Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 1

Day 1 :: Decorate the house

This is part of my slow ramp-up into the season. The boys helped me put up all our living room and kitchen decorations; we’ll get the tree later in the week (another Advent Calendar Activity). It’s actually feeling pretty sparse in here, but I do like seeing the words PEACE and JOY beaming at me each morning, as if they are half invitation, half command.

Advent Activity Calendar

One of my most popular posts, on here, on flickr, and on Pinterest, is my mosaic of our 2009 Advent Activity Calendar.

Advent 2009

I’ve continued the tradition of an Advent Activity Calendar each year (the boys wouldn’t let me stop at this point if I tried!), and I try very hard to document each year, so that I can remember the following year what works and what doesn’t. I haven’t always done a great job with the documentation (2011 I only managed to document the first 10 days or so), and I haven’t always managed to tag or categorize my posts appropriately. But because I know there are people out there who come looking for ideas about this sort of thing, I’ve consolidated what I do have in one place, creating an Advent Activity Calendar page here on the blog. I hope it’s helpful! I will continue to try to tag old posts accurately as well. For now, there are maybe 15 posts categorized under Advent Activity Calendar.

I am so SO glad I went to the trouble last year of knitting a Smitten Advent Calendar! It feels great not to have to make a new one each year, and I was so happy to hang this one up last night.
knitted :: Smitten Advent Garland

Of course, as you know, I did knit another Smitten Garland this year, for my dear friend Deborah.
Smitten :: done #knitting #mittens #smitten #adventcalendar
I had originally planned to knit a little bit on it all year, so that I wouldn’t end up knitting 24 little mittens all in a row. But in the end, that’s what I did, because that’s what I do. I got them in the mail to her on Wednesday, mailed 2-day Priority, confident they would reach her on Saturday so she could hang them in time for Advent. Sadness of sadness, though, the postal worker wouldn’t leave them without a signature when Deborah wasn’t there to receive them (even though I did not select the signature requirement). I am so bummed. But I expect they will get to her safe and sound tomorrow, and now every Advent after this she will be able to hang them on time!

More things I want to remember :: Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends. I hope it has been full of goodness, gratitude, and all things yummy.

Last year on Thanksgiving, I made a little list of things I wanted to remember about the day. I am so glad for that list, y’all! I have referred to it so many times in preparing for today’s meal (especially to find my turkey recipe). So without further ado, here are some of the things I want to remember for next year (and beyond).

roast turkey

roast turkey

1 – TURKEY. I am so so happy to have started using this recipe last year. It’s Ina Garten’s perfect roast turkey, and I would definitely say that it is perfect. After years of experimenting with wet brining and dry brining, I’ve decided that simple is actually superior. This is so moist and flavorful that I find myself thinking I might want turkey at other times of year (which I say as someone who has never been a big fan of turkey).

2. Another same thing as last year – Gravy I went with what I came up with last year. LOVE it.

– pour drippings from turkey into saucepan

– add 3 cups turkey stock, bring to boil

– dissolve 4 tablespoons cornstarch into 1 cup turkey stock, whisk into boiling stock

– add 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper

– simmer 8-10 minutes, or until thick

3. Sides – all my usual, some of which are vegan, for the vegan in our bunch:

  • my MIL’s unbelievably good cornbread dressing
  • Bourbon Cranberry Sauce – been making this for years and it’s such a winner (vegan)
  • canned cranberry sauce, for the kiddos, and also in memory of my grandmother, who always insisted on canned (vegan)
  • sweet potato souffle – a family recipe, which I love SO MUCH – it’s not really a soufflé, it’s more of a casserole – it has pecans in it and marshmallows on top
  • Pillsbury crescent rolls (vegan)
  • vegan green bean casserole – I ask my stepson to bring this
  • Trader Joe’s frozen sweet potatoes nuked in the microwave (vegan)
  • Trader Joe’s Turkey-less roast (vegan) – note for next year: ask my stepson to bring this, already cooked – one less thing to worry about in that final crush of getting everything to the table
  • new this year: I made roasted Brussels sprouts. Because I’m obsessed. (And now I have lots of outer leaves to make chips with!)

