Category Archives: Holidays

An AIP Valentine’s Day

Our first holiday with expectations since starting AIP.  Our traditional Valentine’s Day menu is potato pancakes, bacon and applesauce for dinner, with cinnamon rolls for dessert.  These Sweet Potato Latkes were not quite the same, but wonderfully satisfying.  Some people expressed a preference for them!  The bacon was missed.  I haven’t been able to find safe bacon yet.  But we served them with plain baked apples and they were greatly enjoyed (Galen ate 16).

Mairi and Galen came up with a darling plan to surprise their brothers with a Valentine’s Day brunch when they arrived home from work.  They made all of the decorations.  I helped them to plan the meal and Steve assisted in it’s preparation.  Heart shaped Bread Sticks with “Curried” Chicken Salad and a large bowl of fruit salad; all sorts of fruit chopped up and made fancy by tossing with chopped dates, the juice of an orange and coconut flakes.  When we went to clean up, we each found a valentine under our plates.

For our little treat to the children, I made packets of freeze dried fruit, wrapped in pink tissue paper, decorated with stickers.

I think I over compensated a bit because I also made Pumpkin Spice Granola for dessert, but everyone was much too full to eat it!  Actually, Iain, Elijah and I each had a little taste, much later in the evening, over a game of Flag Frenzy.

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The Stocking Formula

I do think I’m making all this sound a lot grander then it actually is.  It’s just that I’ve been filling children’s stockings for 16 years now and in that time I’ve gotten a feel for what works for our family and what doesn’t.  As I noticed a certain pattern emerging over the time, I found that just being able to mentally plug in something to fit each category really simplified things for me, so that I don’t feel like I’m starting from scratch with five empty stockings each year.

Now in our household the stockings are ostensibly filled by Santa Claus, though at the moment no one is in a very Santa place; fickle, jaded little creatures.  I jest!  I jest!  Really either way is fine.  And we only started doing the Santa thing at all at their request.  But that’s the context that this tradition was born of.  The stocking gifts tend to be the only ones we wrap in paper.  It seemed unlikely that Santa would use the gift bags obviously made by me, therefore…  Plus there is something undeniably more exciting about tearing the wrapping off a package compared to opening a bag.  And since all other gifts, at all other points in the year are wrapped in play silks or fabric bags, that little bit of paper is an extra special treat.

Each child’s stocking gifts are wrapped in a specific color, every year without fail; one child’s in silver, another in gold, green, red, blue.  That way, even if everyone dumps the contents on the floor and it all gets mixed up, everyone knows without a doubt which gifts belong to whom.  Also, as you will see below, sometimes not all of the stocking contents actually fit in the stocking.  Which seems counterintuitive, I know.  But you will understand better in a moment.  In that case the ill-fitting gift is placed under the stocking and again the color-coded wrapping saves on confusion.  Also, it’s just a sweet little detail!

On to the formula: candy canes, gum, a deck of cards, art or craft supplies, a beautiful book and an optional practical item (as needed).

Candy Canes- I know of two companies that make big, beautiful, old-fashioned candy canes- worthy of pride of place, hanging out over the stocking’s edge- without the use of corn syrup or artificial dyes.  Hammond’s “Natural” line of candy canes come in a wide variety of flavors and Giambri’s (a little smaller and more moderately priced) come in both traditional mint and lemon.  Both companies still make other candy canes with more questionable ingredients, so be extra careful to purchase from their “all-natural” lines.  Yes, they are still sticks of pure sugar, but it’s Christmas.

For tiny ones we substitute fruit leather.  For tiny-tiny ones fresh fruit.

Gum- B-Fresh Gum.  A very rare treat.  This one is sugar free, corn free, gluten free, etc. Has no artificial ingredients or preservatives and is actually a source of water soluble calcium and b-12.

Same substitutions as above for wee folks.

A Deck of Card- Our family plays a lot of card games, usually over meals.  Cards lead a rough existence here!  In the event that we feel that enough have survived the year we make a substitution here.  I think that happened once.  Most often it’s just a deck of cheap regular old playing cards as they suit our needs just fine.  Occasionally someone will get another sort of card game entirely, such as Skip-Bo, Uno, or Quiddler (one of our all-time favorite games!).

Art or Craft- This can be anything from a pack of window crayons to a ball of yarn to a set of woodworking files depending on the age and interests of the child.  This is one area where the size and shape of an object might not conform to stocking dimensions.  So while one child’s colored pencils might fit and another’s carving knife is just fine, the third’s lap loom might need to rest below the stocking.  I prefer to get them something from each category, and from that whatever really suits the child, rather than just something that will fit.

