Thursday, 30 September 2010

the art of receiving

Several weeks ago, the hubby and I spent a week of evenings compiling a list of Christmas gift ideas to send to the children's grandparents and others who might wish to give them holiday gifts. It was a very useful activity, because it gave us time to really think about what things the girls might want or need, and what might represent true value.

I use the word 'value' deliberately here. I hate the idea of wasted money (and wasted effort!) - gifts that I know the girls won't use or play with, gifts that represent duplicates (or in many cases triplicates or even quadlicates ((is that a word?!)) ). For instance, between them, they have been given five tea sets over the last four years. And with two older sisters to hand down pretty dresses, Esme is unlikely to ever need a new one. I also use 'value' to refer to play value. There are so many toys on the shelves that just do not represent good play value, in my opinion. The all-singing, all-dancing, all-flashing thingamajig will definitely garner plenty of oohs and aahs on Christmas morning, but I know from experience that in a week or two it will just be another health and safety hazard waiting to be tripped over. Finally, I employ 'value' in the sense of our family values. I prefer not to introduce my young daughters to books that portray siblings as people with whom it is normal and even funny to fight. I am not prepared to allow Barbie and all her wasp-waisted, insecurity-inducing, aesthetic aspirations into my girls' conciousness yet. Television and popular children's tv characters do not play an important role in our lives, so character-branded toys carry little meaning. We value the simple. The open-ended. The natural. Quality over quantity.

When children (and indeed, adults) are given cheap, easy to replace items, they quickly realise that these items are not ones to be valued, are not to be cared for. It doesn't matter if it breaks or if the pieces are lost - we can just buy another. Eva and Imogen were awestruck when hearing that four-year-old Laura Ingalls had only a corn-cob doll to play with. But they understood, whilst listening to a later chapter, why the rag doll that she was subsequently given for Christmas was so precious. The scarcity of playthings in the Ingalls home made each possession something to be treasured.

I am finding that my children value the handmade. Particularly when they have seen it being made. I am, at the moment, knitting a blanket for Eva's birthday. She has seen me knitting it, and she has an idea of what it looks like. Of course, as I get closer to finishing it I will keep it under wraps so that she still has the thrill of opening something that holds some mystery. But because she has seen me labouring on it, she has a sense of the time and effort and love that are being knitted into it, stitch by stitch.

It is very difficult to know whether my Christmas list is appreciated or if it is perceived as bossy and ungrateful. My dad did say he was pleased to be able to choose things that he knew would be used and appreciated. We tried to include a variety of things for each child, to ensure there was still a wide range of choice for the gift-giver. I understand that part of the grace of receiving gifts is to accept whatever is given with sincere thanks and appreciation. So perhaps I am wrong to even draw up such a list, much less hope everyone will adhere to it. Maybe my deep dislike of waste should take a backseat during the season of goodwill. I don't know. But, like so many parents, we cannot afford to give our children all the beautiful and useful things we would like them to have, so Christmas and birthdays feel like a time when we can ask others to be involved with giving them those things. Again, maybe I am wrong to feel this way. I guess I have only my own feelings about giving presents to go by: I would always prefer to be given some idea of what the recipient would like or needs (especially if it is a child). I would never be offended by someone exchanging a gift I had chosen for something they would prefer. In fact, I hate the idea of wasting my money or my time on something that will sit, unused, in the back of a closet.

We are trying to live a simpler life. Rob and I have cut right down on what we buy and bring into the home. We both feel overwhelmed sometimes by the sheer amount of stuff that seems to be falling off of every shelf, bursting out of every cupboard and overflowing every drawer. I don't want to feel guilty when he comes home to the contents of a toy shop strewn all over the living room floor, but equally, I don't want to spend huge chunks of every day nagging my children to tidy up their toys, their books and their clothes.

How do you manage the gifts your children receive?

Sunday, 26 September 2010

rosehip garlands

If you have access to rosehips, now is a good time to start collecting them. We have had a touch of frost on one or two mornings this last week, so the hips are looking rosy and bright and are ever so slightly softening to the touch.

Rosehips are packed with vitamin C, and many people use them to make a syrup that can be drunk throughout the winter to help ward off illness. They are also believed to be helpful in relieving pain associated with arthritis. Rosehip seed oil has a high percentage of essential fatty acids, and is therefore thought to be very beneficial in keeping hair and skin looking healthy. We applied the oil to the scarring above Esme's eye when she had shingles as a baby. I'm not really sure if it helped reduce the appearance of the scars, but the act of massaging it gently into her skin certainly helped me to feel that I was doing something soothing and loving for my baby girl.

Eva and I put our first rosehip harvest to work as part of the seasonal decoration in our home - we strung them onto red thread and made cheerful, rosy garlands. I'm hoping they will dry as they hang across doorways and in our windows, and we plan to string them around the Christmas tree later this winter.

