Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Happy Advent, all!

Somehow, it's December again. This year, it felt like Minnesota skipped over fall and wormholed from summer right into winter. The weather was very weird this year, wasn't it? Hardly any 70-degree transition to speak of; it was 80s and 90s one day and then torrential rain and then 40s, and then snow. All before Halloween, even.

So each year, November goes by in a blink and suddenly it's Christmas. I often have grand plans for  Advent. Not just because it's peak crafting (and baking) season with the kids, but because it's a whole month of anticipation: the grandeur of Christmas feasts with family, the thrill of seeing the faces of friends as they open gifts we've made (or saved to buy), the joy of delivering cookies to neighbors to say - among other things - "we're so glad you live next door (or around the corner, or across the street)." 

And every year, I swear Advent sneaks up on me. 


Like Argh Is It Dec 1st Already Where Are Those Nativity Thingamajigs That We Stick On The Fridge Oh Wait Our Fridge Door Is No Longer Magnetic Erm What To Do Now sneaks

And the children always ask if we're going to do Advent again this year, and Of Course We're Still Young Enough To Do Advent Mom What Were You Thinking. And I'm on the laptop at 2 am on Nov 30th googling "30 Fun Things To Put In An Advent Calendar" and curating the suggestions and becoming more despondent by the minute because half of the Fun Things are awesome for a 5-year-old but not so awesome for a 14-year-old. 

In desperation, I've even asked the children for ideas (because I'm such a loser Mom).

The 14-year-old said this year, "A book a day, of course. 24 books before Christmas - what could be better?" 
Splendid idea, but she wasn't talking about the Christmas picture books we pored over when the girls were preschoolers and kindergarteners. Novels, she meant. Stories with conflicts and cliffhangers. Stories of desperate last-stands and gut-wrenching sacrifices. Stories about good and evil, villains and heroes.

And I was reminded of what Christmas is: one short paragraph in a much longer story of exactly all those things. It's about an author who had a plan for a world that was good and free, whose characters were incredibly flawed but undeservingly precious, and who regrettably wrecked themselves and each other in their pursuit to discover who they were.  There's a villain so insidious that only a truly formidable hero could defeat so in an incredible plot twist, the author writes Himself into the story. Which then speeds toward a cliffhanger in which everyone's character arcs converge in one epic sacrifice. The hero dies, but unbelievably, the world is not destroyed. The people are saved. The villain is vanquished. The curse is lifted. And the hero comes back to life after, and we learn that it was in the plan all along, written into the storyboard from the very start. It may not have begun with Once Upon A Time and perhaps the ultimate Happily Ever After is still a long way off, but there is glorious closure and explosive hope for the future, for forever.

In Advent seasons past, I've only ever lingered on the manger portion of the Christmas story. When the kids were little, it was what appealed to them. There was a baby in a feeding trough, infinite wonder confined in the finite dimensions of an animal shed. There were domestic livestock, shepherds with lambs, learned visitors on camels who came from so far away that it took them two years to actually turn up. There were drummer boys whose percussive anthems somehow did not grate on a postpartum mother's ears (or a newborn's). There was (probably) no wicked Midwestern blizzard raging outside (probably because it wasn't even December). It was a good tale, with lots of quaint cultural embellishments (depending on the version). My kids - as do many other kids in this part of the world - know this account inside out.

I always felt that it needed more context, though. So this year, I'm including that bigger story in our Advent conversations. They know a lot of it from Sunday School, so maybe it won't be news to them. But some of the best stories are more fully enjoyed retold over and over, and I can't think of one that beats this. Already Kate has begun some good conversations with me, which I hold dear to my heart and pray that over our years together, I will find increasingly clearer ways to continue with her. 

Children, no matter how literal their dealings, will still always appreciate the metaphor, though - isn't that why we have Advent calendars? It isn't just the chocolate, or the Lego Christmas village in 24 installments. It's about the anticipation, the part of the whole, the longing for something to be finally finished. It's also about now: the blessings that are new every morning, the grace that is sufficient, the gift of the day thereof. Which, with our unique preferences and personalities, looks different for each of us, so this year, I made each of the girls their own, not-the-same Advent calendars.

