Previous month:
December 2010
Next month:
February 2011

January 2011

listless list-lover

the list

I grumbled and groaned about making this list. I usually love lists, but making a list when you don't yet have that crazy nesting instinct is akin to making an amazing batch of homemade ice cream when you have a dairy allergy. Um, yeah. My words reveal the inner workings of my psyche. Mostly ice cream thoughts. The pot of beans on the stove and fresh tortillas from La Superior will have to suffice.

But, alas, it is time for The List. The "Things-We-Must-Do-Before-The-Baby-Arrives List." We all write one, don't we? So we sat down (and Patrick put pen to paper) while we rattled off this here smorgasbord of tasks. Some things are more important than others (such as "write birthing plan" versus "check out good fiction reads from the library") but we ultimately found the list to be helpful. Since, in a few short weeks, life is going to grab us by the ankles, lift us up, turn us upside down and shake us until everything falls out of our pockets, having a list keeps us working diligently in the present moment rather than worrying too much about what the future holds.

My parents, who will be coming to stay with us for as long as they are needed, will be glad to know that on the top of that list, priority-wise, is making our dungeon basement a hospitable place for guests. We're even trying to find a used TV and get cable for my dad so that he can watch his basketball/football/baseball/golf (or whatever it is that they play this time of year?) My mom, on the other hand, is happy with books and a nice kitchen in which to cook. Clean out fridge. Check. Mop weeks (months?) of evidence that a toddler cooks in our kitchen off of the kitchen floor. Check. As for books, Mom, Patrick and I do need some good works of fiction. Our house is a House of Books. Unfortunately, most of them have titles like "Bretton Woods: Birth of a Monetary System" and "Haiti and the United States: The Psychological Moment." Among all of Patrick's books can be found smatterings of my own, most of which are non-fiction as well, though less verbose and somewhat more practical, in that they're largely books about early childhood education or crafting.

All of that to say - can I have your recommendations for good fiction reads? We'll be spending a lot of time by Lachlan's cribside in the ICU, and when he's sleeping, a good book would be a healthy way to pass the time, I think. (As a side note, I'm really enjoying this book as a reference for good books to bring into Finn's life. As such, Finn's book collection is way more interesting than mine!)

In the space of a few days, I went from dreading the list to going through it at full-steam. Does that mean I'm nesting? Whatever it means, I have a laundry room to organize. And a garage to clean out. And a bathroom floor to scrub. And now I'm happy about that.


playful learning spaces e-course giveaway


By now it should be clear that I have a bit of a passion for designing spaces for children - both in the home and in the classroom setting. I know that's one of the reasons I'm so drawn to Montessori education, with its emphasis on the importance of the physical (and emotional) environment in the child's development. First, of course, comes the joy of creating spaces and activities that inspire young children. Nothing beats seeing the twinkle in the eye of a child happily engaged in play or learning. Another reason is purely personal, but oh-so-fulfilling: designing these spaces for children provides me with my own creative outlet! As someone who needs a healthy dose of creative work in order to recharge, this is the perfect match for me (a busy, work-at-home-mama) as it allows me to fulfill two needs at once - the needs of my child(ren) as well as my own need for creative rejuvenation.

Imagine the "woohoos" and "awesomes" that came from my mouth when I realized that Mariah Bruehl of Playful Learning will be offering a six-week e-course on the topic of Playful Learning Spaces! Imagine my continued delight when I emailed Mariah about the course and she generously offered a free spot in the course for one Sew Liberated reader! Here's what Mariah has to say about the course:  

Comments are now closed; thank you to all who entered!

Playful Learning Spaces is a six week online course that is designed to guide parents and teachers through the process of designing thoughtful spaces for children. Throughout our time together we will explore and share ideas for creating areas that invite children to engage in reading, writing, science, art and so on. We will also discuss organization, storage, and selecting materials for different ages and stages of child development.

Each week participants will receive a video that contains basic educational principles, simple guidelines and helpful photos. You will also receive weekly assignments and links to relevant research, products and inspiration. As a community we will have the opportunity to look at the spaces we create for our children, tackle overdue projects, post before and after photos, and receive practical feedback and support.

Leave a comment on this post to be entered to win a spot in the Playful Learning Spaces E-Course. I'll draw a winner this Friday night, January 28th.

