Category Archives: Family

Stocking Stuffer Idea Masterlist

It’s Advent and time to get ready for Christmas!  In celebration, here’s a list to help with your elving.  It’s current as of 2016, and I will update it as necessary in the future.  I hope you find something to inspire you here– enjoy!


If you’re like me, you have no problem coming up with presents to give people for the holidays, but filling stockings is a bit more difficult.  Picking out a dozen appropriate trinkets is much harder than finding a couple big gifts!

As I have filled my children’s stockings over the past several years, I’ve struggled with exactly what belongs.  I don’t want to fill them with cheap junk, or with too much candy, and I don’t want to spend a lot of money or time on stocking stuffers.  I want the things in my family’s stockings to be worth getting, but still small.

So I brainstormed up a list one year, based in part on what I’ve found works and in part on what I predict will work but haven’t had occasion to try yet.  A lot of the things on this list (I’ll use an asterisk * to denote them) can be made at home with only a hobbyist skill level.

Stocking Stuffer Idea Masterlist

For babies and toddlers:

  • fruit— it’s cheap and they love it.  Easy-peasy.  If you aren’t doing baby-led solids, you can always tuck a couple of their favorite *purées into the stocking instead.
  • wooden spools— great for stacking, rolling, even lacing.
  • recycling— seriously: yogurt tubs, the metal lids from frozen juice concentrate, and squeezable condiment containers are all excellent toys for kids this age
  • *playsilks— one of the ultimate open-ended toys
  • *massage bars or food-grade oil— for baby massage.  We use almond, but olive or sunflower would work equally well.
  • wadded paper— not only does it take up a bunch of space in the stocking, but you know they’ll love it.  It’s fine to just use printer paper, but unbleached newsprint is ideal.
  • *crunchy snacks— puffed grains, yogurt puffs, or crackers in a little container are a great treat for a toddler, and they promote fine motor development.
  • hairbrush— a soft goat-hair brush is not only the perfect tool for keeping wispy baby hair groomed, it’s also a good sensory stimulation tool for teaching names of body parts and promoting coordination
  • small board books or indestructible books— Sandra Boynton books are a great size for most stockings.
  • *cake crayons or crayon rocks— this is a great present for older siblings to give a toddler as they can recycle their old crayon stubs.
  • *knot doll— perhaps the easiest doll to make, a great introduction to dollmaking for the giver and to dolls for the recipient.
  • *playdough— a single container of storebought is the perfect size for a stocking, or you can fill a baby food jar or other small container with homemade.
  • *bath toys, bubble bath, etc.— older babies are moving from just getting bathed to actively taking a bath, and that means it’s a great time to make sure they’re having good cleaning fun.  Our favorite brand of bubble bath comes in a stocking-dominating 1-quart size, but it’s still an awesome way to make bathtime more playful.
  • *hat— whether it’s a soft stocking cap for a tiny December babe or a funny animal-eared hat for a toddler, a little warmth is always a welcome addition.
  • *bubble solution— most kids won’t be able to really work out how to blow bubbles at this age, but they’ll love watching someone else blow bubbles for them.
  • *fingerpaint— with art, it’s best to start them young.  A tasty, good-to-eat fruit-based paint is best for this age, because you know they won’t be able to resist.
  • *blocks— whether it’s a thick branch cut into chunks or a delicate, German-made rainbow of fancy shapes, blocks are a great filler gift that even a newborn will quickly grow into.
  • *rattle— soft fabric or shiny silver plate, old or new, there’s a reason rattles are classic.
  • *teether— we prefer silicone here, but natural wood is nice, too.
  • large buttons— to this day, I don’t think I’ve topped the Christmas when I gave my 1-year-olds a collection of 1.75-3″ buttons.  A mix of colors, textures, shapes, and materials will be even more compelling.

