Saturday, September 29, 2007

Family Coffee Date: J&S Bean Factory at Hamline and Thomas

We love our coffee shops. We used to love spending whole evenings lounging around in them, reading aloud to each other, staring deeply into eachothers' eyes, working on our own quiet projects, critiquing the art, bantering with the baristas. Ah, the happy golden days! Well, we still care about good coffee, independent ownership (we're not really herd animals, if you know what I mean), and good atmosphere.

But now child and baby-friendly bathrooms are a veritable necessity, along with toys or really fun outdoor seating. When we have the luxury; nay, the scarce but necessary time for coffee-shoppin', we look for a place Paul and I can talk (and enjoy ourselves; ixnay on the acDonald'sMay unParkFay) where the kids will have fun too. J&S Bean Factory Makes the Cut.
Things we like about J&S Hamline and Thomas: (different from their Randolph Avenue sister store, which Paul can tell you is good for high school kids in the early morning, but not so much for wee lil 'babes)
-Good toy area!
-Bathroom is closeby, with diaper changing station
-consistently good coffee, okay baked goods rockin' awesome sandwiches and soups from Acme and Xanders'
-right next to a great knitting shop (okay, only Libby cares about that, but in the knitting shop, there is a nice lil' ramp between the front and back rooms, which the kids love to crawl up and down. The shop's staff are indulgent of this wildness.)
-breastfeeding friendly environment
-real art on the walls, that actually changes every so often
-friendly, chatty baristas
-some outdoor seating
-accessible via bus: the 67 runs within two blocks and the 16 within four blocks
-accessible via bike: great bike rack (it's hidden!) and bike paths run on Minnehaha, two blocks away

Ezra loves to crawl on chairs, especially if Gib is already on them.

We're not so much into:
-not much privacy (we have a penchant for secluded nooks)
-the kids' area is a tad dim, and doesn't always have outlet covers, though outlets are covered by toys
-the kids' books are mostly lame-o, not that our kids have noticed
-If there's already someone in the play area, like, say, a parent's group or someone else's play date, it doesn't work so well, but this would be true anywhere
-there's not much not to like; we've been hitting this one a fair bit lately!
This is a "city" we built. We used every last one of these great blocks. Most of the toys at J&S are good ones, like these, that we can really play with. The key with blocks is having enough of them that you can really build something fun. J&S does. That's a score for us, as when the kids are playing happily, we can read, talk, and think deeply. When Mama and Papa are happy and get good time with each other, it rubs off on the kids and they're happier too.
Of course, we also do a fair amount of playing too. By the by, do you see that little tower Ezra started there? He can stack four blocks! Gibbs did this particular big big big one all on his own! That's his hand about to place the next story.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Train Watching

Gibbie has been into trains lately. Who can blame him? Trains are cool. I decided to figure out how we could get close to some real trains safely and legally. There are some major tracks that cut a path across St. Paul. Some streets go over them (like Snelling and Lexington), some are cut off by them (like Victoria), and one turns into a footbridge!

We decided to camp out on the Hamline footbridge over the tracks (between Pierce Butler and Energy pkwy.) We brought a picnic lunch on our bikes and watched the trains slowly coming and going. There wasn't much activity, but it was enough to get Gibbie excited. Some of the railroad people even waved and honked at us!Libby got a couple of good kid books about trains from the library. It's pretty fun that already Gib can get excited about a topic and we can learn some things together. I didn't know until last night what a knuckle coupler is, for example. Do you?

Christmas Downtown

Well, not really Christmas. Monday before last we spend a wonderful afternoon in downtown St. Paul with our friends whose last name means Christmas in another language. I grew to love downtown when I worked at the Central Public Library there. Not too many folks go downtown if they're not working there or living in one of its homeless shelters. I like interesting old stuff and there's plenty of it downtown.