The course starts on February 9th and continues until March 16th, although Mariah assured me that course content will be available to participants well past the end date for those of you who need to work at your own pace. (I'll certainly be one of those people, as Lachlan's arrival will likely happen smack dab in the middle of the course!) So please don't hesitate to sign up if you don't win the free spot - I'm certain that you will find Mariah's expertise, tips, and guidance to be invaluable assets in your parenting bag of tricks.

Good luck!

P.S. I just noticed that Mariah's book, due out this summer, is now available for pre-order!

something to remember

with my babies

A fleeting state, this is. But such a sweet one. I wonder what he will think when the baby is on the outside. He says "Baby Lala, nap too?" Yes, sweet one, Baby Lachlan will take naps, too. Then his eyelashes begin to droop gracefully, the upper lashes meeting the lower lashes, and he drifts off to a dreamland full of babies, choo choo trains, and cats. His hands curl next to his cheek, and I notice that the baby has the hiccups. I (gracelessly) roll over and out of the bed.


the rainbow rug

rainbow rug 1

Looking back, I fully admit that this was one of those crazy pregnancy-induced projects. When else would someone find it necessary to spend weeks braiding, piecing, and sewing a rug for a play room? I can answer that! When that very someone found it INCREDIBLY uncomfortable to sit on the floor due to a burgeoning belly. The piles of t-shirt yarn were strewn across the room, threatening to consume her.

Poor lady. We crafters do the oddest things when we have a goal in mind, don't we?

rainbow rug 2

I must be frank with you. This was not an easy project. Grumbles and sighs could often be heard coming from my sewing studio until late into the night. The braiding was meditative, but coiling it and stitching it together with the correct tension? Oh. My. I can't tell you how many times I had to rip the thing out and start over. Sometimes I would pull too tightly on the coil being attached and the thing would turn into a bowl rather than a rug. At other times, I would have too little tension on the braid, and the rug would ripple and wave. I never seemed to be able to get the hang of it - it was trial and error the whole way through.

I started off with the intention of sewing it together by hand, following the instructions in Handmade Home. I quickly figured out that hand sewing was not cutting it for the stretchy t-shirt fabric. I'm sure it would work wonderfully for woven cottons or wool, but the jersey was just slipping all over the place. So I switched to machine zigzagging the coils together, as shown in the photo below (along with cat hair and crumbs). Even with my walking foot and appropriate needle, I had issues (see above) that necessitated a lot of seam ripping.

rainbow rug detail

In the end, though, I couldn't be happier with the results. I daresay it was even worth the effort. (Of course it was.) I just want to warn you that you'll likely spend a whole lot of time on this project, so if you're looking for a beautiful rug without the challenge of sewing it together yourself, you should check out Green at Heart's incredible offerings. If you are set on making your own (Laurine from Green at Heart said that she'll have some more t-shirt rug yarn available in the next few days) then set aside some quality time to become one with strips of t-shirts that are 1.5" wide.  

Even with all of the frustrating moments, I would do it again. I mean, how awesome is this rug? But you know what? I'll cross that bridge when I'm no longer pregnant.


play dough sculpting

Finn keeps the new art area bustling with activity. Sculpting with play dough was the first art experience that I put on the shelf, knowing that, if we first made the play dough together in the kitchen (I used this recipe, and it's stayed good for three weeks now) then he would be gung-ho to play with it. Here he is after a sculpting session, putting everything away.

And just to disabuse you of the (albeit hilarious) notion that the fairy singing in the background is Patrick, we were listening to Joanna Newsom, an innovative musician and acquaintance of mine from high school.

Finn is free to get out the sculpting kit at any time. Most of the time he puts it away without any reminders, as that was how I presented the activity to him - the putting away was just as interesting as the playing itself. I showed him how to do it a few times, then he took over, with varying degrees of success. What you see in the video is the result of a bit of practice on his part, and a lot of holding back from unnecessary intervention on my part. I think that's pretty much the key - don't intervene unless there is noticeable frustration on the child's part. I blogged a bit about my thoughts on being okay with your child's mistakes here. There are a lot of moments in this video where we adults might be tempted to intervene, which would mean that Finn wouldn't have had the opportunity to troubleshoot or explore on his own. It takes a while, and the road to success is often circuitous, but ultimately standing back and observing (and respecting) a toddler's own process is what allows the child to learn directly from his own experiences.  