For symbolic functionalists (ages 3-7):

  • magnifying glass— learn about bugs, optics, and the world in general.  A great stepping-stone for kids who aren’t quite ready for a microscope.
  • hand-size ball— nothing too hard or too bouncy for younger kids, just a nice-sized toy for rolling down ramps and off of tables and using as a pretend egg.
  • colored pencils, *crayons, or markers— give good-quality tools that are a true pleasure to use.  Everyone has their favorite brands and varieties; ours are Lyra Super Ferby, Prang, and Giotto Turbo Maxi.
  • craft sticks, large wooden beads, ball of string— open ended and cheap, these are an excellent way to get young engineers thinking about How To Make It.
  • glue stick, *ruler, and paper-only scissors— all great simple tools.
  • flashlight— something rugged, waterproof, and with a wind-up, shake, or squeeze-charge battery will save future headaches.
  • *small dress-up elements  animal ear headbands, fancy gloves, pirate eye patch, false mustaches, domino mask, etc.
  • magnet— a nice, big one is the best plan; something that can be used for testing surfaces and making paperclips dance but won’t wipe hard disks.
  • *paper airplanes— virtually free, this one is easy to underestimate, but a few sturdy pre-folded paper airplanes will give a kid this age at least a full day of play, if not a whole weekend.
  • crazy straws— be ready with a strongly-colored drink for maximum effect (grape juice works well).
  • *stickers— a guaranteed hit.  To save money, buy up a bunch of stickers on clearance after seasonal holidays throughout the year.  Kids this age will love stickers and stickering no matter how strange it is to be decorating with Easter bunnies in December.
  • sunglasses— equally for dressing up and eye protection, a cheap pair of kids’ sunglasses is the perfect size for a stocking.
  • *small soft toy— 90s Beanie Babies are cheap and ubiquitous and the perfect size for a stocking.
  • novelty socks— whether the kid in question loves Winnie-the-Pooh or sugar skulls, you can probably find something.  The bargain section of Target often has great novelty kids’ socks throughout the year.
  • inflatable ball— deflated for a stocking, just blow it up for Christmas afternoon burning-off-energy.
  • temporary tattoos— especially if a kid has an inked parent, this can be a fun addition to the dress-up possibilities.  In our house, we use temporary tattoos as post-bath incentives (because they stick better to clean skin, of course).
  • *hair accessories— the “ouchless” style of hair elastic made from fold-over elastic is best for kids this age.  Don’t shy away from sparkly, glittery, fuzzy, or generally over-the-top– little kids understand exuberance, but have no concept of tackiness.
  • *alphabet or number toys (stamps, stickers, games…)— a set of mini alphabet stamps or a spinny speller, number stickers or a set of dice with Arabic numerals on them, or even place-value blocks are all great learning tools and toys for this age.
  • small notebooks, sketchbooks, or writing pads— some kids will make a single mark on each page, flip through to the end and declare themselves done, while others will fill every blank space and still be trying to cram more in.  Either way, they’ll love it.
  • small musical instrument such as a whistle, ocarina, mini hand drum, maracas, etc. for making noise and (hopefully) contributing to the family band more than to the family headache.
  • *small motion-based toys— paper yo-yos, tops, bamboo-copters, hooey-sticks/whammy-diddles, buzz saws, pinwheels, Slinkys, Jacob’s ladders, climbing bears, etc.
  • non-toxic nail polish— little kids love to dress up and adorn themselves for special occasions, so a tube of Piggy Paint or another kind of non-toxic nail polish can be an awesome little treat.
  • *glow-in-the-dark anything— no really, anything.  Buy some glow-in-the-dark beads and seal them into an old spice jar and call it ectoplasm or toxic slime or magic beans or ghost pills…
  • sunprint paper— as always, a fun little novelty and a good opening to talk about the science of sunlight.
  • small building sets— Playmobil, Lego, etc. often have mini-project grab-bags for a good price around the holidays.
  • *Ostheimer-style figures— look around online or in a natural toys catalog for inspiration, then grab a jigsaw and see what you can do.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, especially if you portray a favorite animal, because it’s driven by imagination anyway.
  • Play house accessories— doll clothes, felt food, dollhouse furniture, play tools, mini spray-bottles, whatever the kid in question is into.