Our friends invited us to go to the Minnesota Children's Museum with them. Every 3rd Sunday admission is free, which just happens to match the amount we have in our budget for children's museums. After we were done with the sensory overload of it all, we hung out in beautiful Rice Park and ate homemade candy from a Wonka-like store called Candyland.
A very nice day.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

the Diary of an Old Soul

Oh, eager, hungry, busy-seeking child,
Rise up, turn round, run in, run up the stair;
Far in a chamber from rude noise exiled,
Thy father sits, pondering how thou dost fare.
The mighty man will clasp thee to his breast;
Will kiss thee, stroke the tangles of thy hair,
And lap thee warm in fold on fold of lovely rest.
-George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul

This struck me. I so just want to find comfort today in God, my loving Father. Eager, hungry, busy-seeking child, that's me. He seems so distant, I lose track of how close and strong his love is, how he thinks of us always, and so tenderly.

This little poem is from a collection in which George MacDonald (one of my very favorite authors) presents a short stanza for each day of the year. Like much of his work, the poems run the gamut; some are gems, some impenetrable, and some are untidy at best. I love him not so much as a poet as as a teacher and storyteller.

I remember this from my own Papa, being in his lap, feeling his breaths go up and down, holding his big finger with my whole hand. It was he who explained to me that I never need be afraid of losing myself in God, that when I am most absorbed in God, most forgetful of myself, I will most truly be myself. And he told me that he loved me, and that Jesus loves me the best. So today this busy-seeking child wishes she could run to her king-Papa, find herself in his arms.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

the gift of a sweater!

We are so grateful for the many, many gifts we have been given! With the nip in the air I've been hankering to turn some knitted items off the needles myself. It's surprising because I thought knitting was too tedious for me, but the idea of making things to keep my family warm really appeals to me. I also read a book I borrowed from my mom called Knitter's Almanac, and read The Opinionated Knitter from the library, both by one wonderful Elizabeth Zimmerman. She is a knitter and designer of knitted patterns. As my mom said, reading her is like learning to knit from your grandmother. She introduced me to an idea I really like; knitting is creating a garment with no waste. It is made in three dimensions, exactly to fit the wearer, and there are no scraps of fabric to throw away. Hardly an inch of yarn is wasted.So Paul and I just happened to be right by the most lovely little local yarn shop, Borealis Yarns, and I was enticed by a skein of wool. We bought this one little 8-ounce skein as a splurge, I knit it into hat and mittens for Ezra, and I just figured that had to be the end of it; I can't just go around buying very much yarn, it's just so expensive. I commented to Mom that I just didn't think I could take up knitting as a hobby, because of the cost.

Not more than a week or two later, a dear woman from our church approached my mother, asking her if we would please possibly be interested in taking a large quantity of astoundingly beautiful yarn off her hands! Would we? Oh, let me think about it for a moment... umm...well, we wasted no time in high-tailing it over to her lovely home that very night (while Paul and Opa graciously watched the boys for a lot longer than they thought they would have to) while Mom and I were in knitting dreamland.
This lovely woman sat us down and told us stories about each of the yarns. It was a really fun and inspiring time of sharing and listening. She also just happens to have fabulous taste!

After I caught my breath, I astonished myself and the bystanders at the library by knitting up this lacy baby jacket. (Elizabeth Zimmerman's Febuary Baby Jacket) It worked up, fitting nicely, with room to grow. It was seriously fun to knit, as the lacy pattern was simple and engaging, and the rainbowy yarn kept me excited to see what color was coming next.

So, things I am grateful for; a family and friends to knit things for, hands and mind that work so well, the generosity of others, provision from God (he is the one who knows what we need before we ask), autumn coming and the chance to bundle up, and warmth and beauty. Thank you thank you!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Mama Wears the baby on her back! Back-Wrap Tutorial

I get asked all the time about how I wear my babies, and where I got my wrap. Here's the secret: my wrap is just a plain piece of fabric! This wrap, my favorite, is 5 1/2 yards of fabric, 45 inches wide. It's a cotton batik print that I like. It would be more practical if it was a plain dark or neutral fabric rather than a brightly colored print. I didn't sew it or hem it, just kept the nice selvages as they came, and tuck the ends in when I think of it.
I wear the baby all the time, and often find wearing him on my back more practical than the front, and much more comfortable than a one-shoulder sling. I like this particular method of the back carry because:
-unlike some other carries, it doesn't press on anything sensitive, and doesn't give me mastitis
-this tie is pretty modest. It doesn't make anything separate and protrude in an obvious and unflattering way. Women who have tried many back wraps will know what I am talking about.

This is a trickier wrap to do, and I didn't really master it until baby numero dos, but we are oh so happy with it, it was worth the practice in front of the mirror.
1. I find the middle of my wrap.
2. Setting him down in front of me, with his back towards me, I put this part of the fabric over the center of his back. I run each side of the fabric under his arms. I can hold on to these in front of him, and they will fully support him. Now I will lift him up over my head.2. Lifting him up over my head, I set him on my shoulders, as if to give him a horsey ride. Most people I have met seem to find this the trickiest part of this carry. Holding him snugly by both my "handles", I flip his legs over my shoulders to the back. Now his whole self is behind me, and I'm holding onto him with the wrap in my hands. I usually lean forward at this point. It's also a good time to tug his sweater down.
3. In the above photo, you see I am holding the fabric above my shoulders. Now that he is on my back, I move the fabric down under my arms: I hold both tails in my right hand while I slip my left arm up through them so my arm is on top of the fabric strap, and then do the same on the other side. The baby rides high on the back. He often likes to look over my shoulder and I can see his head if I look back.4. Ok, baby is on the back, held securely by a strap across his back. This strap comes under my arms (right under the armpits) to the front, where I have one side in each hand. I cross these over my chest to opposite hands. (up over my chest, if you know what I mean.) Now I pull them towards the back again.5. Reaching behind myself, I draw the straps under his legs and cross them over his bottom, bringing each up over my opposite shoulder, to the front again.

6. Now the straps are crossed behind the baby's back, but don't really hold him securely in yet. I fix this by reaching behind me and spreading out the straps from side to side so that they cover the bulk of his body.
7. I spread the fabric strap closest to his body before the one on top of it. You can see me tugging with one hand; I pull the fabric as far over him as I can to the sides.. This picture also shows my hand straightening out the strap where it goes over my shoulder on the right (it was twisted). I do this on both sides and this makes the wrap more comfortable for me as well as helping the wrap to stay spread out in back. I take my time and do this well.

A Reassurance: This is the part of the back carry which I found most infuriating. Until I got the hang of it, I thought it was impossible and figured people I'd seen in pictures must have gotten help or been contortionists. Now I can do it "all my-byself". It just took practice. 8. Here I have spread out the other straps so that both together form a seat for the baby and will also hold him in securely against my back.

See how his legs are uneven? I didn't spread that first strap out quite enough. We both survived.

9. Sometimes I wear the shoulder straps just on the tops of my shoulders, other times I spread them out across my shoulders; even down over the tops of my arms. Whatever feels most comfortable.

10. When everything is all straight and good, I pull on the straps to make sure the baby is tight against my back. He should be very secure, and pretty high up on my back. If I feel like his is sagging down, riding low, or if there is any space between myself and him, I work the straps until he is nice and snug.

11. To secure the wrap, I draw one of my shoulder straps under the chest strap. This keeps the shoulder straps away from my neck. Again, make sure to draw everything snug and comfortably tight. As I wear the baby around, I find that my wrap stretches a bit and the baby gradually creeps lower; wrapping and tying it snugly keeps the baby in position and feels best on my back. If I find myself leaning forward, usually the wrap isn't tight enough or the baby is too low.
12. Tie a square knot in the two fabric straps. (that's right over left, then left over right, or vice-versa.) I like to tie the knot as close to the middle as possible, as I find that most comfortable.I like the back carry for working in the garden, in the kitchen, in the yard, hiking, and biking; anything where I need both hands, need to see my feet, or just need to not have the space in front of me occupied by another person who grabs at everything.

Please let me know if you find these instructions useful or would like more clarification of any point.

If my baby falls asleep on my back, as he is lulled by my motions, I may retie the wrap with one or both of the shoulder straps running over his head and shoulders. This way his head won't loll around.

I have only used this wrap with a baby who can sit up. When he is awake, he holds his own head up. As on inward-facing front wraps, he can tuck his head into me when he wants to disappear from the world. He also has a great view of where we are going if he is feeling adventuresome.

My baby is over 20 pounds now and this wrap is comfortable for long periods of time for us. My older child is 30 pounds and I only use this wrap for shorter periods of time with him, mostly because neither of us has wanted much longer. He is still a fan of wraps and slings and loves occasionally being worn. Most of the time however, he wants to walk all by himself.

I do not claim responsibility for the safety of anyone besides myself and my own baby. I have only the experience of wearing my own baby. Certainly every paired baby and babywearer should use their own judgement and follow the specific needs of their own bodies. In my totally non-expert opinion, I think this wrap is best for babywearing couples who are already comfortable with front wraps.

I have not had any trouble with my baby squirming out of this wrap, and I can always feel right where he is. I usually find wearing him on the back calming, but if he is very upset or seems uncomfortable, I take him down.
To do this, I:
- untie the knot,
-loosen the straps,
and either:
- lift him back up over my head,
-or unwrap him while I am leaning forward, pulling him to my front with one arm.

I found it very helpful to look in a mirror while I was learning this wrap.

Mask making

Our dear family friend Abbie has moved to St. Paul for school and we got to see her this weekend. Well, Libby and the kids did. It just happened that I had a bit of art know-how with which to provide an assist for a class project she was working on. This is Abbie waiting for the mask we made to dry. It's plaster and will provide a nice likeness and a base for her to work more on. I can't wait to see what she does with it!

Having a direct plaster mask made on one's face is a rather surreal experience, which I must say Abbie handled serenely. Until it's off, one can't talk, smile, or even twitch! We discussed how seldom we are truly quiet around others, and how much we depend on words.

I've noticed I talk almost incessantly and have been thinking lately about keeping my tongue more tightly reined.
She's into theatre. Can you tell? A thousand welcomes, Abbie! We're so glad you're here!

Wearing Warm things!

We've had a cold snap and opened up the cedar chest to find our winter things! So refreshing to have a sharp chill in the air and seek comfort in our warm woolens. Ezra won't sit still for pictures these days, but Gibbie will!
Gibbie and Ezra are both sporting sweaters made by their grandmother Oma. Gibb's has a bunny on the pocket. The hat next to him is Oma's interpretation of a crazy, jester-type hat in a book they like to read together.
Ezra has on one of my favorite little cardigans. His hat and mittens I just made, inspired by the coming fall and thanks to a wonderful lady at our church who has given me some beautiful yarn. More of these projects to come. We tie all of our mittens on strings, as we will otherwise lose track of them immediately.
These are Evra's darling little socks. It is my firm belief that nothing will stay on a baby's feet unless it is tied on.
All the love knitted into these snuggly woolens will keep us warm all winter long! (along with an arsenal of extras of everything!)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ezra Steps!

Gibbie went to bed early tonight, which gave us some time to play with Ezra by himself. After playing with us for an hour or so, he decided to practice standing and take a step or two. Check it out!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Bookbinding, Garage sale season

These are the drawing tools I reach for again and again. Walnut ink can be homemade through a simple process, though this is store-bought. Of course, Gibbie loves to use them too! I get mine at Wet Paint, my favorite art store. It's five bucks and comes in a palm-sized Nalgene bottle, pictured above. I like this, as I can be confident it won't spill if I chuck it in my backpack. (A gift to a friend including a glass bottle of ink once broke on her as she opened it on a plane. Sorry, Emily! A thousand apologies.)

