Three Girl Pile-Up

…adventures of our homeschooling family

Month: November, 2009

A fairy photo shoot

We’ve been in full throttle holiday mayhem around here.  Turkey and cousins and leaf-gathering and crafting.  Did I mention crafting?  Sewing, mostly.  We’re experimenting with a new holiday plan, celebrating Christmas in Chicago with my family in early December.  We leave on Wednesday.  Which means that I have been madly completing last-minute gifts–and it isn’t even December yet.  I think this will turn out to be a great plan–it’s just that I have to readjust my gift-making schedule.  And I do think that next year we will not try and travel the week after Thanksgiving.  What was I thinking?

Anyway, in the midst of all the madness, Anna and I found a little time to do an outdoor photo shoot with her new fairy dolls.  I think I’ve mentioned her obsession with love of the Rainbow Magic fairy books.  For her birthday, Maggie and I made her a set of the Rainbow Fairies from the first set of books.  We used the wonderful Fern Friends pattern from Fern & Faerie.

Anna wanted to get each of the fairies in a place that coordinated with her color.  Luckily, it’s been a warm fall–so there’s still quite a lot out there.

Ruby the Red Fairy found a spot in the pineapple sage.

Amber the Orange Fairy perched on some cosmos.

Sunny the Yellow Fairy nestled in a bed of leaves, complete with leaf blanket.

Fern the Green Fairy also snuggled down in bed, hers of lamb’s ear.

Sky the blue fairy kept falling off her spring of mystery blue flowers, so we gave her some help.

Inky the Indigo fairy found her spot in a (miraculously) blooming iris.

And  finally, Heather the Violet Fairy fit perfectly in our purple cabbage.

This was FUN.  It was a gorgeous day, and it was a delight to the amazing number of flowers that were still blooming, even in late November.  I have a new camera I’m trying to get the hang of, so this gave me a chance to play with it (I do think I’m going to have to break down and read the manual).  And before we went in, we turned on the video, and Anna did interviews with some of the fairies.  Good times.

And now, back to the sewing….


Knitter, know thyself.

(thanks to my friend Lauren for sending me this picture of me knitting, and to my friend Nancy for my beloved owl stitch marker happily dangling from that project!)

I’m still finding my way as a knitter, still trying to figure out which projects really work for me.  The trick seems to be in finding the sweet spot, that place where projects are interesting but not too complicated.  Where the process is pleasing but the product is something to be enjoyed, too.  And since I’m also trying not to have too many different projects on  the needles at one time, I’ve become a bit more ruthless at ripping back projects that are at a dead end, and being choosy about which projects I cast on.

I’m realizing that the projects I follow to completion have most of the following traits:

1. Wool yarn.  I prefer wool.  Not necessarily 100% wool, but at least some wool.  Or alpaca.  But not cotton, and not a synthetic.  Often it’s seemed like a good idea, but I just don’t enjoy the knitting as much.

2.  Quick gratification.  Maybe it’s a small project, maybe it’s thick yarn that grows quickly in my hands.  It makes all the difference to feel like I’m getting somewhere.

3. There are milestones. Although socks are not a quick knit (at least in my hands), they have milestones that help built momentum.  Finish the ribbing!  Turn the heel!  Pick up stitches!  Long shawls and scarves are a poor fit for me–it just seems like they just go on and on and on.

4.  It’s a gift for  someone dear to me.  Even when I’m stalled, this keeps me going.  It got me through the Clapotis that would never end, and through the cabled socks that took me years to complete (that picture above is me working on sock #2).  Nevertheless, I’m trying to do a better job picking projects so I don’t have to use this as a fallback.

5.  Yarn that I love. Really love. Soft.  Easy to knit.  Beautiful colors.  Yarn I want to snuggle with.

6. Only a little bit interesting. Just enough that I can feel the thrill of an accomplished knitting project.  But not so much that I can’t have a conversation while I’m knitting, or set it down mid-row and find my way back again.  If it does have a pattern, it’s either repetitive or doesn’t have too many rows.

7.  Did I mention small? Small is good.  Quickly finished is good.  Especially since things other people describe as “quick knits” seem to take me a long time.

8. Very little making up required. I recently found a sweater I had knit for a friend’s baby.  It was knit and blocked, but I never got it sewn up.  Which will take me something like 30 minutes, I think.  The child it was for is now two years old.  Enough said.

I currently have a sweater for Maggie and a scarf for Anna on my needles.  Neither are good for on-the-go knitting; the sweater’s just too big and the sweater is too complicated.  I’m contemplating a simple, straight knitting project to carry around with me…I’m considering socks and a pair of fingerless gloves for myself.  Or perhaps I’ll live dangerously and cast on both.

Yep, really living on the edge around here.