A Beautiful Book- Not just any book, but a truly special one, chosen with great care that hopefully really speaks to the child and meets them where they are at.  There are few greater gifts.  I have a personal rule that I only buy them books that are either not available through our interlibrary loan system or which I know they will read many, many times over.  Board books and many novels fit nicely in most stockings, but picture books or say a beautifully illustrated, hardbound collection of poetry, do not.  So this another area where some of the books may be in stockings and some may not, since I want to give everyone a book no matter what phase they are in.

Miscellaneous (optional)- Some years there might be a little something else, usually something practical. This year for example, everyone is getting a small wooden comb because they all keep borrowing Mairi’s which is now broken and in need of replacing!

A Note on doll stockings:

This one is kind of the wild card.  Many, many moons ago, on an adorable impulse, the older boys and I sewed a set of stockings for their beloved Waldorf dolls and the doll stockings became something of a family tradition.

Some ides for filling doll stockings:

  • shoes, hats or any other doll accessories
  • small crystals or gemstones
  • little gnomes or smaller dolls to act as the dolls’ dolls
  • a small wooden or needle felted animal, a little teddy bear
  • a tiny house plant
  • a little edible treat (you would be amazed at how giving most dolls can be, they almost always are willing to share with their keepers!)
  • dolly dress-ups: doll sized fairy wings, a wee gnome hat, a cape, etc

While I used to lean towards the fancier things on this list, these days it tends to be something very simple, like a crystal or bit of food.

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red and green

“Birthday traditions will not of their own accord become simpler, rather the reverse, and it is not difficult to imagine that traditions generated with enthusiasm can, in certain circumstances, become a burden.” ~ The Birthday Book: Celebrations for Everyone

The holiday season leads right into the birthday season in this house, with three birthdays in January, one in February, one in March and a break in April before our final child birthday in May.  Currently, I’m reading about birthdays while planning food for the Solstice and knitting for Christmas.  The knitting bit is a warm surprise for a certain little someone, with my current favorite everyday yarn, in the rich, festive ‘Hollyberry’.

A hand-made doll for her child (this was the only gift mentioned), a house decorated with greenery, odd bits of roots and foraged slices of wood mixed with white fairy lights, with plans for a day spent dancing, singing and eating nourishing foods.  This is the description of a Christmas celebration that I remember reading many years ago that has stuck with me.  As far as I’m concerned, it sounds just right.  Our own celebrations have become too complicated.  It’s time to scale back.  Mostly I want to reassess how we handle gifts.  We’ve always tried to keep things fun, but moderate.  In recent years we took up the “something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read” concept, to which I tacked on art supplies as we always seem to be ready to replenish by this time of year.  It sounds fairly simple.  But with five children that’s 25 gifts!  Without taking into account a few odds and ends in stockings, not to mention gifts for any of our other loved ones or the gifts and planning required for our big double birthday celebration just 11 days after Christmas.  Even so, it might not be so bad if I didn’t have such high standards for the items I’m willing to purchase.  If I was willing to buy just anything…even if it’s likely to break…or potentially toxic…or from a sweatshop…or crass…or too much money…etc….it might not be such trouble.  But that’s not something I’m willing to compromise on.  As things are, it’s too much time, too much money, too much stress and much too much time spent on the computer shopping for me.   I’ve had a late season epiphany (erm, private little hissy fit? It’s a fine line.) and announced that each child would be getting one present under the tree.  They were all like, “ok” and went right back to what they were doing….I mentioned it would mean more time to be together and that I wouldn’t feel so strained and someone said that would be a much better gift.  Right.  And all this time Steve and I have been fretting about expectations and precedents having been set.  Eye opening.

It’s not quite as little as it seems as everyone will have a nice full stocking (have I ever shared my stocking formula here?  Would you like me to?) and there will be Christmas Eve pajamas of course.  And they all like to give gifts to each other.  So really it becomes quite a lot, without even taking extended family into consideration, and I wonder why I’ve fussed about it for all this time?

I’m also reading The Princess and the Goblin.  Firstly because I’m not yet too old for a good fairy story and secondly to see what hands would be best to set it into next.

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Thanksgiving Snippets (and 48/52)

Since Wednesday is our regular woods day, we divided it between Thanksgiving preparations and time in the forest where they gathered decorations to grace our table.  Inside we cooked and tidied and sewed a new set of napkins from fabric that the children had picked earlier in the week.

Moonrise, glimpsing that glorious, great, golden orb through the trees.  I’m feeling a little alliteration happy tonight!

