Love letters again

Sharon Boggon’s Sumptuous Surface Embroidery class is fabulous. I am thoroughly enjoying myself, and stretching my wings as a designer — and a very uncomfortable stretch it is! Give me a book to plot any day. This visual design stuff is hard! Luckily, Sharon is an amazing teacher with that gift for holding your hand just enough as she takes you out onto the narrow bridge over the deep yawning chasm of doom (otherwise known as fear of failure).

I thought I would show you a little progress on my Love Letter embroidery piece. First, I finished up the white stitching that makes up the background behind the envelope and quill.

I carried the squares made of running stitch down the side as well and then married them to a stretch of more organic stitching in all its disorderly messiness. I am really digging the contrast between the orderly and very linear top and the messy, organic bottom. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo at this stage when the background was finished but the quill was still empty.

I started in on the ‘encrusted’ style stitching for the quill and I had a lot of fun with it. As this was meant to be a monotone piece, it is done entirely in shades of gray and off-white, with a tiny hint of gray-green in there. Here you can see the finished background stitching and the quill.

I added sequins, small stones, seed beads, and some pieces of a broken necklace to the quill as well, which gives it a delightfully varied appearance both in terms of shiny surfaces and in height. Here’s a close up:

The broken necklace bits are my favourite. There is still a bit of stitching to do to finish up the quill, and then I have to put a border on it, but it is almost finished and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Next up is a full-colour project, and I am finding myself scared to death of designing. Again. I’m playing with some ideas, but I have discovered that I really lean towards making representational images a lot more than random patterns or isolated objects (even though I love how those look when other people do them), and so I am struggling with designs once more.

It’s good to stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone, I think.

This morning, I challenged K to join me in my morning physio for the next little while as I have been finding myself spectacularly unmotivated in the mornings. He agreed readily, but as we got to it, his muscles protested heartily as we stretched, and he insisted that he couldn’t possibly do it the way I wanted him to.

But he did.

It took a little while to warm up his muscles, and a little longer to convince him that he really wasn’t going to break if he pushed a pose or a stretch a little bit further, and little by little he limbered up and was able to move his body into and out of the various positions. At the end, after everything else was finished, he managed to do 40 inclined pushups, which resulted in the biggest grin I’ve seen in a while.

We walked to the library and back this afternoon to celebrate a productive morning, which is a little over 5 km. The kids got a few books.

Well, okay, maybe more than a few. Maybe a dozen.


And dragged them all the way home from the library, turning a 2.5 km walk into something more like a zillion and a half km if you ask me. Especially at the end, when your arms are dragging and your feet are tired and your knees just want to stop moving for a while.

The best thing about walking home from the library is that when you arrive, you can sit down with a big glass of ice water and a good book and forget all about your aching muscles. Which we did. Or rather, which the kids did. K dove into a novel with a rather ferocious cover while B roared through four Magic Tree House books in a row in less than an hour.

Me? I finished up the stitching on my love letter. It looks beautiful. I’ll show you pictures tomorrow.

Maybe my next class project should be a book.

We do like books around here.



The beckoning woods

Today, the sky is a glorious clear blue, full of sunshine and smelling of springtime. It is warm enough that only a light jacket is needed, and some braver souls than I are out in nothing more than a t-shirt and jeans. Today, the world around us feels like it is waking up for real.

It isn’t the false summer we had a couple of weeks ago, nor is it the cold snap that followed on its heels. It is, quite simply, Spring.

Last weekend, K and I went on a long-awaited mother-son date to see The Hunger Games. We have been reading the series and are halfway through book two, so naturally we have been eagerly anticipating the film. We’ve found much to discuss as we read the books. The nature of good government, the question of poaching, the importance of self-sufficiency and the interdependence of a community, the wrongness of putting children in the position of tribute, and the rightness of Katniss’ feelings when Rue dies.

We have also been talking a lot about the woods. The woods are a central character in the books, you see. Both the familiar and comforting woods surrounding District 12 where Katniss hunts, and the more hostile (yet still nurturing) woods of the arena play a huge role in Katniss’ successes. Katniss takes refuge in the woods, both at home and in the games, and K found himself fascinated by this girl who loves and understands and uses nature so effectively.

At one point in our discussing, K mused aloud that most of Katniss’ success comes from her knowledge of the woods, and that several of the others fail to succeed precisely because they are not knowledgeable about the woods they find themselves in. Foxface and the berries, for example. Or the careers and the tracker jackers. Or even, for that matter, Peeta. He also noted that many of his classmates, like Katniss’ school mates, have never roamed through the woods, and that we, ourselves, don’t know nearly as much about the woods as Katniss does, but wouldn’t it be cool if we did?

