Glass dreams

on the beach

Do you ever notice how driven you are to be DOING something?

It takes huge conscious effort on my part to just stop trying to tidy or check email or just multitask all the day long. After a while I notice that my children start to get that way, too, always needing an activity to keep them occupied. But as you may have heard before, I am a big proponent of letting kids get bored, and perhaps I should try this approach on myself as well. If I just stop and sit and stare out the window, who KNOWS what realms of creativity I might stumble into? The mind reels.

In the meantime, this past weekend I was reminded of a few totally pointless activities I love to do. My older daughter and I were on our own for a few days, and I worried she might be bored without her built-in playmate/entertainer sister. We went to the beach, where she spent literally hours doing one of three things: talking to herself, jumping waves, and building sand piles. We should all do those things more often.

We also spent hours walking on the shore, staring down at the sand in search of treasured bits of sea glass. There is nothing more relaxing and satisfying, and really, you could almost call it a meditation of sorts.  The rush of the waves in our ears, the wind in our hair, the gulls crying overhead. The sheer pleasure of finding the oh-so-rare colours of beach glass is just ridiculous. OK, it is not like “jumping in ecstatic joy” satisfaction, but it is quietly joyous when you find a small piece of indigo blue or jade or red. I always wonder where those shards came from…was it from a vase that sunk along with the schooner it was carried on? Did it come from an old pioneer dumping ground that has since eroded away with the red cliff into the sea? Was it from a broken plate tossed overboard by an irate chef as the ship sailed upstream?

Shades of the sea

Well, maybe  I get carried away but it is part of the whole sea glass-hunting meditation. When I find a piece, I rub it between my fingers as I continue down the shore, brushing off the grains of sand and relishing in the smooth/rough finish of the finely-sanded glass, the edges worn down to softer curves by who knows how many years of rushing salt waves and smashing rock. It is just one of those things I love.

And what do we do with all these treasures? Mostly I hoard it, put in mason jars in the window and look at it when the winter winds are  howling outside and I need to go to that beach-y place in my mind. Sometimes we twist it in silver and make it into jewellery, which by far gets more comments from strangers than any store-bought trinkets ever do. There is something about old stuff that speaks to me, even if I know nothing about it. Deep down I know I have just as many shards of 1980s Sprite and Mountain Dew bottles (not to mention the brown of the classic stubby beer bottle) as I do of some long-adrift century-old crockery, but it doesn’t matter. The cobalt blue probably comes from plain old Noxema jars that we all had in the 70s and 80s but in the process of being sea-tossed and sanded to silky smoothness, it takes on a unique patina of beauty and sophistication. And who doesn’t want to wear that?

Anyhow, that was my mindfulness activity this glorious Victoria Day weekend. The glass is scattered on my counter, having been rinsed and set out to dry. The girls will love to sort it by colour and shape into jars, another wonderfully senseless and strangely soothing action. I will keep adding to the collection, while silently cursing Noxema for switching to boring cobalt plastic jars. I feel fairly sure they will never be a treasure tossed, shaped and finally relinquished by the seas. Oh well, such is the modern age.

Things to do on a winter day

Beautiful blue and white

There is a deep-seated urge in many of us to hibernate when the days are short and the wind is howling outside. The winter sunshine looks splendid from indoors, and the bit of heat beaming through the window is a welcome reminder of warmer days to come. We try to get out at least for a while every day, unless it is a snowstorm or bitterly cold.

However, since we became parents, it has become imperative to find ever-changing activities to do indoors on those cold, snowy days. It is so alarmingly easy to fall back on screen time as a way to keep everyone happy, whether a television screen, a computer or other device. Everyone loves television, don’t they? The only problem is that sometimes we have noticed that giving our girls even an hour of television time seems to just make the situation worse rather than better. Often they are a little belligerent when we turn it off, because it is never enough time, plus it seems to make them a little “hyper,” shall we say. It certainly does nothing to exert their abundant energy or to harness their boundless creativity and imagination.