4. Dessert – I like to break out my trifle bowl whenever possible, and this year I went with a new trifle.

Nine layers of YUM

Nine layers of YUM

Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle. I had originally marked a recipe for this from Epicurious, but in the end I went with the Brown Eyed Baker’s version. It was a win, win, win, y’all. I was super-happy with how this turned out, and I will definitely be making it again. You should all make it, too. It is almost entirely from scratch (except one little box of pudding mix) and it is really not hard to make. I would highly recommend this recipe.

My other dessert (I usually have at least three for Thanksgiving – did four last year – but in a rare stroke of sanity, I narrowed it down to two this year) was vegan – a dark chocolate cake with a dark chocolate mocha ganache (vegan).

There are some other things I want to remember, y’all, but I’ll have to write them down later, because I am totally pooped. I hope you have had a great day, wherever you are, and whatever you’ve eaten!

how the day ends :: a family ritual


Most nights, the four of us gather in the living room before the boys go to bed, and My Old Man reads The Hobbit to us. I cherish these moments – such a reliable, gentle, and cozy end to full and exhausting days. But recently, the three of them discovered the truth – I haven’t been listening all that well. They were equal parts horrified and amused when they realized that I couldn’t call up some of the most basic plot points and I stumbled over naming some of the major characters. Hey, what can I say? I’m not here for the story, I’m here for the time with my family, with knitting in my hands, kids by my side, and my husband’s voice in the background.

I’ve decided to try to listen better now that I know I might be quizzed at any moment.


a thing I did today


Today I helped my kids run their first 5K. They are not natural athletes, and they are not naturally fast or tough or any of those things that kids who can go out and just keep running for 3 miles seem to be. But they wanted to do it, and I wanted it for them, so we did it.

5Ks are actually my least-favorite distance to run – I like to run far, not fast (though I realize lots of people are able to do both) – and 5K races are over by the time I feel like I am just starting to hit my stride. This particular race – the Ann Arbor Turkey Trot – offers a 10K following the 5K; you can choose to run the Iron Turkey, which involves running both races back-to-back. I did that last year and loved it. In the case of the Iron Turkey, the 5K is more like a warm-up for the 10K; that works perfectly for me.

But this year, I am still coming back from a particularly nagging injury I sustained last spring in a half-marathon (anterior tibialis tendonitis), and I’m nursing some ongoing piriformis problems. I’ve had two running focuses this fall: coming back to running gently enough that I don’t reinjure myself, and helping my kids run. We started running together in late September, when a parent at the boys’ elementary school started a once-a-week running club for the 3rd/4th/5th graders. Every Tuesday, I go train with the boys before school. It’s been a great way to start the day, for them and for me.

We’ve struggled to fit in additional training runs, though, and I knew we were approaching this 5K with less-than-optimum conditioning. In fact, before today, they’d never run a full three miles.That was okay, though, since we weren’t really racing, per se – we were just aiming to finish and to have a good time.

The day didn’t start off great. One of the kids woke up grumpy and out-of-sorts; he got in better space by the time the race started (the steel drum band near the start helped!), but he was still struggling for the whole first half of the race. There were tears before we’d even reached the first mile mark. I struggled with how to motivate without being overbearing. I was frustrated – it’s hard to know how to help a child do his best. Hard to judge sometimes what is his best and not someone else’s best, you know? We ended up walking much more than running, and walking at a slower pace than I’d expected, and I had to let go basically all my expectations about how this race was going to go.

In the end, we barely finished ahead of a woman who took the race at a leisurely stroll while pushing a baby carriage. We crossed the finish line while the 10K runners were already lining up for their race. I came in last for my age group. So did the boys. Of course in their case there were only 13 other runners – so the fact that my two nine year-olds hung in for three miles does feel like a good accomplishment.

So we finished, and it was amazing to watch my boys sprint for the finish line while the 10K runners cheered them on. Seeing the boys’ faces after they’d finished was truly priceless. One of my kids told me with some surprise that he was feeling emotional, because he was so proud of himself.

I am feeling proud of them, too, and hopeful that this is something they will keep wanting to do with me. Given our back-of-the-pack finish today, I’m pretty sure their next race will be a PR for them!



