Cheeks sold separately

Published on Tuesday November 13th, 2012

It’s almost the middle of November. I’m planning Thanksgiving meal contributions around the enormous share of vegetables we hauled home from our CSA this evening. Ada loves to walk down the long tables the farmer sets up — and I mean on the tables — to help put the food into our bags. She got a little distracted and encumbered by a monster carrot she was grappling with, so I had to load up the garlic and the rutabagas and celeriac by myself, but the carrot went back into the bag in a twinkling when I told her we got to choose a pumpkin, too. It is a pumpkin destined for pie and not for an alligator carving (her idea), but these finer points are quite lost on my child. Halloween, such as she understands it, is still looming large in the imagination. And really, it’s going to be Halloween all winter long at our house, so I might as well write about it two weeks after the fact. Here’s why:

Behold, a tiny viking! Jolyon grew into this hat, a gift from a friend who can wield a crochet hook far better than I ever will, just in time for Halloween. Luckily he is also of an age to grab things with decent speed and accuracy, which seems like an important base skill for plundering. On the day, I made him a matching battle axe out of our smallest spatula. He gripped and swung it with enthusiasm, although when he bit it the tinfoil made him cry. There’s no way we’re reserving this hat for one night of his life. It’s far too cute. In fact, that was my whole attitude toward Halloween this year.

Growing up, I had the most elaborate and imaginative costumes of any kid in town. My mother does nothing by halves, and she really poured her heart into Halloween. I can’t tell you how many nights she stayed up bending chicken wire, cardboard, papier mache, fabrics, and other materiel to her creative vision. It must have been Fantasia at her work table in the bedroom, and somehow my father slept through all of it. Colossal sculptures emerged. It was like suiting up for a joust. You needed attendants to hoist half a humpback whale skyward and then lower it onto you, helping you find the straps to the rigging that would support the massive creature on your little shoulders, helping you find the eye holes concealed in the baleen, bending the chicken wire strategically so it wouldn’t bark your ankles too badly as you blundered through town in the school parade among the witches and ghosts and superheroes as a life-like cetacean breaching out of the sidewalk. When I was five and my brother was two, we were jointly the Loch Ness monster. It filled our Volkswagen van. I was the front end, and now that I have a two-year-old of my own I think it’s a miracle my brother was able to toddle along within the tail. As we got older, outrageous requests — a haunted castle! a piano! the Headless Horseman, complete with horse! — only spurred her to greater heights. It would be madness and possibly suicide to attempt to play at her level.

I figure I’ll aim for a steady, year-round simmer in making stuff for my kids instead. I look forward to the day when they can craft their own Halloween and dress-up costumes, and while I’m in charge I think my efforts will go toward making things that can live a useful life beyond a few October nights. For Ada, I knit a tiger bonnet. The child doesn’t like to wear hats, at least not for the function of keeping her head warm when she’s playing outdoors in winter. So I bent my maternal and knitterly wiles to making a really irresistible tiger. I lined it with the coziest fleece. I gave it fuzzy ears thrummed with wool roving. I made it many sizes too large so she can wear it every winter until she’s twelve if she wants to. The rest of the costume was completely slapdash, although I did knit a pretty enchanting tail that’s now pinned to the hem of her purple jacket. There will be better pictures to come, but for now, this shot from the playground is proof that my sly tricks have worked:

(Also, we made it one more year without revealing to her that candy is edible. Yessssss.) All this is not to knock commercial Halloween costumes, however. My friend Robin found a caterpillar at Goodwill and couldn’t resist buying it for Jolly. I’ll let you be the judge, but I think it may equal the viking for cuteness. And all that stuffing will be good in lieu of a snowsuit if we get a sudden cold snap.

Jolly in the hood

Published on Wednesday November 7th, 2012

Most of the things I made for my second babe are already tucked back into the bin of outgrowns, ready to be handed along to a friend or squirreled away for future binges of nostalgia when I have great galumphing teenagers. My son is so large (28″ at four months!), so sunny in temperament, so calmly alert in his bearing, and so accomplished at fitting himself flexibly and cheerfully into the rhythms of our family life that we tend to forget what a new baby he actually is. A mere twenty weeks have passed since his birth. But you’d never guess it from his wardrobe. I’m already retiring pajamas made for nine-month-olds. So it’s a good thing I sewed the Baby in the Hood jacket from Anna Maria Horner’s Handmade Beginnings in the 6-9 month size, and it’s a good thing the weather is finally getting properly cool.

(Please forgive the dim, noisy photographs. It’s November. I hate the flash.)

The fabrics are from Lotta Jansdotter’s first collection; I’m sorry I can’t tell you the source for the teal lining, which is printed with circles of sweet birds. I snatched it up at Bolt on a whim because I liked the color as a contrast to the orange and the echoing of the round shapes inside and out.