Crafts and art are a big part of our week. Since the girls were tiny, we have done crafts, from the toddler’s simple colouring, finger painting, glueing random things together to make more random things to today’s more complex projects like sewing, pretend-knitting (haven’t gotten the real thing yet) and detailed paper projects. There are so many really wondrously entertaining ideas out there, on blogs and assembled on Pinterest.  Below is one I discovered on Pinterest, from the absolutely  irresistible website Made by Joel. The “about” page states that artist and designer, Joel Henriques, has devoted himself to making arts and crafts both accessible and meaningful. There are a lot of sites out there that have printable paper crafts, but this one stands above, with wonderful hand-drawn paper toys (like a paper Paris!) you print, colour and cut. Like really DELUXE paper dolls, only more fun. Here are the Dressy Cats, made by Ava and Mama one wintery day:

The Dressy Cats

18 no-screen winter indoor activities to do with kids

  1. Paper crafts- like the Dressy Cats! Another great site is DLTK’s Printable Crafts for Kids.
  2. Get a stack of books and read as many as they want, all in a row. Skippyjon Jones is one of our silly favourites, as is Geronimo Stilton, and we love Shelley Moore Thomas’s Good Knight books.
  3. Bake. It’s MUCH harder to bake with children, but they love it so much it’s a shame to leave them out. Plus they are more likely to eat something (even bran muffins) if they helped make it. Even the littlest can get in the act, with bowls and wooden spoons to bang on.
  4. Home reno! It sounds crazy but kids love to help with everything. Give them a paint brush and let them paint a spot that isn’t really noticed anyhow. Or pass over some bits of leftover wood for them to “build” something.
  5. Family board game night. This sounds more fun than it sometimes is, but it is worth it just to have an activity that everyone takes part in. Make popcorn and be sure to bring lots of patience. Blokus and Sequence for Kids are great for all ages.
  6. Open a restaurant or a jewellery store or whatever kind of store they can imagine in your playroom. Use buttons for money and bring out all the play food and dishes, tablecloth and flowers, or all the costume jewels in the house, display them nicely and open up shop. Be sure to be a good repeat customer.
  7.  Have a spa night. Get out the hair doodads, kids’ nail polish and lotion for a hand and foot massage. I know this is girly to the extreme, but everyone can use a little foot massage.
  8. Put on some music and dance. Everyone says to do this, I know, but it really does make the kids SO HAPPY. It also makes the adult crankiness fly away.
  9. Do yoga or stretches together. Get the wiggles out.
  10. Have a dance or gymnastics recital, complete with posters, programs, costume changes and chances for everyone small to be on “stage.”
  11. Fill up the sink with warm soapy water and have the kids do the dishes. Doesn’t that sound like a fabulous idea? For some reason my girls think this is a huge treat.
  12. Have a bin filled with random recyclables and leftover craft supplies for free craft time. Paper tubes, scraps of fabric or ribbon, plastic

    toilet paper owls

    containers of various shapes and sizes, tin cans, milk jugs, cardboard cereal, cracker or tissue boxes, whatever. See what can be created with a little free time and imagination.

  13. Let the children loose with a camera. It is kind of fascinating to see what they think is interesting and photogenic. Last week my eldest decided to emulate the wonderful author/illustrator Barbara Reid, whose books are illustrated with these gorgeous plasticine pictures. So Kat made little “pictures” from playdoh, photographed them and wrote words to go with each picture, thus creating her own book.
  14. Give them a stack of paper, a can of pencils and leave them alone.
  15. Lose yourselves in uninterrupted playtime. That means forget the laundry, vacuuming, blogging, social networking, cooking, and every other grown-up pursuit. This is especially necessary for those who have one child in school and one at home. The little one at home sometimes feels lost without her little companion, and even 15 minutes of concentrated, truly present play time with mom or dad will make her SO happy.
  16. Give them a job to do. Watering plants, pairing socks, sweeping, washing windows with their own spray bottle of plain water and a rag, feeding the kitties. Everyone likes to feel needed.
  17. Play dress-up! Nothing better than a dress-up trunk filled with costume stuff, old grown-up clothes, lots of hats, scarves and jewels.
  18. Leave them to their own devices. Free play time, without adults instructing or entertaining, is the best way to help children learn to entertain themselves. It is so wonderful to hear what they come up with on their own, and they will never get bored.