During the movie, he was fascinated by the scenes in the woods. They look so very much like an older, larger version of our own ravine woods, after all, and it doesn’t take that big a leap of the imagination to put yourself in Katniss’ shoes in the little woods behind our house, hunting with your bow and bringing home meat to feed your family. K is a most imaginative kid, so it really didn’t take much imagining at all.

When this morning dawned bright and sunny with the smell of Spring in the air, we just knew what we had to do…

We had to go into the woods, of course, just to see what we could see. We brought J and C along for good measure. The woods is always more fun with friends.

A snake was the first sight of the day, before we had even gotten down the hill and across the creek and into the wood proper. A few minutes later, a second snake crawled right over The Man We Call Dad’s toe.

Here you can see it oh-so-close to the tip of J’s rainboots.

This little snake was definitely not afraid of people, no sir!

We crossed the plank that spans the creek, then went up the hill by the treehouse to the area that was cut clear last year, but this time, we ventured off to the other woods that lie on the far side. It was wet over there, with large pond-like puddles everywhere, and rotting branches and leaves and other things everywhere you looked. We spotted rolls of paper birch bark and termite-eaten logs, moss covered stumps, peeling cedar bark, the tracks of something large that B thinks might be a bear (but is really a large dog or maybe a wolf) and even a pair of the biggest shelf mushrooms we have ever seen. After a good tramp and much finding and discarding of walking sticks, we turned ourselves about and headed for home.

The girls led the way, the best walking sticks in their hands…

Deep in conversation, it didn’t take long before they were far, far ahead of us.

The boys were quick to catch up.

The Man We Call Dad and I followed along at a more leisurely pace until, together again, the six of us descended the hill and splashed across the rocks that make a little waterfall in the creek and climbed back up the hill on the other side then down the path towards home.

Tired now, with lungs full of clean air and faces bright with sunshine and joy and boots covered in mud and old leaves, we are home… and yet, I find myself yearning for the woods already, imagining, just for a little while, that I might one day be as comfortable in the woods as Katniss Everdeen.

Reading Aloud Revisited

Do you remember when I moaned about how the kids don’t want me to read aloud to them anymore? How they’ve outgrown it?

Apparently I was  a tad premature.

K approached me the other day with a question: “Mom, have you read The Hunger Games?”

Why yes, son, I have. All 4 books, as a matter of fact, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Why do you ask?

It seems that K, as grown up as he is, was a little concerned about whether or not the book would be… not scary, exactly, but maybe a little intense for a boy of almost-eleven.  We talked about it a bit, and I told him that he could always start it and, if he didn’t enjoy it, put it away for another day.

He decided he was ready to start reading it…

…if I would read it out loud to him.

Part of me was thrilled, but the other part of me now had a dilemma. While our boy of almost-eleven is definitely able to handle the more mature themes in the book, our girl of not-yet-nine most definitely was not. This most definitely could not be a family read-aloud.

At the same time, it didn’t feel right to start what was sure to become a several-months-long read-aloud of the four Hunger Games books with K and exclude B.

What to do?

After a rather short discussion with the kids, I learned that reading aloud is not, after all, something I should no longer do. Oh no! Instead, I should read twice as much, of course, with not one but two read-aloud plans, this time reading one-on-one.

I am officially out of retirement, it seems.

B and I decided to spend the month of February revisiting our old friends the picture books and happily dove into the Jillian Jiggs books by Phoebe Gilman, and Matthew and the Midnight Turkeys by Allen Morgan, and Degas and the Little Dancer by Laurence Anholt, and of course a healthy dose of our beloved Robert Munsch stories, and poetry by Shel Silverstein and Dennis Lee.

With B’s head dancing with stories and poems as she drifted off to sleep, K and I settled in to read a chapter a night. We’re on chapter 7 of the first book now, and he is loving it — in no small part because it means he gets to stay up later than his sister, and he gets Mama all to himself for half an hour.

I must admit, I’m loving it, too.

I’m treasuring the half hour B and I spend going through books that she has almost outgrown, knowing that this is possibly the last time I get to read Munsch to her with a silly voice, or tumble together through poems by the incomparable Dennis Lee.

(Mind you, I’ve been wrong before. This may not be the last of anything.)

I’m treasuring the half hour K and I spend reading and discussing and struggling to make sense of a rather grim vision of a post-war world where life is a daily struggle and government is not benign or munificent, or even well-intentioned. It has led to some rather interesting discussions, to say the least.