For concrete operationalists (ages 7-10):

  • glow sticks— whether they save them for the next summer’s drive-in movies or make a Boxing Day alien autopsy movie in the living room, there’s always a use for glow sticks, and you can buy them cheaply at the dollar store!
  • field guides— look at your local used book store or library book sale for a field guide to wildflowers, butterflies, minerals and gems, or whatever the kid in question always seems to need to know more about.  Pocket field guides are the perfect size for a stocking!
  • temporary tattoo paper/*henna kit— a great gift for the kid who is already planning their 18th-birthday tat or needs even more ways to dress up for parties.
  • Japanese puzzle erasers— you can get them for about $1/each, and they are cute and functional.  Kids this age love to collect and trade, too!
  • *small notebooks or journals— for secret thoughts, big plans, or just writing notes
  • stapler and staples, tape, scissors— the age-appropriate upgrades to the creation station, art table, or mini home office.
  • craft kit— a basic sewing/mending kit or an intro-to-knitting kit are great for this age, as are friendship bracelets, pin looms, beading kits, etc.
  • *tote bag— some kids this age are defined by their stuff– they need to organize it, secure it, travel with it, whatever, and a tote bag is a great, basic way to do all that.
  • pocket microscope— for the kid who wants to identify sub-species of ant or is always wondering what the inside of leaves look like, this is a perfect, stocking-sized upgrade to the magnifying glass.
  • magic trick— see what introductory tricks your local magic shop recommends– kids this age are finally ready to start learning some showmanship and they love feeling like they’ve outsmarted others!
  • book— “pocket” paperbacks are a great fit for most stockings.  Kids this age usually love adventure novels, sci-fi, and fantasy.  A book of jokes or a foreign language phrasebook could be great for the right kid, too!
  • origami paper— it’s pretty and versatile (it’s good for much more than origami), and it will spark creativity.
  • watercolor paints— the nicer kind that comes in little tubes is ideal for kids this age, and they’re still usually pretty cheap.
  • *jewelry— kids this age love fancier stuff, and a lot of it can still be affordable enough to be practical, such as a pendant on a ribbon, birthstone earrings, or bangles.
  • *pinback buttons— whether they have favorite characters, are themed for favorite holidays/seasons, or are just a cute typography of the child’s name.
  • *novelty keychains— tiny flashlights, a decorative initial, a pony-bead animal…so many possibilities here.
  • card/dice games— whether they play by themselves, with friends, or at family game night, this is a great fit for both stockings and older kids.
  • *coordination toys— yo-yos, diabolos, jacks, marbles, and jump ropes are all great for kids this age.
  • Mad Libs or single issue of kids’ magazine— a great way to make reading fun and approachable, even for early readers.
  • clay or modeling clay— for kids who have graduated from play-dough.
  • collapsible or transforming anything— collapsible drinking cups can be found with camping supplies.

For tweens and teens:

  • earbuds— easily lost or broken over the course of a year, and pretty cheap to replace.  Older teens might be ready for a high-quality pair that’s meant to last.
  • temporary hair dye/hair color spray/hair chalks— tweens and teens are all about decorating themselves, and this is a fun way for them to experiment without committing.
  • washi tape— a versatile and fun craft supply that makes great décor and personalization touches, it’s ideal for teens and tweens
  • *clothing embellishments— iron-on patches, hot-fix spikes or rhinestones, or just a pack of big safety pins can delight a punk-aligned teenager, although they will probably be too cool to show it.
  • *zip-up pouches— whether for makeup storage or organizing pencils, somehow young adults never have enough smallish, zip-up bags and containers.
  • *makeup and makeup tools you can make simple makeup at home, but even the most sensitive-skinned brand snob will need supplies, and the local beauty supply store can have great deals on brushes, eyelash curlers, sponges, etc.
  • gel pens and black paper— tweens love novelty school and office supplies for sending notes to each other and personalizing their spaces and belongings.
  • small journal or diary, preferably with lock— it doesn’t matter how cheap and easily-defeated the lock is, a tween will still appreciate it.
  • embroidery floss for friendship bracelets— even jaded, consumerist tweens love doing little crafts like friendship bracelets, and most older teens would be happy to continue exchanging little handmade tokens with their friends.
  • polymer clay or cold porcelain— for the tween or teen who has outgrown modeling clay or wants something easier than natural clay.
  • *amigurumi— there are free patterns for virtually any character, animal, or interest.  If you’re not crafty, you could still put together a kit for your teen or tween to make it themselves.
  • *accessories— a teenager’s need to play the fashion game can be met with a minimum of expense and trouble if they have a sizable and frequently-refreshed collection of accessories such as belts, hats, fashion jewelry, hair accessories, infinity scarves, etc.
  • *personal care products— teenagers are all about grooming.  Indulge them with moisturizer, bath salts, lip balm, shave soap, or whatever they might need.  Trial or travel sized goods are perfect for stockings and will help young adults figure out what works for them.
  • *favorite snack foods— if there’s any particular treat they love and you don’t like, or can’t understand, or normally refuse to pay for/make, slipping a few into their stocking is a great way to show that you love them.
  • novelty flash drive— for transferring term papers from home computers to school computers, sharing pics with friends, downloading movies to take to grandma’s 20th-century historical re-enactment (aka her house), or whatever, a fun flash drive is a must-have.
  • *monogrammed stationary— a fun, grown-up present for a teenager who loves all things personalized
  • calligraphy supplies— some teens pride themselves on the beauty of their handwriting, or the sophisticated ease of their doodling, or want to feel more connected to their Asian heritage.  A couple pens and some ink is a great way to try out calligraphy before committing to a big expensive set.
  • CD/DVD/iTunes gift card— used CDs and DVDs are cheap and a great way for a young adult to start building their own media library.  If you can’t find anything they like in a physical copy, you can put a little money towards their own digital purchases instead.
  • nicer, “grown-up” supplies for their handcraft of choice— whether it’s a nice pair of bamboo needles for a knitter, a little book of watercolor paper for a painter, a few remnants of silk for a sewist, a multi-needle punch for a felter, a couple fat quarters for a quilter, or something else entirely, a little investment in their interest now is a message that you believe in their talents and skills.
  • office/art/craft supplies— whichever ones they are always borrowing and forgetting to put back (sticky notes, nice sharp scissors, novelty hole punch, etc.)
  • gift cards to local food shops— ice cream parlors, smoothie stands, pretzel stands, candy shops, or whatever you have in your area, in small denominations.  Check the mall food court for ideas if you’re not sure.  This one is great because you’re basically giving them a chance to hang out with their friends.
  • *phone accessories— headsets, cases, car chargers, plugs/dust excluders, charms–we all know how teenagers live on their phones!
  • public transit passes/all-day-fare tickets— the gift of transport and independence, great for tweens and teens in a metro area
  • car wash vouchers— really a gift for you (if your teen doesn’t have their own car), but most teens are desperate for any chance to drive the car, even through the car wash, so they’ll like it, too
  • books— most teens have a favorite YA/pulp paperback author or series, such as Discworld, but if not, this is a great opportunity to introduce them to yours.  Teens also like banned books!
  • grown-up coloring book— this is a great trend, whether your teen likes it or “likes” it

For grown-ups:

  • gift card— for their favorite coffee shop or other small indulgence
  • *consumable goods— especially nice soap or shave soap
  • *hair accessories— everyone always needs more hair elastics, bobby pins, etc. because the little stuff like that is always getting lost
  • *keyrings/fobs or luggage tags especially with their monogram or a favorite character or theme
  • *artisan chocolate— the Thanksgiving or Halloween clearance is a great way to pick up a couple little things that are still delicious, even if technically the snowflakes are would have been more seasonally-appropriate than the acorns.
  • *bottle of micro-brew beer or gourmet soda— Jones or Dry soda are my personal favorites, but check your local supermarket and ethnic stores (Jarritos come in some pretty wacky but delicious flavors!)
  • *cold-weather accessories— most adults suck at self-care.  Make sure they have a warm hat, gloves, mitts, scarf, cowl, slippers…
  • socks or underwear— if you know their favorite kind, it is perfectly acceptable to buy socks or underwear for the stocking of an adult
  • *photo art or memory art especially featuring their kids, grandkids, or pets
  • *shot glasses— plain glasses are cheap and it’s easy to DIY them into something amazing and personal– but it would be tough to fit most stemware into a stocking. A shot glass or two, or maybe a single tumbler, is the way to go for stockings.
  • liquor minis— if their favorite alcohol is too expensive to buy often, you can still likely get a mini of it for a very reasonable price.
  • *coin purse or pouch— especially people who carry purses or handbags tend to get a bit disorganized and could use more little secure containers, regardless of their system for coins.
  • *billfold or wallet— even the perfect wallet wears out, and you can easily and cheaply replace them with DIY options
  • sealing wax and signet— a great, low-cost present for the antiquarian, the anachronistic, the steampunk aficionado, or just the perpetual host or avid papercrafter
  • multi-tool— some people need all the help they can get perfecting their EDC.
  • *small puzzle or brain teaser— everyone likes a challenge, and everyone likes a toy, no matter how old or “grown up” they are
  • novelty standard card deck— whether they love flowers or baseball or Star Trek TOS, you can probably pick up a card deck that caters to them for a reasonable price.
  • *desk toy or fidget— mini zen garden, stress ball, worry dolls, paper construction set, or a magnetic sculpture of paper clips, everyone needs something to play with to help them work
  • old photograph of them— choose one from 10+ years ago that evokes a special memory or looks like it has a story behind it.  This is especially great for elders, because it’s basically an opportunity to reminisce for an audience.

Remember this moment

“Remember this moment.”  I said to my children.

“Someday, someone will tell you that feminism is no longer necessary.  That men and women are equal in society.  But right now, you can see that’s not true.  Because more than 50 million Americans have just legally declared themselves willing to be led by Donald Trump, even though he is terrible and dangerous and unqualified in every way, rather than a woman, even though she may be the most qualified candidate for political office in all of human history.”

We were huddled together against the chill and the hatred, watching the election returns.  The mood had been jovial, if a little manic, but slowly turned to terror and shock.  I couldn’t stop shaking and felt nauseous.  Robert tried to argue that it wasn’t over yet, but I knew it was.  None of us understood it, but we saw it.

Ithilien put his hand to my face.  “Shh, Mommy, it’s okay.  He won’t win the whole race.”

“Yes he will,” I said, my eyes stinging, “this is the whole race.  It’s over.”  Ithilien curled his lip as tears formed in his eyes.

“Maybe it’s just a mistake.” Númenor offered, his fists tight with anger and incomprehension.  “It must be wrong.”

But we knew.

I started to cry.

What went wrong?  What happened?  Could we have prevented this?  Would it have made a difference if we had donated more money?  If we had been brave enough to put up a yard sign?  If we had flown to Florida to GOTV, would that have been enough?

I suspect not.

I think, in my heart of hearts, that what we saw tonight was an ugly reminder of how much we have left to grow as a society.  A frightening harbinger of a new era of hate and horror, certainly, but mostly a reflection of how hateful and horrible our past and has made our present.

I have said that America isn’t great.  That there’s still so much left to be done.  I wish I hadn’t been shown I was right tonight– I honestly thought we were ready for a female president.  I know I was.

Hillary Clinton lost tonight.  So did tolerance, love, peace, fairness, understanding, rationality, and the way forward.

Right now I don’t know if we can find those things again.  But I’m going to keep looking.  I’m going to keep raising children who expect those things and who will help foster them.  I’m going to keep looking for the light ahead, the distant goal, that “greatness,” and strive for it with my whole being.

Just as I would have if the election had gone the way we expected.

 

WIP Wednesday

We haven’t had one of these since July!  I missed them!

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start date: 15 September 2016
time elapsed: 34 days
completeness: 50%

Several weeks ago, I mentioned that Númenor once again needed a new hoodie and coat for the winter.  I don’t know how this happened, because he JUST got new ones last year, but during the Dance of the Hand-Me-Downs, I noticed that his wrists and forearms had made a break for it and replacements were urgently needed.

We talked about his hoodie, and he described this fantastical vision for a T-rex skeleton costume piece, complete with tail and functional teeth and glow-in-the-dark bones.

I said, hmm.  And uh-huh.  And yes, that would be super awesome.

