Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Men Don't Listen....Or Do They?

Men don’t listen. Most women would definitely concur with this statement! My dear father has been practicing the art of “not listening” for a solid seventy years. He’s soon going to be outfitted with a shiny new set of hearing aids so we shall see if he gets away with it much longer! My husband is particularly skilled at fooling me into believing he is deeply absorbing my every word. He must have been exhibiting his fine acting skills when we agreed that we would not be exchanging gifts this Christmas. I certainly lived up to my end of the bargain! Ironically, I personally benefited from his poor listening skills this time around. Tucked under our tree was one very large and heavy box addressed to the “Wood Fairy”. I have to admit, I was pretty tickled to uncover a scroll saw beneath the wrapping paper. In no time, my mind began churning with ideas.

I’ve been admiring the original and beautiful creations of fellow Esty seller, Woodmouse for quite some time. In fact, Chi-Chi and Muffy each received one of her adorable wooden cell phones in their stockings. She is also the lady behind Make-Baby-Stuff, a wonderful website that is chock full of do-it-yourself projects for those interested in natural parenting. She offers an easy to follow tutorial on how to create adorable wooden animals at home. As a proud owner of a brand new scroll saw, I jumped right in and gave it a try. Wow! I feel a new addiction coming on. Chi-Chi and Muffy adore their new set of sweet animals. They are a perfect match to the farm play set the boys received from Santa. I’m particularly enjoying creating the forest friends that live in our backyard as the little ones can really relate to these characters.

Upon further reflection, I guess I feel a tad guilty for doing a bit of male bashing. I now vividly remember forcing Hubby to sit through the wooden toy tutorial on several occasions – my “subtle” way of telling him I “need” a scroll saw. I guess it turns out he was actually listening all along…. (:

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

With Heart and Hands

It seems like only yesterday… It is Christmas morning, 1978. I am one very excited and impatient four-year-old. It’s 6:28 a.m. and I am hovering over my sleeping parents, anxiously awaiting the “thumbs up” to descend upon the living room to discover what treasures Santa left for one very deserving little girl. At 6:30 a.m. sharp, I am given the go head. I remember this moment so vividly. Tucked under the tree was the most circled item in our tattered copy of the Sears Wish Book that year, Baby Patti, “the doll that peed her pants”. She was nestled comfortably in a beautiful wooden doll cradle made with care and love by my very own father. As I sit in my living room almost thirty years to the day, Baby Patti is nowhere to be seen. Sadly, she is no doubt buried deeply in a pile of rubbish in some landfill in Northern New Brunswick. That dear wooden cradle, on the other hand, sits across the room from me on this cold December evening in 2008. Cuddled up inside with a wool blankie are Pedro and Casey, the Waldorf dolls I handmade for the boys. Not a day goes by that the cradle is not played with by the grandchildren of the man who created it. As boys, they may be finding unique and interesting uses for it (i.e. boat, step stool, car), but they are interacting with it nonetheless!

My wooden cradle speaks volumes about the value of offering our children quality, handmade, solid toys. They will undoubtedly outlast their junky counterparts, being passed down from one generation to the next to enjoy. Inspired to offer our own children something from our hearts and hands, Hubby and I decided to combine our skills and efforts this year. With Chi-Chi’s wish list in mind we set to work: a tree, a river a bridge and a house. Sigh...the beauty and innocence of a three year old! His wish list almost brought a tear to my eye!

It’s quite possible that I am anticipating Christmas morning more than the little ones this year. I’m just itching to see the looks of awe on their soft little faces when they set their eyes upon Santa’s gifts. Chi-Chi and Muffy will be the lucky recipients of an adorable farm play set. The Wool Fairy created the landscape from scraps of rug hooking wool she retrieved from the cedar chest in the basement . She hand-dyed the wool fabric to create a mat of beautiful colors and interesting texture. Hubby was assigned to barn design and construction. We are low in the tool department, but he worked with what was available and produced a sweet maple barn, complete with the cutest chicken coop ever! I fell in love with the works of Jalu Toys of British Columbia so I treated the boys to a few special animals for the play set, 2 chickens, a family of ducks and a mama and baby deer. The detail and workmanship on these pieces are amazing!

Just two sleeps left and we finally get to unveil our finished product! Thirty years may have passed but no doubt, I'll still be the first in line at the top of the stairs on Christmas morning.....waiting for that thumbs up!