Of course, it has put a dent into my crafting and blogging time, so you’ll have to forgive me if I’m not as present here over the next little while.

It just means I’m too busy reading out loud once again.

What we’re reading

A little while ago, we borrowed the most fabulous book from the library, except we didn’t know it. Every so often, we judge a book by its cover. This one in particular caught our fancy, and it was promptly scooped up and put in the library book bag without even so much as a cursory glance inside.

It’s Discovering Great Artists, by MaryAnn Kohl and Kim Solga. Once we had it home, the kids started flipping through the pages, only to discover that the cover was the only bit that was in colour, and that there were far too many words and not enough art on the pages. It got dumped back into the pile and ignored for an entire week, until Mama picked it up.

Inside, there is a veritable treasure trove of knowledge. A generous helping of history, plus new-to-us art techniques, things to try, styles to imitate, experiments to do, and art to make. There is far more in this book than we managed to do in the 3 weeks we had it at home, especially considering we didn’t really look at it until week 2. In fact, there is such a wealth of information and activities, this book has made it onto my “must buy this” list for our next trip to the bookstore. And lest you think it is all about drawing and sketching and art theory, let me show you this:

This is K mixing his own paint from pigments and egg yolks. As part of a mini-biography of one of the medieval artists, Giotto (if I remember correctly), the kids learned that he painted with tempera paints made from pigments mixed with egg yolks, and that he mostly painted on wood panels to decorate churches. Wait… what? Eggs? He painted with eggs?

What did they think paint should be made from? Well, they weren’t sure, but maybe chalk mixed with water. Maybe crushed up rocks.

What else was a Mama to do but break out the mortar and pestle so they could grind up some chalk and test out different formulas. We tried chalk and water and discovered that, while it worked, it didn’t make for a very nice paint. We tried olive oil, but that didn’t work too well either. Finally, with the book in hand, we mixed water and egg yolks and then added our chalk pigment. Wouldn’t you know it, we made the creamiest, smoothest, richest colours of paint.

And then, of course, we painted with our homemade egg tempera. I apologize for the terrible photos – somehow throughout our paint-making adventure, I only took two pictures, and neither does justice to how much fun we had (or how big a mess we made).

The book had many artist profiles inside, with at least one activity for each one. We didn’t get to do all of them, but we did try quite a few, and we had lots of fun. Most of the activities would work equally well with kids as young as 3 (and also with kids as old as me), though the littler ones might find the text to be above their level even as a read-aloud.

All in all, if you like making art with your kids, this is a book you should have on your shelf.

Blame it on the bookstore

This past week, we baked. We baked a lot. First we made chocolate chip cookies.

But that wasn’t enough, oh no! Next came these bad boys:

Those monster-sized cookies are oatmeal cinnamon and raisin cookies, and boy-oh-boy are they delicious. See?

And then, we made cake. Two cakes, in fact, one white and one red velvet chocolate, and then we tried to make it look like the one in this tutorial by i am baker.

The baking bug has hit hard this past week, and I blame it on the bookstore.

Yes, the bookstore. The kids received gift certificates to buy books for Christmas, and we went and let them choose their books last weekend. B chose a random assortment of favourites as well as new-to-her books, but K was much more directed in his reading. He has a deep love for military history, so as well as two general overview books, one on World War II and one on the Titanic, he purchased these:

So far, he is loving them. Every time I turn around, I catch that boy of ours curled up in a corner with his nose deep in one of the books. I love that. I keep getting treated to snippets of information and the occasional read-aloud paragraph, too. I love that, too.

But that doesn’t explain the baking.

No, what explains the baking are these:

You see, as we were walking towards the cashiers, we stopped for a moment to look at all the sale items, and tucked in a corner with packets of biscotti and beautiful embossed leather notebooks were these adorable little vintage-style tins of hot chocolate.

Somehow, they just jumped into my arms and stayed there, looking up at me so sweetly and begging for cookies and cakes to accompany them.

So I baked cookies. And cake.They were delicious. Except I completely forgot to make hot chocolate to go with them.

But that’s okay, because it is snowing today, and we will probably go ice skating. Hot chocolate goes perfectly with ice skating, don’t you know.

And maybe I could bake some more cookies to go with it…

The End

There is something powerful about endings. Take books, for example. The ending of a story can fill you with an enormous sense of satisfaction — a feeling of yes, that was just right. Or, if it is a twisty-turny sort of ending, it can completely change your entire perspective on the book with just a few short words that flip everything on its head. And the thing about endings is, you never, ever know which way it is going to go until you get there.

