Sunday, December 28, 2008

Winter at the nature nook

Finally sunshine. The little one goes to work fluffing snow, arranging pine cones, making sure the bird is warm and freeing the lamb from his collar and bell.

While we slept, soft snow fell on trees, animals and winter children.

The snow goes away, for now. A red pine cone takes the nest and a woolly lamb snuggles in winter girl's lap. The little one wanted to take winter girl's jacket off because the sun was out, but I said we had to wait until spring. (Because it is *felted* on!)

A cloud-nest gathers nearby.

Pine cones are dipped in snow, felted evergreens and stuffed trees are tucked into snow drifts.
I guess I love this play as much as the little one!

Winter bird finds the nest.
And the little one finds the egg!

Happy Sunny Winter's Day

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Season's Song

Warmth and brightness close the night and in the morning we wonder and wish and hope and try. Nighttime, we toss and turn and mumble about wanting, spill fragments of dreams into dark words. If only the warmth could stay forever and I could be blanketed in quilts and firelight. Moments so fleeting I tire trying to hold on. We speak, confused as if our bodies were not solid forms, just fluid and flowing. Now rain and fog, now snow melting. Distances stretch long. Carols once sung, now echo, the lyrics ordered and forever. Eating and full, we soak in a dark wine while dry needles fall to the floor. We chatter and laugh, then sit quietly, so close, we fall into each other and sleep our dream of fire and winter.

Monday, December 22, 2008

On the cold day

"I'm writing my name on the cold day" - Maia scratching into the frost on Julian's window.

Yesterday was the shortest and one of the coldest days of winter yet. Mai extended her nap and almost slept through dinner. Who could tell if it was day or night? The temp was in the negatives, so the dog walking and snow clearing was done with efficiency else the wind brought tears to the eyes. Getting us through are the celebrations coming soon, a few warm fires, visits from Grandpa and Nana, kid sleepovers and lots of indoor play. A few of my favorite things this last week included seeing Julian in a buttondown shirt and tie for winter chorus (second from left, top row), eating warm tapioca pudding out of the pot, listening to the Verve remixed Christmas, Hanna Andersson's winter sales on outerwear and underwear, Trader Joes peppermint joe-joes from St. Nick, the classic 1985 Live aid video of "Do they know it's Christmas," having a lap full of sewing projects, Jan Brett picture books, a reupholstered couch and a little drooling over the gorgeous Waldorf toys from Nova Natural . What I'm not particularly liking is Mai waiting to go potty until it is nearly a natural disaster and of course saying she does not have to go just minutes before. Any tips? It has been a long time since we last went through this phase. "Come pee with me, I'm lonely" is only occasionally working :).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I've got my love to keep me warm

Before the real snow fell

Daddy carry

The fireplace waiting

Stella is in over her head

Snow dog

Hip high

Weeping mulberries in a powdery bed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow Day - playing doctor

We've had a few runny noses this week, so it wasn't a bad thing that a foot or more of snow fell in the last few days. Today is officially a snow day, schools, universities, libraries, museums, whole villages closed while the final inches of thundersnow fall, blow and drift. Except the hospital never closes and John has a consult or two to attend to today. We've got a stock pile of winter books to read, lots of kid movies and a playdate scheduled for later in the day. I admit I am enjoying this, for now. The excitement of winter storms, the knee deep snow, watching the dog jump and bite and attack the snow, being snuggled in deep under warm blankets with no pressure to go anywhere or do anything but whatever becomes necessary. It isn't bad, for now. So we play doctor, build castles and read books and watch the white wind blow out of the frosty window.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Soapmaking - more clean fun

I found an old box of soap making supplies in the attic and thought it would be good day for an indoor activity as the arctic blast moved through Wisconsin. I used blocks of veggi based soap, chopped them into small bits and microwaved them in a glass measuring cup. Mai added good smelling oils and a few drops of color. She helped me pour the liquid soap into molds (some meant for soap, some meant for Jello).
I got many of the supplies at Micheals and some of the specialty molds and olis at Brambleberry soap making supplier.

