Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Stockings Were Hung...

Yes, it is most definitely too early to be hanging one's stocking! That being said, I hung a whopping twenty four of them this morning. I've been eagerly awaiting December 1st which marks the beginning of Advent. For the past month and a half I've been chipping away at an Advent calendar for our family. This is not something we had in my home growing up, but I am anticipating it will be a fun and warm tradition in the years to come.

Anyone who knows Chi-Chi and Muffy personally might be chuckling a little. Hubby actually laughed out loud when he saw I had hung it within reach of the wee ones. My own dear mother also had a good laugh at the thought of my two little co-conspirators patiently waiting to discover each treasure day by day. I'm hoping they will be able to restrain themselves and demonstrate respect for our special calendar. I'm also fully aware that the temptation might just be too much for my 3 and 4 year old monkeys to bear. As a result, I will stuff the pockets one day at a time. We are getting things rolling with a set of new toothbrushes, a rather appropriate item for the treats this month will bring!

The idea for this project came from various sources including Martha Stewart and Uncommon Grace. It didn't take me long to gather the supplies as most of them were on hand. The stockings were cut from recycled wool cloth compliments of my rug hooking stash and a great old thrifted wool blanket. Embellishments included everything from vintage buttons to ribbon scraps to wool felt. The most intimidating aspect of the project was the embroidery work it entailed. A quick demo from my mom and a book loaned from a friend got me started. Since this was my first attempt at embroidery, it is far from perfect. Even Chi-Chi got in on the creative action. His sweet little hands sewed together two of the stockings in a lovely whip stitch. Those two stockings are by far my favorite and the most meaningful. I think it is wonderful that he left his personal mark on this special family tradition.

I've been both gathering and creating little treasures to include in the pockets each day. I've made an effort to include some "non material" items such as coupons for "Family Cookie Baking Day" and "Nighttime Ride to See Christmas Lights". I don't want it to focus too heavily on "getting something". There will definitely be the odd chocolate or candy cane in there as well as some handmade trinkets and ornaments. I'm a little short of twenty four so any good ideas would be welcome!

The little monkeys will be home in less than an hour. Any bets on how long it stays hung? (:

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A Quick Knit Hit

I spent a good chunk of this past weekend as a couch potato. Poor little Chi-Chi came down with a nasty tummy bug on Saturday night. As a result, he was flaked out on the couch for the day, dozing, resting, nibbling Popsicles and watching a couple of movies (a very special treat!). With my boy feeling miserable, I parked myself next to him for the majority of the day to keep him company and provide a dose of comfort when needed. Thank goodness it was the weekend and Daddy was around to keep high-energy Muffy occupied and content.

I found myself with idle hands in desperate need of a project! After a quick Internet pattern search and a rummage through my wool stash, I came up with the perfect pick-me-up for my Chi-Chi. Every Santa-loving boy needs his own custom made Santa hat! I chose this free pattern from Lion Brand and made a few adjustments based on the wool and needles I had selected. By the end of the day the hat was complete and put into action by a perked up little boy.

So, just 30 days and counting until Christmas! We are in full blown holiday mode in these parts. I turned my back for a minute this morning and discovered my little monkey had dug this out of the basement. What, might you ask, is this bedraggled looking thing? It's Chi-Chi's personal Christmas tree from last year of course (minus the needles). Recycling at it's best! That's my boy (:

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

My Anti-Aging Solution

Despite the fact I've got a holiday crafting list that might even give "Martha" a fright, I simply can't stop myself these days. It's often the spontaneous "in the moment" ideas that are the most fun and rewarding. As the boys grow older, it is fascinating to sit back and quietly observe the creative play scenarios as they evolve and take shape.

On a chilly afternoon last week I found my two very rambunctious monkeys quietly cuddled up with all the "babies" they could get their hands on, playing the game of family. Well, my heart melted of course! With a ball of yarn and crochet hook in hand, I found myself fiddling away until I came up with this simple little set of itty bitty babies to add to the clan. I dug out these tiny baskets I had picked up at the thrift store to provide the new babies with a spot to nap. It always amazes me that a few plain and simple items can unlock their imaginations. What fun the babies had that day, travelling by boat to Singapore, as well as participating in some serious potty training.

Another recent project was inspired by Muffy. Ever since my birthday a few weeks ago, the little guy has been throwing elaborate parties for me several times a day. While doing some on-line Xmas browsing, I stumbled on this wooden cake set and immediately knew Muffy would adore it. A bit of tinkering in the workshop lead to the creation of a festive little wooden cake for the play kitchen. I realize I probably should have waited until Christmas to give this gift, but I couldn't resist. Besides, it always seems these special handmade items are most appreciated when the distractions of a holiday are not present. It seemed the perfect gift for an ordinary Saturday morning with the family.