I have a lot of great pictures from our day at home yesterday.  Like these balancing pipe cleaners.

Or Maggie’s cursive shopping list:

The girls making cookies together:

Spontaneous four-seasons art work…

and much more that I don’t have pictures of.  Planting garlic.  The girls playing outside with Mopsey.  Maggie attaching a helium balloon to a ball of yarn, and extending it far up into the sky.

But oh my, those pictures and memories do not tell the whole story.  They don’t show the way Maggie had a catastrophic meltdown when she had trouble getting her pipe cleaner to balance.  Or the enormous amount of yelling there was over that precious balloon.  Or all the wrangling and tears and unhappiness was interspersed with the garlic planting.

And while I regret the part that I played in the yelling (oh, I did), I also know that it’s what I see in those pictures that we’ll really remember.  We are, all of us, strong and passionate and spirited.  It’s just never going to be constant smooth sailing around here.  We have our bumps, but seem to always be able to find our way back to one another.  We pile up into grampa’s chair, and laugh and love all over each other.

I’m hoping for a calmer day today.  But also trying to trust that all that big love will see us through.

Party Pants and a Fairy Castle

Phew!  It’s been busy around here!  What with Anna’s actual birthday and then her birthday party and a busy time at work and the upcoming holidays, suddenly it seems we are moving at a breakneck pace around here.

There have been a few too many late nights for me, mainly working on birthday presents and the like.  On Friday afternoon, I got caught up in my knitting and did not get started on Anna’s birthday cake.  Despite this, I also got it in my head that I would not only make her a birthday crown, but I would also sew her a pair of fancy pants for the next day’s party.  After Maggie’s play, Anna was entranced with the faux brocade that was Maggie’s costume, so I bought a piece to make into something for her to wear.  I settled on a pair of pants, starting with the pants pattern from “Carefree Clothes for Girls.” It’s a beautifully simple pattern, with only two pieces–just what I needed!  My only comment would be that the pants definitely run short, so you may want to take that into account. Well, that and that the patterns don’t have seam allowances.  What’s up with that?  Anyway, I was able to whip up the pants while the crumb coat on the cake was setting up in the fridge (thank you, serger!).  So the next morning, Anna was decked out in her golden pants, her matching birthday crown, and her hand-me-down sequined shoes.

I have to say that I would not recommend this fabric for kids clothes.  It frays like crazy; by the time we were home from the party, one of the seams had come undone due to fraying.  And the fabric is fragile; Anna had a run-in with a big strip of velcro in the bounce house, and it ripped up the surface of the fabric.  While it may not be so common to encounter so much velcro, this fabric is definitely not well suited to the hard physical play that’s the norm around here–even for my little princess.

And did I mention that there was a cake?  Anna has been planning her birthday cake for some time, and settled months ago that she wanted a fairy castle cake.  I love making an elaborate cake, and even spent time earlier in my life working as a cake decorator.  So for me, it’s a treat to have a cake project to work on.  Granted, it would have been nice not to work into the wee hours of the morning–but that timing was entirely my own fault.  So I brewed some tea, put on an audiobook, and settled in to work.

I wish I had some pictures of the cake in progress, but all that icing doesn’t lend itself so well to pulling out the camera.  Especially at one in the morning.  So we’ll all have to settle for a picture of the finished project.

Happy birthday, Anna–again!

And it’s onward to Thanksgiving…..

Remembering Anna’s arrival.

It’s Anna’s 5th birthday today. Holy crap, I can hardly belive that my baby is five.

For some reason, this year I’ve found myself really remembering the time around her birth, from the days leading up to the long and challenging birth itself and then the first weeks at home.

(Okay, I’m a spaz with the pictures. I have no idea why there are white spaces and dotted lines. Trying to fix it is making it worse, so I’m stopping now!)






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These pictures remind me of so much.  Of our joyful anticipation of Anna’s arrival.  Of her peaceful and alert entrance into the world, despite the fact that she was in an operating room.  Of all the arms that were there to hold her in those early weeks.  Of how little Maggie was, and how long and red her hair used to be!  But mostly of how that was the time that somehow we transitioned from a married couple with a child to a full-fledged family.  And though I still sometimes yearn to have just-one-more, our family does feel complete.  Thanks to Anna.

As Justin Roberts says,

“Who knew a baby sister

could come along and make us realize

how much we’d always missed her….”

Cartwheels and Somersaults

(listen to the whole song here)

Happy Birthday, Anna!  We sure do love you.

My latest cookbook crush

I admit it.  I tend to get crushes on cookbooks.  Last summer it was Patricia Wells’ Vegetable Harvest.  Newly obsessed with my own garden’s bounty and eating locally in generally, I literally ate up all her recipes for seasonal produce.