Merry Christmas to everyone!  Wishing you all a relaxing, warm and joyful holiday!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Having a Ball...

Though our family’s vacation this past summer was lovely, it was certainly a wet and wild one! With two active and curious boys, it didn’t take long for us to go a little stir crazy confined within the four cottage walls. The inclement weather opened the door to opportunities and activities we would likely never have signed up for, such as bowling! Every time I go bowling (once every ten years or so), I’m reminded of how much fun it can be. The kids loved it. At just two years old, Muffy in particular impressed us with his skills. And the shoes…..size 7 toddler bowling shoes are ADORABLE!

A couple of weeks ago I was picking up some thread at the local craft shop and I discovered a super deal on hardwood child-size bowling pins. Inspired by our vacation visit to the alley, I couldn’t resist them. They stand six inches tall and polished up quite nicely with a coat of beeswax. (I beeswax everything around here!) I also found a couple of wooden balls to complete the set. When I showed them to Hubby he just laughed. He reminded me that Muffy was recently caught pounding our windows with a wooden toy hammer. Hard wooden balls would not last long before a confiscation would be necessary! I considered using some of our woolen balls but figured they would be a tad light for the job. My best option seemed to incorporate both wood and wool. The result is a set of colorful felt balls with wooden cores. Hard and heavy on the inside, soft and forgiving on the outside! They are perfect!

I have to admit, my attempts to create felted balls in the past were less than successful. I was thrilled to discover a wonderful instructional video on creating felted balls at www.crunchyparent.com. Her step by step instructions were very clear and easy to follow with fool proof results.

I'm "having a ball" picking away at these last minute little Christmas projects this past week. It’s just plain fun being one of Santa's elves and I’m thrilled to be as far away as possible from the dreadful crowded malls. I have no doubt this classic game will be enjoyed by all members of our family for many years to come – not bad for $11 taxes in!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Seek and Destroy

Last Sunday morning I walked into the house to the sight of dear Hubby and the boys “jamming” to the sounds of Metallica’s Seek and Destroy. Hmmmm…. I will chalk it up to male bonding I suppose. In the end Hubby agreed that perhaps the lyrics weren’t exactly “age appropriate” for Chi-Chi and Muffy. Honestly, I doubt these two little guys could decipher one word that was said in the song. The message of “seek and destroy” is not exactly one I’d like to promote around here!

We spent the remainder of Sunday morning venturing on our annual “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Hunt”. Our 16 acres is primarily forested so there is no shortage of trees to choose from. Neighbour friends always join us on the hunt and once again this year, they loaded up their pick-up truck with a striking 12 foot beauty! Though not quite as perfect as a tree lot variety, our tree seems just right and was free to boot!

The children were each able to choose a small personal Christmas tree to call their own. We have a lot of thinning to do in our treed areas so I didn’t feel guilty snipping off a couple of spruce seedlings. Wow! What a treat for the little ones. They spent the rest of the day decorating, undecorating and redecorating their trees. I doubt very much these trees will have one needle left by the time Christmas roles around. I managed to convince Chi-Chi that his tree is meant to stay put in one special spot. I truly believe that Muffy thinks his tree is more of a pet, perhaps that puppy he is wishing for? He lugs it around the house, proudly dragging and displaying it to every visitor who should ring the door bell. Chi-Chi and Muffy are also having loads of fun creating ornaments for their special little seedlings!

In the back of my mind, I was secretly hoping that these kiddie trees would serve as decoys to keep my little monkeys’ interests away from the family tree. My master plan has failed. There has definitely been some “seek and destroy” action going on around here. Not one ornament remains on the bottom 5 feet of my tree! Most have been broken, moved to higher ground or eaten…yes eaten. A few years back I made a batch of “gingerbread” men ornaments. The recipe called for cinnamon, applesauce and glue. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but I was childless back in those days. They look exactly like cookies so who can blame them!

Friday, 12 December 2008

A Feast For Feathered Friends

It’s been a feeding frenzy this past week at our backyard feeders. Perhaps our feathered friends know something the rest of us don’t. I suspect they must be fuelling up for another wallop of snow and frigid temperatures that is inevitably on its way.

Last year our family assisted our avian crew in its fattening up efforts by dishing up a hearty helping of good old-fashioned home cooking. Our bird treats were a huge hit with the backyard birdies and were gobbled up in record time.