[from the archives] – Autumn Afternoon

I am getting ready to take the boys on their first camping trip – they joined the Cub Scouts this year (Webelos, represent!) and they are very excited about this first pack activity, which will also include a 5-mile “fall color hike.” I am full-on in an autumnal frame of mind now, which also makes me nostalgic for autumns past. I found this old post, which is only pictures, from seven years ago. The boys were two years old, and that year we started a tradition we still keep, of going to the Dexter Cider Mill for cider, doughnuts, and a visit to the Huron River. As I get ready to camp with my Webelos, I thought I’d share this old post.

making a plan :: knitting for kids

have yarn, will knit

have yarn, will knit

I just checked to see how long it’s been since I finished a sweater for either of my sons. And wow, it’s been awhile. That’s about to change, as I’m gearing up to accomplish something I’ve not yet managed – knitting a sweater for each of them in the same season. The problem with knitting for kids is that if you aren’t quick enough with the knitting, the sweater you planned no longer fits them when you’re done! I’m hoping that this time, I will be motivated enough to Get. It. Done.


I stashed yarn for a sweater for Tiny Dancer when Plymouth Tweed was on a closeout a couple of years ago, and I pulled it out today. I asked him what he thought of the color, and this is what he did:

yarn sniffer

yarn sniffer

Oh, the sweetness. He learned that from me, years ago. I always sniff yarn. I LOVE the smell of yarn (especially if it’s got that little hint of vinegar in it). And Tiny Dancer has been following suit since he was in preschool.
I dug this old picture out to show him as proof:
YIP.4.10 - fabric sniffer
There he is at four years old, applying the yarn-sniffing principle to fabric – he interrupted me while I was sewing, to ask if he could smell the fabric. I was happy to oblige, and it still makes me smile whenever I see him stop to smell the textiles.

He held the yarn I’ve picked for his sweater and he sighed a great sigh and said with satisfaction, “Yarn smells so good.” And then my heart burst a little bit.

Surely with that kind of enthusiasm from the recipient, I can manage to stay on task and get this sweater knit in a timely manner, right?

I’ve got a little colorwork in mind to keep things interesting:

Plymouth Tweed

Plymouth Tweed

I still need to procure the third color I want to go with these two, which is a little bit of a challenge since it’s discontinued. But I’m optimistic (and can be resourceful if I can’t get exactly what I have in mind). I’ll be swatching soon, and I’m excited to get going!

this boy deserves a sweater

this boy deserves a sweater

a thing I was wrong about :: fall

365.133 - fall afternoon at the river
(fall 2008, on the banks of the Huron River)

Y’all were all so sweet not to correct me when I talked about celebrating the autumnal equinox on Saturday. No one pointed out that, in fact, Saturday was the last day of summer, not the first day of fall. I usually double-check my calendars for the beginning of season dates, but when Little Buddha started talking several days ago about the first day of fall coming, I made the assumption that he had double-checked. He is the most detail-minded of the four of us, after all. But he didn’t, and I didn’t, and so we celebrated fall before it had actually started.

That night, as the boys were getting ready for bed, My Old Man happened to be looking at the calendar and noticed that fall started on Sunday, not Saturday. He mentioned it to Tiny Dancer, who promptly burst into tears! Poor little boo. It really bothered him – he had been so excited about the start of our favorite season, and had happily celebrated all day, and it felt bad and weird to him to know that it wasn’t true. I told him that, to us, it looked like fall, smelled like fall, and tasted like fall, so for us, it was fall! That didn’t totally sway him.

As for me, I feel like we just got a bonus day of our favorite season. And now fall is here for real, y’all, and I’m thrilled. Time for trips to the cider mill, watching postseason baseball (Go Tigers!), picking raspberries, cuddling under blankets, having a bonfire, playing in leaf piles, FALL KNITTING, and, of course, baking (and eating) vegan chocolate chip pumpkin muffins. What’s not to love? What’s your favorite part about fall?

At any rate, now I can finally say it: Happy Fall FOR REAL, y’all!

six years, four tips, one giveaway :: celebration of a rescue

Six years ago today, we almost lost our then-3 year-old son in a sand hole collapse at Santa Rosa Beach, in Florida. He fell into a hole dug by other children, and the sand collapsed on top of him, burying him completely, with his head at least 8 inches under the surface. Miraculously, he survived. You can read the full story here , with follow-up here . And read about it from the amazing perspective of Erika Wieland, the woman who saved his life, here .