The birds were our main entertainment on Thanksgiving morning, all flocking to our feeders for a feast of their own.  Spotting the finches was a treat.  Especially the purple ones.  We don’t often see them.

I still try to avoid giving the little one sweets, so she had her own wee pie, full of pumpkin, coconut cream, and raisins to enjoy.

On Friday they were back out in the woods again, gathering baskets upon baskets of greens for garlands and wreaths of all sorts and sizes.  I don’t think they will be holding up well come Christmas, but I guess at least we’ll be festive until then!  The kids are more than ready for advent.  I’m not prepared in the least.  All the same I am quietly tucking into the season and trying to let go of any expectations or worries, so that I can enjoy was comes.

In some ways I think the Friday after Thanksgiving might be the nicest day of the year.  It is the only day where I never have to cook or worry about what to make.  Pie for breakfast and a buffet of leftovers for the rest of the day.

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Our Trip

What to say? We arrived late, due to weather and left early, due to weather. The trip home was what I deemed an adventure (!) when speaking to the children and thought truly treacherous with a shudder to myself- washed out roads, low to no visibility, etc. With all the time in the car I knitted an entire little dress and started a wee sweater. I read the better part of Home Grown while trying to convince an over-tired toddler to drift off to sleep.

We never actually made it to the ocean, though we did spend some time at the bay. I feel that lack distinctly. A summer without standing in awe at the vastness of endless waves seems incomplete.

We stayed in a yurt for the first time and were introduced to an ice-cream shop that had a (comparatively) huge selection of gluten and dairy free treats. That was a find! Hello, salted-caramel ice cream topped with hot fudge! Everyone was thrilled, including baby girl who devoured an all fruit smoothie.

Mairi Rose and Galen were in a Summer Solstice play. Galen, a dapper fox in his old Halloween costume. I made Mairi’s costume from this dress of mine. I took it apart and put it together so many times trying to work out the pattern, that the bust never laid right. I did work out that pattern with it though and have since made another dress utilizing it.

I documented a sunset on the beach one night with sleeping babe beside me while Steve and the kids were off on a sandbar, playing frisbee.

The whole trip had a detached from reality feel to it and it’s hard, looking back, for me to really feel that it actually happened. There were many good things, but the underlying theme was one of feeling unsettled and disconnected. This is the same trip that we’ve taken for, gosh eight or nine years now. All of the families involved are, or used to be, ones that we were close to. But we moved away from all of them quite a while ago now. And for most this is the one time of year that we see them. Time marches on. They all see each other regularly and many new families have joined the group. We’ve been replaced many times over and really we are just an afterthought now, if we’re thought of at all. Each year I feel like we’ve been more and more removed and this year the whole family felt it keenly. As Galen said, when he came back to our campsite, dejected, on our first evening there, “No one remembers me.” It’s not that our old friends no longer care for us, or vice versa, it’s just that our lives don’t relate to each other the way that they once did.

Add to that the fact that this is the second time that I’ve come home from this particular trip with Lyme Disease and I think this may well have been our last year. At least for a while. Just last year I was musing about how long this tradition would go on. I suspect it will continue on for a very long time. We just may no longer be a part of it, which is something I hadn’t really considered. This yearly trip has been a large part of our lives. Letting go isn’t something that I do well and I confess, I’m struggling with this. We had a really good thing going while it lasted.

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5,869 yards of yarn

Recently an acquaintance made a comment about my making a good deal of the children’s clothing.  She said that obviously I had a lot more free time than most people.  It was the kind of comment that I would usually just let slide.  But, without missing a beat or so much as even looking up from what he was doing, Galen (age 9) firmly replied, “No, she has less time, she just uses it more wisely”.

Up until now, the only yarn that I had purchased this year was the yarn for Elijah’s Santa hat.  When we started taking a closer look at our finances and trying to figure out where exactly our money was going, I was very curious to see what I spend a year in craft supplies.  When we worked it all out I actually thought it was quite reasonable, considering the sheer quantity of clothing, gifts, toys and other practical items that I produce for our household each year.  Even so, I challenged myself to drastically cut my spending this year, mainly because it’s one of the few expenses that I, and I alone, am in complete control of.  And so I’ve not bought any yarn.  Or any fabric for that matter.  I do a lot of “shopping at home”, trying to get creative with what I have.  I was considerably helped along by a friend who decided that knitting was not for her and passed her small stash on to me, for which I am very grateful (and probably a good deal less twitchy).

Knitpicks just had their big summer sale and I decided it was time to break my yarn fast and purchase yarn for next years’ birthday sweaters.

