7 November


I was recently asked to review a copy of the magazine Mingle. Although I don't have the readership numbers that I once had, I'm always flattered when anyone asks me to review something, so I said why not. Mingle is a large, colorful, well laid-out magazine put out by Stampington, who also publishes Artful Blogging and a few other similar magazines. One of the things I like about their line of magazines is the quality. They are all large, on heavyweight paper, with beautiful photography and styling. I've always been a magazine connoisseur since I was a little girl, so I appreciate nice-quality magazines. (Someday I might write more about my magazine love.)

Mingle, summer

Mingle is full of creative ideas for parties and get-togethers. The Autumn 2013 issue has ideas for showers, New Year's and 4th of July Gatherings, a cute kids' gingerbread party, a funky Edgar Allan Poe themed wedding, and lots more. 

Disneyland party!

My very favorite, however, was this Disneyland-themed birthday party. Remember a couple years ago when I hesitantly admitted to being a Michael Jackson fan? I feel like I'm about to do another crazy revelation (that might also ruin my "image" -- haha -- in a similar manner), but I love Disneyland. Like, I crazy love it. I've only been twice ever, but I am kind of obsessed with it. I watch documentaries about it and have books about it and stuff. I'm not into Disney movies, characters, merchandise, or anything else, but oh, how I love a good theme park and there's nothing like Disneyland. 

Anyway, I might have squealed a little when I saw the Disneyland-themed birthday party. Or whatever. 


So, big Disneyland tangent aside, Mingle is a lot of fun. And.... one of you will get your own free copy! Leave a comment on this post and I'll choose a winner early next week. Your magazine will be mailed directly to you from Stampington so I will put them in touch with you. Good luck!

5 October



After my most recent post, one of my long-time readers commented that she sensed things were pretty "full-on" for me right now. She went on to say, "Whatever struggles you are feeling I'm always so moved that you are able to frame things through beauty's lens." This comment was so moving to me. Over the nearly seven years I've been writing here, that's been my goal. I have had a lot of struggles over these seven years, along with a lot of ordinary days, and plenty of joys, too. But my goal has always been to infuse things here, and in my real life, with some beauty and grace. (Sometimes easier said than done.)

In the last six months, things have been more stressful than they ever have been. First with my husband's (now ongoing) unemployment, and the events of baby John's birth. For the most part, I stay pretty upbeat. Only a very few people -- my sister, my husband, and actually my biblical school teacher (and now, you all, ha!) -- really get to know the full extent of my fear and worry and stress. (Note: if you know me in real life, I'm still not likely to open up a lot about this. Since you know me, you know I keep things pretty close.)

At my class this week, my teacher this year handed back our year-end exams from last year. I'm in my fourth and final year of my program, and my class had the pleasure of having the same teacher for second and third year. Over those two years, I became pretty comfortable with being honest in the reflections that were part of our weekly homework. Over that time, I was able to express some things in writing to my teacher that I wouldn't ordinarily express. When I looked at the comments my teacher had written on the back of my exam, this is what I saw:


So fitting, right? I've heard it said that what we are named is our vocation (this is one reason I name my children very carefully), and I guess I shouldn't be surprised that mine would be! Sometimes I can be too caught up in being sensible and reasonable, and can forget that everything -- hardships, ease, life itself -- is by the grace of God. So, all that to say, yes, I've been struggling, and yes, I have, and will continue to, try to infuse this time with beauty and grace as much or more than any other.

Fast forward to last week when I was asked to participate in the blog tour for Small Steps for Catholic Moms. Although this book was co-written by my friend Elizabeth, it's new to me. (It's just been re-released.) It's a wonderful book of simple devotions, organized by the days of the year. It's just what I needed.

small steps

The month of May has reflections on the theme of grace, and I was asked to use one of these as part of my post today (again, so fitting).

Think: "Think of what is above, not of what is on earth."
 - Colossians 3:2

Pray: I am weak, Lord. I am stubborn, impatient, selfish, and vain. Pour forth your grace to relieve me of my weaknesses. Help me grow strong in virtue.

Act: Think of at least one small flaw in your personality that you tend to make excuses for ("Oh, I've never been a patient person!"), and resolve to work on it with God's help. Decide on a consequence for weakness (doing some small job for each infraction, for example), and then follow through with it.


Sometimes I'm all too aware of my faults and do nothing about them. And often, something very small and very concrete like this is just what I need when things have been tough.

I've been so happy to have the chance to be a part of this blog tour and to discover a book that will be a source of blessing and grace for me. I'm also very happy to say that I have the opportunity to introduce this book to one of you, as well -- I have an extra copy from the publisher for one of you! Please leave a comment for an opportunity to win!


(If you'd like an opportunity to win a complete set of CatholicMom.com books, be sure to check out the "Five Minutes Alone" contest.)

7 November

Yarn Along with Ginny today!


Working on Elisabeth's sweater. I will make a Ravelry link for it later today, but right now I'm in a rush to get out the door. My husband's car broke down at work yesterday and I've been chauffering him so that I can have my car for the few things we need to get to. It's been hectic already and promises to continue to be so. He really needs a new car; our 13-year-old Outback has seen its best days come and go, by a long shot. I'm not sure what's going to happen with all that, but it's something we're going to need to address sooner than later.

Reading the Smitten Kitchen cookbook! Love, love, love!!! Smitten Kitchen is already my favorite cooking blog, and the cookbook is more of that goodness!

17 October

Is today really the seventeenth?! As I predicted, October is just flying by! I'm starting to feel a little bit nervous about the Halloween costumes, which I haven't worked on all week. But of course, I do have time. I'm going to try to finish Elisabeth's today if I can.


I'm joining Ginny in the Yarn Along again today. 

Still knitting James's sweater, which is going kind of slowly. One would think on size 10 needles that it would just fly off the needles, especially with how many sports practices and games and meets and lessons that I sit through on a weekly basis. But for some reason, it's just going slowly. Oh, well. One thing I love about knitting is that it can only be done a stitch at a time. It forces a little bit of consciousness of process and time and patience.