With my “Hand Made Christmas” goals in mind, I decided to enlist the services of two very eager little ones to help cross some items off my list. Nature lovers in my life will once again receive a package of homemade treats for their backyard friends. The recipe is extremely simple, but I will warn you that things got incredibly messy! I must be a sucker for punishment (: Chi-Chi and Muffy call it “bird seed play dough” and had loads of fun making cakes and cookies for the birdies. This year I added a little decorative twist by adorning some of the patties with dried seedpods from my flower garden. I picked up some red tulle at the local fabric store to make some festive pouches for the treats. Left over onion or orange bags would also do the trick.

With the final countdown to Christmas well underway, the excitement around our house is certainly building. I’m trying to involve Chi-Chi and Muffy in the preparations as much as possible. This feels like no small feat as I’m currently battling some back troubles that are definitely slowing me down. Our “holiday activities” sometimes feel like make-work projects for one sore and tired Mama! Despite my grumblings, I feel very strongly that Chi-Chi and Muffy need to fulfill their holiday “responsibilities”. My hope is that by hand-making gifts for their loved ones, they will appreciate the giving aspect of the season instead of completely obsessing over Santa’s upcoming visit. This might sound like a tall order for my little two and three year olds, but I do believe we are making progress around here! I guess my pain and MAJOR clean up efforts will be worth it in the end!

My only concern at this point is whether there will be anything left for the birds once Mr. Squirrel has finished his turn at the buffet. Based on my past dealings with this critter, I'm not holding my breath!

Resisting Temptations...

Before Hubby and I planted our roots and built a home on Seaside Farms, we lived in some very, VERY tiny one-bedroom apartments. As two newly married frugal accountants, we were penny pincher extraordinaires.

As any homeowner would tell you, spending habits go through the roof before you even sign the dotted line. The term money pit comes to mind. A completely rotten deck railing, a full septic tank, pealing paint, a broken washing machine - just a few general household maintenance items to hit the books in 2008. My review of the past twelve months reveals a number of unbudgeted temptations I could not seem to pass up during the year – my beloved chicken coop, a painting for that horrid blank spot on the wall and more wool than any human being (fairy or not) could possibly burn through in a year.

The temptations are always lurking behind a corner, waiting to pounce on me in a weak moment. One such temptations resides in my basement. The cold, dusty concrete floors and the bare dismal walls scream at me to be finished. I dream of a cozy, finished basement space. I’ve even got an antique store counter hanging in the rafters of an Annapolis Valley barn, waiting to be transformed into the most amazing craft counter/wrapping center. A finished basement is not even on my budget’s radar. It’s at the very bottom of my never-ending wish list.

We are currently in the midst of a very wet and windy weather system. As a result, our time outdoors has been limited. There are times I fear my Chi-Chi and Muffy will literally be swept off to sea in the fierce winds we are experiencing. When in need of a change of scenery, we head down to the basement. Though the space is dark and dismal in my eyes, the children see a place they can completely let loose. They can run, shout, ride their bikes, swing and get good and messy!!! Only in an unfinished basement can they paint the walls and floors (and themselves) without one cautionary word from mommy. My only rule is no eating paint!

So for the time being I'm able to witness the silver lining in my doomy unfinished basement. I will continue to battle off the temptations on this one! I better make it pretty clear to these two monkeys that the basement rules differ drastically from the upstairs rules. Otherwise I may end up with a new paint job in my living room. I'm not a big fan of black and hot pink!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

A Cozy Corner for the Critters

Hubby had a “work from home day”, which is always a treat for the whole family. It certainly gives him a nice break from his fast-paced office environment. Although he spends most of the day tucked away in the home office, Chi-Chi, Muffy and I always look forward to a few rounds of “Huggy Bug” during coffee breaks! Since he had a conference call scheduled this evening with a West Coast client, he took some time this afternoon to enjoy the snowy weather with the boys and I. A quick glance at tomorrow’s forecast revealed our winter wonderland would not be around much longer so it was best to take advantage!

Growing up in Northern New Brunswick, there was never a shortage of the white stuff during our winter months. Many would argue that we had more than our fair share, but as a child it opened the door to so many wonderful activities – both creative and physical. Bundled up in my puffy pink snowsuit, I spent countless hours digging elaborate snow fort and tunnel systems, losing myself in a world of make believe. Family activities included downhill skiing, skating at the outdoor rink down the street and snowshoeing in the quiet winter woods. Snowshoeing was perhaps my favorite of our recreational endeavors. This may have had something to do with the steaming hot chocolate my mother always packed for our journey.

