The girls and I made candles as part of our handmade Christmas preparations. Many of these little treasures will become gifts, and yet more will light our home through the darkest nights of December. This is an easy craft that little ones can help with (although most of the tasks will need to be undertaken by a grown up).
You will need:
beeswax pellets or a solid block of beeswax, grated
walnut shells (or other small containers for the wax)
double-boiler (for ease of clean up we used a clean tin can - I also squished the sides of the can to create a pouring spout)
metal baking tray
bowl of very cold water (in case of a burn)
1. Gather walnut shells, large acorn caps, hazelnut shells, seashells...any small, natural container. You could make double-wick candles in peanut shells! The shells should be empty, clean and in complete halves. Ideally they will have a reasonably stable base.
2. Put your beeswax pellets in a double-boiler. Bring the water in the larger pan to the boil and supervise the wax, stirring occasionally, until liquified. Do not let any water get into the wax. While the wax is melting, arrange your shells on a metal baking tray (any wax that spills onto the tray can be popped off once cooled - stubborn wax spills will pop off if you put the tray in the freezer for a couple of minutes). I added some leftover wax from an orangey harvest-scented candle stub...the scent complemented the beeswax smell nicely and deepened the natural golden colour.
3. When the wax has melted, take it off the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes. Stir again before using.
4. We found that dipping the wick into the hot wax and letting it cool until hardened (only takes a few seconds) made the wick much easier to handle. Once the wax has hardened, you can snip the stiffened wick into approximately 1 inch lengths (or to whatever length is suitable for your container).
5. Slowly and carefully, pour the hot wax into each shell (this is a job only for adults - the wax will be very hot and will stick to skin). I filled about 5 shells at a time before stopping to insert wicks.
6. Gently push a piece of wick into the centre of each wax-filled walnut. The more liquid the wax is when you push the wick in, the less likely you are to get an unsightly air bubble rising to the surface. There is an art to getting the wick in at just the right moment - too hot and the wax won't support the wick, too cool and you'll disturb the surface - but after a few attempts you'll figure it out.
7. Allow the walnut candle to cool. Ours solidified within a couple of minutes and took about 15 minutes to cool completely. The wax changes colour slightly as it cools (you can see this in the above photo).
We have only burned one of our walnut candles so far and it lasted about half an hour. I can't wait to give these to loved ones for Christmas!
I've always got a few projects on the go. Last weekend I made my first garment from a real, honest-to-goodness pattern. This isn't something I've patched together from the windmills of my mind. Uh-uh. I've come to realise that no matter how much I think I can just 'figure out' how to make something by looking at something similar, it always takes three times as long and turns out half as good as I'd hoped it would. So I had a go at making the Dress with Ruffle Trim from the book Carefree Clothes for Girls, which has been raved about all over blogland (though it has received mixed reviews on Amazon). I found the pattern pretty well-written and easy to follow (though I have little pattern-following experience from which to judge). I used some super-inexpensive unbleached cotton calico for the dress (which I didn't line as per the pattern), and made bias trim and ruffles from some smooth-as-butter Paul Smith shirting cotton. I'm pretty happy with it, though I took in the size 6 at the sides for Eva, as it kind of swamped her. She is petite, so perhaps I should have made the size 5. Anyway, I'm pretty happy with it, considering my very low level of skill and the very low cost of the materials.
I'm about halfway through knitting Eva's birthday blanket. She asked for a rainbow-coloured blanket, but my LYS didn't have the wool I really wanted. I was after the colours of the spectrum in an aran-weight 100% wool that would stand up to being dragged around the house and perhaps even into the garden. In the end, I went for the acid hues in the Artesano 50% wool/50% alpaca line, supplemented by some Rowan Pure Wool in yellow and Classic Yarns Extra Fine Merino DK (double stranded to get gauge) in orange. Because I couldn't get the colours of the spectrum, at the last minute before casting on, I decided to do thinner varying stripes rather than the ROY G BIV rainbow I had planned. Eva has seen it in progress and is delighted, so if she's happy, I'm happy.
I've also cast on and completed the yoke of a Swing Thing cardigan for Eva in wool she chose last year (from Babylonglegs in her Chocolate Strawbs colourway). The pattern only goes up to age 3-4, so thinking I was clever, I sized up my needles, hoping to get a bigger cardigan. Silly me. I only have 200 grammes of this beautiful wool, and there is no way I'm going to get a cardi out of it. I've reached the stage where I either need to stop, frog it and re-knit it on smaller needles, change to a different colour wool for the body and arms, or accept it's going to be a sleeveless, cropped bolero. I don't really know what to do. I am in love with the wool, though. It's a superwash Merino and an absolute joy to knit with. I highly recommend Sarah's wool.