I'm also still reading Kristin Lavransdatter. Actually, the copy I was reading before belonged to a friend in my book group, and I gave it back to her, and then it took me a week or ten days to pick up my own copy, so I've only just started the second "book" (middle section of the complete work) recently. I love the book although I've been too tired to read very much in the evenings. 

Thank you for being here, friends. I appreciate you and your thoughtful comments more than you know. xoxox

26 September

Today I decided to join my friend Ginny's Yarn Along (for the first time ever, even though she's been hosting it for what, close to two years?).*

(In Ginny's words: "Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading, and the evidence of this often shows up in my photographs. I love seeing what other people are knitting and reading as well. So, what are you knitting or crocheting right now? What are you reading? Take a photo and share it either on your blog or on Flickr. Leave a link below to share your photo with the rest of us!")

Yarn along! (first time)

I'm working on James's sweater now. It's the third time I've knit this particular pattern and I love that it's like an old friend now. I actually took this picture at the pool on Friday. Since then I've completed a lot more work on the sweater. 

I just started reading Kristin Lavransdatter on Friday. I'm supposed to have finished the first "book" by Sunday, when a book club that I sometimes try to go to will be discussing it. I don't have much time to read so hopefully I'll get that far. I'm about 160 pages in right now, and need to get to 300. So far, I'm really enjoying this book. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I wasn't up for historical fiction along the lines of Anya Seton (I should have known better, Sigrid Unset did win the Nobel Prize for literature!). This newer translation by Tiina Nunnally has been described to me as "luminous" and I have to agree. It is a beautifully written, beautifully translated book. 

*The reason I haven't participated in the Yarn Along before, despite Ginny's frequent encouragement for me to do so, is that I don't read very much anymore. Since I started taking my class two years ago, I find that all my reading time is focused on my schoolwork and for some reason, I've been loath to share pictures of my textbooks as part of it. I guess I just think they'd seem dull to everyone else. :)

22 December: Winter & Holiday Favorites, 2011 edition

Well, I've figured I need to just stop apologizing for not being here much. There are many reasons, some good, some not so good, but we'll just say I'll be here when I can. 

book 2

I toyed with the idea of not doing a winter/Christmas book post again this year. To be honest, I've plowed through many of my very, very favorites over the last 5 years. And I had a moment of doubt last week about it, thinking it just might come across as excessive. But we really are collectors, they're my favorite children's books of all, these wintery and Christmassy ones. They always have been, since my own childhood, I think. So I've decided to share a few with you again. Some of them are new to us this year (the kids always get new nativity books from St. Nicholas -- though this is getting a bit trickier as Elisabeth is beginning to feel "too old" [whether she actually is or not, that is how she feels] for picture books, but there's reallly just one book that matters on the subject that isn't a picture book), and a few have been with us a bit longer. I know it's not enough time to buy any or probably even find them at the library, but at least it's here for future reference. (As always, the Amazon links are here for your convenience; I don't have an active Amazon Associates account, so I don't make a penny from them, wherever you buy them. Support local or independently-owned booksellers when you can! My favorite is Chinaberry.)


The Night of Las Posadas I really love this one. Tomie dePaola has been a favorite of mine since my childhood, and this book is so sweet, with its mysterious miracle. It straddles the realm of a nativity book and a contemporary Christmas book. It's very reverent and beautiful.

Family Christmas Treasures: A Celebration of Art and Stories I don't recall when, why, or how this book came into our possession, but I absolutely love it! It is a huge book (15" high or so), filled with fine art images from artists as varied as Gaugin, Pissaro, Norman Rockwell, Grandma Moses, and Andy Warhol. (Also many 19th century lithographs, etc.), and short pieces (or excerpts of longer ones) from literature. Washington Irving, Samuel Coleridge, Willa Cather, Kenneth Grahame, Truman Capote, Dylan Thomas, Robert Louis Stevenson, and so many more. This is, maybe (I say, ever so tenuously), my very favorite Christmas book. Really, really, really.

You Can Do It, Sam So absolutely cute and sweet. We've had this book for probably 8 years and all three of my children have loved it. It's so very perfect for those independent toddler days, when being able to deliver a bag of treats to the front door of a loved one elicits such pleasure and satisfaction in a little one. This is a dear, sweet book.

This Is the Stable This was Fiona's St. Nicholas book this year and it has been a real winner. It's not quite as dull as some of the "house that Jack built" formula books can be, but still repetitive enough to be just right for my almost-three-year-old (!), who loves a bit of sing-song to her books.

The Little Boy's Christmas Gift I'm including this one a bit hesitantly, because it's out of print, and pretty long. It was James's St. Nicholas book this year, and I have to admit that we often don't read the whole thing but just admire the illustrations, which are so beautiful (and are the reason I'm including it). The back of the book has an author's note which talks about the inspiration for the illustrations (15th & 16th century paintings from Northern Europe). He discusses details of the paintings that inspired his, and the symbolism they used. As a piece of art, this book is a masterpiece. As a story, it's a bit slow and dull. 

Apple Tree Christmas This is a book that Elisabeth has been coming back to again and again for the past 2-3 years. It's a story, based on some true events, of a family living in an old barn (it's hard to tell the time period -- maybe anywhere from the mid-1800's to the 1930's), during one very hard winter. The older sister is an avid artist, and the family has a beloved apple tree where she likes to climb and draw. The hard winter comes and there is a lot of damage -- to the tree, to the family's way of life, etc. The way they pull through it is both inspiring and a little bittersweet. It always makes me feel grateful for what we have.

Mouse's First Snow We have a few books in this series (we got the Halloween one when Elisabeth was just a baby), and something always brings us back to them. They're so simple, and everything in them is so familiar. I really like that the father is the one going out to play in the snow with the little mouse, because my kids all really love a good snow day with Daddy!

The Story of Christmas This was Elisabeth's St. Nicholas book this year, and while the text is simply the biblical text (King James version), and the illustrations are (in my opinion) both lush and intriguing, it's a case in point: she thought it was too childish. However, I really like to look at it, ponder the words so beautifully, strangely, and yet familiarly told, and look at the folk-inspired Scherenschnitte illustrations. So, maybe not the best for that in-between time of childhood. ;) Adults and younger children will probably all appreciate it, though.