I so enjoyed a quiet couple of hours with my biggest girl, carefully piercing each hip with a large sewing needle and chatting about the tasks we had completed earlier at our school's workday. We both managed to prick our fingers with these huge needles, but it was something to be laughed at, together.

How very blessed I felt yesterday to have a daughter.
First, we snipped the hips from their stems.

I knotted the end of the thread, then triple-knotted it again about two inches further in. This left a 'circle' of knotted thread from which the finished garland could be hung. I then pierced the first hip and brought the needle around and back through once more (and did the same with the last hip on each string), so that the first and last hip acted like anchors.

Eva practised her counting skills...

...and showed me just how happy she was!

Friday, 24 September 2010

this moment

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.
inspired by amanda soule

Thursday, 23 September 2010

four! how did that happen?

Imogen turned four on Sunday. Our dear little sprite, our princess, our dancer, our elfin, grinning ray of light has blithely left babyhood behind. Her limbs have lengthened, losing the last of the baby pudge. Her fingers have become so nimble. She understands the advantages of sharing and of taking turns. She is willing to try new foods, and even eats a little of those she thinks she doesn't like. Of all my children, she is the most tender-hearted. Perhaps it is because she is the middle one (have you ever read the story of Bun-bun, the middle one?), but she possesses the ability to sail effortlessly from person to person, from place to place, from moment to moment. She is a child who is truly 'in the moment'. Last year, her nursery teacher described how Imogen followed a butterfly round the orchard for almost an hour, never speaking to another soul, never disturbing the insect's flight, simply watching. I sometimes find myself watching her, marvelling at her grace and wishing I still had the ability to just be.

The birthday fairy was busy the night before.
A sparkling apple cake for our little star.
The happy birthday bunting we made for Daddy's birthday last January - I finally got around to sewing the flags onto bias tape.
The birthday girl models her crown and her mama-made sleeveless cardigan. I heavily modified this pattern to fit a four-year-old. Details on my Ravelry page.
The outside....
...and the inside of a fuzzy felt game I made using Lizzy House's Castle Peeps fabric and this tutorial.
The family of dolls and their house, made by Eva (with a little sewing help from Mama).
Party favours fit for a gaggle of princesses.
Apple bobbing.
Happy fourth birthday, my beautiful girl!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

bank holiday weekend: monday

Seems kind of silly to be posting this, three weeks after the fact, but it was a beautiful day and deserves to be remembered. In my head, it was a symbolic last day of summer, and what a glorious day it was. For many years, we have ushered out summer with the good people and guests of Staverton village, a few miles from where we live. The Staverton Elizabethan Village Fayre is one of the friendliest and prettiest traditional village fayres I've attended. It's a true community event. Jars of homemade jam jostle for space with cupcakes, latch-hook rugs, pony rides, homegrown produce and home-planted seedlings. Ponies munch and clomp, patiently toting tiny tots back and forth across the grassy field, whilst dogs strain against their leads, waiting for their moment in the racing lanes. The local organic farm supplied barbecued pork sandwiches and vegetarian falafel, the beer tent and the tea tent saw a steady stream of thirsty customers, and everyone enjoyed the variety of live entertainment - a Dixieland jazz band, Elizabethan dancing, a Punch and Judy show, the rock band and a jester. And as usual, the sun shone all day long.

Friday, 17 September 2010

this moment

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

inspired by amanda soule

Sunday, 5 September 2010

bank holiday weekend: sunday

On Sunday we drove to Plymouth, about 35 minutes down the coast. Plymouth is, of course, from where the Pilgrims set off on their journey across the Atlantic towards spiritual freedom after one of their ships foundered 300 miles off the coast of England. There is some interesting information about the start of that journey here. Plymouth has long suffered a reputation as being an ugly city. It was bombed almost to the ground during World War II, and was hastily rebuilt during the 1950s. The result was a boxy concrete jungle. The economic boom of the late '90s and early 2000s has led to a great deal of regeneration and architectural experimentation. The new shopping mall, Drake Circus, which sits behind the roofless, bombed-out church, boasts some seriously strange angles.

Anyway, we were going to Plymouth for pizza and music. Lunch was at Pizza Hut - not my favourite place for pizza by a long shot, but with a 'kids eat free' promotion going on all summer, it's hard to resist. After lunch we set off for the Magistrates Court steps, next to Kitty O'Hanlon's Irish Pub. Local band Mad Dog McRea were playing, supported by the girl-band Sound of Sirens.

What fun we had! Jigging, drinking Guinness (well, I had local cider), eating ice cream (the girls) and tapping our feet to the very rousing tunes.

Friday, 3 September 2010

this moment

A Friday ritual. A single photo  video - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

inspired by amanda soule