This fall?  Things are a little different around here.  While I’m still gardening and shopping at the market, my newish part-time job has made life significantly more crowded.  So my new cookbook crush?


I’ve been a Cook’s Illustrated junkie for years now…I love the look and feel of the magazine, and the approach to testing recipes appeals to the scientist in me.  So when I got an offer for a discounted copy of this book, I couldn’t resist.  I rarely buy cookbooks, and when I do, it’s usually only after a long trial period with the library copy.  But there was no copy of this in the library, so I just took the plunge.

So far, so good!  The recipes really do take 30 minutes, and  use tricks like cooking pasta in a sauce rather than separately.  So in addition to quick cooking, the recipes tend to use minimal pots and pans–always a bonus.  The only shortcoming for me is that the recipes often have an ingredient or two that I don’t generally have on hand, so advance planning is required.  But being able to produce a real dinner on the fly definitely makes it worth it.

The hut-tent-car, or why we limit screen time.

The other morning, both the kids were a little squirmy.  Anna in particular.  It was a cold and rainy day, and I had my hands full doing some household chores.  Anna wanted to turn on the computer, but I said no, let’s look around for something else to do.  She wanted me to tell her what do to, but vehemently rejected the few suggestions I made.  She finally headed off to her room and I went back to filing the dishwasher.

Before long, I realized that there was a cold draft in the kitchen.  I looked over and saw that the door to the screen porch was open.  I looked out, and this is what I saw:


“Hi Mom,”  said Maggie.  “This is our hut-tent-car.”

“Yeah!” said Anna.  “We made it OURSELVES!”

And they went back to what they were doing, absorbed in the details of their imaginary adventure.

This is a perfect illustration of why I have found it best to limit screen time around here.  In some ways, a dreary Sunday morning seems like the perfect time to curl up with video.  And on some days, it might be. But we’d had more than a little screen time the day before, and my instinct was that the computer would suck them in and set the tone for the day. And while I’m sure the girls would have enjoyed whatever game they played, I know from experience that it would not have brought them to that joyful, connected groove that I encountered on the porch.

We’ll never be a screen-free family.  We enjoy our television and (obviously) our computers.  But it’s  never felt right to take the path of unlimited screen time, either.  While the theory is that kids will learn to self-regulate, it’s been my experience that an excess of screen time is really detrimental to our family life overall.

But what constitutes an excess of screen time?  Well, that question is certainly a work in progress around here.  I sometimes long desperately for the clarity of folks on the ends of the spectrum–to determine that TV is bad and that their kids will have none of it, or that electronic media are  just part of learning, and their kids can have as much as they want.  We certainly have no hard and fast rules about number of hours or set times for computer use.  In general, we try to stay away from computers and tv in the mornings, when they seems to have a knack for derailing our day.  Mainly, I just try to follow my gut instinct on what we’re all needing at a particular time, and try to guide rather than dictate.

I certainly don’t have this all figured out. I know that I really want to help my kids learn how to move through that place of squirmy boredom.  Electronic media can be so entirely compelling (at least for my kids) that it short-circuits that process.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “No, let’s not turn on the television now,” and then literally within minutes the girls are involved in some elaborate game.  And if I’d said yes, that game would never have happened.

The kids are incredibly good at being in the moment and reaching for the joy at hand.  Which is sometimes electronic in form.  Hopefully, my role can be to keep an ear on the overall pulse of our family, to help our little choices add up to a bigger picture that feels balanced and whole.

Found a peanut.

My in-laws recently harvested a nice crop of peanuts.  With some of their extra seeds, I had put in a few plants myself, but they have been entirely neglected.  I put them in as more or less an afterthought, in what is honestly the worst bed in the garden.  We got a few plants, but they were pretty overrun with weeds, and I didn’t figure they were producing much of anything.  But after seeing the big basket of peanuts at Gramma’s today, it seemed worth at least taking a look to see if there was anything there.

And there was!


After I found the first one, I went inside and got the girls so that they could see.  We managed to dig up a handful of peanuts.  It’s fun–kind of like digging potatoes, it’s a treasure hunt.  For more on peanuts and how they grow, check out this link .

The best part was that after harvesting our little legumes, they quickly started playing a game that involved living in Australia.  Maggie was a wild kangaroo that was attacking the garden, and Anna was scaring her off by tossing radish greens in her hair.  Meanwhile, I cleared out a bed in anticipation of planting garlic and shallots to the happy music of their play.  All in the midst of a gorgeous fall day. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Letting Go

Now, you might think that this post is about letting go of my kids as they grow, or letting go of my control over their learning.

It’s not.

This post is about knitting.

SouleMama recently posted about ripping back a sweater that was almost finished but wasn’t really turning out the way she liked.  It reminded me that I had a few knitting projects in the “retired” basket that really needed some tending to.


So I said goodbye to a number of projects-in-process…

Emma’s Unmentionables–much as I love this pattern, I think this kind of garment is more the kind of thing I would sew rather than knit.  I just didn’t enjoy working on it that much, and by the time I finished it I don’t think it would have fit either of my girls.  So goodbye bloomers, hello many skeins of lovely green Cascade Sierra.  Any ideas what I should do with it?

Bristow-Okay, let’s face it–this sweater was kind of a fantasy.  I still have hopes of knitting a sweater for myself, but a fancy cabled sweater knit on size 5 needles is pretty much of a non-starter.  It’s nice, though, that I now have a sweater’s worth of  worsted weight yarn (gorgeous Black Water Abbey worsted in Ocean) waiting for me when I finally do have the time and concentration to take on a mama-sized sweater.

The Jane Austen Dress: I have been attracted more than once to dresses with knitted bodices and sewn skirts.  A nice quick project, right?  I saw this one on SouleMama, and was charmed.  I got the yarn, cast it on, and started knitting.  But for some reason, the simple lace pattern entirely befuddled me.  I kept messing up the stitch count.  After ripping back three or four times, I decided that this was not the patern for me, no matter how sweet it is.  Yesterday, it finally came off the needles.  I’ve saved the yarn, perhaps for a simpler dress bodice.  But maybe not.  I think I just don’t like knitting with cotton that much!

It feels surprisingly great to rip up the knitting and put it to rest.  All of these projects had been languishing for at least many  months, or even more than a year.  Time to let go and move on!  I wound the balls, put the yarn back in my stash, and was able with equanimity to return to my two current projects on the needles.  No unfinished projects crowding my mind or my knitting basket.


A trio in blue.


(Yes, that is the edge of my pajamas in the upper corner of the photograph.)

These three knits are gifts for dear friends who are soon to be welcoming a new member to their family.  The seeds for this project were planted a loonng time ago, when my friend Jennifer mentioned that if ever I was going to knit something for her daughter, she would love a hat with a scarf attached, since she had fond memories of one from her own childhood.  Not long after that, I came across Knitty’s Toasty Topper, and put that in my mental queue.  So when I found out that Jennifer was expecting a new baby, I thought it would make a good big sister gift, bought the yarn, and knit it this summer while we were in New York (always a time of super-productive knitting).  And then, having just knit Owlet (scroll down) for my nephew, I was inspired to make a hat for the big brother using those fantastic owl cables.

The girls enjoyed modeling the hats.


And then I moved on to baby knitting…I went to the (only) local yarn shop in search of inspiration, and found it: a sample of Lillie’s Little Sweater, a top down hooded cardigan knit (hooray!) in one piece.  Although the shop owner thought I was crazy not to just do a baby sweater in acrylic (sorry, but ick!), I went home with the pattern and some lovely blue Misti Alpaca.

Although blue might not be the usual choice for a baby of as-yet-unknown gender, it seemed perfect to me.  I love blue for baby girls, and it is almost impossible to find–seems like everything blue also has trucks or construction equipment or something that says, “I’m a boy!”  I loved the few pieces of blue clothing that my girls had as babies, so I’m always happy when I can gift a girl with something blue.  And if it turns out to be a boy–well, obviously blue works just fine.  Although I will admit to sewing the buttons on the “girl” side even though the baby hasn’t made his/her gender known yet.  Somehow, I don’t think anyone will notice.

I have to admit that this sweater was a more ambitious knitting project than I had intended.  I’ve been trying to stick to accessories and quick knits that I can actually complete.  But my New York knitting groove got the best of me, and I figured that SURELY I could whip out the sweater in time for the new baby.

Which I have, but just barely.  Jennifer, who has always delivered early, is now 38 weeks–and the sweater is ready to go.  I have been dilligently knitting away on this sweater since we returned from New York in August, but progress has been slow.  I have been disciplined about only knitting on this one project, but when I only seem to get a row or two done at a time, the little sweater grew very slowly.  But grow it did, and now it’s finished, ready to cradle that sweet little head when it arrives.

I wouldn’t gift just anyone with a hand-knit alpaca sweater, but I’m so happy to give this to Jennifer.  Although not a knitter herself, she appreciates the love and care that goes into such a gift–and she isn’t afraid of a natural fiber!  (Although I did buy a small bottle of Euclan to include with the knits.)  I also know she will hand this down first to her own babies and then to others who will enjoy this little bit of knitted goodness.  I love imagining this little sweater getting passed around from one family to the next, wrapping new little babies in coziness and love.

In the meantime, getting that project finished has given me a spurt of new knitting momentum.  More to come on that….