Although it is very rewarding to witness the enjoyment my children experience with my hand-made creations, it is more satisfying to see the skills I'm handing down to them. Last week I heard some squealing going on and discovered two very excited little boys digging through our kindling box. What I had considered woodworking scraps were apparently undiscovered treasures. Who knew there was a leaf blower and a power drill hiding among the sawdust and wood chips? Some glue, sequins and a bit of sandpaper quickly transformed some bits of wood into some of the best homemade toys around here. Hubby will soon be getting in on the action. He signed up for a very ambitious Christmas project...though I'm not sure he knows what he's in for!

The most brilliant aspect of the birthday cake? It possesses an anit-aging agent! It has a four year age restriction designed into it...how perfect is that?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Fun with Felt

We've been so blessed with a streak of gorgeous, sun-filled fall days this past week. As I enjoy my morning cup of peppermint tea at the picnic table, the boys are enjoying a chance to stretch their limbs and voices in the warm sun. It's so wonderful to witness lots of creative action unfolding in our much-loved sandbox.

In preparation for the much cooler weather that awaits us, my brainstorming sessions these days have focused on indoor activities for the wee ones. A recent crafting adventure lead me to the creation of a felt "story board". This was a simple twenty minute project which involved glueing a large piece of craft felt to a prepared blank canvas from the art-supply store. The real fun began, of course, once I started creating felt pieces to stick to the board. Wow! The possibilities are endless! I started out with the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and quickly moved on to "The Gruffulo" and "The Very Hungry Caterpillar". The kids are having a ball telling their own verions of these tales with lots of interesting and quirky twists. Armed with a good pair of scissors and my felt stash, Chi-Chi went to work creating his very own characters and objects. It certainly adds a touch of visual fun to story time and it also serves as a useful interactive learning tool.

For anyone interested in trying this out, I purchased acrylic felt from my local craft store. The Wool Fariy desparately wanted to use wool felt for the project, but sadly it seemed too heavy to stick to the board. I was, however, able to find some eco-felt made from post-consumer plastic bottles and was very pleased with the results.

My blogging these days has fallen down a few rungs on my list of priorities. With the holiday season fast approaching, I've got a project wish list that seems to be growing by the hour. I've been rotating my precious free time between the scroll saw, sewing machine and knitting needles. It looks like this Christmas elf has some serious overtime hours ahead of her over the next month!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Antiquing....Montessori Style!

A month or so ago, my dear mother came to spend the day with the kiddies so Hubby and I could have some much-coveted adult time. This past summer, our family travelled to Londonderry, Nova Scotia to pick up a couple of baby chicks at Active Life Farm. It had been years since we last visited this region of the province. Our quick day trip gave me the itch to venture back to the area for a leisurely day of poking around. Before the arrival of Chi-Chi and Muffy, Hubby and I spent quite a bit of time exploring this beautiful part of our province. It's perhaps not as well-known as the South Shore or the Annapolis Valley, but with it's untouched raw beauty it is definitely on my list of most magnificent places to visit.

With Mom's generous services booked for the day, Hubby and I hit the road for a day of sightseeing, antiquing, eating and uninterrupted conversation - a true luxury in these parts! With no little ones in tow, we spent a few hours poking and sifting through the various antique shops in the area. We came home with a fabulous deal on a screen door for our home. Though we were apart for the day, Chi-Chi and Muffy were in our thoughts and apparently on my shopping list as well. I stumbled on a solid wood, vintage high chair for a mere $14! I took a triple take on the price tag and snatched up this awesome deal. Though the children use their own child-sized table for breakfast, lunch and snacks, we always dine at the family table for supper. This chair gives Muffy the boost he needs to sit properly at the table. Now we just need to figure out how to get the ants out of his pants so he can sit still!

I also came across this old medicine cabinet and thought it would be a perfect fit in the boys' bathroom. We hung it at an appropriate height for the wee ones. Though it might look rather strange to an outside observer, it's simply perfect. In no time, Chi-Chi had it filled and organized with all the toiletry essentials - toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, deodorant (!) and a stuffed monkey. I think it gave him a sense of independence in the bathroom and I notice he is taking more care in his grooming efforts as a result. I've now made plans to hang child-height mirrors in several locations throughout our home. Why had I not considered this before? I was always using step stools instead of bringing items down to their level. It looks like my Montessori Makeover remains a work in progress!

