Momma’s Workshop

Boy oh boy, have I been busy these past few weeks! Once again, I did not start my Christmas gift-making in August. No, rather than learning from previous years, I put off my gift-making, getting started only as December closed in.

Once a place for sleeping, my bed has been taken over by sheets of fabric, balls of yarn, scissors, needles, felt, and wool stuffing. Each night I push myself until I can’t stand to keep my eyes open anymore, then I gather everything and put it away so the kids suspect nothing when they wake up in the morning.

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While the late start means plenty of midnight dates with my sewing machine, things are coming along nicely and I think I will get all of my gifts finished in time.

Several months ago I purchased a great book of toy patterns called Wee Wonderfuls, by Hillary Lang. When it arrived in the mail one day in July, my children flipped through and enthusiastically pointed out which toys they would like me to make for them. I filed their requests away in the back of my mind, and have dredged them out of the recesses of my memory now that the holidays are upon us.

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My first project – a teddy bear for Robin. I crafted it from wool felt that was purchased from Bear Dance Crafts, and got the bulk of the teddy finished in one night.

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He’s still in need of a face and clothing, but Robin’s teddy is mostly finished. The teddy bear has been joined on the shelf by two wool-felt mermaids, one with a fuchsia-coloured tail and brown hair for Lynden, and one with a lavender-coloured tail and blonde hair for Raina.

There have been several knitted projects as well, but their recipients might be reading this blog… so you’ll have to wait until after Christmas to see what I’ve crafted!

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The kids each wrote a letter to Santa. I was pleasantly surprised by their very modest requests. I half-expected to hear them ramble off a long list of things they would like, but they only asked for two gifts apiece. Lynden politely requested a sword and a hamster (his beloved hamster died last week), and Raina wants a pink shirt and a skateboard. Robin wants a train. After the letters were written, we talked about how blessed we are to have such abundance in our lives – healthy food to eat, a strong roof over our heads, a warm house to sleep in, a loving network of family & friends – and the kids told me all of the things they are grateful for. They were pretty thrilled when we made the trip to the post office to drop of their Santa letters!

While They Sleep

In the early morning hours, while the house is quiet and my four children are still snoring, I get up and pull on thick long underwear. Hearing my feet on the floor, the dogs start making soft whining noises in their crates. They know what’s coming.

The sun is not up yet. Sometimes we can hardly see where we are going. The sky is dusty and the ground is crunchy with frost. The goats are sleeping in the barn, the chickens are still in the coop, and the sparrows are just beginning to chirp. In these moments, I can feel the pulse of the Earth. I can feel how we are all connected.

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The dogs race to the field, then look at me expectantly. They’ve been waiting all night for this. It’s time to play fetch!

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They would chase the ball all day, if I let them. Most mornings I’ll throw for 15 minutes or so, and then we take our walk.

We cross the field to say hello & good morning to the old oak trees. At this time of year, the leaves carpet the ground and make a delightful swooshing sound as we walk through them. I often wonder about these trees. If they could talk, what stories would they tell? What have they been witness to all these years? How has the landscape changed?

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We walk the perimeter of the field closest to the house. The dogs race ahead, then race back to me at full speed. They tumble over each other, wrestle, and come back for pats and belly rubs. When we’ve finished our walk, they’re all panting and thirsty. They have a good, long drink while I take care of the farm chores.

The goats are awake now and have come out of the barn. They’re pacing by the gate, waiting for their breakfast. With this year’s shortage of hay, I was very lucky to find some bales from a nearby woman who had more than her horses needed.

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(See that handsome buck on the left? That’s Boots, our springtime babe, now full grown!)

The chickens have heard the goats’ happy bleats and have come running for their share.  They swarm around me, clucking and hopping, eager for their morning crumble & kitchen scraps.

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When everyone is fed and happy, I gather some eggs and head for the house. By now the sun hangs just above the horizon, and my kids are stirring in the family bed. The dogs and I make our way inside to welcome the children into the day. We snuggle and I listen to the kids tell me about their dreams, with sleepy eyes and creaky voices. They start their day softly, totally oblivious to the life I live while they sleep.

Awakening

Oh, dear! We’re almost in mid-February! It occurred to me this morning that it’s time to start planning the gardens for Spring, time to decide which seeds to order, time to plot out which plants will grow where. It’s time to start looking at incubators and decide how much we want to spend to hatch our own eggs again this year (last year’s homemade incubator, while it did give us chicks, didn’t have the hatch rate we had hoped for).

I love this part of Winter, when suddenly it feels like it’s time to come out of hibernation and start living again. It’s not quite Spring, we can’t feel Spring in the air just yet, but I do feel a restlessness and a tug to start preparing. It feels wonderful.

This year, Spring will be extra special. We’re only about seven weeks away from the birth of our newest family member, and my nesting instincts are hitting hard! I am driven to mop the floors every day, almost compulsively, though I only seem to manage mopping twice a week or so. I wash the dishes a few times a day. I am becoming neurotic about the laundry. My house is still a mess (my children have a funny way of creating chaos in a room I’ve just finished cleaning), but I’m busier than ever with chores and preparations. It’s funny what an impending birth will do to a mama.

Yes, mid-February. A glorious time of year, a time of renewal and awakening. Thank goodness it’s here.

Winter Adventuring

January 2012 was, perhaps, the strangest January I have experienced yet. We were inundated with more rain than I thought possible for mid-winter, with only a few snowy days. What a surprise to wake up on the final day of January to a forecasted 13 degrees Celsius!

We took advantage of the warm, sunny day and headed out to our local conservation area with my dad. The kids brought their bikes; it thrilled them to no end to be bike riding in January. It was Raina’s first time riding her two-wheeler (with training wheels!) outdoors.

(You’ll have to excuse the quality of the photos. My camera is out of commission and I’ve had to rely on my phone for pictures.)

My dad pushed Robin in the stroller, so all this pregnant mama had to do was walk leisurely along and enjoy the sunshine!

We came upon a swan who was being forcibly outcast from the rest of the flock. Two other large swans would attack it whenever it tried to rejoin the flock, and drive it toward the boardwalk. At one point, the outcast swan was a mere three feet away from Lynden – if he had stretched out his hand, he would have touched it. We spent quite a while marveling at the swan, watching it closely and appreciating its magnificence and beauty. It didn’t seem frightened of us at all, and completely ignored our dogs.

In his younger days, Oddler would run off into the woods and have grand adventures while we slow, two-legged folk ambled along. Now, at 11 years old, he is going deaf and losing his sight. Now he prefers to stay close by, and we sure do appreciate his company. I can’t help but wonder how many nature walks we have left with the old boy. He’s been a central part of our family for so long…

Robin was pretty thrilled by the beach. As soon as his feet hit the sand, he was digging and collecting shells. Each new shell was held high in the air with an excited exclamation. (Although he rode in the stroller, Robin insisted on wearing his bicycle helmet because his older siblings were each wearing theirs – a warm woolly hat just wouldn’t do.)

Despite the balmy, early-spring-like weather, the shore of Lake Erie was still a mass of ice. The wind had created incredible ice hills and caverns, which made for some totally awesome exploration.

In total, we spent about three hours at the conservation area. By the time we returned, we were muddy, hungry, and thoroughly happy – proof of a day well spent!

And to think, we would have missed the glorious sunshine and the wonders of Nature if the kids weren’t homeschooled. How blessed we are to have our days open and free!

Handmade Holiday – Buying Handmade

Let’s face it, dear readers, try as I might, I won’t be able to make everything I had hoped to for this holiday season. Luckily, there are plenty of other folks out there who are making their livings as crafters and artisans, and I’m happy to be able to support them.

For Raina, I just couldn’t resist these items from Ontarian Etsy sellers:

A doll sling, for her babies! Raina loves her dolls, and I’m fairly certain she’ll love carrying them around just the same as mama carries babies. This beautiful little handmade sling is from SewFunky, by Tanja Mackenzie in Guelph.

A Leaf Baby! When I saw this, I immediately envisioned it hanging from Raina’s neck. She swoons over dear, tiny little things. I can’t wait to see her reaction when she discovers this wee precious babe on Christmas morning! It is from EvesLittleEarthlings by Eve Geisler in Guelph.

And of course, I’m still busily crafting away, trying to get everything finished in this last week that I have left. I said it last year (and failed to follow through), and I hereby declare it again – next year I’m starting my holiday crafting in August!

Yarn Along

Woo! My second week joining in Ginny’s Yarn Along! This week I actually have a book to share…

Here is a little something that is being knit with some of my handspun – but I can’t tell you what until after the holidays! I detailed the process from carding to spinning a week or two ago, here it is for those who missed it. Try as I might, I could not get a decent shot of this project. The light was all wrong, then when I tried a different angle & different lighting, I couldn’t get anything in focus. Oh well, there you have it – a mediocre shot of a pretty cool little project.

Lynden’s winter sweater is coming along very slowly, between holiday projects and household chores. I managed to finish off the body, bordered around the bottom with a moss stitch. I think I’ll do the same around the edges of the sleeves, whenever I manage to finish them. The first sleeve is underway! I am making SOME progress! Being just a simple knit sweater with no cables or lacing, one would think it would be coming along quickly, but somehow the opposite is true. As long as Lynden gets to wear it a few times before the snow has come and gone, I’ll be a happy mama. (As an aside: I love, LOVE bamboo needles. They are so delightful to work with, so gentle on the hands, they warm so quickly to the touch, they’re so smooth to knit with. Bamboo is where it’s at.)