It's Snowing Oh my goodness, I don't think anything could be cuter than this little round mama and her little round baby, all wrapped up in furs and running outside to play in the snow at night. Such fun, so light-hearted and sweet. What a happy reminder to play with our little ones! 

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I hope you enjoy this year's list, as well as all the previous years' lists. (Find them here: 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006.) This may be my last time to do it -- I don't want to be final on that, but I think I've pretty well gone through most of our collection at this point! I have many more winter & Christmas books on my wish list, though, so we'll see what next year brings. (Oh, by the way, I added my holiday listening list to the right-hand sidebar once again, beneath the book list, for your listening pleasure!)

Merry Christmas if I'm not back before then!


22 November


I'm about to admit something that I have a feeling may ruin my "image". That's funny to me, of course, because I am who I am, and I'm also obviously the person who crafted whatever "image" it is that I have. (Also, I am being a little bit facetious.) But here goes:

We love Michael Jackson. Our whole family, we just love him. When he died, I was shockingly depressed about it. I was also newly postpartum and fairly vulnerable, but my reaction to his death surprised even me. The week after he died, I wrote this post, and a lot of it was about my feelings about his death (also, the speeding ticket, the dawdling in the pool locker room, and the 2000 stitches per inch of work on my niece's sweater were also real anecdotes). Kyrie called it my "Michael Jackson post". 

Anyway, we love to watch Michael Jackson videos on YouTube (my kids' favorites are absolutely Smooth Criminal and Beat It, while my husband likes the album Off the Wall quite a bit), and sing and dance and generally have a lot of fun with it. 

Right now as I type this, my husband is playing Michael Jackson songs on the guitar behind me. And that is more what I wanted to write about, Michael Jackson being my long-winded introduction.

There is something intangible and kind of magical about being a musician or an artist. It's so hard to put into words, even for a person who has experienced it for many years. But there is a sort of "can-do" attitude in the fact that we can pick up instruments and learn Michael Jackson songs and play them together in an impromtu jam, or the way many of us in this (blogging) community jump in and make incredible pieces of art -- with fiber, textiles, all kinds of media! -- and the photography, too! I look at the photos on so many blogs and all over flickr and they are better than lots of "professional" photography that I've seen throughout my life. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is, embrace art! Embrace being an artist! It is something you will have with you all your life, wherever life takes you. Art is one of the very few, very real legacies a person can leave behind. For me, this always seems especially clear when I hear Schubert's 4th Symphony. I don't know why, but everytime I hear this particular piece of music, composed nearly 200 years ago, I am blown away by the fact that something so "old" still has such deep resonance and relevance. So much so, that people devote their lives to developing the skill to be able to perform it. (Life as a classical musician is a bit odd in that way, because most classical musicians don't play music of their own creation, but are rather the conduits of those who have gone before. Which is amazing to me, such evidence of the true value of art!)

Whether it's Schubert, or Michael Jackson, whether it's textiles, photography, or food: remember, you are an artist. I believe that we were created to create. And that is something huge, and beautiful, indeed.

(PS: Two of my real kindred friends, Martha and Kyrie, have released an ebook of knitting patterns today! Check them out!)

Summer reading

So, it's been ages since I really cleared out and updated the "Reading" list on the right-hand side of this blog. This is mostly because we haven't read anything new in a super long time. We seem to be just cycling through the same kids' books over and over lately. It's great for Fiona, who is getting to enjoy many books for the first time. But it's getting old for everyone else.


Elisabeth has been reading like a fiend, having devoured almost half this stack in the last few days. So these aren't going to last long at that rate.

We really need some summer reading recommendations! For the full age-range of our entire clan. 

Great picture books.

Fantastic chapter books for the 9-year-old set.

The best of what's out there for mamas.

PLEASE jump in with some suggestions in the comments! We are in desperate need! (Don't be shy. Even if you think we've already read what you have to suggest, you never know. Favorites of your family today, favorites of your own as a child ... please!!!)

Growing Up Sew Liberated

I'm very excited to be one of the stops on the blog tour for Meg's new book Growing Up Sew Liberated: Making Handmade Clothes & Projects for Your Creative Child

growing up sew liberated4

Meg has graciously agreed to do a Q & A for my readers, and as I was thinking about the questions, I remembered back to a time not so long ago (though it seems like it, in some ways), when I wrote this post as part of her series on motherhood. How much has changed since then! Meg has given birth to not one, but two little men, her two books have been released, and in my own house, we have moved out of those delirious and somehow outside-of-time newborn days into what feels like a very busy world of childhood (currently three hours, at two different pools, five days a week, for swim team and swimming lessons!).

I am humbled to be counted among the friends that Meg has included in the dedication of her very special new book, and I hope that you will all appreciate her thoughtful responses in today's Q & A as much as I do.

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Grace: Thank you, Meg, for taking the time out of your summer routine to answer some questions! Speaking of that, what does your summer routine look like right now?

Meg: Thank you, Grace! Now that we have two little ones, I've been reminded again and again of the importance of a joyful family routine. Children thrive when they can anticipate the course of the day, giving them a sense of control and security. It helps us as parents, too, by reducing the amount of improvisation we have to do at times when we may be very tired. 

At the same time, I am well aware of the obstacles most and probably all parents face in maintaining such a routine. Our routine lately has been a challenge. As you know, our second baby was born in February with a heart defect. Day to day, his most noticeable difficulty is that he doesn't have the stamina to eat a full meal of breast milk by mouth. He takes the rest through a tube, and this means that I have to pump a lot. It's super humbling to have a pump dictate your daily rhythm, but it surely does! 

I wish I could say that we start the day with some guitar playing and singing, or that we spend a lot of time in the kitchen preparing our food together. This can't be our reality right now, but it is just a season in our lives, one that shall pass. In this season, as in all seasons of our lives, we do what we can and try not to fret about the ways in which we are imperfect. In this season, we are the grateful recipients of a lot of help from family and friends. Grandma is out for a walk with my toddler as I write this (while pumping!) 