So, it was my "day off" and it seems all we did was talk about the wee ones. Ah, but at least it was uninterrupted...such a luxury indeed!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Tales from the Pumpkin Patch

When the cool autumn air blows my way, there is one place in the world I simply need to go - the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. Truth be told, it holds a special place in my heart any time of the year, but the fall harvest season seems to pull at my heartstrings the most. It's a bit of a second home for me and has been a place for making memories for most of my life. From summer horseback riding camp in Granville Ferry, to university days at Acadia, to my wedding in Grand Pre, the Valley has been a constant for me. Luckily, my parents moved to the area three years ago and there's always a vacancy at "The Inn" at a very fair price!! Last week, I found myself in need of a dose of Valley air. With Hubby away for the night, the wee ones and I packed up the old car and headed to Nanny and Graga's for a quick, but fun-filled adventure.

Every now and then, I find myself in a situation so perfect and wonderful that I want to freeze time. Ironically none of these moments ever fall into those cliche "greatest days of my life" categories. Though key moments such as my wedding and the birth of my children were incredibly joyful, they were also filled with anxieties (and great pain in the case of the later!!). These moments of perfection, where I find myself in a state of calm contentment and joy, are rarely pre-planned and just seem to unfold naturally. In the last few years, these special times seem to occur when watching my children experience pure joy, wonder and amazement over the simplest and most natural things. Chi-Chi's first time pond skating last winter comes to mind. A family walk this past summer along the sand bars of Youghall beach was another such perfect moment in time. Our recent visit to a local pumpkin patch also falls into this category. My parents and I took Chi-Chi and Muffy pumpkin picking at Willowbank Farm. Since we were visiting on a Friday, we had the pumpkin patch to ourselves. We went home with a trunk load of pumpkins, much more than anyone could possibly need. I simply didn't have the heart to stop Chi Chi's enthusiastic harvest. He was hauling them on his shoulder back to the car faster than Graga could load them! After the picking, we strolled along the edge of farm fields for a nature walk. It was a blustery day as Chi-Chi and Muffy ran, squealed and danced in the whirlwind of falling leaves. Children provide such a fresh perspective on the simple joys in life. I'm so lucky to be able to spend so much of my time with these two sweet boys who open my eyes to simple pleasures on a daily basis.

Our fun didn't end at the pumpkin patch! Once we arrived home, I went into Montessori Mama mode and set up a great practical life pumpkin washing station for the boys. This was a batch of very dirty pumpkins I tell you! The next day, Daddy got in on the action and helped fashion a cute family of pumpkin people to greet visitors on the front step. We've still got lots leftover for Halloween Jack-O-Lanterns.

So, with the Thanksgiving Weekend nearly upon us, I'm in the mood for a bit more Valley air. Of we go again for another dose of beautiful surroundings, great company and my mom's fabulous turkey dinner.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Back to Earth

I woke up this morning to the sound of wind and rain pounding against the window. After yesterday's boisterous birthday bash, I actually welcomed the cozy, darkened mood of this wet and blustery day. The boys and I spent the morning coming back to earth after such an eventful weekend. While I sat snuggled up with my tea, Chi-Chi and Muffy occupied themselves with some great new books, new toys and half-deflated balloons!

Around noon, I decided it was finally time to shed my PJ's and emerge from our cave. I'm entering a few items in the Annual Surf Art Show at the Laughleton Gallery in West Chezzetcook and I needed to deliver my goodies. The show opens this Saturday and runs until November 1. The show is described as a celebration of surfing, the waves, coastal life, the ocean and seaside people. It's a creative gathering of surfers and non-surfers (like myself) from the community who all share a love of life by the ocean. As in the past, I'm entering a selection of my hooked rugs. These were a few I hooked earlier in the year, during the cold winter months where the boys and I found ourselves playing endless hours of basement hockey. I thought I'd add a little twist to my contribution this year by entering some of my hand-dyed wool skeins. I chose a collection of ocean inspired hues. My basket is overflowing with some Sea Lettuce, Low Tide, Seafoam, Tidepool, Stormy Seas and my favorite, Rainbow Haven Beach! If you live in the area and are in search of some fun on Saturday, I encourage you to check out the show. The beautiful drive down the Eastern Shore alone makes the trip worthwhile.

Upon returning to our cozy little nest, some quiet time was enjoyed by all. I love this shot of little Muffy snuggled up in his mama-made cozy kit. The bithday garbage truck most definitely had the spotlight at the party. Now that the dust has settled, I'm happy to see my little guy enjoying this special gift.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

A Gift for my Cuddle Bug

This weekend, our family will be gathering to celebrate sweet Muffy’s third birthday! The festivities will be fun yet simple. My bug lovin’ boy’s only request is a stinkbug cake! Yes, there is going to be some creative baking going on this weekend. I’ll likely whip up my favorite chocolate zucchini cake recipe and do a bit of dissecting. He’s pretty particular about his bugs so I better get it right!

I’ve been chipping away at a very special gift for my little cuddle bug. With the cooler weather creeping in on us, I thought he could use his very own “cuddle kit” to keep him cozy and warm this winter. I set to work on creating a wool comforter/duvet and I’m so pleased with the results, I want one for myself! I used this tutorial as a starting point for the project. My goal was to source as much of it as possible from used materials. I purchased a bat of wool for the lining and sandwiched it between two repurposed bed sheets. I tied yarn at regular intervals to keep the wool from shifting and bunching. Because my little stinkbug can actually be little on the “stinky” side, a washable cover was an absolute must! I still had some sheeting left over from my curtain project so I paired it up with some new velvety soft flannel to create a cover. I’ve fallen in love with this quilt! It’s so soft and cozy and has an incredible weight and warmth to it. It measures 60" by 60", which seems just about perfect. I picture many hours of snuggling and cuddling under this blanket over the years, curled up with a few good books and a comforting serving of milk. To complete the “cuddle kit”, we purchased Muffy his own sheepskin rug. Chi-Chi received one a few years ago and it’s been a favorite spot to play or read. Since these rugs really only fit one child at a time, I though Muffy deserved his own.

I’m well aware that a handmade blanket does not classify as the most exciting gift for a three-year-old boy! I little birdie told me a shiny, new garbage truck just might be Muffy’s near future. Certainly, he’ll be over the moon about that truck! Though the cuddle kit lacks in the fun and flashy department, I know it will have lasting value and provide endless hours of comfort and love to my boy for a long time to come. My childhood blanket, “Ticky Bing-Bing”, is with me to this day! Ticky is now a mere ball of threads, but I still pull him out now and then and give him a hug. I may not tote him around like I used to, but the fond memories of him remain with me forever. He was a constant source of comfort for me as a child. The night I went into labour with Chi-Chi, I actually pulled out dear Ticky for a little dose of soothing

So, I hope my little stinkbug loves his special gift. If he doesn’t, I know someone who’d be happy to call it her own!!!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Autumn's Arrival

It's almost official! My calendar tells me that Autumn will make it's grand entrance tomorrow, though it has been making it's approach well known with crisp mornings and cool nights. We're blessed with blue skies and sunshine in our neck of the woods today. With Chi-Chi in preschool for the day, little Muffy and I are off to perform some clean up duties in the garden, and likely a bit of bug hunting as well.

I'm looking forward to getting out in the fresh air! I was feeling a little under the weather this past weekend so focused most of my efforts inside the four cozy walls of our home. With a batch of apple sauce on the stove, the boys and I set to work on revamping the family's seasonal nature table. Some of the bits of summer were tucked away in favor of autumn inspired objects. Anyone who owns a copy of Amanda Soule's latest book Handmade Home is likely familiar with the "fibre garland" project. Drawing inspiration from this idea, we cut leaf shapes from my rug hooking stash and created a set of vibrant garland to add some festive flair to the table. Chi-Chi in particular enjoyed this activity. He used a blunt darning needle to do the stringing and had no problem piercing the wool fabric. I crafted a few new items myself including a fall-foliage dyed playsilk and an autumn tree puzzle. My handmade wooden toys always add a bit of fun to the table. Muffy in particular loves playing make believe with them. In no time he was placing falling felt leaves under the tree to help in the decorating. The nature table has been such a huge success in our home, helping the whole family gain awareness of the gifts of each season.

With a whopping seven cords of firewood piled neatly in the backyard, my mind has also been on the upcoming wood stove season. Though it's a bit too early to light the stove just yet, I've been doing a bit of planning for those cozy reading sessions by the warmth of the fire. This past summer we picked up a couple of child's rocking chairs on our antiquing adventures. I recently did a bit of furniture rearranging to incorporate a rocking/reading nook into the living room. I thought the space could use an extra touch of comfort and warmth so I set to work on set of hooked chair pads for the little chairs. Though I actually started these chair pads over a month ago, I finally put the final touches on them this weekend. I've definitely neglected my rug hooking frame the past nine months so this was a nice fast and simple project to ease myself back into it. Chi-Chi and Muffy were quite pleased with the extra bit of padding for their little bums!

In the meantime, I think I'll throw on a pair of shorts and a tank top and get out to soak up the sun. Though the calendar tells me it's fall, I'm hoping to take advantage of the lingering hints of summer that still remain!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Every Rose has its....Rose Hip!

As a gardener living close to the majestic, yet unforgiving Atlantic Ocean, I'm always in search of plants that can sustain harsh seaside conditions. Through trial and error, I've managed to grow a rather eye pleasing perennial garden of flowers and shrubs that can hold their own against the bitter cold, wicked winds and stinging salt spray. Our rugosa rose bushes in particular have been very successful. Nothing pleases my nose more than their heavenly scent during an early-morning stroll through our garden path. With autumn drawing near, the beautiful pink blossoms of the summer have been replaced by plump, bright red fruit - rose hips.

Until recently, I had only admired rose hips for their beauty and the cheerful splash of color they added to my fall garden. Little did I know the culinary treat that I had growing in my own front yard! A long-time gardener friend introduced me to their edible nature after she enthusiastically picked a ripe red hip and began to nibble on it. Of course, I joined in on the fun and was pleasantly surprised by their tasty apple-like flavor. A few Google searches later and I had big plans to make my homegrown batch of rose hip jelly.

Despite a few thorns in my side, I was able to pick a few quarts in no time. Not only did I make a delicious batch of jelly, I even had enough left over to make yummy rose hip cake. Ironically, the cake recipe was supplied by Chi-Chi and Muffy, directly from the pages of one of their favorite story books, A Whole Day Full of Surprises from The Adventures of Broughton Bear series. My gardener friend (who has more patience than I do) seeded a basket of rose hips and popped them in the blender with a dash of honey. She claims it makes a very tasty topping to her morning yogurt. I just might give this a try!

As a bonus, rose hips are an excellent source of Vitamin C! With cold and flu season on its way, a little extra Vitamin C in the house might not be a bad idea. I've still got lots left to dry for a healthy and tasty cup of tea during the colder months.

Now I'm starting to wonder what other tasty treats are hiding in my flower garden....any suggestions?

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Preliminary Preparations...

There is an undeniable hint of autumn in the air this past week. The cool mornings have me grabbing a warm sweater and woolly slippers for my morning cup of tea on the deck. Though I feel a sense of sadness to see the summer depart, I do look forward to the fall season. I dream of cuddling by the wood stove, eating crunchy apples and soaking up the golden hues around us.

The slight shift in the seasons has me instinctively preparing for the long, cold Nova Scotia winter ahead. My dye pot has seen lots of action over the last few weeks. A colorful set of skeins has already been delivered to my good friend April. In the near future, some very cute woolly goodness is going to be on the shelves at her shop. I can't wait to see the final product!! Of course, I could not neglect the cold weather needs of my own wee ones. I mixed up a recipe for this lovely shade of "sea lettuce" green and have been busy knitting up a new fall sweater for Chi-Chi. This is attempt number FOUR so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for success. My knitting to do list is growing by the day - hats, mittens, scarves for all members of the family.

I've also been tucking away bits of summer to pull out on the coldest and dreariest of days. The upcoming fall season has me dreaming of the yummy sauces, soups and stews that will be keeping us warm from the inside out. I purchased the most gorgeous organic tomatoes from our local CSA, Taproot Farms. I spent last evening blanching, peeling, chopping and freezing these sweet and tasty gems. On a bleak day in late January, I'm certain I will appreciate my efforts. I'm anticipating some seriously good Friday night spaghetti suppers in my future. I froze them in increments of 28 fl oz, the same size as a standard can of tomatoes. What a tasty and healthy alternative to the sodium-laden canned variety.

With the sun shining today, I'm off enjoy summer in all its glory! Fruit pop anyone?

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The Blueberry Binge

Anyone who knows me personally is well aware of my love affair with strawberries. I am certain I inherited the "strawberry gene", handed down for at least four generations. I am always the first and last customer at the local berry stand. This year alone, I froze a whopping forty eight boxes, not to mention the thirty six I ate. Seriously, I'm not exaggerating!

When the beloved strawberry season draws to a close, I always feel a bit of sadness, which is quickly replaced by excitement and anticipation. While I can thank my mother's side of the family for the "strawberry gene", my passion for blueberries comes from my father's blood lines. Many moons ago, my father and his mother spent their August days picking wild blueberries in the bush of Northern Ontario. In the company of black bears and swarms of black flies, they picked in order to preserve a supply of this summer treat for the cold Northern winters. For those who have read Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal ...there is a lot of truth to the story of the bear!

So, with blueberry season in full swing, I packed up the kids, hit the road and headed for Blueberry Acres in the Annapolis Valley. Joining forces with Nanny and Graga, our crew was able to accumulate thirty pounds of berries in about an hour. Chi-Chi picked with great intensity and contributed half a bucket to the cause. Muffy picked with great intensity and contributed not a single berry. He did, however, fill his big growing belly to the very top! Have you ever read Peter in Blueberry Land? Honestly, I felt as though I had shrunk into a gnome as the berries were almost the size of small apples and so delightfully tasty!

Remembering those childhood summers in the bush, my father wondered aloud what his mother would have thought of our modern day blueberry adventure - a ride in a cushy air-conditioned bus to the field, berries the size of small apples and not a single fly in sight. Ok, I have to admit, I feel like a bit of a sell-out picking cultivated berries (though it was great fun). I do plan on taking the wee ones on an excursion to pick the wild variety. There is something to be said for "real" blueberry picking and the act of foraging the forest for nature's candy. I certainly want Chi-Chi and Muffy to grow up knowing how to seek, identify and enjoy the real deal.

Our bowls and bellies are not the only things filled to the brim with blueberries lately. Our reading list has also taken on a blue tinge. In addition to the previously mentioned titles, a favorite at story hour these days is A Whole Day of Surprises in the Adventures of Broughton Bear series written by Nova Scotia author, Susan Atkinson-Keen. I'm always on the lookout for local children's books and this series in particular is both engaging, interesting and informative.

Our schedule for next week includes yet another trip to Blueberry Acres. Let the berry binge go on I say. Milk it while it lasts!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Blossoming Beautifully

While we might associate learning with school days, I've witnessed first-hand the growth and development that naturally unfold during the so-called lazy days of summer. Our short Nova Scotia summers force all of us to take advantage of any opportunity to enjoy these warmer months of the year. Chi-Chi and Muffy are most often out the door before I even have a chance to brush my teeth or take a sip of my morning tea. These little guys are living life to the fullest this summer - drinking up the sun, getting up close and personal with nature and stretching and challenging their young growing bodies.

With a schedule free of set plans, both little guys have spent the last two months following their hearts' desires. We may have spent our winter playing hockey, but the true passion this summer is cycling. Chi-Chi and Muffy have approached cycling with an incredible amount of focus and tenacity. They have spent untold hours cycling around our meager two-car garage! As a result of their passionate efforts, both boys have crossed some significant milestones this summer. Sweet little Muffy, determined to keep up the pace with older brother, learned to pedal his two-wheel bike. Chi-Chi recently shed his training wheels. This is a memorable milestone in any child's development and I remember this specific childhood moment in my own life quite vividly. The pride and sense of accomplishment beams from their grubby little faces as they explore their new-found freedom and independence. As a bystander to all the action, I most often sit quietly and knit, marveling at their inner-drive and self-taught accomplishments. How wonderful to witness the positives resulting from stubborn and strong-willed tendencies that often challenge me as a parent.

Despite the "damp" weather this season, we've also clocked a fair number of hours in the water. Chi-Chi approached his aquatic endeavors with the same focus he took to the bike track. Equipped with a mask and snorkel, he can certainly out swim Mommy with her pathetic dog paddle stroke!

Witnessing the immense amount of self-taught learning both Chi-Chi and Muffy experienced this summer, reinforces my belief that children need unscheduled time. They need time to fiddle and tinker and experiment with the world around them. They need time to discover what they love and do what they love. As a mother, I realize I need to follow their lead at times, allowing them the time they need to pursue their passions.

As the days grow shorter and the mornings cooler, I feel a tad sentimental. We will all hang on tightly to these fleeting summer days. Little Muffy attended his first day of preschool orientation this morning. I jumped at the opportunity to give Chi-Chi some quality one-on-one time, doing something I was certain would fill his heart with joy. After picking up a much needed and coveted kickstand for his set of wheels, I took him down to Point Pleasant Park in the city. He tore up and down the trails like a speed demon. He had Mommy eating dust as she struggled to jog along in her ridiculous flip flops in the thirty degree heat!

So it seems, the flowers in my garden are not the only things blossoming beautifully around here!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Highly Infectious!

I love a good idea! When I heard about this particular one, I just had to get in on all the crafty, thrifty goodness going on. Chi-Chi and Muffy's Montessori teacher set an ambitious goal of stitching up cloth napkins and tablecloths for the classroom. In an effort to reduce her time spent in the laundry room (who can blame her!?) , she wanted enough to cover the five days a week the school is open. I'll let you do the math... 24 students multiplied by 5 days equals some serious time at the sewing machine! I agreed to lend a hand on the project. When she informed me of her brilliant plan to use men's dress shirts for the napkins and thrifted sheets for the tablecloths....well let's just say my level of excitement went up a notch. Brilliant! I wasted no time raiding Hubby's closet for shirts destined for goodwill. Somehow, the notion of finding a new, meaningful purpose for these old shirts breathed new life into the project for me. Chi-Chi and Muffy think it's a hoot that they will be wiping spaghetti sauce off their chins with pieces of Daddy's shirts! These napkins are providing more than just a lesson in table manners. They are giving us all a lesson in being resourceful, frugal and creative.

Ironically, a few days into the napkin project, the post man delivered my much anticipated copy of Amanda Soule's Handmade Home. Soooooooo lovely and inspiring! The combination of the napkin project and the ideas in this book put my mind into creative overdrive. I spent the weekend fitting in bits of stitching wherever and whenever possible. A vintage thrifted sheet was fashioned into a set of long-overdue curtains for the bathroom. Gee, we've only been in the house for five years! Don't worry, the only neighbours with a view of this room are the squirrels and deer.

I created this pared down version of Amanda's Cozy Wall Pockets from an old wool blanket gathering dust in the linen closet. It's a much-needed storage solution for the boys' bathroom reading material. Another quick crafty hit was this set of matching boy/doll felted sweater hats, straight out of Handmade Home. Even Hubby got in on the action and created all the wooden buttons for me from alder branches.

"Ms. M's" napkin project and Handmade Home have inspired me to more thoughtfully consider "repurposing" in my crafty endeavours. I have been doing this for years in my rug hooking, but I'm looking forward to taking it to a new level. Good ideas...they are truly infectious! Any of you out there with a few to spread...this is one bug I don't mind catching!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Colorful Creativity

This morning I pulled out a brand new set of crayons from my art supply stash to add a little excitement to the morning drawing ritual. The metallic shimmering shades of this particular set intrigued the wee ones instantly. Chi-Chi snatched up the gold and silver and immediately set to work scribbling and experimenting with the colors. Before too long, his lines began to take shape and form. Soon he was drawing a family of golden slugs with silvery trails shimmering in the moonlight. (One look at my raggedy garden and it’s not hard to tell where he sought his inspiration for this masterpiece). I always find it fascinating to sit back and quietly observe my little artists at work. Sometimes the color of paint or pencil they choose is irrelevant as they set out with a specific idea or image in their minds. Other times, the color itself initiates the creative process, as was the case with the slugs.

I’ve been busy playing with color myself these last few days, dyeing up a set of rich and vivid skeins that will soon be on its way to Deanne Fitzpatrick's rug hooking studio and shop. My hope is that, just like the brand new box of crayons, the vibrant hues of my skeins will serve as inspiration to others. I’d be curious to see how different people interpret the colors and incorporate my textured yarns into their creations!

My skeins destined for the hooks and hands of rug hookers are most often inspired by the nature that surrounds me – stormy skeins, churning oceans, sunlit fields, autumn leaves. When it comes to dye jobs for little ones, I tend to turn things up a notch in the color department. Rainbows yarn is just plain fun to create and work with. This colorful little pouch resulted from my latest rainbow skein. I couldn’t resist the playful colors as I grabbed my crochet hook and set to work. It stitched up quite quickly and easily. I was careful not to refer to it as a “purse” around dear Hubby, though it would certainly make an adorable purse for a little girl! In our house it serves as a market tote in the play kitchen/store area, as well as a treasure pouch to store bits of nature on our outdoor walks.

Digging through my wool stash, I stumbled on a bland old scratchy skein that was screaming for a makeover. These little rainbow balls of yarn are headed for the sewing basket at Chi-Chi and Muffy’s preschool. I’m assuming the children will find them as attractive and inviting as I do!

You cant' blame this poor girl for craving a little color around here. Being tightly wrapped in a big blanket of coastal fog just might have something to do with it!

Friday, 31 July 2009

Preliminary Preparations...

I'll be the first to admit, it is WAY too early to be making a mere mention of "Back to School". Nonetheless, I found myself involved in a few preparatory activities this past week. Little Muffy will be joining big brother at preschool this fall. In a few weeks, he'll be attending orientation for new students (tears welling up, lump in my throat). I wanted to make the little guy something special to mark this momentous occasion. What better idea than a new little backpack - a must-have on every school boy's list.

This pattern served as inspiration for the project ( I did make a few adjustments to tailor it to Muffy's body). Super simple and super cute! It's just the right size to pack a pair of slippers and a fresh piece of fruit to share for refreshment. It will also make a lovely trail pack for our weekend family hikes - the perfect place to stash a pine cone or beach pebble.

The fabric is a sturdy canvas weight that I purchased from Pick A Petal on Etsy. I had enough left over to make a larger drawstring tote to cart all the other miscellaneous preschool gear - rain pants, extra sweaters and spare undies!

Ok, that's enough silly back-to-school talk for today. Off we go to soak up some summertime fun in the sun (or fog!!)

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Slow Down and Take Notice

Ah, how I love a good book. I've been steering clear of page-turner type novels, however, as once I'm hooked I simply cannot put such books down. These days, sleep is high on my list of priorities. I've been known to pull all nighters when engrossed in a great story!

My latest and greatest read is Calm and Compassionate Children - A Handbook by Susan Usha Dermond. It's chock full of practical suggestions and exercises to both create a calm environment for children and to promote kindness. Though this is something I feel our family has been working towards, there is always room for improvement. Mommy's latest "science experiment" involves the use of calming music. Dare I say it is working?! Perhaps the children really are more relaxed. Perhaps it is Mommy herself who is mellowing out and in a better frame of mind to deal with certain "issues" as they arise!

With two very active boys under my roof, I do work on providing a home environment that is relaxing and peaceful. Like most little ones, Chi-Chi and Muffy definitely have the ability to get a little wild and crazy on me. They also have an amazing ability to focus on something quietly and with great interest and intensity. I find it very interesting to observe these two contrasting states of mind, particularly in an outdoor setting. They do love to run about the yard freely, stretching their bodies and voices to capacity! On the other hand, I often witness them silently observing the nature that surrounds them, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells offered to their senses.

Such was the case yesterday when Chi-Chi and Muffy set off on a backyard exploration expedition. I was busy piling firewood while the little guys were investigating our gigantic mud puddle. Last summer we had some hurricane Juan clean up work done on the property. The machines left behind huge ruts in the earth. The heavy dose of rain this summer has turned the area in a bit of a backyard pond. The tiny ecosystem developing within these mud puddles is really quite remarkable. When I glanced over to check on the wee ones, I found them imobile, observing in complete silence (instead of throwing rocks as I had expected). They were sporting huge smiles on their grubby little faces as they had discovered two green frogs. Because they were in a calm and observant state, they were able to witness a beautiful creature first hand. This discovery lead to lots of questions which lead to lots of research, answers, stories and learning!

Dermond's book offers some very good exercises to assist children (and adults!) in achieving a calm, focused state, particularly in a nature setting. Her suggestions are something we could all benefit from as we zoom through day-to-day life. Who knows what sweet surprise is hiding right under your nose!

(As a side, I'm not in the habit of enforcing a blanket helmet policy around here. The kids on are and off their bicycles and skateboards constantly and sport the head protection on their own free will. Bring it on I say, you can never have too much head protection with these two!!)

Playing Chicken

Finally! Finally! That lonely, vacant chicken coop gathering dust in our backyard is now home to a tiny little flock of chickens! Truth be told, the chickies moved in about two weeks ago. We've all been so preoccupied with them, I've been too busy to sit and reflect.

As planned, we purchased six Black Australorps. This heritage breed is quite striking in appearance and is known for its friendly disposition and good egg production. Two days later, I stumbled on the website for Active Life Farm, located in Londonderry, Nova Scotia. Noticing they had Ameraucana chicks for sale, something clicked in my memory (which has gotten pretty foggy since motherhood). Ameraucanas are sometimes referred to as Easter Egg Chickens because they lay bluish/green shelled eggs. This sounded like too much fun. I HAD to have them. The very next morning we set off on a road trip to pick up two more chicks. None of our chicks are sexed so we are still trying to figure out the mix. We only have room for one rooster so there may be some shuffling in the coop's pecking order pretty soon.

Although it has only been two weeks, our taste of raising chickens has been a wonderful learning experience on many different levels. It's actually been quite thought-provoking, giving Hubby and I a new perspective on the humane treatment of agricultural animals. Buying a plastic-wrapped package of boneless-skinless chicken breasts from the grocery store is so easy to do with little thought involved. Having my own chickens provides me with a greater appreciation for the "life" behind each meal. It's been rather "weird" at mealtime actually. One minute I'm chatting cheerfully about the hens, the next minute I'm directing Muffy to, "Eat your chicken Honey". Interestingly, Hubby and I are more bothered by this than the kids, who haven't blinked an eye on the subject.

It's also been a lesson in death for Chi-Chi and Muffy. One little chick, appropriately named Runtie, didn't make it. She was injured early on and failed to thrive. One morning, she was just gone. We had a nice little funeral in the woods for her. Ah, this story gave the boys at the feed store a good laugh! What can I say, the chicks are certainly viewed as pets around here.

Despite one minor grabbing/squeezing incident with Muffy, I'm impressed with the calmness and respect the children are exhibiting towards the chickens. Keep in mind, I've got two VERY ACTIVE boys! They are learning about the important responsibilities and kindness involved in caring for another living creature.

So, I'm inspired about the chickens as you can imagine. My mind is getting ahead of me....dreaming and planning. Every Wool Fairy needs her own sheep....doesn't she??