Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Puttin' on my fightin' boots

This is a new game around here. It's called "fighting boots."Gibbie and Ezra one day spontaneously started putting boots and shoes on their hands. Gibbie exultantly explained they were playing fighting boots. They knock their booted hands together. They also parade around the house, boots held high in the air.
I think this game originated in checking One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish from the library. Yup. This game is a literary reference. You see, there we read, this is our gox. He likes to box. We box in yellow gox box socks. Luckily, they don't yet have any idea that real boxing means hitting each other's heads, not just hands, and trying to knock each other out. Nope. In their world, fighting means me tapping my boot against yours and laughing. A lot. Whew. Let's not clue them in any time soon.

A corollary game is called "spitfight." Also blessedly, not a real fight! They just stand by the rocking horse, spitting on the carpet, with Gibbie shouting laughingly, "we're playin' spitfight!!!!) I made a new rule that you can only spit in a bucket, not the carpet. (the standard spitting rule in our house is one may only spit outside, in the toilet, or in a wastebasket.) Paul was amazed that I would allow a game like spitfight at all!
I was telling a friend about these games and she said, "wow, they're such boys!" I hadn't thought of it that way. C'mon, you're telling me everyone doesn't have rules about where you can spit in the house?

Gibbie says.... on teachers

These are candles we decorated and gave as gifts to two of Gibbie's teachers. Gibbie mildly enjoyed sticking the wax on the candles. Breifly. He would have had more fun with this one had I held less of an agenda; i.e., I really wanted to be the one to decorate them, my way, not his. Next time we'll do free-form fun candles!

So today he came up with this:
I have two teachers. A lot of people have just one teacher, but I have two teachers.
Treehorn in the Shrinking of Treehorn, (really weird book that Gibbie and Paul love) he has one teacher. But I have two.
That's my favorite.

Alas, two of his teachers we have grown to love will be working elsewhere next semester! We will miss them so much!
Merry Christmas! Be warm and joyful!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


We've been doing this a lot lately. Sitting on the couch, reading. It's cold outside. We're nice and cozy inside. We have so many good books. Ahh, yes, and such hefty library fines. (shh... don't tell Paul!)
I was just reading in Mother Earth News about bears hibernating: they don't eat all winter long! Sometimes they amble out of their den on warm days, even wake up briefly to give birth, but they just go right back to sleeping! Their heart slows way down, even to only ten beats a minute. Their body temperature drops. Super chill. They just rest.
Ezra's catching the reading bug too. I think I read him Piggies and The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round, his current favorites, a dozen times each today. He cries if I can't read him his request immediately!
Often we read on the couch, of course, but I also find myself reading sitting on the floor, in the bathroom, at the kitchen table, in restaurants. There's also reading when we don't have the desired book with us: from memory. Yup, there are quite a few titles that both parents and child can recite word for word.
Now, we will be reading lots more on our big family bed. Yesterday, I would have said little family bed, but our friend Liz donated (almost; a long-term loan until she returns to us from South America) a comfortably amazingly wonderful big beautiful queen bed to the nonprofit fund for the Relief and Comfort of the Entire Bear Family and all their Backs.
Speaking of hibernating, catch you later.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Lo He Comes, Part III

Continuing with my philippic on my favorite Advent hymn, verse three:
Those dear tokens of his passion still his dazzling body bears,
cause of endless exultation to his ransomed worshippers;
with what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture,
gaze we on those glorious scars.

The very best explanation I know of this strange image is found in one of my favorite novels, The River Why, by David James Duncan. Read it and get back to me! The tokens of his passion are the marks left on Jesus' body when he was crucified; nail holes in his hands, etc. They are proof of his boundless love for us; when we comprehend this, we are enraptured!

Yea, amen! let all adore thee, high on thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory;
claim the kingdom for thine own;
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou shalt reign and thou alone.
This is more Joy to the World style Christmas stuff. It speaks of Christ's second coming, when all things will be set right. I'm sorry that we Christians often misrepresent this to the world; it seems when we talk about God's righteousness and glory too often it's some kind of who's messing up my America? shtick. In truth, that day will be an end to tears and sorrow, an end to injustice and misery, and the completion of love and joy. It makes me a little giddy; as I, too, long to adore him, which is the same as seeing him in glory.

Did I mention that I love to sing this hymn, loudly? In church, and at random times throughout the year. I may not be much of a musician but I love to sing, and love a song that I can really shout out!

Allrighty then! If everything I've said in these funny hymn-posts makes you a little or a lot uncomfortable, you will be glad to know
we are now returning to our regularly scheduled programming
here at the Full Cup. I just get carried away. Thanks for listening. We would love to hear what you of similar and differing beliefs love and get out of this time of year.

Our Advent Calendar

I made and designed this Advent calendar to go with a book we are using throughout this time: Advent Storybook by Antonie Schneider and illustrated by Maja Dusikova. This book was the only present we gave our first babe on his first Christmas. (He didn't care a whit that he only got one present from us, but now that he's more aware, he loves this book!)
The book is structured as twenty-four charming little stories in which a little bear follows a star to Bethlehem. In each story there is one special visual image. I'm assuming the book was designed to go with the kind of calendar that has a little door to open every day, because it always says, "On December 5th, the little bear opened the door and found a rosebush." or whatever. We read that, and then I have Gibbie look through all our paper stars and find the one with the rosebush. He holds it in his hand until the end of the story, when he puts it in our calendar's pocket for the day. Ezra gets blank stars to hold, and puts them wherever he wants in the calendar!
I like Advent calendars because they are a visual representation of time passing in days, which is so hard for little kids to get, that we are actually getting closer to something. I designed ours to be mostly purple, the color of waiting and reflection and royalty. (I made the third week, usually pink, to be mixed warm prints because I liked the way it looked) As we near Christmas, the strip of dark pockets fills with silver starry paper circles; like light coming into our darkness!
The kids love the whole thing. Gibbie helps me color the little pictures for each day on the backs of the starry circles. (not all our pictures look as cute as these ones!) Ezra is fascinated with moving the circles around, and laying them out in different ways. He also liked moving around the cloth pieces when I was working on the color design of the calendar-- very carefully laying them out one by one, and then rearranging.
I really like this book. The illustrations are lovely. The stories are good. The messages are simple. I think parents who wanted their kids to know the Christmas story, or the spirit of the Christmas story, but didn't want anything too heavy-handed would also like it. The stories are original and fun. There is a little aphoristic moral at the end of each story, like "god will always be with you", or "patience and kindness are great strengths". While don't think they would offend anyone, these don't really add much to the story either. The stories themselves say it better.
It's so tempting to spell everything out for kids, make sure they "get it". Sometimes we just make the beautiful more boring and less compelling. Anyway, this is a real sweet book, and a good beginning for talking about Advent and Christmas, and some of what it means to follow God, or just count down till the holiday.
Oh- we do move the calendar up high when we're not using it, as otherwise all the circles are methodically and evenly distributed throughout the house.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Lo He Comes, Part II

Here's what our "Advent Devotions" may look like:
-we light candles
-we sing
-we read something true and good from a bible storybook or quality Christmas book
-we pray
-we extinguish the candles
-we work together to carefully put everything away in a safe place

I say may look like, as there are inevitable interruptions, each time is different, and we often don't do all those things at one go. We also have a special calendar that is very important in this time, which I am excited to show you soon.So, back to my favorite Advent song, Lo He Comes; verse two:

Every eye shall now behold him, robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at nought and sold him, pierced and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see.

Wait! Deeply wailing? What is this? This isn't Christmas cheer? That's exactly why this impacted me so much as a child. The darkness of the lyrics caught my attention. I was riveted by these astounding images. What could they mean? We had some great conversations spurred by these questions, which I pondered long afterwards.
This song is for me kind of like metaphysical poetry; there are worlds contained in this nutshell. Namely, who is this robed in dreadful majesty? Kind of a scary picture, but it balances the happy happy fun time pastel Jesus we get so often; he isn't a Precious Moments doll. There is a dread in majesty. What do angels always say first when they appear in the bible? Do not be afraid. Apparently they're freaking terrifying.
For myself, I always sing we who set at nought and sold him, not they, because this refers to myself and everyman, not some distant other. I'll save the glory of love and wonder found in the next two verses, more typical Christmas sentiments, for another day.
Anyway, kids not only can handle real imagery, depth and complexity; they need it. A kid won't swallow a fakey story or a sweetly dumbed down God. They, like the rest of us, are hungry for authenticity, for the living God.
That's not to say that they don't also need an appropriate format. Hence, all of the hands-on, participatory elements in our "devotion" time. It's really appropriate to Christmas, when we celebrate God's incarnation, his coming to us as a person, that we engage so directly. I can see clearly that my kids need me not to simply tell them about God, but to meet God for themselves. I just want to introduce them. Remember how Big Bird met Snuffleupagus long before everyone else on Sesame Street? He kept talking about his great friend Snuffleupagus and no one could believe him. Because they have not encountered God for themselves, I think too many children think God is just our imaginary friend, a nice fiction. Maybe for many of us, God and spirituality is just a pretend game, something special we talk about, not someone dear to us, who we know and love and live with.
You can see from the pictures that there is a lot of rotating of instruments, and quite a bit of enthusiastic singing and storytelling! Did you notice Ezra playing the harmonica in most of these photos? After all, we are, as Gibbie says, a band. We have an ever-growing repertoire of songs, and Gibbie usually plans what we will sing. Right now, he really likes the loud songs. Actually, I do too.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Lo He Comes: Part I

During Advent when I was a girl, I remember sitting around the living room, lighting the candles, the glow of my mom and dad's and sister and brother's faces. Each reading little passages from the bible, and singing this song. We sang others, but this is the one I remember most.
The tune has a somber quality, like a great crescendo, and to me, it is the essence of Advent.
The words alone, without music, may not convey the sense, but let's try:

Lo! he comes, with clouds descending, once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending swell the triumph of his train;
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ the Lord returns to reign.

Lo! He is coming! Our heart's desire, coming back for us; what a great hope! This is what we cling to in this time of deep winter, waiting for the light. The light is promised, we know it is coming. It dimly flickers in our hearts even now, but not is yet shining in the glory of day. This morning I waited for the sunrise with the boys, looking out the window, watching the deeply colored sky lighten after the long night, but it was a long time before we finally saw the sun itself.
Thousand thousand saints attending; the thought that you and I may be numbered among the great crowd of saints on that day is almost too much to think of.

More tomorrow; the song gets better and more mysterious, but isn't it just so different from the holiday bustle, all the whistles and bells of the Holidazzle season?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

presents, expectations, and elves

Recently a friend said that she had always noticed that in my family as I was growing, we gave gifts that she thought would have seemed... insufficient? ...unacceptable? to other kids. I was surprised, (and don't be offended, mom; I don't think she meant it in a negative way at all.) because I think we are the best givers ever!

I don't know how many gifts the typical American kid gets at Christmas, and really, I don't care. As a kid, I never felt shortchanged at Christmas. To me, it always seemed like we all had a wonderful wealth of presents.
Talking with other parents of young kids lately, all just figuring out how our families will do holidays for ourselves, I've found that my extended family may be somewhat uncommon for Americans in that we:
-make a lot of gifts by hand
-freely admit and even brag about how little we spent on a gift
-don't feel bad about, and even appreciate, giving and receiving used gifts

One family whom I admire gives each child three presents a year:
-a book
-something useful and practical (like clothes)
-something fun

The reason I never felt deprived (besides the fact that I actually wasn't deprived at all) is that many presents are not as satisfying as just a couple things that are just right. Not advocating asceticism here: I love giving (and getting!) presents. The wonder is in finding just the right gift. The thing that is perfect. This often means not making the thing that I want him to like, that really if I'm honest, I would like making better than he would like having! That's not a good gift. It means buying something if she honestly wouldn't appreciate something I made. It means trying to figure all this out, trying to get to know our family better, and love them more. Presents are supposed to be the loving overflow of our relationships, not the penalty we pay at holidays to avoid guilt and criticism! In that spirit, I'm enjoying this last stretch of making and finding, even knowing that not all my gifts will match my loved ones' heart's desires. (and enjoying the luxury that Paul took the kids away this afternoon so I could work on things; it was heavenly!)

Just to put things in perspective a bit, a different friend recently told me a story about some good friends from Haiti:
-the kids were thrilled to get any present, like a plain shirt.

Oh, the elfin part of the post of this post is the pictures. Can you tell we're impersonating woodland elves? That's a big tree we're inside of! I think it was a cottonwood. Maybe it was struck by lightening long ago, or was deformed otherwise, and healed in this shape?
Also speaking of elves*, we're enjoying a great little book mom gave me years ago, called, Santa's Favorite Christmas Story. It embraces both Santa Clause and the story of Jesus' birth, while helping sort out the difference between the two for kids. And it's beautifully illustrated, with salty watercolor paintings!
*Though there are no elves in this story, but elves make me think of Santa.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gibbie Says...II

Whispering, "Ezra, you are a very special little boy that no one can see."
I'm not sure if this was a sweet little nothing, or wishful thinking. Hmmm... or perhaps shades of Francis' friend Alice? (Please read A Birthday For Francis if that didn't make any sense.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Advent Candles

Our lovely neighbors and friends invited us to their house to make our advent wreaths together. This was doubly nice as it meant I actually got the wreath made on the first day of Advent. Now, in my book, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas, and varies in length, depending on what day of the week Christmas falls on. I'm also big into using real things. No plastic greens for us! I'm also big into using what we already have around the house.
I've just discovered that thrift shops are a great source of candles! Our candles are from the box of Christmas stuff I keep in the basement, leftover from past projects and set aside for just this use. (A few years ago I found out that buying new candles packaged for Advent--three purple, one pink-- can be ridiculously expensive!)

The basic idea of Advent is it is the season of preparation for Christmas. We are like people waiting in darkness for our Messiah to come to us. We remember his first coming, and prepare for him to come again. Our church put out a little bulletin on preparing for Advent, which reads in part, "It might sound odd, but one symptom of our contemporary lives is that we can often be 'out of touch' with what is going on in our very own hearts." Thus, Advent is a season of introspection, preparation, and longing.

Now, the tradition is four candles in a wreath of evergreens.* They are purple, except for the third week's candle, which is pink. I have heard lots of explanations for this. At our church, the weeks are hope, peace, joy, and love. At Hand in Hand, the kids' school, they are the weeks of the Prophets, the Holy Family, the Shepherds, and the Christ. Go figure. Purple is the color for the liturgical season of Advent because it is the color of royalty, majesty. Gibbie's teacher, Miss Greta (who we will miss terribly next semester!) explained that Christmas is a great mystery. It takes time for us to approach a mystery. The purple reminds us that approaching a mystery is serious, but we need the pink to remember to celebrate the mystery as well, even when we're being serious.
We do daily readings, songs, and prayer, lighting the candles, lighting one more each week. If we use the wreath much, some candles will have to be replaced before Christmas. There is one big, special candle in the center of the wreath for Christmas.
*Despite a wonderful little class I'm in on the historical roots of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, I don't have any idea where the candles and wreath tradition comes from. Maybe I'll find out next week!

I don't think it matters a whit what color the candles are. Mine were white this year because it's what I had. We did decorate them with stripes of the traditional colors. We like the Stokmar candle decorating wax. It comes in a slim box, with about twenty differently, brightly colored sheets of beeswax. It can be tricky to use, and doesn't want to stick to some candles I've tried. No problems this year, though using some of the same candles. Hmm. I would recommend having everything at room temperature, and removing any plastic wrap from candles a while before the project if possible.

I like to stretch the wax by rolling little strips of it thinner with a chopstick or knitting needle. This also makes it easier to manipulate. We also decorated candles for the kids' teachers this way. Gibbie helped make the stripes on one advent candle, and later pressed on some of the pieces to his teachers' candles.

Hopefully more to come soon on our Advent times together, calendar, stories, and songs, as we have more pictures!
We wait in hope for your word to be fulfilled.
We wait in peace for your kingdom to come.
We wait in joy for the glory of our Saviour.
We wait in love for Emmanuel.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Bag Lady in Santa's Workshop

Seems I'm always schlepping so much stuff around. Really, this is typical for my bag--It's stuffed with diapers, extra pants, and items necessary for my sanity (sketchpad, book, bible) Strapped on to the outside, I've got the full water bottle, my knitting bag, a pouch for wet things, and Gibbie's purse with our snack. Seriously, people ask me all the time, "Where are you going?" I guess other people don't carry forty pound bags around with them unless they're going out of town.
This little number is a Christmas present in the works. I don't know what made me think I could whip out three or four pairs of slippers and socks for the holidays when I'd never turned a heel before. That's right, when I finish it, this little beauty will be my first sock ever! Needless to say, this is the only pair that will make it under the tree this year. But it will be worth it! It's a lovely pattern, lacy and beautiful. The yarn is great; a pretty color, springy and durable. These socks will be luxurious, as they should be. They are for my dear friend the soldier, and I want something wonderful that she can take with her and use wherever she goes!
Speaking of socks, If you've never knit one; they're amazing to make! You knit the leg part, and then making the heel is this amazing and very satisfying little magic trick! I'm just amazed that I can make such a tidy, efficient, three-dimensional object, fitted to snugly wrap around a human foot. It's pretty great. I hope she loves them!

I've also noticed that I rarely post my artwork here. Odd, as showing my art was one of my main objectives in having a blog. The reasons are three-fold:
1. I mostly only think about a piece as I am doing it, or when I am dreaming of doing it. While I make it, I am consumed with that process. When It's done, I show it off to whomever is near, and then forget about it as I move on to my next project.
2. Paul's photography is way better than mine. I don't want to post crappy pictures of my beautiful art. Photography is not my medium. Why should it be when Paul loves it and I don't? When does he take pictures? When we're out doing stuff. The best time to photograph art is in full daylight, when he's at work.
3. Flat work would be way easy to photo if we had a scanner. This should be a post of it's own; I'm drawing a painting again! I haven't had the capacity or mental space to do this since the kids came along, so this is really exciting for me!

Paul and I talked about this and he says he actually really wants to shoot more of my art, so maybe I'll be showing off a bit more around here. Rest assured, whether you see it or not, it's happening. I never thought my art was a need, but I notice that I do fill up all the little cracks in our life with making things, one way or another.

Psst--That last post, with the kids in the kitchen--was me, not Paul. Oops.

Cooking with two. Easy kids aprons.

Ezra now wants to help in the kitchen too. I've been letting his big brother help while I cook, sitting on the counter, and doing everything he was able to, since about Ezra's age. The little one is no longer riding on my back during cooking times. He wants to be right in on the action!

It's a principle I read about somewhere, of "downward delegation", of assigning tasks to youngest child in the family who can do them. It makes sense. This way, Ezra will get to do things as he is ready to, rather than everything remaining "Gibbie's job" just cause he did it first. It also keeps us challenging the kids, each of them, with new tasks as they grow.

Unfortunately, downward delegation, in this instance, doesn't make sense in terms of my counter space. Look at the above photo. Where am I going to actually knead the bread here? I suppose if I were really delegating down, Gibbie would be moving on to other things and I wouldn't be amassing children on the counter, but he is just now getting to a point where he can do a lot of the cooking stuff. We have a rhythm. It works for us. Ever wants to be on the counter, but if he's there I have to go back to policing the knife block, and watching half the ingredients fall on the floor when he takes his turn stirring. True, that's just how Gibbie learned to do all he can do now, but he learned it when I only had him to watch. Lots more time. Maybe more patience. No baby pulling on my leg, wanting to come up and help too.

We'll see where this goes.

Oh, by the by--they're both sporting my new kid's aprons. I only wear full aprons, not these little waist-down-only skirts. But the half-aprons are the kind one can find, vintage, handmade, and darling in abundance at thrift stores! (Or make super-easily) It happened on this day that the kid's real kid-sized aprons were all in the laundry, so I pulled out these little decorative ones and did this:
-lay the apron across the child's chest, with the sash ties going over his shoulders
-cross the ties in back and bring around to the front, under his arms
-tie in front, on top of the apron.

Voila! A full-coverage apron sized just right for the baby, toddler, or pre-schooler!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Conservatory and Photography

We went to the conservatory at Como park in St. Paul. It's a great "outdoor" indoor place to go on a winter day - full of light, warmth and humidity. As we walked in we were met by several young men with sketchbooks. An art class was having a field trip. The conservatory is quite the usual spot for artists and photographers. I have to admit that I've displayed a couple of photos I've taken there myself. After having sold some prints recently, I've felt encouraged to do real photography again. To me real photography involves film and chemistry and has at least as much to do with the forming of the print in the darkroom as it does snapping the shutter. I understand that some do digital as art; I'm just not one of them! I don't know and enjoy the digital process like I know and enjoy the chemical process. I mentioned in a post last spring that I think of digital photography as a kind of sketching. I can compose the image and capture it without going through the finishing process of development and printing that would make it a final print. It's a practice in seeing, more than anything.

The above is a small example. It's a kind of photography that I see in a lot in coffee shops, am very tempted by, but mostly avoid. The photographer's eye is attracted to beauty. Sometimes that beauty comes in the form of someone else's art and it's very tempting to photograph that art and make it into your own art. In a way there's nothing wrong with that. The photographed art is composed and executed in a way that is unique to the photographer and becomes it's own thing. It still feels like kind of a cop out to me, though. I don't think I would display something like this picture, but it was fun to "sketch."

These fish were the boy's favorite feature of the conservatory this time around. I had a hard time keeping Ezra from licking the rocks. They must have tasted good. Salty, maybe?

Last of Ezra's Crawling

We're proud of our little Ezra's new walking skills of course, but I must admit we'll miss his unique way of crawling. Everyone who knows him seems to have grown to love his method of tripedal locomotion with one leg up and one leg under. (The underside leg actually has a callous from all of its use!)

Here's some footage I shot of what may be some of the last of his special crawl. He's walking most of the time now and I'm sure it won't be long before that crawl of his is gone for good!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Riding the Range

Yesterday Ezra started riding wild horses. He climbs up all by himself and rocks happily and carefully.

This morning he wanted to wear real shoes. He's been trying vainly to put Gibbie's shoes on for a while. At Ezra's age, Gibbie refused to walk if we put hard-soled shoes on him, so we just kept bringing his leather-soled knitted booties to Oma for repairs until it got warm enough he could go barefoot and eventually forget about his dislike for shoes.
Ezra's all about the shoes. This morning, getting ready for the day, he carried a shoe over and we just couldn't resist. We got the small sizes of shoes up from the basement and he loves them! All day, now, he is bringing over shoes to us and wanting them put on his feet, even if both feet are already well-shod.

Here he simultaneously demonstrates his climbing and shoe-wearing skills.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Snow Day Latte Art

Yesterday was our first sizable snow of the winter. I was scheduled to work in the afternoon at Amore, and was prepared to have a slow day. More people made it out for coffee than I expected, but my coworker Blair and I still had plenty of time on our hands. I've been working on latte hearts a bit lately and decided it was time to do a video of one. The result is pictured above. We also did a video of Blair doing a rosetta. Thanks for going there with me, Blair!

Until yesterday I'd never tried to do a rosetta on a macchiato. These are my first attempts. It's kind of challenging and a lot of fun to pour art this small!

I know this is real coffee geek stuff, but what better way to pass a snowy afternoon than honing our skills?