Motherhood is a humbling experience, and right now I can't do all of the things I wrote about in my own book! That said, in this difficult and busy time, there are things that we can do to create a joyful life for our little family. We eat all of our meals together, even if we don't cook them all ourselves. We have a toddler art group once a week. We often eat a picnic dinner at our local park. My husband always puts Finn to bed by telling him stories that he makes up himself. Our boys are learning to enjoy and trust their extended family, and learning that they are loved and cared for by a circle larger than our nuclear family. All of these things are positive, joyful experiences in this season of our lives. I hope the book will be taken in this spirit. Rather than proclaiming that we all must be perfect companions of children, I offer ideas, ideals, and resources for enriching our time with children as we can.


growing up sew liberated3

Grace: One of the things that I think so many people appreciate about your work with Sew Liberated is your thoughtfulness in your approach to motherhood and raising your boys. How has motherhood surprised and challenged you? 

Meg: Before I had children, I was under the impression that, as long as I had my wits about me, I could have a plan for everything. My house would be organized. My homeschooling map plotted from early on. My meals planned. Of course, there would be hard days, but everything would, more or less, go as planned.

Haha. Ha. Ha! Motherhood has humbled me, and made me realize that there are forces at work that are out of my hands. This has been challenging for me, as I am person who likes to have a plan. It has made me realize that being a good mother is a little bit about laying the right path for your children, but mostly about responding with empathy, respect, and grace when your children decide to take an unexpected turn down a different path. Plans can help guide a family, but we have to know when to modify them or decide when they aren't right any more for our current needs.

Grace: We all approach the "big" things in life with some expectations. Can you share how some of these expectations have been met in your motherhood journey?
Meg: I've always had an expectation that I could create a loving, respectful home environment that helped my children develop a sense of wonder for the world. I know I am capable of that, but I know that the most difficult work of mothering is not the aesthetics of the home you build, but rather the supporting structure of that home - the patience and compassion of the parents. The opportunity to become a more compassionate, patient person is the gift that a toddler gives to a parent. A baby whose health is tenuous gives the gift of living in the moment rather than spending too much time thinking about expectations. Motherhood is so much more beautiful than I could have ever expected.
growing up sew liberated2

Grace: Your new book, Growing Up Sew Liberated, is such a delight. What does it feel like to see your designs -- your imagination -- come to life on the page?

Meg: I'm very proud of this book, as I wrote it with my own children in mind. Writing a book is such a long process, from the signing of the contract to the day you hold the completed book in your hands. It's almost a surprise to see everything again! The final book, too, is a compilation of the talents of many people - editors, photographers, and graphic designers - and it's wonderful to see what an accomplished book-making team can do with the creative vision of an author.
Grace: Can you talk about your design process? Where do you get ideas? How do your work out the form and function of your projects?

Meg: I am so inspired by beautiful photographs on blogs (yours included, Grace!) as well as my contacts on Flickr. I tend to be rather insulated in my design universe - I don't follow high fashion or watch Project Runway or anything like that. I do have a style that I would call my own - it's a simple, rustic aesthetic with clean lines. For me, my designs must be both functional and beautiful. For my clothing designs, this means that they must be comfortable. 

When I'm brainstorming a new design, I like to have a brain dump on paper - a collection of words that capture the essence of the finished product. After this, I start sketching. Once I have a sketch, I pick fabrics. Often, the fabric itself will inspire a design. With the final sketch completed, I begin drafting the pattern, either using my hand-drafted set of slopers (basic pattern pieces for tops, bottoms, or skirts) or I drape the fabric directly on my dress form. With accessory patterns, I just kind of wing it, with no guides! Those patterns are more trial-and-error.

Grace: Do you have a favorite project in the new book?
Meg: Yes! The art satchel, followed closely by the doll pattern. 
Grace: Did any of the projects start out as one thing and transform into something entirely different?

Meg: The Irresistible Numbers started out as a framed, functional piece of art in my Montessori classroom. They soon morphed into something much more hands-on and functional - a set of numbers that could be traced, arranged, and played with.

growing up sew liberated1

Grace: As mothers, we all strive to balance meeting the needs of our little ones as well as our own needs. Can you talk about how you find this balance? 

Meg: It is such a monumental task, to carve out some moments for yourself when you have a toddler and a baby. Both my husband and I try to take time to move our bodies every other day or so - whether it means going for a run, a bike ride, a weight workout, or yoga. We find it a valuable stress-reducer and a way to help us maximize our sleeping time. 

In an ideal world, I'd like to have a regular meditation practice. For now, accepting the moment for what it is, I try to pause for brief periods of conscious awareness during the day. 

Reading inspirational parenting books is a hobby of mine (my current favorite is "Everyday Blessings" by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn.) I'll steal some time for reading a book or check in with my favorite mama blogs in the evening after the boys are sleeping. It's so helpful for me to end the day with beautiful photos and wise words.

Grace: Do you have a favorite sewing notion?

Meg: Yes! Embroidery thread! I love adding embroidery to projects - it helps me slow down and appreciate the finished object so much more.

Grace: Thanks so much, Meg! 

Meg: Thank you, Grace!

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Also, for readers of Uncommon Grace, Meg is offering a 20% discount on everything in her store, including her new book! Use coupon code UncommonGrace at checkout. The coupon is good until June 19. Thank you, Meg!

And please be sure to visit the other stops on the blog tour -- the bloggers who have gone before me this week were all incredible, and I'm sure there is a lot more fun in store for the rest of the tour!

Growing Up Sew Liberated Blog Tour

Join Interweave Books in a celebration of the launch of Meg McElwee’s new book, Growing Up Sew Liberated. The launch kicks off with a 15-day blog tour visiting education blogs, sewing blogs, parenting blogs, personal blogs, eco-living blogs, and some that are simply a combination of all of the above.  You’ll meet some extraordinary women, see stunning photography, hear inspirational stories from Meg and many of her friends, and of course learn more about the book. Perhaps you’ll find some new favorite bloggers to follow along the way? Join us each day as we visit with:

6/6         Elsie Marley

6/7         Made By Rae

6/8         The Artful Parent

6/9         Rhythm of the Home Blog

6/10       Uncommon Grace

6/13       Frontier Dreams

6/14       Burda Style

6/15       Maya Made

6/16       Wise Craft

6/17       JC Handmade

6/20       Simple Homeschool

6/21       Made

Modern Top-Down Knitting

I'm so excited to get to be on the blog tour for Modern Top-Down Knitting! (If a little less excited about pictures of me all over the blog. Ahem.)


