Hand made Christmas

It’s almost New Years, and before I start talking about resolutions, I want to show some photos of the gifts we made for each other here at our house for Christmas this year.

It was so much fun making these gifts, and such a crazy fun celebration when we opened them all up on Christmas Eve.

Everybody was so enthusiastic and everybody had a couple of things they were just popping to give, and to see how their creations would be received.

Everybody was happy and  laughing, and a couple of people cried.

Here’s a little breakdown of what we unwrapped:

Daniel made a mug for Jon, and some coasters and tiled trivets which we will treasure for years to come.

Maggie glued a hundred buttons onto a basket because she knew that was just what Audrey needed, and she also painted and glued beads and sequins onto a flower pot for Jon into which she planted a Christmas cactus, making him a really dramatic piece of living art for his office.    I addition to these treasures, she made an adorable collection of pompom art animals, complete with googly eyes.   They are almost like a little pompom nativity set.

Helen made a set of festive paper lanterns for Audrey and a painting of a mountain scene which she framed up for Jon to take to work.

Jon made some gorgeous wooden items.  One was a beautiful wooden lap desk for Helen, which he tricked out with all kinds of cool calligraphy pens, paper and ink.  So, you can see the writer wearing her new blue shawl here on the left, and here is here lovely desk just below.

Audrey sewed up a cute bag for Helen.

She also made Maggie a soft pink blanket with satin rosebuds on it, under which Maggie is sleeping  as I write here.

Audrey also made some funny T-shirts for the boys which they are wearing in the photos here, and she made  a beautiful collage of black and white photographs for Jon and me.

David made some killer hot-chocolate mix, which is disappearing fast.

Michael made some lovely fragrant candles, and he also  found an old doll sized dresser which belonged to my mother long about 1936.    It was in very poor condition, but he sanded it down,  replaced the mirror, painted it, rebuilt the drawers and made it like new for Maggie.

The queen of all gifts was the wooden knitting box Jon made for me.

It is lovely, lovely.  And I will use it for years to come, and pass it on to one of my girls.

It has three compartments, and one of those has lid with holes especially designed so I can keep yarn in the box, safe and clean, and run it through holes in the lid……and there are three holes in the lid, so I can work with three skeins at a time, if I want.    When I pulled the three boxes apart, I discovered it was packed full of bulky yarn for some great felting project which is yet to be drawn up.   Maybe it will be somebody’s gift next year.

And here is something special Audrey made for me.

It’s a set of twenty one knit markers which she made from silver rings and little blue and green beads.

There’s even an extra large centre marker which I can use for lace knitting, or for marking the beginning of a round on circular needles.

And she’s put them on this funky piece of bent wire which not only looks way cool, it also keeps then from wandering all over that gorgeous box.

Here’s a photo of some knitting that needs pretty markers.  See how boring those little green plastic rings look there.  Imaging that little piece with some groovy beaded markers to set it off.  Maybe then I would finish it!

And in addition to these home-made treasures, there was the annual Christmas slot car stuff, a pile of hockey equipment, an electric keyboard, and various other things that none of us knows how to make, so Jon bought ’em.   Which brings to mind a question that popped into my head Christmas morning:  I wonder how many households have an annual slot-car derby on Christmas Day.   It’s kind of amusing to me that one of the sounds I have come to associate with  Christmas goes along with the sounds of breakfast preparation.

It is the unlikely   sound of those toy  racetracks whining, cars flying off the tracks, and the boys yelling at them while I’m getting the food on the table.  Ruby-red grapefruit, sausage and cheese balls, egg-nog and the sound of those little cars whizzing along and crashing into the furniture.

So much to be thankful for!

Finishing is all the Fun!

I have got a little pile of finished knitted projects and I’m giving them all away.
It is such a joy to complete them and send them out into the world.

I think it’s OK to put some of them up here because the people I made them for never look at this blog, as far as I know…..

(There are six or seven more, all almost done, and if I show them it would spoil some surprises.)

First, above is the Modest Lace Shawl.   I learned to knit with organized holes on this project, and I have to thank my wonderful neighbour Patricia, who taught me how.   She learned from the pattern’s designer, and I am amazed at my good fortune in having such a patient good humoured instructor.
It’s called lace, and so I guess it is.
I used a Noro sock yarn, and I like the way the color changes and repeats itself.

I wish I had a photo of it before it was blocked.  It looked like an ugly old rag, and I nearly threw it away.  But once it was washed and stretched and straightened, I really liked it very much! And  Helen is such beautiful model, she makes everything look good!

I aso completed a funky orange poncho, which was not based upon any pattern, but was a crazy creation born on a speed tour through Mary’s Yarns, where I got tons of discounted wool, and lots of good advice  from Mary herself.  Nobody would model it, as it was too large for my girls, and I would not be flattering to an orange poncho.  So here it is, lounging in the kitchen:

And last night I (finally…) completed this red cashmere stole for my mother.

The pattern for this one is Cheryl Oberle’s Kimono Shawl pattern from her wonderful book of  Folk Shawls.  This is a great collection of patterns, there is something for everyone.  And her instructions are clear and easy to follow, very thorough succinct.

I used Lana Grossa Pashmina for this one, and found it was so nice to work with.  It’s so soft and elastic and warm.   She recommends silk, and a lighter weight than worsted,  for this shawl.    But I wanted something warmer than silk because this one was made for warmth and not just beauty.   I love it that you can fudge around with wool and change patterns and find that even when you go out on your own tangent, something nice can happen.
I have a bit of a hankering to make this one again……after a good prolonged break, and to make it in a DK weight  cashmere and make it more like a large scarf.

Here is a picture of how it looked just when I finished knitting, and before I blocked it.  I sort of miss the thickness that was lost when I stretched it out.  But it does show off a little more with all those lacy holes opened up from the blocking.  It’s nice both ways.

Happy Thanksgiving, Wherever You Live!

Happy Thanksgiving!     We are not celebrating with a  turkey dinner today, because  we’re in a country which celebrates this holiday last month.
We missed it in October, because we were in still another country…..so we’re having our Thanksgiving Dinner on Saturday.  Tonight….Spaghetti, probably another puritan favourite.
I was just about to write up a post here about how hard it is to find cranberries in Canada in November, when I remembered that I did that last year and it doesn’t sound thankful at all, so I’m not going to do it again.  And anyhow, I DID find cranberries this year, and they are simmering away on the stove right now with sugar and orange marmalade, getting thicker and sweeter for Saturday evening.

For today, there is  no turkey yet, just thankfulness.  And thankfulness is just quiet contentment with what has been placed before us by the hand of God.   Recognizing that where I am is where God has placed me, and that I can learn more here than I could if I were in the place I might have chosen.    A. W. Pink said, in  a sermon on contentment, that it is  “the product of a heart resting in God”.

And Jeremiah Burroughs said “The great design God has in afflicting you is to break and humble your heart; and will you maintain a spirit quite opposite to the work of God? For you to murmur and be discontented is to resist the work of God. God is doing you good if you could see it and if He is pleased to sanctify your affliction to break that hard heart of yours and humble that proud spirit of yours, it would be the greatest mercy that you ever had in your life.”   And I say, Amen!

Ten or twelve years ago, out in the desert of California, I was complaining  to an older woman in our church there that I missed my family and was finding it hard to live so far from everything familiar to me, and that the rattlesnakes and poisonous spiders were getting me down.
And she told me that I’d have to stand up straight and act like a grown-up, get over my whining, do the best with what I had, because God had put me there in that spot so I could learn to trust Him better and quit looking to other people to meet my needs.  She also said that I probably wouldn’t learn that lesson quite as well if I were in a comfortable landscape with higher humidity, more live vegetation and a great gathering of old friends around me, seeing as I had such a deep affection for those things.
So, I left her house feeling a little cranky and out of joint over  her failure to empathize with me.  And I have spent the years since coming to understand her wisdom more and more.

So, whatever desert you are in, and however much you wish it were another landscape entirely, and for whatever reason you think you are entitled  to complain, I will just say “Don’t go there.”
There is something to learn where you are, and today’s opportunities are unique.  So don’t waste them complaining.  Be thankful and step out in obedience.


Two sweet friends

Wonderful David just handed me a home-made eggnog latte, which is the most delicious way to get into the holiday mood.  With this in hand, I  thought it might be a  great opportunity to hunt through photos and put something Christmassy up on this blog, so as to better set the holiday tone.

But then I got stuck when I found this little item in among the photos from last Christmas.  Here are two dear friends who loved one another in such a precious way.  Neither of them will be with us this year  (though I do get to see my mom in a couple of weeks for her birthday).  Roscoe is gone, and I  miss all his softness and warmth.  But what a lovely thing it was to be his human, for a time.

Makes me want to  get ready to love whoever might be around the  table  this Christmas,  and make the most of our time together.    We’re getting ourselves organized so it can be sweet and fun!

(here are those two old buddies way back in California, being young and silly……)

Am I Prone to Mood swings? Why do you ask?

This post will not appear to be written by the same person who was in for those HAT posts below.
I’m multifaceted, and my husband would vouch for  that, I believe.

I have to say that last week was heavy,  and I think the heaviness crept up on me and perched atop my head like a vulture.
Understanding  that nobody wants to hear about the colorful side of my family of origin,   I’ll just say that I am thankful my husband took me away from it all.
But, last week, as someone in Appalachia, who I’ve known for nearly all my life,  was finding it impossible to make wise choices,  and at the same time I was reading just piles of high school biology (probably in an attempt to escape all the news coming in over the phone).  I found that I was sort of going down for the third time in a sea of  recessive alleles and monohybrid crosses.   Then,  I began to dream in Punnett squares and to drift away from conversations thinking of everything in terms  of gametes and genotypes.
I made a sudden return to consciousness this morning when  the kids knocked on my forehead saying “Mom, did you really just tell Daniel he could finish that whole pie?”

And having  snapped out of it, I  thought that  I would  drop in here with something a bit light that David read to me this afternoon.  It’s from an old letter E.B. White  wrote to his editor, J. G. Case after the publication of The Elements of Style:

Dear Jack:

The next grammar book I bring out, I want to tell how to end a sentence with five prepositions.   A father of a little boy goes upstairs after supper to read to his son, but he brings the wrong book.  The boy says “Why did you bring that book that I don’t want to be read to out of up for?”

And how are YOU?



I really love E.B. White.  At some point in the late ’80s,  I spent part of one spring or summer driving past his house  in Maine trying to muster courage to go up to the door and say “Hi”, until I was told by my friend Scott (of  home-made Christmas gift fame) that White had actually been dead since 1985.  That news brought a dark down-swing of mood, I can tell you.

Now,  E.B. White’s letters are my magic elixir for kids who can’t seen to get a rhythm going when writing a paper.  If they are stuck or if they hand in a draft that sounds wooden or uneven, I ask them to sit down and read the letters or essays of E.B. White for as long as it takes to haul them out of the ditch they are in.  And it always works like a charm.

I wonder if anybody knows of another fun, concise writer who would help get the youngsters on track…..

~~I would also like to say that I get such a tremendous charge out of seeing my sixteen year old son loving E.B. White’s essays as much as I did.  I just Love It when he’s reading me little funny bits and I can hardly make out what he’s reading because he’s too tickled and can’t stop laughing.

Still thinking about those hats…….

Just a few more thoughts that grew out of the post about big hats,  below.

It’s a fine thing to offend the unsaved with the gospel of Christ.
But, knowing that Christ loves this church that He bought with his blood…and that it is precious to Him,  sometimes I feel fearful of saying what is on my heart to believers, as I don’t want to offend those who have slightly different understandings  than I do.  I  understand that there are other ideas than mine, held by sincere believers who love Christ as I do.
Not one of us grasps the entirety of scripture perfectly, as far as I can tell.  And sometimes it seems like too many people in the Reformed church think that in  order to be really Reformed, we all have to act like Martin Luther on steroids.   Reform is certainly needed in the church today, but it’s reform of our hearts first.   And so, humility and caution are most appropriate….  before we begin hacking at one another.

Speaking about faith and then doctrinal  belief on the internet, whether on Facebook or on a blog, brings more opportunity for mischief and misunderstanding than speaking face to face.  I find that there are so many ways to hide the elements of my faith that might REALLY rub someone wrong, or to just blab out what I’m thinking without considering how it may cause harm.    And I am not the only one struggling with this.  Sometimes I read “Christian Blogs” and am amazed at the lack of love, at the arrogance and at the failure to remember that we are to correct one another in love.
And I believe that where Hebrews 12:13 says “Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed”  speaks to our tendency to trip up the one we believe is in error, rather  than gently help him along to a better understanding .
We are told not to be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings, and we are also told to keep on loving each other as brothers.  (Hebrews 13)

So when I encounter people who claim Christ, but who hold to doctrines that I do not find in the Bible,  or who teach one doctrine while practicing something different.   Or who elevate one teaching above another,learning how to respond rightly  requires prayer, and scripture and patience and a fair bit of disciplined silence.  It is essential to know where my authority lies, and to be in the habit of obedience.  And I must love them first.  Whether I’m in the room with them, or reading their ideas on a screen.

It is really the  lovely sandpaper of the Holy Spirit on my soul for me to bow to scripture and receive instruction on how to step forward.   Because my own proud heart always wants to do the wrong thing.

So, first, I must examine myself. (2 Cor. 13)  I must look at my own motivations.  If I can say what’s on my mind with love, and if what I really am after is to help, not to criticize or to elevate myself.  Then perhaps I can speak.

On Saturday, Jon and I were invited for lunch with friends Kevin and Litza in Toronto.  As we arrived and were saying “hello” to  Kevin in his driveway, a gentleman passed on the street with his wife and baby.
This man was a hasidic Jew, wearing a very large fur hat called a shtreimel.    Here below is a photo of two man wearing shtreimel hats:

Now I ask you, is there anything you could put upon your head that would scream “Look at me!”  any louder?

As this family passed by, Kevin commented something to the effect that he admires these men who are so bold to proclaim in no uncertain terms and to all the world, who they are and where their faith lies.   (Isn’t it so wonderful when somebody can point out something beautiful that you had failed to notice?)

He said   “You cannot look at a Christian and tell who he is. Well, except that some people have a fish on the back of their car.”   His idea was that we should all be as bold to make ourselves known as really belonging to Christ as the Jewish people in his neighbourhood are bold to proclaim their own belief.
But we don’t have hats or T-shirts or hairstyles to identify us.   We have to proclaim our faith in words first,  and then by our behaviour.
We have to decide to make it known that our identity is in Christ.  We need to be free and eager to to do what’s required to say “Look at Christ!”

But lots of time we are afraid of confrontation.  Or we don’t feel confident of our ability to articulate our faith.  It’s fear.
And actually, if we are speaking for Christ, if we are standing firmly in opposition to evil, we can be sure that we will meet opposition.  But we must learn to meet it, to march toward it knowing that we are defending the only one worth defending.

Because I belong to the one who is truth,  I can rest in Him.  It’s His universe, so I can humbly and gently and with kindness step out in obedient faith, speech and action.  Because I belong to the one who owns it all.   I am not an uninvited guest, and I need never behave as if  I were, by hiding the one to whom I belong.

Getting Ready for Christmas

Some time last year I said something (maybe on this blog, maybe on the old green one)  about how our family has a wild ambition to hand make our Christmas gifts for each other in 2010.

This is inspired, as I am sure I mentioned before, by my old friends Scott and Kristine Gryder, who undertook with their entire huge and extended family to make all their gifts for each other last year.    They made furniture, exterior light fixtures out of fallen trees, tie-dyed shirts, picnic tables, hand-sewn items, cookies, spiced tea mixes, faux legal documents which were framed….and which must have been really hilarious if the look on all photographed faces is accurate.  The pictures I saw of that celebration were breathtakingly inspirational to me.

So, we have been working like little squirrels getting ready for winter around here.   I am just itching to post photographs of the humble little offerings that are piling up in all my gifty hiding places.  But it would spoil the surprise.

I have  to say that this is the most fun I have ever had getting ready for Christmas.   I’m getting my littler guys organized on some of their projects now, and we are having a crazy fun time gluing stuff to picture frames, and sometimes also to  our hair and the legs of the piano.

This is great fun, and I am already planning how we can do it better next year.  I wonder if anyone else has done something like this, and could share some good ideas for those family members who are less crafty or who are hard to find a gift for.

The photo above is of some of the raw materials for my gifts……..actually, the yarn is more lovely than what I made with it.

And here is Maggie, hard at work on something mysterious.

Here’s how I fill my days….

Almost all of my time is spent educating my six children, and up to now I have carefully avoided speaking about it on this blog.

There are many reasons why I have been silent on this topic.  One reason is that I want to protect my kids’ privacy and my own.  Our progress is fast in some places, and slow in others.  I always have a nagging suspicion that every other home-educating mom out there is doing it faster, better, more beautifully and with better map over-lays and  arts and crafts than I am.   I mean, I have seen some of those other blogs out there…..families who spend all day long making topographical maps while the oldest daughter plays the harp in the background and then they all adjourn to enjoy fresh home-made bread lathered with butter from their own cow and honey from their own bees.  Ha!

Well, we’re not doing any of that.  But here is what we are doing, and I’m putting it up here to encourage the ladies out there who are sure that they are the only ones without the harps, bees and cows.  You are really not alone!  So, as baseline home-educators, here’s what we’re doing this week.

We use (and love) Tapestry of Grace for  history,  literature, and writing.  I am a huge fan of this curricula.  I cannot imagine what might ever cause me to switch to another.    Tapestry is a four year program of study, geared for all levels of learning, from the earliest reader to a high-school senior.  Following the classical model, Tapestry covers history, from creation to current history, chronologically over its four year cycle, repeating itself three times during a child’s twelve years in school.  This program includes more activities and reading ideas, projects and discussion plans than anyone could use at once, it is just rich with options and great ideas.

Last year, we studied Year Two, which covers the Renaissance and Reformation through the explorers and early colonization of America.  And this year, in a brazen move, we have skipped Year Three entirely, having given it such a thorough treatment four years ago that nobody wanted to do it again for a while (woops!).  So, we’re doing modern history now with Tapestry Year Four, and really loving the early 20th century.

We had an extra bonus this year, which was that we got to go to England and Norway for three weeks in October.  While we were there, we made a point of checking out as many WWI and WWII museums and exhibits as we could find.  We did also slip out and visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and the Tower of London, a few castles and cathedrals and art galleries, but we learned more than we ever expected about WWII in England and about the causes of WWI and II which were so much about the drawing of artificial boundaries all over Europe.

Before we left for that trip, we spent four weeks doing an ultra-fast summary of all that took place from 1700 to 1880, just to give us a foundation for this years work……then we left town and forgot 90% of it. (When I fill out the summary sheets for the kids work this year, I’m going to say that they were “exposed to the history and literature of the 18th and 19th centuries.”)

This week, we have been looking at the sweeping changes in technology, industry and science around the time of the turn of the century.    My kids are reading about Teddy Roosevelt, Taft’s progressivism, the Wright brothers, Henry Ford, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Amy Carmichael, The Panama Canal, the scramble for Africa, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Triple Alliance and the  Triple Entente, and the authorization of an income tax with the Sixteenth Amendment.

The world was busy and booming, and in Europe and North America, everyone was full of hope and optimism.   They had no idea what was ahead in this century of great and terrible wars.

I love learning all of this history again, some of it for the first time.  It is an incredible gift to be able to talk about this with my kids, and to learn with them how all of these events and ideas and advances interacted with one another to set the stage for the events to come.

In a conversation today about air transportation, the invention of the automobile and the development of the assembly line, I was amazed to hear one of my kids say that the enormously high numbers of WWI casualties are in part attributable to these three advances in technology….because  more and better methods of transportation, mechanization and production  allowed for greater numbers of troops to be moved to places where more efficient weapons would be used upon them.  Amazing, we take pride in our achievements, only to see them bring on our downfall.

And still, God is sovereign, and nothing is random.

Feeling His Pain

Haile Gebrselassie  of Ethiopia had a knee problem and had to drop out of the New York City Marathon today….This photo was most certainly taken on a happier day.

“at 1 hour 19 minutes 40 seconds of theNew York City Marathon on Sunday, as the men’s lead pack descended the Queensboro Bridge near the Mile 16 marker, Gebrselassie grimaced, slowed and drifted to his right, finally stopping as the leaders ran on.”

I understand  that,  because he received a $400,000 appearance fee, some are giving him a bit of an insensitive eye-roll.   But he has all my sympathies.  I know how mortifying it is to drop out, having done so myself at nearly the same mile marker a year ago.
And I know that a chubby housewife has virtually nothing in common with an Ethiopian racing phenomenon.   Still, it was a sad day for this skinny ultra-fast miracle on two feet.
Dropping out is just sad, no matter who you are.