The pattern was a bit of a reach for me and I did make some mistakes. Setting in sleeves was not easy, and if I had it to do over again I’d think to sew the lining pieces first for practice. Also, I somehow missed that I was supposed to have half an inch of each front left over after attaching the hood so there would be an allowance to sew the button bands to. I didn’t have it in me to rip off the hood and try again, so I had to improvise: I lapped a sandwich of button band over the front edge and top-stitched it on. It’s less than impeccable at the corners and it doesn’t line up neatly with the hood edge as Anna Maria intended. Oh well. I’m submitting it for drool and gumming by someone who doesn’t even understand that the jacket exists if he can’t see it, not for assessment by a panel of judges. And he seems well pleased.

I’m thinking of sewing a bigger one in blue checked wool for outdoor wear this winter. I even have this idea that I could use a felted strip of an old brown sweater of Mr. G’s for the hood stripe. It might be pretty cute.

Don’t look so skeptical, dude. Or are you just being more realistic than I am about my sewing time? Maybe I’d better acquire Anna Maria’s new All Set pattern collection, which includes a version of this jacket sized from 2T to 8 years, so you’ll have something to wear next year?


Published on Monday October 8th, 2012

Every day he survives without being eaten all up by his own mother is a miracle. The adorable brioche vest he’s wearing deserves better than a wimpy phone camera, but that’s what was within reach when opportunity knocked. It was concocted by my friend Jen from yummy Blue Moon Mopsy and it couldn’t be toastier. I wish it fit me.

And it’s just the right garment now that the mornings are crisp and cold. These October days we are all awake before dawn. I bring the little fellow into our warm bed for the first feed of the day, curling around his small sturdy body, hoping he’ll doze off again and we can all close our eyes for a few more minutes before the clamor begins from his sister downstairs: “I like walk through dis gate right now! I like eat some food!” But often I catch the gleam of his wide eyes seeking mine in the darkness; he is awake, and he knows I am awake, and he celebrates this simple discovery with much pedaling of legs and the performance of many songs of his own composition, songs to do with milk and moonlight and the felicity of suckable fingers. In another time or another place I’d have to be out of bed in the early dark, stoking a fire, drawing water, struggling to drive the cold out of our home and bring forth some sort of breakfast before the rest of my people woke to the day’s work. It’s a luxury to savor a sweet baby snug in my nest at a quarter to six. If only I were virtuous enough to remember this before I’ve had coffee.

Muckling on

Published on Wednesday September 26th, 2012

Our dear cattywampus planet is bearing us northern folk away from the sun once more. At the river, dry leaves were gusting onto the water’s surface. Chevrons of geese were beating southward. But the sand still held heat, the alders and scrubby willows were still mainly green, and the broad pool between the shore and the sand bar was still inviting to small persons wishing to wade and test (repeatedly, for scientific rigor) the buoyancy of beach toys. So back to the river we went with our gang of friends, sucking the last juice of the summer. Jolyon watched the big kids — two whole years old, some of them — sporting in the shallows and shoveling sand over their toes, then fell asleep.

A memorable summer it’s been for my family, with the joy of new life come among us, but also with bitter losses. Too many people I love have stumbled into the alien country of life without a mother, a sister, a baby, a faithful dog. The philosopher Henri-Frédéric Amiel wrote, “Life is short, and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us, so be swift to love and make haste to be kind.” Neatly as it’s phrased, the sentiment might seem trite, or at least easier said than done if you’ve loved and lost. But Amiel, who lost both his parents at an early age and was marginalized in his cultural community, must have been intimate with grief and loneliness. To me, knowing this makes his words ring with courage.

Where am I going with this? A brief hey nonny nonny for the end of summer has twisted into something more solemn. A sense of purpose to lean forward into my relationships is rising in my heart. It’s too easy to eddy off into your own little backwater and fail to extend yourself to anyone but your short-legged offspring. I learned yesterday that one of my favorite people in the world is expecting a child — glad tidings, yes, but she is twenty-seven weeks pregnant and I am just hearing about it now because I’ve been woefully out of touch. Possibly it’s time to stop dismissing Facebook as cheese doodle friendship — instant! satisfying! perilously addictive! yet short on the real nutrients of more thoughtful communication — and join the throngs to keep abreast of their doings, but I’m thinking more of letters, pots of tea, dinners, spontaneous front-porch gatherings while the weather holds… putting some muscle into drawing people closer in the old-fashioned ways. And knitting for them, of course, because wool is love made tactile, you know. Warmth and light and song and laughter in the winter dark: let me live into those and share them freely where I can.