Okay, enough Montessori jibber jabber. For those of you interested in setting up your own play dough sculpting kit, here's what you'll need:

- A homemade playdough recipe. The one I used is here, there are also some great versions in First Art , and Jean has her own suggestions for jazzing it up here.

- An air-tight container that is easily opened and closed by a toddler. I used a Good Grips pop container. I've found them to be much easier for little hands to use correctly than a typical tupperware container. We also keep our cat food in one of these and Finn enjoys his daily task of feeding the cats all by himself.

- A storage container for the sculpting tools. Our little "suitcase" was used as an innovative gift wrapping for one of Finn's baby shower gifts, but I recently saw something very similar at Michael's. Again, the key is that it's easily handled by a toddler.

play dough sculpting kit

- Sculpting tools. I was very inspired by this article in the Winter issue of Rhythm of the Home. I scrounged around for tools in my own house, then went to a thrift store to see what I could find. As it turns out, Finn's favorite sculpting tools have been a butter knife, a pattern tracing wheel, and some small sticks that I found in my backyard. He also uses the handmade cork stamps.

- A canvas mat. I quickly sewed mine up from a scrap of canvas fabric that I had on hand. I backed it with the left over non-skid rubber rug pad that I used under the Rainbow Rug.

Happy Play-doughing!

finnian and lachlan's studio

finn and lachlan's studio 1

Oh, I love this room. I want to spend all day in it. I love the way the sunlight enters in the afternoons, making rainbows dance on the walls as it passes through a prism in the window, eliciting squeals from the toddler as he runs around trying to "catch wainbow."

finn and lachlan's studio - reading nook

As with everything, Finn and Lachlan's studio/play room/art room is a work in progress. I'm constantly tweaking this arrangement or that activity on the shelf, like any Montessori-teacher-at-heart would. With Finn as my guide, the set-up gets more efficient, more user-friendly with each passing day. I see this room in a state of constant evolution. Right now, it is designed to fit the needs of a baby and a toddler. Eventually, it will morph into a homeschooling studio/library/art space.

finn and lachlan's studio - baby play mat with hanger for mobiles

Here you can see the playmat with a mirror for Lachlan, along with a mobile hanger where we will rotate mobiles to maintain his interest.

finn and lachlan's studio - toy storage

Currently, the toy shelf houses a few of Finn's things. Once Lachlan starts grasping at objects and moving around, the lower shelf will be dedicated to baby toys, while the higher shelves will contain Finn's toys. (More on the rainbow rug later this week!)

finn and lachlan's studio - toy, yarn, and child development books storage

You can also see that I've reserved some shelf space for my stuff. My yarn stash and my child development books can be found there. I've found that having this space for Finn allows me to have just a few more precious moments of knitting time while he's occupied with play or art projects. The basket on top of the shelves contains my current works-in-progress, ready to be picked up at any time.

The bottom shelf of the skinny bookcase is showcasing Finn's rocks and minerals as well as any other finds from our time outside. I guess you would call it a Nature Shelf.

finn and lachlan's studio - art area

Here's the art area, which deserves a post of its own later in the week.

finn and lachlan's studio - art area 2

And finally, since I know you will ask, I'm going to list where I found many of the items you see here. Most of this was accomplished with re-arranging furniture and supplies we already had on hand.

The Rainbow Rug: handmade with recycled t-shirt supplies from Green at Heart.

The Reading Canopy: handmade by sewing a 108" x 54" silk to a circular hand-quilting hoop (like an embroidery hoop, only huge!), adding lengths of hemp twine to the hoop, then attaching them to a sling ring. Another (square) piece of white silk was draped over this contraption, and we used fishing wire to hang it from a hook in the ceiling. The large floor pillow and faux lambskin were scavenged from elsewhere in the house. I'd like to eventually replace the pillow with a handmade bean bag chair.

Baskets: I find most of my baskets at the thrift store, but have a few from a local fair trade store that are handmade in Ghana (the colorful ones.) I've also seen similar ones for sale at Whole Foods.