Winter is a magical time of year to sit still in the woods and simply enjoy nature. The snowy blanket reveals the stories of forest friends who traveled the path before us. The boys love retracing the tracks of the little creatures that reside with us on Seaside Farms – pheasant, squirrel, mice, deer, bunnies and fox. I strongly believe Chi-Chi and Muffy need to get outside everyday, even if it is just for a short spell. These active little boys seem to have a physical need to stretch their legs, soak up some sunlight and breathe clean fresh air. The winter winds blow strong and cold on our hilltop location. What better place to hide away on a blustery day than “The Camp”? Tucked away under the branches of a patch of spruce trees , Hubby and the boys built a special hiding place. Luckily for me, they did not post a “No Girls Allowed” sign (yet!). This is a wonderful spot to snuggle up and absorb the magic of the winter woods.

It appears that Chi-Chi and Muffy are not the only critters seeking out a snuggly spot this winter. A little squirrel seems to have found a cozy corner in our BBQ. It looks like someone may have raided The Wool Fairy’s stash. Check out the bits of wool used to build this cozy nest. It looks to me like a lusciously soft merino wool –perfect to cuddle up with on a frigid winter day! At least the little guy has good taste!

Friday, 5 December 2008

The Urge to Purge

The calendar may say December but my mind is on spring today…spring cleaning to be more specific. Every year, as the holiday season approaches, I find myself feeling smothered by all the miscellaneous “stuff” in our lives. The urge to purge becomes overwhelming! I usually find myself on a de-cluttering rampage this time of year. One would think that with my regular purging routines our house would be bare. Amazingly, the “stuff” continues to creep and sneak its way into our lives. With the gift-giving season drawing near, I sense a desperate need to sort through our current belongings, removing unwanted, useless, dirty and broken items to make room for the new “stuff”. (Hubby, if you are reading this, you might want to hide away some of your precious possessions because nothing is sacred around here!) Hubby thinks I sometimes go overboard, but I can honestly only think of one or two things I ever regretted sending off to the goodwill shop.

Of course, avoiding the acquisition of “stuff” is truly the answer to all of my frustrations. This year, my husband and I are not exchanging Christmas gifts….nothing, zero, zip! We made a pact and I hope he lives up to his end of the bargain. I have absolutely nothing hiding in the back of my closet to pull out at the last minute! The little ones are getting a few special things, all of which are well thought out and made to last. I’ve been sorting through their current belongings, setting aside items they have outgrown or completely destroyed (!!) in order to make room for their gifts.

Last January, our family’s new year’s resolution was to question every purchase. Our plan was to achieve three goals: reduce spending, reduce clutter and limit environmentally damaging consumerism. I’m a pretty frugal and self-disciplined person, but it is so easy to fall prey to the limitless temptations. I have good months and bad months with this one! I have a weakness for wool, evidenced by my ever-growing yarn stash. The best defense against my consumer cravings is to steer clear of the stores. As soon as I walk into a shop, I inevitably discover all sorts of wonderful things I didn’t even know I desperately needed and wanted!!

With Chi-Chi and Muffy underfoot 99.99% of the time, my cleaning efforts are moving at a snail’s pace. The old me could conquer every nook and cranny of the house in a day. The new mommy me is approaching the task with baby steps. My goal is to declutter one cupboard a day! It may not sound very ambitious, but my little Tasmanian devil certainly makes the process a bit of a challenge.

“Question every purchase” will be back on the list for 2009. Yikes! There is certainly room for improvement!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

A Cure for Homesickness

I’m feeling a little sick on this damp, chilly December day. The heaviness in my heart seems to indicate that I’ve contracted a mild case of homesickness. The changing of the seasons inevitably stirs up memories of childhood. Wasn’t it just a few years ago that I was hopping off the school bus, racing through the front door to give Mommy a big hug and kiss? Before running off to climb a tree or ride my bike, I’d plop down at the kitchen table and nibble on carrot sticks and apple juice, reciting the exciting events of my day to eager ears. How did the time zoom by at such lighting speed? How is it possible that I am now on the receiving end of after school kisses (ok, just preschool)? And my own dear mother, answering to the name Nanny? What’s going on here?