It is a gorgeous, gorgeous book, full of stylish, refined projects. I am already a huge fan of top-down construction, but Kristina McGowan adds so many ideas beyond the typical raglan-sleeved sweater in this book. There are exquisite tops, dresses, skirts, sweaters, hats, and even two dressed-up versions of arm warmers, which I love.

subway hat2

I had a hard time deciding what to knit from this book (I knew right away that I wanted to share a project from the book with you), but I finally decided on the Subway Hat, because I've been looking for a new hat for myself for a while. I have a small-ish head and have had trouble with some styles of hat looking good on me, so it's been tricky to come up with something I really liked.

However, when I saw the bonnet-y look of this hat, I knew I'd found what I was looking for. Polished, refined, and just a bit different -- I was smitten. (Ravelry details here.)

subway hat4

(I know you are all going to say this is a lovely picture of me, but I think my eyes look weird. I decided to share it, anyway, because it shows the way the hat flips up on the bottom edges so well.)

I immediately knew I wanted to go with an aqua and red combination (I need a new coat this winter and have all but settled on a red wool one, so I thought this would be a good choice). I had some trouble finding a yarn in the color I wanted in a weight suitable for the gauge in this project (at least not at my LYS), so the tension is a bit looser than I would have liked, but once I lined it, it worked out fine. (Lining it was a brilliant design detail -- it gives the hat so much structure!)

subway hat5

subway hat3

I did make one mistake, which was making the crown section too long before splitting it for the neck. I wasn't paying attention carefully enough, and once I realized it, I figured it would probably be OK. It is just fine, but it makes the back of the hat less neat and trim on the back of my head, which is all right, if not perfect.

I loved making this, and I am really looking forward to making some more of the designs from this book. The attention to detail in each pattern -- from crochet edging and details, to the use of different trims -- is really lovely.

Please be sure to visit the final two stops on the blog tour (tomorrow, December 8, at Knit and Stitch, and on Thursday, December 9 at Craftsanity).

And ... I have a copy of Modern Top-Down Knitting for one of you! Please leave a comment on this post by Monday, December 13, and I'll draw a name and announce the winner that afternoon. Good luck!

Sing We Christmas, and lessons therein


One of my happiest childhood memories is of standing around the piano, singing, while my mom played Christmas carol after Christmas carol. It was such a happy, peaceful time, and because of it, I also know all the words to at least three (if not more) verses to all the major Christmas carols, too.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but despite the fact that my mom is a classical pianist, and the fact that I have degrees in music performance (cello), my own piano skills are ... lacking.


However, we live in a house that came furnished with a piano, and this summer my mom found these two vintage Christmas carol books at a used bookstore for me. So I decided to start working on my piano skills, with the hope of creating similar happy memories for my own children.


The red book is from 1942 and is in 4-part choral arrangements, so it's above my ability level. However, the white one (from the late 70's) is easy. So I began fumbling through "The First Nowell" a few weeks ago. I made myself a goal to become proficient at one song at a time, and move on to as many as I was able by Christmas.

So far, "The First Nowell" has been learned and polished, and I'm pleased with how it sounds, so I moved on to "Good King Wenceslas" on Thanksgiving. I'm becoming fluent with that now, too, so I've begun learning "Coventry Carol", which is a little harder for me. I'm excited about my progress, though, and doubly pleased about the (perhaps not-so-) surprising benefit of having my children see me practice and improve at something that I haven't always done. (Most of the things I "do" were learned before they were born, so they haven't really had the opportunity to see me learn something so new.) It's a good example for Elisabeth with her own cello practice, as well as just being a life lesson that I hope they learn during their time home with me.


And, now we can enjoy (a few) Christmas carols sung around the piano, just like when I was a girl.

Holiday and Winter Favorites ~ 2010 edition


It's hard for me to believe this as I write it, but this is my fifth post of favorite holiday and winter books. Five years in a row I've been posting these! Surely I'll run out at some point. Surely. But not this year....

(And not next year, either; I have more waiting in the wings! You can find the previous years' posts at the following links: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009. I shared so many in 2007 that it's a Christmas miracle that I have any left to share. ;) There will be one repeat this year, and I imagine there will be a few here and there in future years, too, since we're reading older books in new ways, as our younger children keep growing and appreciating books that their older siblings loved before them!)

Oh, and please don't miss Big Susan, The Tomten, Christmas in Noisy Village, The Mitten, and The Hat. I promise that you will love each of those books as much as we do!


A Day on Skates This is the kind of book that sort of takes you by surprise. I'd heard about it for a long time before we finally read it for the first time last year. I was never sure what to expect, based on the cover -- I'm not sure if I can exactly put that into words, but I was a little bit wary of a certain self-consciousness that books from this era can occasionally have. I need not have worried. It is wonderfully clever and classic, along the lines of another favorite children's book of mine, The Wheel on the School. A Day on Skates delighted all of us last year, and we will definitely be reading it again this year!

Silent Night I was sad to see that this book is out of print. It would really be worth searching out a used copy, though. The text is three verses of the song "Silent Night", and the illustrations have a gorgeous simplicity. I love the illustration of the choir of angels, whose robes are part of the night sky. And it's part of my small collection of children's Christmas books that portray Mary nursing Jesus! (Love.)

Snow Tree This sweet book shows a group of forest animals decorating a tree with their own small gifts to remind themselves of the brightness of summer during the snowy cold of winter. I love the textured pages, and Fiona absolutely loves the animals. (This is the book pictured in the photos of this post.) Fiona is so into books like this right now -- with sturdy, textured pages, and lots and lots of animals to talk to and squeal at! (The Lonely Scarecrow is along the same lines and she loves it, too.)


Christmas Farm This is such a cool book, as it follows a story for a really long time -- about ten years in the life of a little boy, and a farm of Christmas trees. It is so sweet to see him grow up along with the trees over the course of the book. At the end, there is some historical background on Christmas trees which is fascinating.