Jenna's is the one in the top photo - 24 pairs of Harry Potter socks in 24 random IKEA gift bags. She says she likes that they're Harry Potter themed and that she gets a new pair every morning to wear to school without having to find one the night before to set out. Here, I'll cheat and repeat that photo for your viewing pleasure:

Kate's is 24 little squishy toys stuffed into the pockets of my old Pocket Quilt. I found them on Amazon in a 30-pack and Emily helped pick out the 24 she thought Kate would like most. Incidentally, we've used this quilt every Christmas since I made it 8 years ago. It was never intended as an Advent calendar but it's found its calling by being exactly that.

Emily's Advent calendar is, sadly, not 24 novels. I would've liked it to be, but I didn't think she'd be able to finish a novel a day quickly enough to hunger for another the next. She has, however, in recent months, discovered the joys of a warm cup of tea, so voila - 24 teas,

which I selected from a selection of far more (again, from Amazon).

and which I concealed in (for want of more innovative packaging) old guitar string envelopes with which my guitar-playing brother supplied me over the years.

These I sealed with funny clips, which I didn't really have 24 of, so there might have to be some re-using!

Also, 24 fancy truffles (because tea and chocolate are as close to heaven in Minnesotan winters as they get).

Speaking of which, this has been the view from my sewing window of late:

Pretty! Also a reminder that I have much to be grateful for, including a warm home in a state that knows how to deal with snowy roads and icky blizzards so people can actually get places safely. 

And you guys, of course. I'm always grateful for you, and all the stories (cardboard, sewing and life) you share with me in the comments and email. I appreciate your honesty, I admire your courage in raising your families, learning new skills, protecting our countries, and answering uncountable calls to help, to teach, to give. I hope your Advent is merry and bright, and that as you count down to Christmas, you will know that you are much loved and of infinite worth to a God who wrote Himself into His own story to prove it.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Deer & Fawn

Kate and Bunny were a deer family this year for Halloween. 

In recent years, Kate has had me make Bunny a costume that coordinates with her own. In 2015, Kate was a rabbit and Bunny was a carrot. In 2016, Kate was a fairy and Bunny was an elf. Last year, Kate was Ginny Weasley (from Harry Potter) and Bunny was some kind of personal pet. Four years later, I think I've figured it out: if Bunny has a costume, then Bunny can accompany Kate to any and all Halloween-related activities, including the fall parties at school. Could it be?

Kate, grinning smugly, confirmed that yes, it was exactly so.

Kate's deer costume (not reindeer, she cautioned me when we were designing it together) was simple enough to make. It's essentially a sleeper PJ thing, like her rabbit suit and many other animal-themed onesies that are found in stores like Target and Walmart. But where her rabbit had sleeves and legs that ended in simple hems, Kate wanted elasticized cuffs for this deer suit. She explained that they kept the fabric from riding up her limbs, which was very helpful for cartwheels and tumbles. Which, apparently, deer do a lot of.

The hood is the only part of the outfit that's lined - mostly for structure so that it doesn't degenerate into floppiness. There are stuffed antlers and fuzz-lined ears that insert in seams in the hood construction. The rest of the outfit is a single layer of fleece, and because fleece doesn't fray, I didn't even bother to serge the SA on the inside.

The outfit has a central front zipper that runs through the furry belly panel (this is simply a large applique patch).

Here is Bunny's outfit: also a zip-up onesie suit. The antlers and ears are edge-stitched felt rather than stuffed fleece - for doll-sized features, I try to avoid creating structures that must be sewn WS-out and whose SA then clog up the sharp points and other narrow parts of the finished shapes when turned RS-out.

A few more differences: one, Bunny's suit has raglan sleeves. Reason: Bunny has indistinct shoulders, which make it challenging to determine the position of shoulder seams so as to set in regular sleeves. Also, in place of cuffs, the sleeves and legs end in enclosed "mittens". They saved me the effort of turning hems, and it's not as if Bunny needs to actually use her hands and feet. 

And finally, Bunny's hood is differently-shaped, entirely because Bunny's head is much flatter dorso-ventrally than a human head. This is a trivial observation, I know, but I wanted to share that weird fact so we understand that not all hoods are sewn the same way. If you are so inclined, look at the hoods on the various coats and sweaters in your (and your kids') closet(s): some are simply two pieces (left and right) sewn together along a central seam; some are three longitudinal panels (symmetrical left and right pieces connected by a central 'gusset') which hug the back of the head more closely; some, like Kate's and Bunny's here, are a combination of transverse and longitudinal seams that allow inserts like horns and ears and other anterior features, and design elements like drawstrings and snaps.

Here is the back view: both suits have a little tail that attaches in a shallow dart (not a seam) in the fabric itself.

So deer and fawn this year. I can't wait to find out what Kate will pick for herself (and Bunny) next Halloween!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Air Dancer

Emily was an air dancer for Halloween this year. Air dancers, sometimes called tube men, are those funny inflatable tubes with faces and streamers which stand outside stores and other establishments and wiggle in the wind. My kids used to call them the asparagus men and would exclaim in glee whenever we spotted them at car dealerships and strip malls. 

While I haven't actually examined an air dancer to determine how it works, I believe there is a kind of fan in its base that blows air upward, filling the tube and making it shimmy and flap its streamers. The combined visual effect is excellent for attracting attention.

It's well and good for an advertising prop standing in one spot, but a little more challenging when one has intends to walk around the neighborhood encased in what is essentially a fabric cigar. Also, one also needs a peephole through which to look, so as not to walk into a trashcan, parked cars, other neighbors, or anything else one might inadvertently encounter while candy-gathering in the dark. 

Then there was the issue of the tube not collapsing into itself as one moved around in it. Fabric, after all, clings and drapes (not to mention falls down). And while actual air dancers have a stream of air to help the walls stay apart and aloft, we really didn't care for our hindquarters being enthusiastically ventilated by a fan on a cold pre-winter night. As we walked around the neighborhood. In what was essentially an enlarged drinking straw rendered in the cheapest fabric we could find.

Thus, we decided: why fight gravity when we could harness it to our advantage?

Behold: The Cardboard Headdress.

This is, in essence, a helmet-crown hybrid. The lower hemispherical section is the helmet, which sits on Emily's head. The flat upper platform is the crown, raised above the helmet by dowels. 

This extra elevation served two purposes. One, to elongate the tube further so that the height-width ratio even more closely  approached that of a real air dancer. Two, to raise its top by enough distance to turn the air dancer's mouth into a peephole for Emily's eyes.

And it is from this flat platform that the entire fabric tube (with a closed circular top) hangs. Not unlike a fitted tablecloth for a disproportionately tall table.

Even without additional structural reinforcement, the fabric cylinder kept its shape quite well. However, we added a couple solid rings in the lower region around Emily's legs. In the same way that a hoop skirt works, these kept the cylinder open so she could walk without kicking the fabric out in front of her. I sewed two narrow channels all around the inside of the tube, then bought dollar-store glowsticks and connected them into a couple of large rings to push into the channels. 

The main structure thus accomplished, we finished off the costume with simple details. We put the tube on Emily, marked the position of her eyes, cut out the  air dancer's mouth and sewed black athletic mesh fabric over the opening. We also cut out armholes and Emily wore a coordinating fleece sweater for instant arms. Much easier than trying to fit sleeves, we thought. The streamers are fabric strips glued onto short sticks that Emily is holding.

You can see the streamer-sticks in her hands in this next photo. They're like mini twirling-ribbon-sticks.

This was one of the quickest costumes to make, and the funniest!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Halloween Costumes 2018

It feels like it's been forever, hasn't it?

I have fun stuff to share in the next few posts, but today's is all about Halloween that happened 3 weeks ago. I was in New York City visiting friends over Halloween so I missed the actual dressing up and sugar collecting action. And in spite of planning weeks in advance, I still ended sewing right up till the day before I got on the plane. So yes, I did sew some costumes and no, the children didn't do the matchy-matchy theme this year. But they all still wanted to go around the neighborhood together and snag candy and hold auctions to trade that candy with the neighbors afterward.

Every Halloween surprises me that way - not just which character the kids will want to impersonate, but whether they'll still feel young enough to go trick-or-treating at all. I treasure every year that they still do.

This year, Emily was an air dancer. She and a neighbor friend had been planning this costume since 2017, long before it was a costume fad. We were so surprised to find that it was as popular as it was. This was fun to make (if a bit last-minute). I'll deconstruct it in a later post. 