Walnut ink is a joy to work with. It makes a sumptuous rich brown and is water soluble, so it combines beautifully with watercolors or watercolor pencils. I use a plain cheap pen holder with a bowl tip nib, as shown above. This is one of the only nibs I like to work with. It makes a fluid line, varies nicely between thick and thin, and letters without scratching. Sometimes I use another nib when I need a really fine script, as in my book, The Nightingale and the Rose. Even then, the bowl tip is the only one I really like. It may be because I am left-handed, but everything else catches and writes all scratchy.I'm calling this my Book of Days. It's a coptic binding. See? I sewed each pamphlet together at each juncture along the spine. There are twelve sections, one for each month. There is a pocket and a fold-out calendar in each section. I've just begun to illustrate them, using my trusty dip pen.
Resource-wise, I made the covers from bookboard I took from an old journal headed to the recycling pile, covered them with cloth leftover from books I bound in college, and the pages are surplus paper from our wedding invitations. Man, I use this heavy cream paper for everything!

Making books is satisfying. I've been toying with the idea of teaching bookbinding at next year's Creative Arts Festival at Clearwater Forest. Yeah--we'll see.

We will record birthdays, garden harvests, seasonal activities, and family traditions for each month, not as a scrapbook, but as a growing reference for future years. As I learn more of gardening and wild foods, I have trouble getting it all straight in my head. It would help me so much if I had been able to anticipate a month ago that right about this time I would want to be canning lots of applesauce and tomatoes this week.
I'm excited about this little tool tailored specially to our life, here in this place, with our own rhythms and history worked right into it to help me keep up with these days that rush so quickly by.

Speaking of seasonal activities, is it ever the time for garage sales! They're all over the place! This is one of the first notes to go in my Book of Days: September: watch for garage sales!
Lots of people move this time of year, so the thrift stores are full of new stuff every week, there're garage sales on every block, and alleys are full of unblemished furniture heading to the landfills*. I want to plan for this kind of stuff, rather than buying new when it's not necessary. Hmm... thinking ahead to what we'll need in the coming year. Actually, not much. Enjoy this lovely weather as you go saleing** this week!

*What? You never take stuff that people set out for trash? Ok, I melted with embarrasment at the mere mention of Dad doing this when I was younger, but come on; I got over it. Now I just think of Grandma Fern saying, "waste not, want not." We don't waste, if we can help it, and to our great thankfulness, we don't want.

**"Saleing" was what our sweet friend Ingrid called going to thrift, yard, or garage sales. As in, "I think I'll go saleing this afternoon. Wanna come along?"

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Food Colour Study

Three days a week I get up well before dawn to be the opener at Amore Coffee. It has become my habit to listen to the BBC on Amore's satellite radio during the still dark half hour before I open for business. I've done it so much now that I can time what part of my mental opening checklist I should be on by what segment of the World Service I'm listening to.

I hear a lot of interesting stuff and I'm never quite sure which things make it to the American media or not. Something I heard a few days ago caught my attention. It was a study showing a direct link between common food coloring and preservatives and hyperactivity in "average" three and eight year-olds. Gibbie and Ezra don't eat much of that kind of food, so I'm not so concerned about how this effects our family. What does interest me is how something so common in our culture could have such a far-reaching unintended effect.

I heard the article on the BBC, but you can read it here.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Battle Creek

After a quiet start to our Sunday afternoon (which included some jumping) my father-in-law Doug introduced us to a park in St. Paul called Battle Creek. The drive to get there is almost as great as the place itself. I love Shepherd Road by the Mississippi with it's water, trees, and trains. Gibbie especially loves the trains. Feel free to look at the small album of photos I took of our outing. (I like the slideshow feature.)

Libby and Gibbie played a game which I think is called "Pooh Sticks." Libby can comment on the literary reference, but I believe the game involves dropping sticks from one side of a bridge and seeing whose stick comes out the other side first. Gibbie thinks it's a lot of fun.