And then I said, here’s what I can do: fuzzy appliqué bones, full ribcage, upper limbs, and skull.

And he said, “Oh, okay.  That will be easier to sit down in the car and play on the playground.  Plus then I can sneak up on people in the dark.”

Such wisdom, from one so young.

So now I’m studying the skeletal anatomy of the T-rex in astounding detail, and desperately trying to adapt what I learn to a hooded sweatshirt for a human-shaped child, because it turns out that if I had wanted to buy this garment in a store, I would have been totally SOL.

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It’s been an interesting process.

And the end result will be imperfect and definitely homemade-looking, but pretty cool, I think.  If nothing else, Númenor and I can look back on this project and laugh, and he will at least know that I love him, and I’m willing to try audacious things to make him happy.

Here’s hoping that’s what counts.

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Organic black sweatshirt fleece from Organic Cotton Plus, white bamboo rayon/organic cotton velour from Etsy, the pattern and technique are my own and not recommended.

10 Things I Need to Make this Fall

Now that we’re mired in the part of summer that’s too hot for much of anything– certainly unseasonable for having a big pile of flannel in my lap– but about to leave the last heat wave of the season, I’ve been looking forward to some cool-weather crafting and giving some thought to what needs to happen.

Here’s my list, necessities and fripperies in no particular order, of the top 10 things I need to make in the coming season:

  1. Tea towels.  The flour sack towels that wrapped a few of our favorite kitchen gadget wedding gifts are finally sprouting holes and wearing out.  I’m thinking the new ones are going to be mid-weight natural linen, but the same dimensions as the old ones.
  2. Coat for Númenor.  Another year, another coat.  This one is definitely going to be lined with some of that gorgeous Portland bridges fabric I picked up a few years ago, but I’m not sure what the outer fabric will be like or what pattern I’m going to use.  I might draft my own pattern.
  3. Hoodie for Númenor.  Something fun and slightly funky, as usual.
  4. Twin-size comforter for Ithilien.  In the depths of winter, the nursery gets pretty cold in the middle of the night.  At the moment, we have only one twin-size comforter, and that can cause strife.  I’m planning to whipstitch together a couple of old flannel top sheets, fill with some fluffy recycled fiberfill, and tie it down to quilt it.  The only trouble will be that the sheets I have are green and green-red plaid, and Ithilien is a red-loving kid who might object to the forest tones.  But it’ll be warm regardless.
  5. “What Lives Here?” picture book.  This is one I’ve been puzzling over for some time.  The smalls are always asking what kinds of animals live in our area, especially when we go on drives.  I’m currently working on a collage-style picture book showing different ecosystems and settings and filled with the different animals that might live there.  It’s a huge undertaking, even limiting myself to a 20-mile radius around our house, since we live in a transitional zone between at least three climates.
  6. Toy ankylosaurus for Ithilien.  I made a stegosaurus for Númenor a while back, and Ithilien demanded an ankylosaurus.  How one knits an ankylosaurus I am not sure (possibly with lots of bobbles?), but I’ll figure it out.
  7. Autumn leaf babies.  If you’ve been around a while, you might remember my spring raindrop babies.  I’ve been trying to work up to a whole four-seasons set: snowflakes, raindrops, fruit (or maybe sunshine?), and autumn leaves.  I love dollmaking, and these little felt-and-wood sweeties are downright addictive in their simplicity and appeal.
  8. Altoid tin boredom busters.  We recently inherited a big box of mint tins.  They are the perfect size to tuck in a pocket or purse and you can fill them with anything.  So I’ve been trying to develop a set of toys and activity kits inside Altoid tins for when we travel or waiting at restaurants.
  9. More petticoats for myself.  Hopefully at least two more cotton ones (black, I think) and if I can find room for it in the budget, I would love a woolen flannel one for winter wear.
  10. Halloween costumes.  This year the smalls have both decided on light-themed costumes, which means getting creative with LEDs and possibly wearable circuitry.  Númenor’s might yet be merged with his hoodie, but we have yet to have our first formal design meeting, so it’s very much still TBD.

 

 


 

What about you?  What are you looking forward to making as the weather changes?