One Winter's Night This book also appears, sadly, to be out of print, although you can still find it at Chinaberry (the link I shared). It is the story of a young pregnant cow lost in a snowstorm, with the parallel story of a couple (Mary and Joseph) told in woodcuts. The illustrations are beautiful, and the woodcuts really make the book. It is so heartwarming and well-done!

Room for a Little One This sparkling tale is perfect for the littlest ones (Fiona enjoys it and will sit through it although she is a mostly non-verbal 21-month-old) -- I think it's even available in board book format. Even without the Christmas guests at the end of the story, the message of peace and acceptance, and of there always being room for the littlest and most in need, is so beautiful.

Winter's Gift I love this poignant, tenderly-illustrated story. Like One Winter's Night, it deals with a lost, pregnant animal, although the story (besides mentioning a Christmas tree) doesn't take on such a Christmas theme. It's really a story about making our way after loss, and finding joy after grief. I think this gentle book could be easily overlooked (and especially in a collection as large as ours), but that would be a shame, because it's really a treasure.

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I hope you find some new favorites for your family to read, enjoy, and love -- either in this post, or in some of the previous years'. I love sharing these favorites with you year after year! (And don't hesitate to share some of your favorites in the comments!)

Sisters, secret santa, and cheese extraordinaire

My sister has an across-the-street neighbor who seems to get a delivery from UPS about every day. A few months ago, I was at her house, observing this phenomenon, and we were both wishing that we had more UPS visits. I came up with the idea of sending one another occasional surprise "presents" to be delivered. We've been doing it ever since.

We have some rules: You can't spill the beans, or even hint, that something is on its way. You can't ask, or even hint, for something specific to be sent to you. We don't have a dollar limit, though we never spend very much -- the point is the surprise of a delivery, afterall. (We both have Amazon Prime, so shipping is mostly free. I know, I know, "the man" and everything. But that's how it is, sometimes.)

We call it "secret santa". Even though it's not strictly a "secret santa" exchange -- afterall, we both know, when something arrives, who sent it. And it has no timeline. But it is a way to brighten the day of a sister.

Today I received a secret santa package. It was the most fantastic form of secret santa surprise: a blend of 80's fabulousness, nostalgia, and, well....

secret santa

Harry Belafonte.

I remember the day my mom picked up three cassette tapes in this Hallmark Christmas music series at the Hallmark store in the local shopping mall (which has long since vanished in the way of many shopping malls -- first with empty halls, then slipping into disrepair, its decrepit remains finally demolished in the last decade, slipping into memory).

Those three cassettes were the soundtrack of our family's Christmas preparation and celebration. We decorated on the Sunday before Christmas every year. It was my job to hang a display of all the Christmas cards received, using that chewing-gum poster tack, around the wooden archway in our 1916 Craftsman bungalow, while the banisters and window frames were decked with (real) evergreen garland, and our funny, tiny (artificial) Christmas tree was decorated.

Today as I slipped this CD in and sat back to knit while my children danced like crazy to Mary's Little Boy Child, We'll Sing You a Christmastime, and Jennifer Warnes's quirky rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentelmen, I floated off on the best kind of nostalgia.

Thank you, secret santa.


February 2


Today was the festival of Candlemas. Because we were out of town all of last week, preparing for it pretty much slipped my mind, so we just had a candlelit dinner and bedtime. Sometime later in the week, we'll make candles, too. Candlemas has never become a huge celebration in our family, but I really like the suggestions for its celebration in Mrs. Sharp's Traditions, I love to listen to this every Candlemas (it was written to be played at Candlemas). There are always small ways to mark the passing seasons, even when they are not big, fancy celebrations.

Really, I spent most of today in a quivery, trembling state, anticipating the first episode of the final season of Lost tonight. I was not disappointed -- I'm a real Lostie. It's the only television program I watch, actually. Usually our television only comes on once a week (for Lost); we've actually discussed finally removing the television from our home once the show ends. So, now you know a little detail about me that you might not have before!

Friday Reads: Holiday and Winter favorites ~ 2009 edition

I've posted a list of winter/Christmas/holiday favorite reads every year that I've kept this blog. This is my fourth time to write one of these posts! (We have a lot of winter books. Ahem.) Last year's post. 2007 here. And 2006 here.


Before I jump in with this year's list, I want to remind you of a few not-to-be-missed favorites from previous years. The Tomten, Christmas in Noisy Village, The Mitten, The Hat, Big Susan, Winter, and Winter (this is the one that my children are reading in these pictures. Elisabeth was telling a really delightful story about the children of Starwood Village and the way they celebrated one year. So cute). These seven books are truly not to be missed.

So this year, here is what I have to share:

B is for Bethlehem. This was given to Elisabeth by our long-time babysitters years ago. The illustrations are intricate and beautiful.

Ding Dong Merrily on High. By the author of The Nativity, another favorite of ours. Exquisite pop-up scenes (some moving). Too delicate for the littlest ones. A true treasure to behold.

Winter Lullaby. Years ago, this was my very first Chinaberry purchase. It has become one of our family's very favorite children's books. We read it all autumn and all winter.


The Story of the Snow Children. The title makes me laugh a little, because growing up, my siblings and I were the Snow children. (It's our last name.) Anyway, the book is really sweet and the little girl's red coat and bonnet are very design-inspiring. (Amy blogged here about using the bonnet as inspiration for one she made her daughter.)

The Christmas Angels. Oh my gosh, I just love these sweet old-fashioned illustrations and these sweet little angels! It is so cute.

Snow. Such simple text and funny illustrations -- this is a favorite of James, especially.


The Donkey's Christmas Song. This is a beautiful, beautiful book. It's so nice to have special books like this in board book format so that even our littlest reader can enjoy them.

Who is Coming to Our House? This was also a gift from our beloved babysitters. They've been pretty great at picking out the books! This is another favorite of James's. It's a sweet nativity board book, from the animals' perspective. We have several nativity board books and this is by far the best one from a narrative point of view. (B is for Bethlehem has amazing illustrations but no narrative.)

All for the Newborn Baby. This is a lovely lullaby with gorgeous illustrations. It draws on tales from around the world about how the natural world honored baby Jesus.