Of course, when you are reading Gordon Korman’s “Titanic” trilogy, well… as my youngest sister told us when she spied the kids and I reading it together over our Christmas visit: “You do know it’s going to end badly, don’t you?”

Except… it didn’t. Yes, the ship sank. Yes, 1500 people lost their lives. But the series was (as almost everything we’ve read by Korman has proven to be) a most satisfying read.

So now we find ourselves at the end of 2011 and at the end of our current Korman trilogy and we are at a bit of a loose end. What to read aloud next?

When I asked K, he shrugged and immediately went back to the Hardy Boys novel he’s engrossed in. I would love to tell you which one, but every time I turn around, it’s a different one. He received quite a few for Christmas and he couldn’t be happier.

I asked B what she would like to read, but she just waved me off, engrossed in the Nancy Drew graphic novels she received. And the book on Degas and his art. And the book on birds. And the (absolutely fabulous!) pop-up book on birds and bird habitats that includes an audio recording for each habitat.

Is it possible that this marks the end of reading aloud together?

It has been a month of endings. The end of believing in tooth fairies and Easter bunnies and even — dare I say it? — Santa. The end of needing mom’s help to thread a needle. The end of needing dad’s help to cook yourself a grilled cheese sandwich. The end of needing help baking muffins, or cookies, or banana bread. The end of needing a grownup to supervise as you work through yet another science kit from the Young Scientist’s Club.

Endings can be healthy things. They mark a newfound independence, a powerful sense of accomplishment, and a boost in self-esteem. As a mama-bear, I am proud beyond belief, but while I am happy to head off to my little sewing area to work on a new crazy quilt block now that the Christmas crafting is finished, I often find myself drifting back to where they are, hovering just beyond arm’s reach, watching them enjoy being children of a certain age, wishing I could still join in, and marveling at the fact that they no longer need to wait on my availability to launch themselves into some new exploration.

I do miss our read-aloud story time. I do. I am definitely not ready for that to end. Not yet. Not now, and maybe not ever.

But the kids are ready, and that’s the main thing, isn’t it? That no matter what my desires are, our children have their own trails to blaze, and I cannot hold them back.

Except… every ending is, in fact, merely the beginning of something new, and this one is no exception. As we were reading the last few chapters of Titanic I paused, tired in voice and body, to suggest that we stop here for the day. The kids (who a bare half hour before had groaned and begged to keep playing on the Wii rather than read when I suggested it was time for our bedtime routine) were reluctant to end there, and in fact quite firmly refused. Instead, they took over the reading out loud and it was my turn to sit, sleepy and warm, wrapped in a blanket and all cozy by the fire, listening to their voices as the story came to its conclusion.

This beginning has, as beginnings tend to do, proven to be a new trend that shows every sign of continuing. We may not have picked out a book to read together, but every day it seems one child or another comes running to explain what they’ve been reading, catch me up on the story to date, and then read great passages aloud for us to share together. So far, I’ve been read pages and pages and pages about military aircraft, battles of long ago, futuristic scenarios featuring young girls on the run from their evil boarding school teachers, robotics and the history of computers, the much-loved Little House books, and of course the ubiquitous Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.

I only ever get read a few paragraphs at a time — a taste, if you will, of the things that have captured my children’s interests — but it is enough to keep us connected. It is enough to keep the tradition of reading aloud alive. And who knows — perhaps in the new year, we will find a book we all agree on and I will sit and knit by the fire while my children entertain me with stories of far off places from long ago or future worlds of the imagination. Whatever happens, I know for sure that we will always share a love of books, now and for years to come.

Happy New Year!

More Hoopla!

Hoopla: The Art of Unexpected Embroidery is back in my eager little hands, and this time I remembered to take some photos to share the yummy thread-y goodness with you! As a tech writer, I’ve had a lot of my writing published. I’ve even held entire books in my hand and been able to say “I did that!” But, as a tech writer, you rarely get to stamp your work with your name, so it was amazingly fun to see this:

My pieces were photographed in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, which is only one of the most gorgeous west-coast parks you’ve ever seen. If ever you find yourself in Vancouver, take half a day to wander the woods in Stanley Park. It’s worth it.

Each piece is meant not just to be looked at but also to be recreated. The patterns and instructions for making nests and webs of your own are included.

My little bits of nature weren’t just photographed in the wild; they were also photographed in what was meant to be their natural habitat: the urban jungle of Vancouver city. Tucked against a window grille or hanging from a tree beside a building, they make my heart happy.

But my favourite thing of all is a little piece that didn’t even make it into the book until after it arrived at our house: