Goodbye Christmas…

It is always bittersweet taking down all the decorations, the garlands, the tree.  This year it was particularly hard as I was quite in love with some of my handmades…

I took some pictures so I could remember and thought you might enjoy them too.

Solstice StockingsI’m particularly sad to see these babies packed away.  I’ve been wanting to make them for a while and finally got around to it this year.  I started in July and got sidetracked. I embroidered two of them while at a conference in November and of course I finished the last one two days before the holidays.  The pattern can be found in my favourite craft book of all time:

Scandinavian NeedlecraftYou can find other projects I’ve made from this book here (don’t worry I fixed it) and here.

Scandinavian Heart embroidery

Scandinavian Snowflake Embroidery

Scandinavian Snowflake Embroidery Christmas StockingWell, you can see why I love them can’t you?  They are so beautiful!  (as a side note, I had a good laugh while editing these photos.  Take a good look at some of the titles on the bookshelf…I hung this stocking in front of “All Family’s are Psychotic” LOL…that might tie in with some holiday celebrations non?).

pinecone garland

Pinecone garlandAnd I couldn’t resist taking this photo in the morning light (no editing I swear) of my favourite handmade holiday decoration.  I make one every year.  I collect the pinecones in the fall at my in law’s place. I also took a fallen branch or two from their forest and used them around the house and on the porch in the form of garlands and evergreen swags.  The pinecones I keep in a paper bag in the basement until December and they usually have opened nicely by then.  The orange slices I dehydrate in the oven the same day I make the garland using jute twine.   This year I hung it along a pine branch that I secured to the curtain rod in my front window.  I love how the light shines through the oranges like stained glass.

cedar wreaths with red ribbonMy second favourite decoration this year are these cedar wreaths I made using cedar branches I trimmed from our cedar shrubs in the front yard.  I really hated taking them down.  I love the way they looked and with them gone I can’t decide what to put in their place.  Any ideas?

cedar wreaths and juniper boughsI tucked some Juniper boughs into a basket my friend’s mom made me as a wedding gift.  Santa had a kind of Scandinavian look and I picked him up from my local VV.  The red wooden bead garland? VV.  The reindeer candle holders were also a find at VV and now that I am typing this, I can’t decide if they are my second favourite or not…no.  They are my third favourite for sure.  Mostly because it was a nightmare trying to put the candles in place without splitting them.  So they get third place…

Solstice mantle

IMG_2082Here is what they look like lit up.  So pretty.  The chalkboard (from HomeSense) did boast a chalk christmas tree but I erased it before I thought of taking any pictures.cedar wreaths in windowAnd finally, one of my very favourite handmades this year, cedar branches hot glued onto embroidery hoops hung with red ribbon at my kitchen window.  I loved waking up to this bright and cheery window every wintry morning.  It made me smile.apple candle holderAnd this sat on my window sill.  I made a few of these apple candle holders and used them to light our Solstice dinner table.  I love the red of the apples…and the fact that most of my decorations will now find themselves in the compost heap and not the land fill. In fact I now only have one box of Christmas decorations to store.  Mostly ornaments and lights.

So while it was hard to take them down, I do like to start the new year with fresh walls and less clutter.

Here is to fresh starts!  Happy 2014 everyone!!

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…the fire is burning…

…the fire is burning
the long night draws near
all who need comfort
are welcome by here…

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The girls and I spent this evening building snowball lanterns in preparation for Solstice on December 21st

…we’ll dance ‘neath the stars
and toast the past year
for the spirit of solstice
is still living here…

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The fire pit now has outdoor lighting. We’ll be dusting off the log stumps for friends to gather round the bonfire to hold back the night.

…we’ll count all our blessings
while the Mother lays down
with snow as her blanket
covering the ground…

We are fortunate enough to have a gorgeous yew tree in the backyard. We'll be decorating this living tree with popcorn strings, pine cone bird feeders and apple ornaments as gifts to our animal friends.

We are fortunate enough to have a gorgeous yew tree in the backyard. We’ll be decorating this living tree with popcorn strings, pine cone bird feeders and apple ornaments as gifts to our animal friends.

…thanks to the Mother
for the life that she brings
she’ll waken to warm us
again in the spring

the poor and the hungry
the sick and the lost
these are our children
no matter the cost…

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Every year we make lanterns. This year it is snowball lanterns to line our walk way and welcome our guests. In years past we’ve used glass jars hung from sticks with wire to take with us on our lantern walk.  This year we’ll take apple candle holders with us while we go carolling.

 

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Our decorations are all taken from nature. The snow lanterns require only a tea light and the right kind of snow. We’ve brought fresh greenery, birch bark and berries indoors to decorate our table and mantle.

…come by the fire
the harvest to share

for the spirit of solstice
is still living there

the fire is burning
the long night draws near
all who need comfort
are welcome by here…

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Part of the fun of planning which crafts we’ll do and how we’ll decorate is watching the girls add their own bit of magic to our celebration. Our connections are strengthened to the earth and in our community. I love how the girls look forward to Solstice as part of our holiday celebrations.

…we’ll dance ‘neath the stars
and toast the past year

for the spirit of solstice
is still living here
for the spirit of solstice
is still living here…


~ Lyrics to “A Solstice Carole” by the Wyrd Sisters

Snow Day Fun

tobogganoutsideplayhouse

Yay!  Winter is upon us!  When the snow flies the girls fly out the door.  I have the easiest time on these snowy winter mornings.  They can’t dress and eat breakfast fast enough.  A quick ski around the yard or jumping on the toboggan:

toboggan1But it can’t all be fun when there is work to be done.  Winter blew right into our lovely little playhouse and the girls had some cleaning up to do.

toboggansnowinsideWhich can be fun too!

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snowinside3The Missus took care of the porch.

tobogganisweepingDoes this mean we can call the playhouse a four season fort?

toboggangirls inwindow

It was a great morning and we decided afterward that the pictures would be perfect for our annual “Cool Yule” card.  Happy Holidays to all!

Cool Yule 2013

Yuletide Greetings!

The word “solstice” comes from the Latin sol, meaning sun, and sistere, meaning to stand. At Solstice the sun appears to stand still, to pause, before continuing on its path.  We’ve been celebrating Solstice as a family for over a decade.  No matter where we have found ourselves over years, on a tropical island, out west, up north, in the city or in the forest, no matter what has been happening in our lives, this time of year reminds us to pause, and to reflect.  Our celebrations have been simple (especially when it was just the two of us) and some have  been elaborate gatherings full of family and friends.  Decorations are natural and are designed to end up in the compost heap rather than in storage or the landfill.  The greenery reminding us of the coming spring.  The candles reminding us of the returning light.

When we first started celebrating Solstice we were met with many questions and confused looks and some people were even dismissive.  It was a little isolating.  And so starting nine years ago we began sending out what we called our “Cool Yule Cards”.  They were conversation starters for sure, just look at our first one:

cool yule photo 1Yes, I put a dress on my dog.  Mad Men was not a show back then either…we were just before our time I suppose : ).

banjo bellyIn the beginning we always tried to inject a little bit of humour to try to keep it light-hearted.

coolyuledoorThis is one of my favourites…Sostice in the forest with a wood stove inside…so dreamy.

coolyuleThis one did look more “Christmas-y” but Cool Yule wishes remained the same…

Grandma cool yuleI think last year’s card was my favourite so far.  Such a great vintage photo of J’s great-grandmother!

Our 2013 Cool Yule greeting card will be revealed to family and friends tomorrow (that is if I can get a great shot of the girls on their lantern walk).  Today, I’m wrapping our handmade solstice gifts to put under the tree and finishing up the preparations for our Annual Solstice Party.  Back by popular demand will be our lantern walk which the children loved a few years ago.  After dinner we make our lanterns and set off to carol our way through the neighbourhood.  If it is not raining we will gather around the bonfire outside to sing, drink and generally be merry and, if we remember, we mark the actual moment of Solstice.   Tomorrow we’ll open our gifts, make pine cone bird feeders and decorated our outdoor tree for our animal friends.  And as always we are busy reading our favourite winter and Solstice books.

I mentioned our celebrations to a neighbour a few weeks ago and they commented that more and more people seemed to be celebrating solstice.  I’m so glad to hear it.  Solstice also means “turning point”.  Our world could use a reminder to pause and slow down, a reminder that light follows darkness, and to reestablish a relationship with Mother Earth.

This morning we woke up to find a soft blanket of snow covering the ground.  The girls rushed to the windows and squealed with delight.  Mrs. Iverson declared that it was Solstice magic that made it happen.  I think the smile on this proud mama’s face should last all day…

Wishing you all a Cool Yule, peace and joy for the New Year!

Easing into the season

adventwreath

I’ve decided we are not doing a countdown calendar this year.  I just didn’t want to invest the time it takes to make one and organize the little presents.  Plus there can be fights about whose turn it is to open that day’s gift.  This year I needed simple.  I needed relaxed.  I needed beautiful.  And I do think our advent wreath turned out beautifully don’t you?

advent wreath

The base is cut from a pine log out at J’s parents house.  We used it (and a few others) for decorations for Mrs. Iverson’s woodland animal birthday party a few months ago.  Eventually it is destined to be a “dinner plate” to be used in the girls backyard “mudpie kitchen” in the spring.  The centre is cut from a lovely cedar heartwood log.  We drilled 4 holes into it, melted a bit of wax into the holes and placed a beeswax candle into each (the candles were left over from our Earth Day celebration downtown this past April). We had a few branches that needed trimming on our evergreen out back and we used our glue gun to keep them in place.  The berries are from some grab bag I had from VV.

I was raised Roman Catholic and the advent wreath was central to the lead up to the Christmas celebrations.  Of course the use of evergreen wreaths with candles during this season predates Christianity and so an advent wreath can be enjoyed by Christians and non-christians alike.  I loved telling the girls about this piece of their cultural heritage and sharing something so peaceful and serene with them.  It ties in so nicely with our yearly discussions about Solstice and the symbol of the evergreen and its promise of new life in spring.  The light of the candles holds back the darkness just enough for us to remember that the light will return.

Each night at dinner we’ve been lighting one candle and letting it burn while we eat.  The girls take turns lighting it (there is another random candle for the girl who does not get to light the advent wreath that night : ).  So instead of chocolate/candy highs (and then lows) we’re enjoying candlelight dinners and a more gentle and peaceful sort of countdown.

Now this is a tradition I can live with…

Secret Agent Gal

As many of you know Lil’S is into “spy stuff”.  After making her this book as part of our handmade holiday exchange last year her love of spying has only increased.  This summer at the height this spy craze she asked to have a “spy birthday”.  Sure, I thought, that’ll be easy.  And it WAS!  About three months into our planning and gathering of ideas I stumbled upon some great blogs and did I mention Pinterest?  Oh my.

My advice?  Do a spy party at least once in your life.  We had a blast!  But first you need to start with an invitation…

This invite came from a grab bag of my ideas and those of other bloggers.  I want to give credit where credit is due of course so check out some of these great sites:  birthday party ideas (there is a whole list of links to blogs that have done a spy birthday party…have fun going down that rabbit hole!), creative party place,  WillowdayChicken Babies and Frugal Family TImes (I love that both Chicken Babies and Frugal Family Times freely share their ideas and their templates for passports and Agent ID cards – THANK YOU!!).

The invitation really set the tone for the party and there was much anticipation for those invited.  When the “recruits” arrived they saw this on the front steps:

And when they went around to the Milk Door they saw this:

And when they followed the instructions the door opened and they met this guy:

The password (which was written in code in the invitation and a cipher had been included for decoding purposes) was uttered and the recruit was taken inside for “processing” (boots and jackets put away : ).

Once everyone had arrived they were given a debriefing.  They discovered that 1. J and I were real spies and that we were running a spy agency out of our house 2. Dr. Evil had stolen the loot bags and they would need to use their newly acquired spy skills to solve the mystery.  So, first things first…

Each recruit was issued an ID card, a code name and a passport:

I used this template from Chicken Babies for the ID cards.  Instead of using photos we just fingerprinted the recruits with an ink pad.  They also wrote their Code Names on the cards.  To get their Code Name they pulled a colour out of one container and an animal out of another:

It made for some really neat names like Emerald Hawk and if you can believe it, the Pink Panther!!

Next they were issued Passports (thanks Frugal Family Times!):

As you can see each passport had a list of the training activities:  Bomb Diffusion, a Laser Course, Voice Modulation, Art of Disguise and Code Deciphering.  As each skill was acquired they received a check mark and handshake.

Bomb Diffusion was the first activity.  We blew up around 24 black balloons.  Two of them had clues from Dr. Evil inside.  The kids took turns popping the balloons until the clues were found (we cleverly made sure one was “discovered” at the midpoint and the second at the end).  Then they worked together to crack the code.  The teamwork was impressive!

Next up was the Laser Course.  We used painters tape and red yarn to “booby trap” the dining room.  The kids LOVED this game and they just kept taking turns over and over again well after the clue was retrieved!

Once the laser course was “disarmed” we took it down and had some snacks.  Before the party Lil’S had helped prepare “truth serum” labels for our drinks:

We played a game of “two truths and a lie” whilst eating.  Hilarity ensued.  It was even funnier when we tried speaking in various accents to pass our Voice Modulation test.

After the snacks we moved on to the Art of Disguise which involved the kids dressing up in costume and sitting down to take a picture of themselves with Photobooth on the computer.  The pics were then emailed to the kids after the party.

Then Dr. Evil threw another wrench in our party!!  A bomb had dropped onto the cake and the kids had to try to blow it out before our cake was blown to smithereens!

After cake (which didn’t blow up because I guess all that huffing and puffing really did put out the spark heh, heh) we set to work decoding the rest of the messages.  All in all 5 secret clues from Dr. Evil were found.  It turns out the loot bags were hidden in plan sight all along!

And some spy gear to take home.  I love the Pop Rocks label “warning: explosives”.  I cannot for the life of me remember which website I saw that on – so sorry!

One of the parents stayed to help out which I was forever grateful for.  We (the adults) had a great time too.  Mrs. Iverson was the youngest guest and surprisingly she didn’t follow the dress code of all black.  She wore a glittering princess gown and a tiara.  We referred to her as “the socialite”.  And really doesn’t every Spy Party need a socialite on the guest list?

Most importantly, this Secret Agent had a fantastic time with her friends and some new spy gadgets to occupy her for a long, long time!

Happy Canada Day weekend!

Such a lovely weekend!  It is easy to get excited when you have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old absolutely thrilled with all of the festivities going on around town.  Friday, J had his last day of work while the girls and I picked raspberries and strawberries at Fruition Berry Farm north of the city and met up with friends at the splash pad and beach at Joel Stone Park in Gan.

Not one to miss an opportunity to dress up, Mrs. Iverson made a splash picking berries in a dress and crown.  “Princesses looove strawberries”.  It is true, they do!

Lil’S chose more practical attire but still turned heads in her vintage Kids CBC t-shirt.  Notice the bottom of the shirt cinched with a hair elastic of to the side!  I totally remember doing this as a kid but have no idea where she got this bit of flare from…

A headless “Venus of Willendorf” shaped strawberry.  She tasted pretty good too!

I am so glad the girls and I went.  They loved picking the raspberries and we devised a great team approach with Mrs. Iverson taking the low berries, Lil’S the medium height branches and me taking from the top.  Strawberries were a little harder to get at but we had a great time none the less.

Saturday morning we started working on this:

I could look at this sign all day it makes me so happy.  See the lemon and the pitcher down at the bottom?  Love, love, love!  Lil’S and her friend B were so very excited to have a lemonade stand.  We made two kinds of homemade lemonade, Strawberry Lemonade and Regular Lemonade.  Well, I suppose there were three types, strawberry, regular organic and regular regular.  The stuff made with organic lemons was hands down the best.  I couldn’t believe there was a difference!  Try it you’ll see.

See?  I told you they were excited!

Their first and best customer was Mrs. Iverson decked out in her Stepford wives dress.

Ah, refreshing.  Such a great idea this lemonade stand was.  S got to reconnect with her friend.  Both got a great lesson in business administration and the stand was so darn adorable (did you notice the fresh-cut flowers on the stand?) that we met even more of our neighbours.  The girls, anxious for customers did do a door to door campaign at one point and a “running down the street with their sign” campaign.  They yelled “Come and get your fresh, homemade lemonade!” over and over.  So cute.

We finished up the weekend by heading to Gan for the fireworks there.  It felt so special lying on the hill on a blanket snuggling my girls. The fire-flies did their part keeping the girls entertained while we were waiting for things to start.  A friendly stranger went around to all of the children and passed out sparklers.  It was so sweet!  It didn’t take long for the kids to start visiting other blankets in search of those people who might have brought a lighter or some matches.  By the time the show started we had interacted with all of the families on blankets around us – a great way to create instant community.

Lil’S decked out in red and white (I made her skirt out of an old ikea duvet cover using the twirly skirt pattern from Sew Liberated.  Mrs. Iverson went in her pjs.

Not a bad way to end a great weekend (excuse the poor quality blackberry shots).  The kids were asleep in seconds afterwards.

Did you have a good weekend?  How did you celebrate Canada’s birthday?

Happy Earth Day

Happy Earth Day!!

Lil’S woke up first thing this morning and scanned the yard for litter.  She somehow got it into her head that that was what we were supposed to do for Earth Day – pick up garbage.  It is not that that is a bad way to honour the earth, but I was imagining something more along the lines of THIS fine idea by the folks at Imagine Childhood.

There truly wasn’t much garbage to pick up so that activity was short-lived.  Next J and the girls then met up with some friends and walked down to Queen’s University to check out some flying squirrels as part of their earth day celebrations.  Lil’S tells me it looked like this:

And we went for a walk (how happy does a baby carrying, dog-walking kid make this mama?):

Lil’S stopped to practice drawing the flowers she saw:

Which she then used to make this (gotta love the studious approach to creating):

All in all a pretty nice day.  We are quite enjoying the activities that abound here in Kingston on days like these.  Speaking of, I didn’t have time to blog about the Earth Hour Celebrations put on by Kingston Unplugged a little while ago but I did want to share with you how wonderful it was…and suggest you definitely attend next year.  It was magnificent!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Winter!

Well, I wanted winter, I hoped for winter, I longed for winter, I demanded winter…and winter came.

It came with little snow and an inch of ice that encased our cars and coated the branches of trees.  Two friends had their windshields crack while trying to chip their way into their cars. The weight of the ice on the tree branches was too much for some trees to bear and whole limbs came down bringing power lines with them.  Really this kind of winter weather entreats us all to go back inside and cozy up with loved ones or a good book…but I couldn’t resist going out for a closer look.  The park was beautiful!

Poor trees!  Look how heavy those branches are!

I was glad for a chance to enjoy being outside in something akin to a winter wonderland finally but it was getting late.  It was so nice to head back inside and snuggle with the kiddies.  I’m crossing my fingers snow won’t be far behind.

Happy Winter!

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:  it is the time for home.  ~Edith Sitwell