OK, I'll stop here and try to save a few for next year so that I can continue this annual tradition! I hope you enjoy what you see here and find something that will become a new family favorite in your homes!

Just writing this post has gotten me a little bit into the spirit ... decorations will begin to make their way out next week. I can't wait!

Friday reads: The Secret Garden

I've been meaning to share this book with you all for a long time. (In fact, it's the reason I decided to start doing a series of book reviews here.)

secret garden1

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and illustrated by Inga Moore. Elisabeth and I read it last spring.

Now, The Secret Garden is neither my favorite piece of children's literature, nor my favorite read-aloud book of all time. (I mean, the phonetic spelling of the Yorkshire dialect? Wow. What a way to turn an excellent aloud reader into a stuttering mess.) Also, the story has some pretty dark elements (I had to omit a few passages as I read it).

secret garden2

But -- and this is a big "but" -- the illustrations by Inga Moore are absolutely breathtaking. And they are all throughout the book. Not only are there several lush full-color, full-page spreads in every chapter, but there are smaller illustrations on almost every page. Some are in color, and some in black and white. Some illustrate plot developments, some illustrate anecdotes or funny sayings from the text, and some are botanical illustrations showing how the garden and the world came alive for Mary Lennox (and all of Misselthwaite Manor) that spring and summer. The details of this book are so beautiful.

secret garden4

So incredible are these illustrations that I will go out on a limb and say that this is the only edition of The Secret Garden worth owning. It's definitely a book that has truly enriched our lives. We've been keeping it on the piano right in the living room and someone in our house can be found looking at the pictures at least a couple times a week. I mean, it really is that beautiful. (I was kind of tempted to just plop the whole large format book right onto the scanner and start scanning away to share images with you, but since that would be uncool at best and illegal at worst, I thought better of it.)

Anyway, I hope you all have the opportunity to experience this beautiful book first hand.

secret garden3

(By the way, the story is equally appealing to girls and boys. I would recommend it for either gender, but not for the under-9 crowd except as a read aloud, and even then, not for very sensitive children.)

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I don't know why this should come as a big surprise to me, but since I've been blogging every day in November, I've noticed my online time has increased more than I would like. I think what I'm going to do to keep it more manageable for myself is to post in the evening after my kids are in bed rather than during the day as I have been trying to do. Each post will still be "new" for the same amount of time, but the time of day that they'll go up will change. So, keep on visiting! I'll still be here every day for the rest of the month. Hopefully this will keep things predictable for you and for me.

Friday reads: Mrs. Sharp

I bet you thought I wouldn't get a post up today! Well, it's still Friday, and here I am -- just squaking it in. Today was very dark -- I kept waiting for even a patch of sunshine to take some photos -- and by 3:00, when it looked like the sun had gone down and it started to pour freezing rain/hail/slush, I knew it was a lost cause. I had planned a review of a book with illustrations that warranted sharing, so instead I've had to come up with an alternate plan.

Lots of people email me to ask for advice and suggestions for beginning a seasonal observance of festivals and celebrations in their homes, so I thought I would share with you my very, very favorite resource today.

mrs sharp

Mrs. Sharp's Traditions was the first non-pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding mama book I ever read --while I was pregnant with Elisabeth. The style is humorous and may be off-putting to some (it's written a tone mimicking a Victorian ladies' advice book or magazine), but that is really so perfect for me. The amazing, wise thing about this book is that it draws parallels from another time with our own time. It really is all about how to reclaim family life -- I think so many of us feel powerless and end up throwing our hands up in defeat. Mrs. Sharp is here to show you simple ways to make home a warm respite from the impersonal, face-paced world outside. The first part of the book is about daily rituals that help to bring harmony, balance, and predictability to family life. The rest of the book (the majority) follows the year month by month, discussing different festivals and seasonal customs and pastimes. Part historical, part practical, part humorous, but always full of grace and charm. In my early days of parenting, Mrs. Sharp was like a trusted friend, always giving me a bit of steadying wisdom as I navigated my new role as a full-time, at-home mama and keeper of the home.

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Some of you had asked for some more details about our family's celebration of Martinmas. I didn't elaborate on those answers for a couple of reasons -- one was that there wasn't too much I didn't share in my previous Martinmas posts, and the other was that most of them came from this book. So, hopefully this will be helpful to those of you who are looking for additional information.

Have a great weekend, everyone -- I'll be here with some weekend posts at some point on Saturday and Sunday. See you then!

Thinking about Simplicity

We've had a lot going on this fall. A lot. Some of that, you know about. The dissertation, and work to graduate on time, being chief among it all. But we've had other stuff, too. Most of it good, some of it not-so-good. And we've all been pulled along in this current of activity, keeping afloat, but not always thriving.


Each Monday, I wake up and realize, "Holy cow, I have seven cello students arriving this afternoon, and this house is a MESS!" And so Elisabeth and I usually spend about 30 minutes frantically tidying, vacuuming, and dusting the living room (where I teach) before my first student's arrival. This past Monday, as I was knee deep in this catch-up ritual, I had this moment. This moment of complete overwhelm and complete clarity, all at once. I'm sure you know the kind. I realized, in that instant, that we have too much: too much stuff, too much stimulus, too many activities, too many bills, too much work, too much on the schedule, too much stress, too many commitments, too much clutter, too many choices.


books, packed up for later

The thing is, I try to be really conscious of this. (I mentioned yesterday that I try to be very mindful about what comes into our home, for example.) And I'm guessing that as chaotic and generally cluttered as things feel around here to me, they are probably a lot better than they would be if I were less conscious.


Enter Simplicity Parenting, a book that recently crossed my path. I'll admit to feeling a little bit skeptical at first -- don't I already know all this stuff? Well, yes ... and no. Sometimes you just need a reminder.


I absolutely love Simplicity Parenting. It's giving me the strength and motivation to remember to say no a little bit more. To set boundaries, and seek balance.


I haven't even finished reading the book yet, and I've already gained so much from it. My feeling is that any parent -- at just about any point on their parenting journey (from infant to teen and everything in between) would gain insights from it.