Silks: These really are SO versitile in play - Finn uses them for everything, from peek-a-boo to putting his animals down for a "nap." We found ours from Birch Leaf Designs, a family-run business.

The Barn: This was Finn's Christmas gift from us, from Nova Natural. We also have the doll bed from Nova Natural - it was used as a prop in my new book!

Baby Play Mat: I'm not sure if this is the version we have (we've had ours since Finn was born) but it's a similar, thin, foam crib mattress from IKEA.  The clear mobile hanger is from Michael Olaf. The mirror is just one of those cheap closet mirrors turned on its side that we scavenged from the oh-so-full-of-treasures attic. (You never know what you'll find in an old rental house!)

Bookcase: The IKEA Expidit, relocated from our bedroom.

Chalkboard: Handmade by Patrick. We'd like to eventually find an old, wooden frame for it. The galvanized metal bucket hanging from the hook is from our time in Mexico, but you should be able to find something similar at Montessori Services (although not nearly as cheap, I'm afraid!) The bucket contains chalk and an eraser, and I drape a damp washcloth from the hook as well for Finn to use to wipe off his chalky hands.

Red shelving: From my old sewing studio, this was originally purchased on the cheap at an unfinished furniture store. This shelf is where I display art activities for Finn. Currently, you can see the supplies for play dough sculpting.

Art Table: This was our big purchase for the room, and it's certainly worth it. I was going to steal Patrick's desk from him and cut off the legs, but when he found out, he suggested this alternative. Harumph. The old desk would have looked so cool. But anyhow, this table is of excellent quality, is just the right height for little ones, and can easily fit two children at work. We ordered the 24" x 48" table with 18" table legs.

Mama and son print: A gift from the lovely Regina of Creative Kismet - it's called "I Will Help You Grow," and it means a lot to me for obvious reasons.

Paper dispenser/roll: We found ours locally, but if you live near an IKEA, you can get one for a very reasonable price. Too bad they don't offer shipping for those items!

Marker holder: I'll tell you more about this later, but Finn and I made ours following the instructions in First Art .

Tabletop Easel: This is something I've had for quite a while, but I think they still sell a version at Michael Olaf.

That should do it! Let me know if you have any other questions and I'll try to amend this resource list. I'll be doing a whole week of posts about this space - I even have a video to share with you tomorrow of Finn in action! I hope you enjoyed the tour.


a blanket for the wee one

lachlan's blanket - the beginning

Back in October, my mom sent Lachlan a little surprise via Purl Soho: the Super Easy Baby Blanket kit in the Rugby colorway. I got to knitting right away.

But this blanket, while it's certainly easy to knit, is not what I'd call quick to knit. I tried to knit a few rows every evening, but my progress was slow. It wasn't until our post-holiday trip that I made the time to really go at it. One row of color a day was what I could do, but that meant that I was knitting all of the time (no complaining!)

knitting at sea worldFor example, if you are in Orlando, Florida and you find yourself with your in-laws at Sea World, convince them that you want to go to every "show" you can. Then proceed to sit and knit. Good.

lachlan's blanket 1

By the time we returned from our trip, I only needed to bind-off and block the blanket. At this time, I realized that I really stink at blocking. I usually knit little hats and socks, which don't need to be shaped. Note to self: Don't stretch out things while blocking. The blanket ended up with little scallops around the edges where there should have been none because I was over-zealous in my stretching and pinning. Sigh. I doubt anyone else in my house will notice, though.lachlan's blanket 2

lachlan's blanket folded

Other than those imperfections that you always notice in your own handiwork, the blanket turned out wonderfully. Its bold colors are so refreshing in a 70's sort of way, and the soft merino wool will be perfect wrapped around Lachlan's little body.

lachlan's blanket 3

I have Lachlan's Stella Pixie on the needles now. Before I finish that, though, I owe you a tour of the boys' studio. How about Monday? See you then!


letter to brother with moveable alphabet

a new obsession

Still waiting for my camera cord, friends. Not like I could have taken any pictures of the boys' "studio" on a gloomy day like today, anyway, but I assure you that I'm not just sitting here with nothing to do while looking out the window longingly for the mailman.

I have writing on my mind today. (Hence the pictures above from my time teaching in a Montessori classroom in Mexico.) A proof of my second book, all laid out and looking pretty, arrives tonight. I have a few days to go over it and suggest any last-minute edits. I'll tell you more about it soon ... the publication date is sometime in May, 2011.