I finished a new hat last week. It was intended for Esme, but actually fit Imogen's head better, so I gave it to her. It was lovely - knit in the same wool as her birthday cardigan, with earflaps, a bobble on the top and tassels. But guess what? She wore it once and it has since disappeared! Hopefully it will turn up and I can take a picture. It was kind of my own pattern, but I used this pattern for the crown decreases.
Sometimes I look around my house and want to scream. It feels so cluttered and full of stuff. On the whole, I have given in to having several small children and their things filling every space, but my inner Monica longs for a streamlined, easy-on-the-eye home. I am forever looking for ways to re-organise, smarten our storage solutions and make it easier for the children to take responsibility for their own belongings. I try very hard to resist the urge to do all the tidying myself - I want my kids to grow up knowing how to pull their own weight and to appreciate the effort it takes to create a comfortable home.
I have a sense of needing to find balance. I am sure that a clean, well-ordered home is conducive to family harmony...most people feel more relaxed in an ordered environment, I think. And I also think it is useful and healthy for children to have little chores for which they are responsible. But equally, I do not want the kids to feel like lodgers in their own home. I want them to feel safe enough and relaxed enough to truly inhabit their spaces. I love the visual cosiness of watching them play on the thick wool rug in the middle of the living room floor (especially when said rug is freshly-vacuumed!).
I have found that one way to encourage the children to care for their things and to put them away when they have finished with them is to scale down on the number of things at their disposal. For instance, my eldest - Jake - has amassed an enviable collection of Brio wooden railway track, trains and accessories over the years. And when the huge tub of train track was accessible, more often than not I would find every single piece strewn about with nary a usable line for the trains to travel along. The little ones would begin pulling out track and quickly became so overwhelmed that they couldn't assemble it into any shape. This led to frustration for them and frustration for me that the wooden pieces were now being scatttered about like confetti. I finally realised that they could play quite happily with just a modest selection of track, four or five trains and one or two buildings; now, that is all the Brio you will find in my living room, in one small, easy-for-even-the-smallest-person-to-carry-around basket.
Books have become the recent bane of my life (what an odd thing for an English teacher to say!). The girls must own 200 books - baby board books, pop-up books, picture books, noisy books, story books, counting books, puppet books. Honestly, these kids do not need any more books! And we do read a lot. But every day I was finding myself picking up the books, trying to re-organise the books on the shelf, fixing the back of the bookcase that had been pushed off the frame by little hands struggling to fit so many books onto each shelf. There was also the problem of losing library books - I can't tell you how many times I have torn the house up looking for a library book, or paid a fine for a book I didn't even realise we had because it had made its way onto one bookshelf or another. And then, I looked at the small basket of Brio, and it dawned on me.
As luck would have it, it was market day in town, and I happened on a very sweet wooden wine box. I expected the stall-holder to say £10 when I asked what he wanted for it, but to my delighted surprise, he was only asking for £2. I didn't hesitate!
When we got home, whilst the little ones had their afternoon nap, I set to work on that those bookcases. I chose about 10 books that reflect the season and put them in our new 'book box' in the living room. The rest of the books went upstairs, to 'rest'. I did take the opportunity to sort through them, and I'm pleased to be taking a large stack of books we have outgrown to work to give to a colleague who had a surprise baby earlier this year.
The girls are loving the new book box, and are using it exactly the way I'd hoped they would. They can now see the covers and can easily choose a story to snuggle up with. We all know how much kids like to hear the same story over and over again, finding comfort in some small aspect of life they can predict, and having such a limited collection of books at the ready seems to feel 'safe' for them. And guess what? I haven't had to pick up one book since we've started using the book box!
Ah, October the first. Crisp mornings, crunchy leaves underfoot, appley-cinnamonny smells wafting from the kitchen...well, in reality it has been raining since yesterday afternoon. The leaves are mostly still on the trees. And I used up most of our apples last weekend. But we have plenty to be excited about.
Today in Kindergarten we celebrated the festival of Michaelmas with bowls of steaming Dragon's Tail soup and still-warm bread rolls baked by the children. In this season, we remember how St. Michael, rather than slaying the dragon in a fit of blood-lust, instead calmly tamed it with his sword. We are reminded that we do not have to solve all our own problems; sometimes it is enough to acknowledge them and work with them with courage in our hearts. It is a time of gathering, of harvesting, of preparing for the long winter ahead - also with courage and warmth in our hearts.
For many years I have found this time of year to be challenging. I grew up in Florida - the Sunshine State. My cells and my bones and my goodwill crave sunshine and warmth. But southwest England is reknowned for slate skies, impossibly green fields, and swathes of earth that remain damp for nine months of the year. Fortunately, I have found that I can prolong the feeling of late-summer warmth by bringing it indoors. Warm colours, foliage that was at its best at the last moment of summer, images of cosy Autumnal life. These things help me to see the beauty of the new season, rather than the long, cold, grey months stretching before us.