Jenna was Scarlet, from the book series The Lunar Chronicles. Scarlet is a modern-day Little Red Riding Hood - and her outfit was literally a red hoodie and jeans and the basket that Kate is holding. I didn't sew any part of her outfit, and even the red hoodie was a loan from a friend. 

Kate was a deer. And Bunny was a fawn. They come as a pair, these two - every year since I can remember. I'll deconstruct their outfits in a later post, too. 

Friday, October 26, 2018

This Year's Halloween Costumes

Well, one of them, anyway.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

That Day Has Come

I threw out my cardboard stash yesterday.

What manner of madness motivated such an atrocity? Ah, as is often the case, we needed the storage space for Other Things. 

I considered titling this post A Bleak Season or She Would Never Get Out Of Bed Again but you know what? I wasn't as depressed as I thought it'd be. Not even upset, actually.

Two reasons: one, the kids have grown up. They are not so old that they're leaving the house to get engineering or culinary degrees, but no longer so young that cardboard toys cause within them rabid levels of excitement. Again, not as disheartening as I'd imagined. Now, this in no way suggests that cardboard has lost any of its amazingness - no, cardboard will forever be supreme (and no one will convince me otherwise). However, I think I'm ready to accept that building cardboard playthings had its moments - of which our family has had arguably more than its fair share - and those moments have somehow passed, and passed with their dignity intact.

And two, I am comforted by the knowledge that IKEA remains a veritable trove of Good Cardboard - free, large, clean and in an astounding variety of thicknesses, strengths and textures. Should I in the near future require new building material, I can drive there in minutes, find what I need and save the environment, all without sacrificing precious storage space in our house.

It was fun to reminisce, though, as Emily and I pulled out piece after piece from under the bed in the guest bedroom, where I had amassed and curated my collection over the years since we've owned this house. 

"Oh, this was the box from the cardboard nightstand!" "We made the Barbie House from this piece!" "Remember this?" "Remember that?"

That's what creating with children is about, after all, isn't it? Not only passing on skills and producing workable designs but also simply being. Sitting and gluing. Slicing and drawing. Decorating and embellishing. All the while making up crazy stories about baby bunnies in hutches, paper fish in aquariums, parrots in pirate ships, castles and maidens and automobiles and telephones and pizza parlors and little peg children journeying to fantastical lands at the tops of impossible trees.

Yes, good memories. 

But because it's irresponsible (not to mention ridiculous) that a house be completely devoid of cardboard, I let myself keep a few of the more interesting pieces. Do you see that crazy piece in the photo? How many flute layers are there in that piece in the photo? I lost count after ten. 

They'll live in a very small box in the garage.  For emergencies, you know.

Well. I just looked at my sidebar and realized that my last post was almost two months ago. I missed you guys! I hope everyone had a lovely summer. Ours was good, but too short. It felt like I blinked and it was the first day of school and I hadn't done nearly enough summering as I'd have liked. The kids spent a lot of time in the water. One of them took a self-taught algebra course that enabled her to skip a Math grade in the fall. Another dabbled very successfully with yeast baking. Two learned to dive off a springboard. At least one of them sewed more than I did, and invited at least one friend over for sewalongs (we made pencil cases like these). I finished a commissioned project for a magazine that took up a fair bit of my summer but which was very rewarding. Everyone hung out with neighbors and friends and got to know each other better over games and food and exercise, before the Big Freeze sends us all back into our caves.

Making-wise, I always feel that I accomplished pretty close to zilch with my own projects. Summer is such a non-ideal time for pleasure-sewing; everything else seems to be more urgent, and rightly so: being outdoors, doing things with the kids, tutoring Math, helping dough to rise, riding bikes and swimming under a sunny sky that for just three months in the year, actually feels as warm as it looks. 

But now fall is upon us. It's nice to have a routine again, and the house to myself now that the kids are back at school. There are upcoming birthdays that require gifts, Halloween activities that require costumes, and ikatbag patterns that require prototypes. Lots of sewing in my future, it looks like. 

It'll be a good distraction from the cardboard I no longer have. Or, to put it another way: it's a good thing I no longer have cardboard with which to procrastinate on the sewing (sniff). 

Saturday, July 28, 2018


I would've missed it had Emily not pointed it out:

apparently, these look like my kids.
(L to R: Kate, Jenna and Emily).