Mai especially liked the car molds and decided not to give any of them away, at least for now!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snow blowing, ice chopping and a very large pair of boots

Since we now have a corner lot, the snow blowing, shoveling and ice chopping had increased threefold, and since John works often late into the evening, I have taken on snow removal with an obsessive-compulsive attack plan. First, snow blowing, then shoveling, then salting, then chopping, then shoveling some more. It is quite good exercise, as long as you 'bend with the knees' and a rather good way to get out the week's worth of frustrations. Sure, my snow blowing handling is a bit wild (picture me chasing a smoking, revving snow blower down the block...), but I'll get that in time. It's when I hear on the news that the arctic blast is heading this way and am compelled to drop everything and finish clearing what is left of the melting ice in the driveway that I wonder if I am turning into John's father. He has been known to clear two or three walkways before the oatmeal water hits the pot. Maybe this is what home ownership does to folks who happen to be at home more than they are away.

As for the very large pair of boots, those belong to Julian, who now does not fit into an 7 or an 8, but now a 9. That is a men's size NINE. No more cute, bright colored, puffy boys boots. Now it is all big and clunky and twice the price.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Great Indoors, Part One of Many

I guess we have transitioned into winter living as evidenced by the increased indoor activities and messes that have appeared around the house this week. In one scene, Julian teaches Maia how to take play dough fun to a new level by plastering her cars to the dining room wall. Board games have also made a comeback for Maia. We dug out and played some cooperative games by Ravensburger like Snails Pace and Domino's, which are super gentle and fun, as well as our own version of Candy Land in which we disregard all rules entirely and go hopping along the squares munching all treats in sight. We play memory (another modified version) with all tiles facing up, taking turns picking one and having the other find the match.
And then there is some reading going on. Pictured also is Julian enjoying an Onion article with a headline that goes something like "Math Teacher Ruins Weekend with Senseless Homework" but probably not using quite such 'polite' words. John is reading Rick Riordan's fourth book in the Percy Jackson series aloud to Julian at night and both of us are enjoying reading John Birmingham picture books to Maia, along with the usual fare of Dora, George, Elmer, Froggy, Little Bear, Clifford, the pigeon and those darn talking cars. So we begin this snowy season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Little bird, fly through my window

This little felted bird found a nice perch in a winter plant by the window. Mai has been so interested in what I am up to with my needles and thread and felt and fabric that I often find my creations in a shoe or a lunchbox along with a handful of poly fill, tangled thread strands and the dog's bone. This one was nestled snugly in her toy barn next to a few cows and a chicken in a stroller. I guess that explains who is responsible for the shiny gum wrapper and stuffed animals tucked into branches on our Christmas tree.

Friday, December 05, 2008

And the seasons they go round and round and the painted pony goes up and down

The ten inches of snow never fell, but we did get a nice 6 inches or so in two installments, with the next two snowfalls forecasted for this weekend. So December rolls winter in with no sort of hesitation. Hello white stuff: soft, fluffy, glistening, and cold, slippery and heavy. Julian doesn't seem to notice the cold on his walks to school. "Feels normal to me," he says, with his too short pants and almost too small tee shirt. He rejected last year's boots as "way too small" and walked to school in his tennis shoes. At least he wears gloves and his hooded jacket when he bikes through the snowy side streets. He has gone though a serious growth spurt in the last few months. Taller, thicker (which doesn't mean much for his skinny bones), sassier and more confident (do these two go hand in hand?). He needs and wants me less and less these days, and admonishes me for being too nosy and caring too much about the minutia of his daily assignments and grades. Independent bound, I guess, and that just great for me. Except when he doesn't do things my way, all the time (ha)! Maia too has scooted up the growth chart, given up her diapers and Nuks, gotten a short, (almost tangle-free) haircut and walks upstairs and downstairs without needing accompanying. I am still using most of my free time to finish up my last two projects for class (a book and a textile meal) and getting terribly distracted by the colorful wool roving that is calling out to be made in to felted fruit and cute little animals, faeries and dolls.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Put your hands together

The snow is beginning to fall, ten inches have been predicted, so it is a good time to cozy up with a good book or gather the craft making supplies. Better yet, settle in under that hand knit afghan and get your paws on the new book Handmade Nation by Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl. The book is a companion to a film of the same name to be released in February and is an exploration of the new generation of art and craft makers. The artists, who live from coast to coast, describe in interviews their reasons for creating and selling the handmade, what it means to them to create, what materials they use (emphasis on re purposed and recycled) and their backgrounds and influences. Add a ton of full page photo spreads of work spaces, artwork, materials, artisans and craft fairs and you got a book of inspiration in your palms of your hands. Our holiday Art vs. Craft fair was held yesterday, organized by the author herself for the past five years, and it was not only overflowing with folks (lined up down the block and around the corner) but with some super unique and finely crafted items. These darling George button barrettes were made by Glitter Workshop and the ceramic tab by Circa Ceramics (can you guess who that is for?). Alright, I did want the brain tile, bowl, cup and magnet, but you gotta spread the goodness out. So take the buy handmade pledge and join in the handmade hootenanny.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I have never had cleaner hands...

I told myself that I had to use up all of my latest art material purchases before going out for more goodies. So, I finished up a felting project I had been intending to do since I read The Creative Family and since seeing Mother Rising's beautiful felted ball necklace. So Mai and I dipped our hands into bowls of warm soapy water to felt for the first time. The smell of warm wool, the feel of squishy soapy balls and the very clean hands where just a few of the highlights. It took a while to get the hang of making the balls, getting it rolled tight enough and giving just the right pressure, heat and agitation to get the fibers to interlock. We ended up with some nice larger balls with bells inside, some smaller ones and some "seaweed" which was of Maia's creation. It seems that at a certain point the fibers get so matted that they can no longer be reshaped (?). Nonetheless, Mai exclaimed "I am so cited bout that!" so I must deem it a success. Happy Sunday!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Coffee, tea or rust?

Okay, so the giveaway is (what folly) extended indefinitely because folks out there just don't yet know that they really, really want that fibers magazine. So, let us divert our attention to something more pleasing. I have been experimenting with new ways to make marks on fabric, and to my surprise, though coffee and tea are most appetizing, rust is my current favorite. Coffee, I found is stronger, dyes darker than tea and is more colorfast. But rust, lovely rust, of the sort that never stops, is unpredictable and poorly behaved. It bleeds where it likes and continues the process long after you wish it to. And it can take a bit of weaseling to beg old rusty parts off your in laws. The one pictured is made from an old brake drum, some steel wool and rusty pipe fittings. So, if you have anything just sitting away in a rustbucket, save it! And make something with it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

If my apron could talk giveaway

Apron one is complete! It was put together based on a few designs from A is for Apron by Nathalie Mornu and my own excessive layering and need for text. I used dyed fabric stamped, stenciled, printed on, shibori (ed), resist pasted, bleached, thioxed, and sewn on. Most is cotton, although there is a bit of organza and tulle. I concluded that ruffles are fun and text is difficult. I also, of course, got lots of different interpretations. My intentions were to create something that reflected my views and experience of cooking. The text in the bib, which is really just supposed to be a really wide waistband, is fragments of cooking directions: stir continuously, serve piping hot, reduce heat, simmer 1 hour, etc.) which reflects my dependence on cookbooks as well as my fragmented knowledge of and ambivalence towards the culinary arts. The topic had to be related to food, as are the rest of the projects. Another discovery for those of the fibers minded: The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff which has instructions and examples of gathering, shirring, making ruffles, flounces, godets, pleating, smocking, tucking cording, quilting, applique and using darts. Enough said. An amazing book. Now back to the pile on my desk of thank you cards, PTO meeting notes, budget charts, magazine clippings and the just cracked Pride and Prejudice novel. So for fun, and I have never done this before, I would like to giveaway, in order to clear my desk a bit, an issue of Fiber Arts (sept/oct 2008) which is always an inspiring look-see. So leave a comment and I will pick a name by next Friday. Cheers!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Three is the Magic Number

So that new three year old tries out her birthday quilt. Jumpworthy? I guess. Actually, she liked the Lightning Mcqueen blanket cousin Lauren made her much better than mine, but hey, I can deal. I had forgotten how much cloth wrangling it takes to get a larger quilt through a small sewing machine, but with that and some leaf raking, I have gotten some pretty good exercise lately. I lined the quilt with a bamboo fill, which was thinner than expected, but decent in warmth, and used the leftover fabric as binding. Yes, those are mitered corners with "invisible" slip stitching! Now, back to things of smaller proportion. Anyone need a baby blanket, or rather, a doll blanket???

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Spinning out of the blur

The blur that was the last few weeks is (maybe) coming into finer focus. Halloween was a manic mix of sweets, disguises and horrors. The wicked witch melted (down) at least once, and all the (adult) characters slept though the midnight movie (Donnie Darko) as usual. Candy, candy and more candy was secretly weighed and distributed between three boys. Nighttime Trick or Treating in the old neighborhood featured some new faces and new wrinkles (including a rolling, glass-clanking traveling cooler stuffed with adult treats of the liquid kind, though I had nothing to do with it :). The festivities were fantastic as usual, with hoards of greedy goblins racing around in packs, weaving through the meek first timers, glowing in the twilight, sacks full. The costume that took the uniqueness prize was Jr. Bucket Head, though we speculated that mom was the real fan.
Lately, the sewing machine has gotten more attention than than the computer. Fiber projects (aprons), appliqued tee shirts (for fun), and a quilt for Ms. Mai's birthday (which is tomorrow!) have all seen the sharp point of a sewing needle. I stole away to see a few art exhibits and am looking forward to spending some time at a few holiday craft fairs. And of course, another party to host, Mai's third birthday. So the mania continues...
Above photo by Grandpa Marc, more blur here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

49 degrees in the sun

I completely forgot what 49 degrees feels like, and brrrrr, when the wind is whipping off of Lake Michigan, it is chilly! What then might 12 degrees feel like? And why is it such a shock and surprise when those northern winds blow in? Like duh, of course it is going to get cold, it's Wisconsin dingbat! Sounds like something my 12 year old might say these days when he is not busy answering my questions about where his "stuff" is. He headed out a few days ago with shorts and a tee shirt and I stopped him. Where is your jacket? Its in my locker. Where is you other jacket? At Ben's. And where is you other, other jacket? I don't know. And we go on like this for a while discussing his missing keys, forgotten permission slips and soggy assignment notebook. It will take time I reassure myself. Lots and lots of time. And miss Mai Mai now crosses her arms across her chest and pouts! What is this? I don't mind the sneaky little laugh she hides behind her hand when she is up to something not so innocent, but a pout? Already? Luckily she still says things like "I like you dad because you make me laugh" and "I have young hands." And "you can go in the closet dad when we get a cat" referring to JB's allergies. And plenty of sighs and huffs and ah hems to communicate just about anything she wants to, pleasant or not so...

Lot's of autumnal pics here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On our way

So fall is upon us and we crunch through leaves, look up at bare branches as if surprised, feel the chill of a cold morning and begin to turn towards home and harvest. Exciting things are on their way; pumpkin carving, apple pie, trick or treating and piles of leaves for jumping in. But there's more. The election is just weeks away and both parties will be pulling out all stops. McCain continues his unrelenting campaign to tarnish Obama's character, but to no avail, Barak is calm, steady handed and deeply realistic in his ideology. We are not angry and scared as McCain keeps saying, we are distrustful of our government and are ready to make change happen. I personally don't want to hear any more empty promises of lowering taxes while the country's infrastructure unravels. Taxes are patriotic if paid into a system that keep the public good at the forefront of its budget making. I know there is hard work ahead of us, and I don't want a bailout or a band aid. I want a realistic plan to make use of our country's manpower, knowledge and resources so that there is something to be proud of, to be patriotic about. So, we are counting down the weeks until we get our chance to be heard. Let's just hope every vote counts, this time.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Fun, Fun, Fun in the Autumn Time

I guess we have fallen into a good autumn routine round here: (blogging not included, apparently) but, pie and soup cooking, daily pepper and (green) tomato harvesting, walks to class and back, collecting progressively more colorful leaves, weekend soccer games, weekly trips to the park, the children's museum and the zoo. Lots of cloth dying, stamping with thickened fiber reactive dye, discharging with thiox and bleach, vat dyes, stenciling and lino printing on fabric.

Maia has started a collection of leaves and sticks of her own and continues to chat joyfully throughout her daily activities. "Juju, it's morningtime, the sun is in your window!" she exclaimed on a weekend morning when Juj was trying to catch up on sleep. She is missing her brother and asks when he will be home and if he is not around she says "I'm gonna sit on the couch and think about him." And Julian is as busy as ever, having a life of his own, stopping at coffee shops after school for treats and to do his homework, staying after school for science programs or to use the rec room. We parents are still trying to figure out how much time should be spent on homework, studying Spanish and tests. "Study for tests? I don't study for tests!!" he says. And he usually does pretty well, but still, dude, we all study for tests around here!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Woodland Faries and the "Nature Table"

I have always collected bits of nature, rocks and shells from the beach, pine cones, interesting driftwood and lately, roots and twisted branches. I usually place them around the house in baskets or on a shelf, but I was inspired by the Waldorf style nature tables I have been seeing in blogland lately and decided to create my own version.

Mai and I made woodland faries out of clothspins, tulle, ribbon and pipe cleaners. We gathered up our various collections of leaves, sticks and pine cones, rocks and tree blocks and made a miniature woodland. Maia's sand-paint artwork in greens and blue worked well as a pond and grass. The "nature table" continues to grow each day with the addition of nuts, seeds, dinosaurs, the very hungry caterpillar and some fisher price little people. I am now just waiting for the Thomas the tank engine to make his way into the forest. Rudolf Steiner be danged!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wring, Squeeze or Press

I put my cloth through a couple of dye baths last week and am beginning to clarify what direction I am going in this semester. I love the process, the crisp white cloth, the buckets of warm water, the apron and rubber gloves. Using wood blocks, rocks, rubber bands, thread, clamps and bubble wrap to create pattern. Watery marks left on the cloth, like Rorschach blots, colors mixing in the water, or layer upon layer on the cloth, like watercolors. I was happy to see the cell-like forms rocks created (on green cloth left) and have been looking at the shapes and patterns of magnified plant cells, tree rings, roots, onion skins and tubers. I'm also experimenting with pole wrapping, binding, folding, and stitching - traditional shibori techniques. It is a beautiful art form and I am amazed by the imagery, depth and color that can be created on cloth through these methods. And, it is addictive. "Never throw a piece of cloth out, ever, no matter how much you don't like it!" declares my instructor. "You can always do something more to it." And it's true: dye, discharge and repeat. Many happy accidents await!

Little harvest, big taste

We attended our first block party in the new neighborhood last weekend, which was Olympic themed. Each household chose a country and was to bring wine or beer and a dish from that country. We chose South Africa, why, I really don't know, other than we got our form in late and knew the big ones were taken. Anyway, John has been to southern Africa and I have a friend I could consult with who is from Pretoria. The flag making was easy and the wine tasting fun. We loved the Roodeberg wine which M. recommended. But, the food, where to start? A sticky cake called a "koeksister," a "bredie" (stew) or "boerewors" (sausage)? I ended up starting with what I had in plentiful amounts: tomatoes, hot peppers and some coriander seeds from the garden which became a Cape Malay Chicken Curry. It was so full of flavors that it disappeared shortly after I set it down on the potluck table. It had ginger, fennel, lemon, coriander, cumin, garlic, cinnamon, and lots more curry spices. I also made a sweet South African yellow rice with cinnamon and raisins. Not bad for someone who ain't exactly thrilled about cooking and often sees it as a chore. And next year? As newbies, we have been conscripted into organizing the next block party. Yeah thanks and welcome to the neighborhood!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Swimming: a reflection