Got any more ideas for indoor no-screen activities with kids? Please add them in the comments and feel free to link up to your own blog to share more ideas. I am always looking for new ones to keep us busy…

Second-hand handmade bragging

Almost the new year, and it always makes me wonder where did the holidays go? So much preparation, and then in the blink of an eye we are staring down another fresh year.

Before that happens, I can’t resist sharing just a few of our vintage and handmade gifts from under the tree. My husband and I made a deal that we could spend a maximum of $25 on each other, but the gifts HAD to be handmade by us, recycled, second-hand or vintage. So the ultimate challenge was to get the biggest under-the-Christmas-tree bang for 25 bucks, and I must say (as does Dan’s related post it was a lot of fun.

We got a big stack of gorgeous pre-read books, including some classics and current hot titles. Dan got a fab (if I do say so myself) pair of recycled felted wool mitts, lined with fleece, which I think look like oven mitts but will be supremely warm. Below you will see some of the treasures I received. From an old walnut stair banister Dan found in the basement, he created these three simple and elegant candleholders.

   From some other leftover wood he built this bird feeder, which is just perfect for the little chickadees and juncos. They treat it as their own fast-food fly-thru…in one side, pick up their snack and keep going through the other side.

   Next came this gift, probably my favourite. Dan and the girls trawled the local antiques stores, of which there are many, and found this lovely old chair, which they worked together to repaint. The girls painted their names on the back of the chair just to make it more special. It is just what I wanted and needed for the little antique desk I had gotten for my “Mom Central” spot in the kitchen. 

I also received these framed beauties. They are vintage German postcards that once belonged to Dan’s grandmother. Love this idea.


Other years I worried about whether the gifts I bought were “enough.” This year it was a challenge to spend as little as possible and to do it in an environmentally respectful way, ie. don’t buy any more new stuff that we don’t really need. In the coming new year, we are going to try to continue this new pattern of spending less on things that mean more.

We don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions in our family, but we do have a journal that we write in and review every New Year’s Eve. We write down goals for the coming year, and accomplishments from the past 12 months. It is always fun to go back to the journal and review, just to see how we have done and to remind ourselves how much we have achieved. It is amazing how quickly goals like “learn how to walk” (for baby Ava) become “learn how to read” and “start school.”

What do you think of this idea? Does your family have New Year’s traditions?

It’s a hoot

It is December, and I have vowed not to set foot in a store for the month.  I know, THAT is a hoot. Could I have set a more difficult challenge? But every year I say all of the Christmas shopping will be done before the end of November, and it never is. So there I go, wandering around the stores the week before Christmas with no agenda, no list, just panic. I buy useless items that quite possibly no one needs or even wants, and I end up spending more money than originally planned because I start worrying that what I bought will not be enough.

What is up with that? Time to take stock of my priorities, methinks. Nothing like a life change to help out with that whole idea, and we have had several, just so the universe makes absolutely sure we got the message. So, this year as you may have already gleaned we are going back to basics and learning some good old-fashioned handiwork skills. We are going all kick-ass little-house-on-the-prairie on Christmas gift-giving. So I completed my first felt project and ta-daaaaaa, here it is:

This critter is made from wool sweaters I picked up at Frenchy’s (famous Maritime thrift shop extraordinaire). I felted them by washing them in hot water with detergent, then put them in the dryer. Major felting revelation: 100 per cent wool works best. Everything I read indicated that as long as the fabric was at least 80 per cent wool, it would work, but the 80 per cent just did not felt up as nicely. Then I drew a simple pattern on paper, pinned it to the wool and cut him out. This would all seem terribly simplistic to a person who actually knew what she was doing, but as I am not one of those people I’ll go ahead and share the details. I sewed him up with quilting thread (probably a sewing faux pas), added the details and buttons from the beloved button jar. Then he got stuffed with leftover wool scraps and some quilt batting. Voilà! The wing is just pinned on as I was deciding whether to wing him, but I think it will be permanent.

I have to say that I am quite proud of this little fella. Now I am going to make another  because you just can’t make one.

Project #2 this weekend: sea glass jewellery

Yup, diversification is the answer to harnessing all this newfound craftiness, and what (other than maybe glass-blowing or wood burning) would be more diverse than jewellery-making? I have jars of beach glass just sitting around looking pretty, and we are always looking for excuses to go beach combing, so why not? My mom (who actually knows what she is doing) brought all of her tools and jewellery doodads up for me to try. The girls loved sorting the glass by colours, and I remembered how much I love to touch the glass, that sanded smooth coolness. This finished piece in the photograph is a little rough, but I just love this old piece of pottery and have been wanting to do something with it for ages.