Once again, I find myself birthing a human baby and a book baby in the same year. Human birthing is arguably easier. By the time the book comes out, it's been a long time since you've actually labored over it intensely - but man, book laboring can last for months. I'll take a two-day baby labor, please. (Although I do have high expectations for Lachlan's birth. They say your body just knows what to do after the first. Good.)

Me to my body: Body, I expect a four-hour labor. Thanks.

Body to me: Could I have another cookie, please? Or perhaps some chocolate?

Me to my body: Are you even listening to me? Sheesh.

Well, then. Enough with the book baby analogy. I though I'd share with you some inspiring, writing-related things:

- Of course you saw that Amanda's third book will be out in August and is available now for pre-order! So excited.

- Mariah of the utterly inspiring blog Playful Learning just announced that she will be writing a book. Can't wait to get my hands on that one - I really resonate with her educational philosophy.

- Jean of The Artful Parent is also going to write a book! Oh my goodness, people - we'll have a veritable library of thoughtful parenting/homeschooling books come 2013!

- I can't wait to get my hands on this book about nurturing writing in young children. Check out The Artful Parent for a great interview with the author.

Write on.

Oh. I forgot to mention this in my last post, but we've decided to stay at Duke for Lachlan's surgeries! Whoopee! (My, my. I never thought I'd say "whoopee" in reference to heart surgery. Things have changed.) While we loved Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the program here at Duke has the same survival statistics, plus you can almost see our house from the windows in the pediatic cardiology ICU. Staying home will be so much easier on all of us, particularly Finn, who won't have to leave his familiar surroundings and routine. My parents will be coming out to stay with us for as long as they are needed, primarily to care for Finn. We are so grateful to be able to stay home near all of our friends, who have been so generous in their support through all of this. Things are starting to fall into place. I might even be able to say that we have a certain peace about the whole thing, depending on our state of mind. The planning stage is coming to a close, and soon we begin to count the days until we welcome Lachlan into our family.

we're back (and sew liberated is hiring!)

That was a whirlwind. Knitting was done, doctors were consulted, families were visited. I have no photos to show for it, as I left my camera cord in Philadelphia. It's amazing how dependent one can be on a few wires enclosed in plastic. No worries - it's on its way home. As soon as I have it in my hands, I can't wait to give you a tour of the play room/art studio!

I thought I'd take the opening provided by a photoless post to announce that I'm looking to hire an illustrator who will be in charge of producing hand-drawn diagrams to go along with my pattern instructions. Also, I'm putting together a pool of pattern testers that can be called upon to test future patterns. The job descriptions and qualifications can be found here

Thanks so much for your interest, everyone! I've received hundreds of responses, and it will take me at least a week to get through them all. Be looking for an email from me come Jan. 20th.

We are currently doing a ton of behind-the-scenes work on Sew Liberated so that it can function somewhat independently of me and Patrick, allowing us the time to focus on Lachlan and his care. I'm designing like a mad woman - trying to get four new designs in the pipeline before mid-February. It will feel nice to only have my hands in the designing aspect of the patterns. My niece, who's in college studying graphic design, is taking on all of our graphics and layout work, and Kim will be in charge of drafting instructions from my chicken scratch notes, sewing samples, and coordinating the pattern testing. Patrick has given up his dominion over the website (look for an amazing new site/look come February!) and only has his hands in the accounting and other technical issues. He will also continue to be my personal assistant, baking cookies on demand and bringing them to me along with a glass of milk. He claims he'll be resigning from this role once the baby is born. I think he should stay on. It offers a great opportunity for career advancement - he could move on to fudge, pies, and even cakes!

All that to say - it's good to know when it's time to start delegating and letting go of the control of every single aspect of running a creative business. Lachlan's diagnosis pushed us to consider this sooner than we otherwise would have, but we're grateful for that. It's been a busy, busy month, but the craziness of getting everything running smoothly will hopefully pay off soon.

Now ... I think I need a cookie to help me formulate my thoughts as I write up construction notes for one of the new patterns. Patrick? A mug of hot chocolate would be nice, too. Thanks a bunch. Mwah.