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!