I decided to serve up a healthy dose of comfort food to cure my homesick blues. I enlisted the aid of Chi-Chi and Muffy and whipped up a batch of my all-time favorite after school snack – Michipicoten Sea Biscuits. They’ve been a favorite in my family for as long as I can remember. My parents used to pack them along on sailing trips in the family boat, The Michipicoten, named after a river in Northern Ontario where my father grew up. I have no idea where the recipe originated. A vague image of a tattered old copy of one of those “Ladies Auxiliary" cookbooks comes to mind. Anyway, they are certainly not low in fat or sugar, but they do include some yummy and healthy ingredients such as sunflower seeds and wheat germ.

Chi-Chi and Muffy had loads of fun baking cookies. The sight of Chi-Chi carefully and delicately cracking eggs is beautiful to watch. Muffy on the other hand, is a bit of a tasmanian devil in the kitchen! I can't help but laugh at his borderline "naughty" endeavors. I may be biased, but there isn’t anything much cuter than these two monkeys running around in their aprons. Chi-Chi’s cooking attire includes a chef’s hat but little Muffy is missing this essential element of the kitchen uniform. Chi-Chi declared that Santa will have to pack one in his sack for little brother. Of course, Santa’s got it covered. I purchased this adorable hat made by a Canadian mom in British Columbia – the lady behind SillyCon Designs. The child-size egg beater I picked up will also be a bit hit with Mommy’s little helper!

So I sat myself down this afternoon and munched on a bunch of carrot sticks, a tasty homemade sea biscuit and a tall glass of cold apple juice. I actually feel much better! I guess reminiscing about the past helped put me in touch with the present.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Santa Pulls Through...

I’ve had Christmas on the brain for so many months that it is hard to believe that December has finally arrived and we are in the final stretch. I’m certainly not one of those people doing their Christmas shopping in July! This year I decided I would be making as many gifts as possible. In order to achieve this goal, there was definitely some planning involved! Hand-making gifts can be a rather slow process so I needed to allow myself plenty of time. Last year on December 12th I came up with the bright idea that I would knit both my mother and sister a poncho for Christmas. Ha! It’s a year later and those ponchos remain a mere image in my mind.

When devising my gift lift, I also vowed to steer clear of all malls and big box stores. I hate, hate, hate the malls and during this rushed, busy time of year, they are more unbearable than ever. I had no problem sourcing beautiful, unique and handmade items for the little ones. I declared my shopping done and my goal achieved until Chi-Chi informed me that Santa was going to bring him a child-size wheelbarrow as his special gift. Yikes! How on earth was I going to stick to my guns on this one? The only one I could find in town was the John Deere brand child’s wheelbarrow made by RC2 Corporation. RC2 Corporation rang a fire alarm bell in my head of course ….being the makers of those lead tainted Thomas trains! No, I’m not worried about Chi-Chi and Muffy chewing the paint off the wheelbarrow, but something inside me (utter disgust) prevents me from wanting to support this company. What a dilemma! Which should suffer – my child’s faith in Santa or my personal ethical standards?

Well, it was my lucky day! In my frantic search for a wheelbarrow I did a scan through the local Kijiji classifieds. I could not believe my eyes!! A handmade child’s wheelbarrow made by a local woodworker popped up on my screen. The ad stated it was the very last one he had available. Due to the high cost of quality wood and the amount of labour involved, he felt it was no longer worth his effort to produce them. He felt people simply weren’t interested in or willing to pay a fair price. This saddened my heart even more when I read the family history behind this dear little LaHave Child's Wheelbarrow. The production of the LaHave Child’s Wheelbarrow began 50 years ago in Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia by the man’s carpenter father. This soft-hearted man had the two very last ones produced on hand – one for sale and one to keep for himself. I did a bit of begging and pleading and convinced him to sell me both – one for Chi-Chi and one for Muffy! Santa pulled through for me!!

I do hope this friendly man has a change of heart and continues to make a few of these special wheelbarrows. I have no doubt I’m not the only one who values a solid, quality handcrafted item made with care and attention to detail. The story and history behind the design and the makers of the wheelbarrow makes it even more special and endearing. I have no doubt my grandchildren will one day enjoy these sweet and solid LaHave child wheelbarrows!