Words for Scary Times

People are telling you to be afraid, to lash out, to barricade yourself in for fear of losing what little you have.

People are telling you that you’re doing it wrong, that you’re too loud, too brash, too unpolished, that your laugh is grating, that your smile is a sneer.

People are telling you that you take up too much space, that your standards are too high, that you’re being unrealistic, that you’re part of the problem.

That’s the language of fear.

Don’t let it close your mind.

I know you better than that.  You do, too.

You are brave.  You are a force for good.  You are fighting the good fight.

You are strong.  You speak truth to power.  You keep coming back and trying again.

You are loving.  You are the lullaby in the night.  You are the warm embrace.  You are the hope for a brighter day.

Don’t run away.  Reach out.

Don’t hoard.  Share.

Don’t see enemies.  Build community.

Don’t stand silent.  Speak up.

Don’t shrink.  Bloom.

 


A lot of people are struggling right now, me included.  These are the words that came to me today– I thought they might do someone else some good, too.

Stay safe out there, friends.  Take good care of yourselves, and each other.

 

 

Go Outside and Breathe

I know it’s late.

It’s hot.

It’s buggy.

You’re tired.

You just want to sit inside all day and do nothing, run out the clock on this day, and maybe try again tomorrow.

That mosquito bite on the sole of your left foot is driving you crazy and has made you shy away from sitting outside in the gathering dusk or the rising dawn or the fleeting midday shade.

Your stomach aches, whether from too much food or too little or the wrong kind you’re not sure, but it’s uncomfortable.

Your children are wild and full of evening energy, and their whooping and leaping makes you anxious and unnerved.

The thought of the sun on your skin reminds you of your uneven tan, its obvious lines, and how, if you were a responsible person, you probably would have bought sunscreen before late July.

I know.  I understand.

But sometimes you need to go outside anyway.  Even though it’s not easy.  Even though you’d rather plug in and tune out.

Because the grass is dried to hay-blond and its susurration in the breeze tells a secret.

Because the mourning dove is trying out his gentle call from that oak tree, right there outside the kitchen door.

Because the hills seem so close you could reach out and touch them but also a part of a golden fairyland in the lateral evening light.

Because the cross orb weaver on your tomato plant is just putting the finishing touches on tonight’s silken net.

Because the sky is still so blue.

Because the hens are clucking softly to themselves as they forage for a few last bites.

Because the blackberries are so ripe they stain your fingers no matter how tenderly you pick them.

Because the butterflies are chasing each other over the brambles and across the fences.

Because the wind smells sweet with hay and spicy with cookfire smoke and fresh from the river.

Right now, a Steller’s jay is stopping off in your fir tree to select nesting materials.

Right now, a train whistle is echoing off the ridges and over the water.

Right now, the breeze is freshening just a little and the sky is ocean-deep.

Right now, the scent of warmed earth and crushed blackberry is more summery than anything you’ve ever known before.

From out here, the children’s cries are muted and distant, and you can love them for their untamed nature.

From out here, you can’t hear the big bad world– or those mean-girl voices in your head– at all.

From out here, the work piled up on your desk doesn’t seem quite real, and you can have faith that there will be time enough for everything.

When you’re outside, you can breathe.

Try it.

Breathe in deep through your nose.  Open your mind wide and be present.  Breathe out slowly through your mouth, open your chest and release your spent and troubled air.

Breathe.

This is but one day of a lifetime.  Nothing has to be finished nor perfect today.

Breathe.

This is where you are now, and it is good.

Breathe.

This is all you are, this moment in the setting sun, this place full of hay-scented grasses and straw-colored hair on little heads, all bowing to you in recognition and shaking irreverently in the breeze.

Breathe.

 

You are the breath of your home, your family– you, too, must go in and out.

Regularly.

Deeply.

Consciously.

To release the toxins, and let the trees worry about recycling them.

To take in what you need to live, what the mosses and the weeds give back to you.

So go.

No more excuses.

It can’t wait until tomorrow, not this time.

Go.

Go outside, and breathe.

 

WIP Wednesday

Lately I’ve been stuck.  Overwhelmed by the world around me, unable to concentrate, mired in several long and intricate projects at once…generally in a funk.

