelf, and added some framed photos of special moments: nursing while she was a baby, cuddling her daddy, and eating cotton candy. 

Finally, I used push pins to suspend a large white silk play scarf from the ceiling. I dug out a bunch of star decorations from our Christmas box, and hung them from the ceiling as well. 

I didn't spend a cent on this. When she saw it, her eyes widened in wonder. She felt special. I felt happy. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

birthday party on a budget: part one

Here's a cheap, easy, and quick party favour to create for a child's birthday. It works particularly well for a four or five year old's party, as they're old enough (usually) to not put everything in their mouths, and really enjoy sensory play.

Buy fine sea salt at your local health food store. I got mine for less than $2 a bag containing enough salt to create two favours. Pour the salt in a bowl, and add drops of food colouring and essential oil, mixing and adding until you reach the desired intensity of colour and scent. I used lemon oil for the green salt, lavender for the pink, and peppermint for the blue.

Divide into 1 cup portions, and tie with string. Add a typed or hand printed label. Ta da! A quick, easy, cheap, and educational party favour!

When spread thinly over a cookie sheet, sensory salt makes a beautiful canvas for a small child to draw or write in. My Kindergarten students play with our salt trays on a daily basis, so I knew these "treat bags" would be a hit with my five-year-old's friends. And for less than a dollar a bag? Perfect!