It is not really something I can give away, but it was good practice as the pliers are a bit hard to get used to. I will do a few test pieces to see if I can master the art of the perfect twist.

Probably it is my own petty insecurities speaking up, but I wonder if anyone will LIKE the things I am making. Perhaps people really would rather get the things I buy in the store at the last minute. When I am at the mall I see everyone around me loading up their carts with anything and everything, and I find myself wondering if anyone really needs that stuff. Of course, I should not judge…perhaps they are shopping for the needy, to add to the Salvation Army’s hampers or the Be a Santa to a Lonely Senior program. But probably not.

My own experience tells me that we buy stuff because it makes us feel good. I have always enjoyed buying gifts, thinking about what I could get that would make each one of my friends and family feel happy and loved. This year I am trying a different approach. It makes me happy to create things, and I hope the care I feel for each person will enter into every project, each stitch or detail, even if it is a little off. It’s not perfect, it didn’t come from Wal-Mart, but it sure is interesting.

December is HERE!

Frugality has taken over Christmas this year, and I am loving it. We are all totally caught up in the holiday spirit, and each of us has at least one room that we are now forbidden to enter for various top-secret reasons. We are keeping things as simple as we can out of both necessity and a desire to tone it down and find more meaning in the crazy season that is Christmas in 2011. As a result everyone is enthusiastically crafting and baking and learning many new skills in the process. My husband is hiding out in the basement, from where we can hear copious sawing and hammering well after the girls’ bedtimes. I believe a Playmobil-sized log cabin is in the works. Very cool. I am even KNITTING, the alpaca wool scarf that will probably take a year to complete.

The scarf that might take all winter to finish.

The ones who are really embracing all of this craftiness are our daughters, who, like all kids, just want to learn and do what the grownups are doing. It has always fascinated me how children are such little sponges, soaking up knowledge and experiences at speeds and levels that boggle the adult mind. Kat, who is a whirling dervish even on a slow day, will sit at the craft table for hours, patiently following the instructions in one of the great craft books I have gotten at the library.  Right now we are loving Big Fun Christmas crafts & activities by Judy Press. Lots of simple projects for crafty but small hands.

Kat actually asked me on the weekend to sit down and knit in the room with her, telling her little sister that this was quiet craft time, not time for being silly. This from a girl who only stops talking and moving when she is sleeping.

I am really not much of a seamstress yet, but I can hand sew just a tiny bit. Last week both of my daughters decided they wanted to learn to sew, so we got out my basket and did a little sewing class. They loved it. I made up a small sewing kit for each of them that has fabric scraps, coloured threads, buttons, and their own needles. Ava, who is four, gets a plastic darning needle, but she doesn’t care and it is much safer. On Sunday we did a project that involved cutting out mini mittens and gingerbread shapes out of fabric, taking two and sewing them together. In the gingerbread case Katherine stuffed him, embellished him with jewels and voila, she has completed her first sewing project. What makes him special is that the fabric came from a little plaid flannel shirt that both girls wore when they were babes.

This gives me all kinds of ideas. We have a closet full of clothes in many sizes, all too small for our girls now. There are certain items that are too dear to give up, just because when I see that item of tiny (well, my giant babies were never REALLY tiny, but small) clothes, I picture the babe in it, with the facial expression, the baby smell, the moment in time, the whole thing. I can’t let that go. But, what I could do is turn that little sweater or flannel overalls into something to keep forever, like a stuffie. A stuffie is a quite irresistible new name for a stuffed animal. First on the chopping block is a pair of supersoft double-sided brown flannel overalls, size 3-6 months. Those will soon become a series of gingerbread men for the tree. Do you love it?? I am loving this idea.

Kat's sewing kit

By the way, I finally got the ginger crinkles baked. Ava and I tackled that today, and the house smelled gloriously spicy and warm. When I took a bite of that cookie, soft and crisp at the same time, it was pure pleasure. Thanks, Nanny. You baked the best cookies!