This week, though, I hit upon a bit of a solution.

I took this fancy new linen bag my mom found for me at the thrift store, stuck a couple little balls of scrap yarn in the bottom, and went on a baby sock knitting adventure.

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When I first learned to knit, I swore I would never be a sock knitter.  The tiny yarn, the slippery double-pointed needles, the complex technique, the repetition (because you have to start all over to make the second sock…) and the need for a fairly accurate fit made a seemingly insurmountable barrier to my ever taking up that particular craft.  But after a couple years, when I had to be knitting for a baby anyway, I finally decided to give it a try.

That first pair of plain Jane worsted-weight cotton (!) baby socks may not be anything special or even particularly beautiful, but they represented a major victory in terms of facing my fears.

As a cripplingly anxious person, to have attempted something so far out of my comfort zone and met with even modest success was a major testament to what force of will could do for me.

In the few years since then, I’ve knit cabled boot socks for Robert, basic socks in shockingly bright colors for the smalls, tube socks I invented myself, intricate socks as gifts in tiny yarns and grown-up sizes, and even a selfish pair of gray show-off lacy socks for myself.

And my baby sock collection has slowly grown to cover most sizes and most needs, because the best way to try out a new sock style or technique or color combo is to make a pair of tiny trial socks, and because baby socks are such an excellent way to use up leftover bits of lightweight yarn.

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This week, I’ve tried roll-top socks, plain socks, and snuggly winter socks (which Ithilien promptly lost somewhere in the nursery), and now I’m working on a second pair of socks knitted lengthwise in a cheery self-striping yarn.

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From here, I’m going to try the really adventurous stuff: manual vertical pinstripes (I’m thinking gray and purple) and Victorian socks on two needles.

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And hopefully, by the time I’m done with all those, the mental fog I’ve been in will lift, the world will be a little kinder and safer, and we can all carry on doing our real work.

Growing Up

The past year has seen a dramatic shift in Númenor and Ithilien.

Sure, they’re bigger.  And they speak more conventional English now.  But all that is trifling.  I’m talking about a big, fundamental change.

As unschooled kids, they pretty much run wild through their lives.  They do whatever they want to do, and as their parents, teachers, and facilitators, we try to stay out of their way and provide them with resources and opportunities.  And last spring, that was all that was happening.

But as the mornings turned cooler and the scent of woodsmoke began to permeate our early autumn landscape, something changed.

It’s difficult to put into words exactly what’s different, but it’s almost like they have become more focused.

I used to offer to help them look things up.  Now they demand to be shown information.

The endless rattling of questions has started to follow a particular path instead of zigzagging madly between topics.

They listen longer, and closer.  They make more guesses and inferences for themselves instead of asking me to give them each piece of the puzzle.

They have plans.  Real, concrete plans for things that might actually happen– lots of fantasy still thrown in there, but more akin to daydreams than to the acid binges of imagination we were used to.

Before, learning was something that happened to them– they were naturally curious, of course, like all primates, but they didn’t trouble themselves overmuch with knowing anything particular.  Now, they almost seem to vibrate with the intense, conscious desire to learn.

They want to cook, so they are helping to make the menu, and browsing in cookbooks, and being the chefs de cuisine one night per week.

They want to stargaze, so they are finding astronomy books and star guides at the library and making sure we check the weather forecast.

They want to knit, so they are watching my hands intently and making some tentative starts with fingers and spools.

They want to know about bugs, so they are running for the guidebook and carefully trapping interesting things under upside-down juice glasses for observation.

They want to write, so they are using the sound map and copying words from books.

So things look a bit different this spring than they have in previous years, when our children were just the vessels of our vision for this grand educational experiment.

In the fall, the change will likely be more complete, and Númenor and Ithilien will be taking even more leadership in their own lives, but for right now the shift is still underway, and we’re balanced between the two of them being our satellites– doing their own thing but always around what we adults are doing– and all four of us being off on our own individual journeys and making a rather messy pack as we go.

It’s strange to think that, not that long ago, they were each just a tiny tickling thing behind my bellybutton.

Strange, and wonderful.