It's organized beautifully. Every few pages, key points are highlighted in headers entitled "Quite Simply". There's so much good in this book, it's possible to open it at random and find a perfectly beautiful, succinct, and relevent idea for your real life.

I especially love the chapter on rhythm. Just listen to this:

~"(Quite Simply) Rhythm builds islands of consistency and security throughout the day."

~"Meaning hides in repetition: We do this every day or every week because it matters. We are connected by the things we do together. We matter to one another. In the tapestry of childhood, what stands out is not the splashy, blow-out trip to Disneyland but the common threads that run throughout and repeat: the family dinners, nature walks, reading together at bedtime (with a hot water bottle at our feet on winter evenings), Saturday morning pancakes."



OK, those are just two quotes, and they really only scratch the surface of what's in this book. There are so many concrete, practical suggestions about how to rein in family life, to take it back. Whether we already have a good start, or whether things are completely out of control, these are suggestions that can really help to make things meaningful to us.


linens from our church that we help wash each month

Coincidentally, Kyrie mentioned Simplicity Parenting yesterday (yes, we're friends, but no, we didn't discuss this first), and said she feels almost evangelical about it -- and I agree. This may be only the second book (after Mitten Strings for God) that I have felt this way about. Really -- this book is really, really worth it. I wish I could buy a copy of each for every parent I knew.


our dragon candle, today

I'm still struggling with the feeling that our lives are a bit cluttered right now. However, I'm learning to look again. To realize where we're doing well, and to carve out space in our days for more of that, and less of everything else.

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Since I've committed to writing here every day this month, I'm trying to come up with as many ideas as I can to fill all those days. One thing that I've been meaning to do here are semi-frequent book reviews of some favorites -- both new and old. So I'm going to be doing these on Fridays in November -- the final Friday (November 27) will be my annual winter/holiday book post.


Some things that have been seen around here lately:

seen: costuming

Costuming in the works!

seen: baby

Some cute baby-ness, just because.

seen: star

The shadow of a star.

seen: turning

The turning of some leaves.

seen: knitting

Knitting. Of course!

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Some thoughts:

~I forgot to mention on Wednesday that this is out now. I'm super excited about it, although my pre-order hasn't arrived yet. I should learn my lesson and never pre-order, because I always receive my pre-orders days and days after the release day. I must live too far from any distribution sites.

~TypePad must have received a number of complaints similar to mine, because they have sort of compromised and made replying directly to comments a bit easier again. Not quite as nice as before, but at least it's something.

~And speaking of comments, I can see on my stats that lots and lots of you are still visiting, but feeling a little bit shy about commenting. Don't be! I love to hear from you. It really makes my day -- hearing your feedback, and this little conversation of ours. And I truly appreciate those of you who do take a little time out of your own day to say hi to me. Truly, truly.

Edited to add: The hat was made by Shelley! We have been lucky enough to have two of her hats and they are our very favorite.

Holiday & Winter Reading ~ 2008 edition


Somehow our family has amassed quite a collection of holiday and winter books over the years. Partly it's because St. Nicholas always brings a Christmas-themed book gift, partly it's because my dad was, for a time, helping with a friend's Amazon used book business and he would save aside any good children's books for us, and partly it's because we are just bibliophiles in general.

I did a really long holiday & winter reading post last year -- kind of late, though. This year's is surprising me by being later than I expected, too, but hopefully you will get some good ideas. This year's list will be shorter because I've done it now for the last two years already. ;)

The Snowy Day. This was a favorite of mine and my siblings growing up. Oh, the pleasures of snow play! Both of my children love this book. We are looking forward to some snowy play days anytime now ... yes, anytime you feel like arriving, snow!

Bear Snores On. OK, I know that this series has kind of become a bit cliche as they have continued to add to it. But the use of language in this first one -- the alliteration and rhyme -- is so clever, well-done, and beautiful. It is one of my favorite books to read aloud, with phrases like, "An itty-bitty mouse, pitter-pat, tip-toe, creep-crawls in the cave from the fluff-cold snow." Oh, I just love to say those lines.

Great Joy. This was new to us last year, and it is so very beautiful. The story by award-winning Kate DiCamillo is heartwarming, but the incredible soft illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline are the can't-be-missed element. The soft glow of street lamps, the cold of snow, the shining in the young girl's eyes at the end of the story -- all of these small details are captured so exquisitely it makes me get a lump in my throat. This book is truly a treasure.

A Child's Christmas in Wales. When I was a girl, our local NPR affiliate used to play a recording of Dylan Thomas reading his classic tale each Christmas morning. I love his beautiful, beautiful poetic writing that turns the ordinary Christmases of his boyhood into something fantastical and mesmerizing. And though I'm actually a very good reader-aloud, I still really love to listen to his version. Nothing compares to hearing a poet read his own words. (If you intend to read this book aloud to your family and you're not yet familiar with the writing, I would suggest practicing it a few times privately, because his use of language and turns-of-phrase can feel a bit clumsy on the tongue the first few times.)

Fireside Stories: Tales for a Winter's Eve. A collection of tales from around the world for the winter season -- from Halloween to First Snowfall to Christmas Eve and New Year's and on through Candlemas. Eight tales in all, appropriate for slightly older children (I'd say 5 or 6 and older), and absolutely magical.

Stranger in the Woods. Another book that may have become a little cliche as the franchise has expanded, but amazing if taken on its own. Since we like to decorate an outdoor tree with treats for the birds, my children relate to this tale of a gift-laden snowman in the woods, and the photographic captures of the deer and birds and other little forest critters coming out to first explore and then accept its gifts are really beautiful.

Grandmother Winter. An expansion of the traditional Mother Holle tale of the old woman who shakes her featherbeds to create snow on the earth. The illustrations are pure magic! We love this book.

The Snow Tree. This is a really neat book with textured pages about forest animals coming to decorate their own tree with different colorful gifts from the forest. It's just right for the toddlers in our lives.

And of course, the Jan Brett books. I think even the most curmudgeonly of Scrooges would be put into the Christmas spirit by her version of The Night Before Christmas, Christmas Trolls, or any of her lovely wintery books.

(From last year's list -- don't miss The Tomten or Christmas in Noisy Village. We can't go more than a few days without reading either of these.)