I knit and create because it’s who I am and I honestly believe I would go stark raving mad without it.  I justify it by being fastidious about my projects to insure that the items I make cost less then they would have to buy.  I also like to think that my clothing is more ethical.  It’s true that the supplies have to come from somewhere and I confess, I often don’t know exactly where, but at least one level of potential sweatshop work is eliminated.  This is getting more complicated as children grow.  It takes a great many skeins of yarn to cover Iain these days and my creations no longer seem like such a bargain.

I asked the children if they wanted any kind of say in this year’s sweaters.  Two said they wanted to be surprised.  One is too young to express an opinion- don’t get me wrong, I’m sure she has an opinion, this one is full of opinions!  She’s just not yet capable of fully articulating it.  One gave some color ideas.  And one selected an intricate, six color, fair-isle in fingering weight yarn.  uh-huh.  I would get all indignant, but I think we all know I had that one coming.

I thought I would chose a really feminine color for Mairi this year, since last year’s sweater was olive green and the year before a grey-blue.  Besides, I was in that kind of mood.  Of course when I looked at the catalog with her, I learned that all of her favorite yarns just now are blue, green or brown.  So much for that!  I went with a pretty cornflower blue instead because it seemed a little out of the ordinary.  I went with pink for Seraphina out of sheer rebellion.  Of course it’s not in the least the shade I was looking for.  Even with all of the yarn options out there, I can’t tell you how often I go looking for a very particular color and can’t find it.  I want to be the person who decides on yarn colors.  I think that might just be my dream job.

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Licorice the Lamb and Other Spring Tales

Over the course of two weeks we graduated from wee, petite, miniature bouquets nestled in spice jars and extract bottles, to full blow bounty of blossoms.  The pulmonaria (which sounds so much prettier than “Lungwort”) has done amazingly well this year.  I want to divide it up and put a little everywhere.

It’s only May and already the garden has gotten the better of me.  I can’t keep up.  Also I have a certain little someone who really wants nothing more then to be permitted to stand right in the middle of my garden beds.  She climbs in, and stands perfectly still, dead center, looking over her shoulder, waiting for someone to notice and frantically come running over to scoop her up and out…lettuce seedlings trampled under foot, radishes flattened.  Today she discovered the joys of picking all the flowers off the strawberry plants.  How could I have forgotten what a challenge this could be?  I’m trying to channel my inner Farmer Dan.  Years ago, we were members of a wonderful CSA and one day the head farmer stood causally by, watching as three children ran right through a freshly planted field.  Their mother was mortified.  He just smiled and shrugged and explained that it was factored in.  That they planted in a way that assumed kids at play and the occasional dog digging something up.  He really seemed sincere, but I have to wonder if inside it wasn’t eating at him just a little?  All that work!

We have a lamb now.  Right.  So, uhm, that happened.  Though I’m still not really clear on how.  We were visiting a friend and the new baby lambs and there was this day old one being rather violently rejected by her mother.  She was crying so pitifully that it was making my milk let down.  The scale was tipping and she was rapidly running out of the reserve she needed to survive.  Our friend had to leave for work.  I offered a to help out if she ever needed a hand, thinking that you know, we could come down and take a feeding shift from time to time and before I knew what was happening, Iain had a little black lamb in his arms and Elijah had a jar of sheep colostrum and they were headed back to our place.  She’s 2.5 weeks old now and what with middle of the night feedings, and milking sheep and all, it’s been a bit intense at times.

Steve was a rather perturbed (“Wait a minute, so I don’t even get consulted before we move barnyard animals into the house?“).  This is a very valid gripe.  In my defense, what was happening hadn’t totally dawned on me and I was still rather befuddled by the what, how and why when he got home.

She’s just fostering here.  She’ll go back to live with the flock once she’s weaned, but it’s been agreed that she will remain the children’s sheep.  They have been working very hard to care for her.

Her name is Licorice.  Seraphina calls her “Bah-bah”.  They follow each other around.  I really couldn’t quite say who is following whom.  Bah-bah will bend down and nibble something Fina will nibble next to her.  Bah-bah will run up to me bleating to be petted on the head.  Sera will follow a few steps behind, looking up with an expectant “Bah?” and then run away happily once she’s been petted as well.

She’s still a lap-lamb.  Though she’ll be too big for that before long.

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pretending it’s spring

At Halloween we have the jack ‘o lantern helmet, at Easter it’s the raffia hair.

I know the calendar says it’s April, but we’re still living the March life here…muddy paths that crunch in the mornings and late afternoon, snow all around, still deep into sugaring time.  It was actively snowing during our egg hunt.  My tiny, sleepy, sweet wild violet huddled in our coat with me.  I made a joke out of the fact that we were dressed much the same for Christmas tree shopping as we were for Easter egg hunting, which might be funnier if it wasn’t 100% true.  This has been the winter that just won’t end.  The kids refused to dress appropriately.  They must have been so cold!  I figured it was the principal of the thing and decided not to fight it.