I’ve been reading The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller. It’s a great book for people who don’t feel right about “conventional” training methods. The book deals with clicker training, a method I began using with Oddler when he was a pup after a “conventional” trainer permanently damaged poor Oddler’s throat with a prong collar.  I love clicker training. It is so much fun for human and dog – I find my dog & I really work as a team, and it’s so neat to watch the dog’s wheels start turning and the thoughts get flowing. Clicker training really makes a dog THINK. Oddler is nearly 11 years old now, but every so often I like to brush up on training. When all the old commands have become so familiar that they are just a part of every day life, it’s nice to add a new trick to the bag. (Hey, did you know that any critter can be clicker trained, even a chicken? So cool!)

Alright, with that done, I’m off to ogle other yarn alongs!

Handmade Holiday – Garlands

My kids saw a photo on the computer of a garland someone had made, and are crazy about the idea of making holiday garlands to string around the house. So, in the spirit of a handmade holiday, I’ve collected our favourite garland-making tutorials for you to enjoy. When we’re finished making ours, I’ll be sure to share our finished product!

Lynden’s favourite type of garland is a felted-ball garland – here’s a great little how-to that results in all sorts of lovely – Felted Garland from MegaCrafty.

Because Raina loves anything to do with paint and paper, she voted on this lovely Leaf Garland from The Present Family, though she’d like to do snowmen and top hats instead of leaves. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with!

Here’s a beautiful paper-craft garland from Oh My! which I love, but realistically won’t get done in time for the holidays. This garland has made it’s way onto my list for something to do in mid-winter when we’re going stir crazy and we need a little something to brighten up the house – I’m thinking dinosaurs and fairies for the kids’ room.

I really love how into it the kids are about our handmade holiday, and how enthusiastic they are to create things with their own hands.  How have you been incorporating handmade into your home & holidays?

Holiday Giveaway

In the spirit of giving, I’ve decided to do a little Holiday Giveaway.  I’m offering to one lucky reader a Sweetie Pie Beanie, infant-sized (0-3 months), in 100% wool.  This warm & cozy beanie was crocheted by me with love and good intentions, and I’d like nothing more than to know it’s keeping some sweet baby’s head warm this winter!

To enter the Giveaway: Leave a comment. Make sure you include your name, so I know who to contact when I select a winner.  I’d also love it if you were to tell me what your favourite item in my Etsy shop is – but that’s not mandatory. Winner will be chosen by random generator.

Entries close Friday evening at 9pm.

Good luck, dear readers! Thanks for following our trials and triumphs through 2011 – it’s been great, hasn’t it?

 

 

Handmade Holiday – ROAR!

My oldest son, Lynden, is totally obsessed with dinosaurs.  He’s got dinosaur encyclopedias, volumes of dinosaur books, and an extensive collection of dinosaur toys.  Of course, all he wants for Christmas is more dino-related stuff.  So…

Yesterday I knitted up a dinosaur for him. I used 100% wool for the body and stuffed the dino with soft, fluffy wool fleece.  I can’t wait to see him open it on Christmas morning!

 

I’m offering these dinos made-to-order in my Etsy Shop.  If you’d like one for your own children, I’ll happily knit one up for you!

Sugaring Time

These warmer days and cold, cold nights can only mean one thing – it’s sugaring time!

You may remember that maple tapping was on my list of things to accomplish this year, and wonder of wonders, I’m actually doing it! We had a fabulous sunny day on Monday, a perfect day for tapping trees. My brother came on by with some spouts and a new drill bit, and we set to work. Within moments, we had a steady drip-drip-dripping of maple sap into our buckets! What a thrill!

There are only two suitable maple trees here on our little farm, and between them we were able to hang six buckets. Well, who would have thought that six buckets could fill up with sap so quickly! There are buckets full of sap in the fridge and buckets full of sap hanging from the trees. It’s such a glorious thing to see those spouts dripping away out there as the sun warms up the morning.

Yesterday, my brother and I spent the day out in the yard boiling down sap over the fire. With maple sap, you have about a 40:1 ratio – it takes 40 parts of sap to get 1 part of syrup. Well, wouldn’t you know, after about six hours of fire-tending, sawing wood, stirring the pot, and adding in more & more sap, we were able to fill about half of a quart-sized Mason jar with syrup.

PHEW! What a lot of work for a little bit of syrup! We are currently experimenting with other methods of boiling down the sap in hopes of finding a quicker way. The thing is, we were so tickled and pleased by the sap dripping from the trees, we decided to tap the trees at my folks’ place as well. There’s more sap than we know what to do with!

Perhaps my favourite part of this whole experience was my first drink of maple sap. It is crystal clear like water, but so crisp and cool and refreshing, rejuvenating, delicious and energizing, like nothing I have ever had before. When it hit my mouth for the first time, I was totally overjoyed. How could I have gone through all these years of my life without drinking maple sap!? Wow, it is simply amazing. My kids have been gulping it down and asking for more. Mmmmmmm……

First thing in the morning we’ll be heading back out to the fire pit to get started on another day of syruping!