Swimming down the lane, after the initial shock of the cold water and the goggle and cap adjustments, the breathing beginning to become regulated, the cramps and soreness of the new strokes worked out. Twenty minutes into the swim, and I feel as if no effort is given, no thinking is being done. I feel as if I should be doing nothing else, that this is all I should ever be doing. Swimming. Through the lighted, blue smoothness, rocking back and forth in bilateral breathing, swishing at the turn, kicking off and gliding, reaching again for water and breath. The kick behind me, a thump, thump of some heartbeat rippling through the water, like amniotic fluid. I swam when I was pregnant, I remember. It has been that long. But here is my same blue swimsuit and red kick board, the dry sauna and hot showers. Here are the lane makers and the underwater bodies, distorted and reaching, the colorful caps bobbing in and out of the water, and the life guard. The bored-looking young life guard, staring past the swimmers, hypnotized by the warm air, the motion and the shimmering water. The water. Warm now, warmer than the air. I don't want to stop. I may not stop. I remember.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Back at it

Mai and I visited the ecology center this last week and played with the magnet/sand table (pushing little boats around from underneath the table with magnetism... magic!). She was able to pet a garter snake and a salamander (two fingers only), hold the ex-exoskeleton (carapace) of a turtle and watch the frogs and turtles swim around in their tanks. Outside and down the hill by the bike trial we visited the community gardens and saw delicious patches filled with tomatoes, cucs, corn, lettuce, peppers, cabbages, carrots and lots of flowering vine veggies. Maia met a little caterpillar and tried to pet its fuzzy back. We walked home and noticed a hint of crunch in the leaves under our stroller and a few spots of color (other than green) in the fallen leaves. Autumn, fall, harvest, cooling, why? why? why? she asks. The air is a cool relief; the energy buzzing around me. I walk slowly, breathing in, taking in the opening act of one of natures more flamboyant shows.

We are up early last week, walking and biking, commuting to school. Mai and I to my art classes/children's center and Juj over to a friends and then the few blocks to the middle school. We load up the panniers, the backpacks, the stroller as if we are leaving for a mini camping trip; lunches, water bottles, stuffed animals, rain gear, books, wipes and a frozen yogurt to go. So far so good for the first week, but to keep the commitment of no driving will be a challenge come the cold Wisconsin weather. But thats a long way off, isn't it?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The House in the Night

While in Minnesota, we visited Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, an independent bookshop with a wonderful selection of picture books, young adult fiction and Native American literature (with a fabulous kids lofted play area). I picked up a book of poems by the owner, Louise Erdrich, called "Original Fire" and a lovely children's book by a Minnesotan author Susan Marie Swanson called "The House in the Night." It is beautifully illustrated by Beth Krommes of New Hampshire and was inspired by classic nursery rhymes with cumulative patterns. The book pulls you in with a golden key, which opens the door to a house. In the house there is a light, a bed and a book. We enter the book on a birds' song and view the "starry dark." As we begin to circle back to the key and the house and the bed, Swanson writes:
"Sun in the moon,
moon in the dark,
dark in the song,
song in the bird,
bird in the book..."

A truly, lovely bedtime story with magical illustrations.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Just a little bit longer...

Back from vacation and wishing school wasn't just around the next corner with it's 8am studios, daily cold lunches for three, fall sports practices, cooler evenings and earlier sunsets. But who am I to question our swiftly tilting planet? The one that reveals an orange moon rising in a star speckled black night, or a clear view of the milky way on a warm night when one can jump off a pier, after sweating in a wood fire sauna, and stare back at Jupiter. The one that smells of pine and dirt, produces delectable tomatoes and spicy peppers. The one that brings constant change, reminding me again and again to adjust and adapt, but also to enjoy and savor.

more pictures of our trip to Minnesota here