We thought it best for the little one to have her own private egg hunt, inside, where no snowsuits were required.

Our natural egg dying went much better this year with deep chocolate tones from coffee, chamomile colored chartreuse eggs, rusty tones from onion skins and pale lilac from red cabbage.  I’m partial to the robin’s egg blue ones, also dyed with red cabbage.  You can get an amazing numbed of hues, depending on technique and dye time.  Directions for the botanical eggs can be found here.

I made Galen a shirt.  Often I make the girls dresses for special occasions, simply because I like making dresses.  Also, they are little and I can usually find bits of fabric that will cover them.  Lately I’ve been wondering if Galen doesn’t feel a bit left out sometimes.  So I made a surprise shirt for him a priority.  I used an old work shirt of Steve’s that was in wonderful shape, but met an untimely end when a sleeve got snagged on something sharp.  Since he was wearing a “Daddy shirt” he thought it wise to borrow some daddy accessories.  I’m not sure it’s possible for him to look more like his daddy.  Who do you think is taller?

Speaking of taller, I made Iain stand next to me so that we could see our reflections in the mirror.  I know what he looks like from my perspective, but I had no idea what we looked like together.  He dwarfs me.  It’s incredible.

Back to the sewing- I didn’t want Mairi to be disappointed, so I whipped her up a quick skirt.  Seraphina wore the little bunny pinafore that I made Mairi Rose for her second Easter.

Picture taking on Easter is really a ridiculous practice.  In almost every picture they look like chipmunks with their cheeks full of treats!

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together

Galen crafted matching headbands for all the girls, Mairi Rose rolled candles, together they created a mess of glitter that extended the entire first floor and beyond.

A couple of years ago I started the tradition of taking photos of Steve and I together on Valentine’s Day, not because I’m ridiculously sentimental about the holiday or anything like that, because I’m really not at all (though we also have a tradition of making cinnamon rolls and that I am attached to).  It’s just that having a specific day means it’s more likely to happen and this is as good a day as any other to serve as a friendly reminder.

It’s such a simple idea, but looking back I’m amazed at how revealing it is; the photos captured are so very specific to each point in time.  Two years ago we were planning our vow renewal.  Our youngest child was reaching a more independent age, leaving us with a bit of time for the first time in 13 years (!), to be frivolous, silly, flirty.  I had just gotten over being really ill and we were both just so ready to focus on enjoying each other and life again.  Last year was moving slow, big bellied, full of excitement, but more of a quiet and comfortable expectancy.  She was essentially our honeymoon baby.  In many ways it felt like starting all over again, only this time we were able to enjoy it in a way that we weren’t capable of with our first child, while we were so busy trying to learn how to live together and be a family.

And this year- a day late*, rather frazzled, somewhat haggard, kid made accessories, clingy-cranky baby way over-due for a nap, but still crazy in love (perhaps with extra emphasis on the crazy…see below).  I had thought I would take some time to really make an effort and do my hair nicely and put on make-up.  I must have been completely delusional.  I think I managed to scrape together five minutes, total, including dressing.  I was mostly just happy that I managed to brush my teeth.

I started making my dress, oh, about a year ago now.  And then I had a baby… and it sat and sat and… sat….  It’s the Sis Boom “Jamie Dress”, with modifications to make it a nursing dress (tutorial here.  I substituted ribbon for old bra straps).  Since we are trying to save money I thought I could finish this up and it would be a little something to make things special.  Instead of an act of love, I think it may have come across more as making myself crazy while trying to sew a dress on Valentine’s morning, because my earlier attempts were thwarted time and time again, while subjecting everyone else to my crazy self.  Which wasn’t quite what I intended.  Sometimes the big picture is a little lost on me.  At that point I just wanted it to be finished and wearable for the future.**

* It’s possible that on Valentine’s Day proper I was a bit on edge and that by the time dinner was on the table I was ready to be completely done with everything in the world and everyone within a certain age bracket.  As an undeniable signal of my total and absolute defeat I had already changed into my pajama pants.  Throughout the day as I was metaphorically ripping out my hair, usually while the baby was literally ripping it out, my husband would occasionally look at me with maniacal gleam in his eye and exclaim, ” Day of L-O-ove!”.

** There is a rumor circulating that in these pictures the nursing opening is being held up with safety pins.  I refuse to confirm or deny said rumor.

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