Our little lion and his twin brother are now 9 years old. They both remember the accident, and speak about it freely. None of us takes for granted the gift we were given that day at the beach.

After our accident, I learned that sandhole collapses are a more frequent occurrence than I would’ve dreamed, and that the majority of them end in death. There are four easy things you can do to prevent such a tragedy:
1. When you arrive at the beach, always check nearby for any holes left by others, and fill them in.
2. Do not dig holes any deeper than knee-high of the shortest person in your group. Yeah, I know this sounds extreme. If this feels more extreme than your group can accommodate then perhaps you can at least stop at waist-high.
3. If you do dig holes, fill them in before you leave. The hole my son fell in had been left by other children.
4. Make sure any children you go to the beach with know that holes and trenches can be dangerous, and that they should let you know if they see any abandoned holes.

Every year, as part of my celebration of getting our baby back, I post about our experience, in hopes of raising awareness of this entirely preventable sort of accident. Every summer these accidents continue to happen. I believe that with more awareness of the risks, such tragedy could be avoided.

My internet friends have been a huge part of helping me raise awareness. Will you help me spread the word again this year?

I always like to give a little something away as part of my celebration of this amazing anniversary. I don’t yet know what it will be this year – possibly yarn, possibly handspun, or possibly something handknit. I will surprise you! It will be something I pick out and send you later this summer (after my travels are done).

All you have to do to enter the giveaway is spread the word about the risk of sandhole collapse and what to do to prevent these kinds of accidents. Spread the word however you’d like – on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, your own blog, word-of-mouth, or all of the above). If you spread the word online, you can link back to this page (or to one of the previous posts I linked to above). Then come back here (or on my link to this post on Facebook) and leave a comment, letting me know you’ve passed it on, and I’ll enter you into the drawing. I will draw a random winner next Monday, July 15, after 5:00pm EST.

Thanks, good people of the internet, for celebrating with me, and for helping me spread the word about this.
our family :: five years ago
July 9, 2007 – the night after the accident

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for spreading the word about this! I am closing the comments and will do a drawing for the giveaway SOON!!!

Advent Days 17-24 :: the final week

It never fails that the last several days of Advent end up being a blur of activity for me. It’s one of the busiest work weeks of the year, in addition to having all the other busyness that comes with getting ready for Christmas.

So I didn’t manage to blog my daily Advent activities, but I did somehow manage to actually do them. Yay for that!

So on Monday, Advent Day 17, we made marshmallows. This is always a favorite Advent activity, for all three of us. I use the Smitten Kitchen recipe, and it’s a winner, every time.

On Tuesday, Advent Day 18, our activity was to play a board game or card game. This precipitated a major stand-off between the tow boys, each of whom had a different idea about what we were going to play. Neither would compromise, and I thought we would end up not playing at all. In the end, though, each boy played chess on the computer with one of us. It was a lot of fun, but I didn’t manage to get a picture.

Advent Day 19 :: Sort food for Christmas distribution, walk around town to look at city lights

On Wednesday, Advent Day 19, our activity was to go to church to help sort food from a Christmas food drive our church did (we ended up with a whole vanload of food to take to a local housing project we have a relationship with). After sorting food, the four of us went to dinner downtown and then walked around a bit looking at the city lights.

Advent Day 20 :: Buy a treat at the school bake sale

Thursday, Advent Day 20 – Buy a treat at the school bake sale. Caramels, fudge, and truffles, to be exact.

Advent Day 21 substitution :: Decorate the windows with Christmas gel clings

On Friday, Advent Day 21, our activity was supposed to be to make candy. The first day of winter had other plans, though. Snow, wind, and, ultimately, a power outage that lasted all day. No baking happened. I promised the boys we would do it the next day (along with the Advent activity for that day). Tiny Dancer was fine with that, but Little Buddha burst into tears. He loves ritual, routines, and traditions, and the idea of missing an Advent activity was just more than he could bear. Fortunately, I remembered these Christmas gel clings I had bought as a back-up. Though a tiny activity, it was enough to set things right.

Advent Day 22 :: Open a Christmas present
Advent Day 22 – Open a Christmas present. I like to start letting the boys open a present or two before Christmas, so they have time to enjoy things instead of being overwhelmed on Christmas Day. Little Buddha was super-excited to open this Magic Science kit from his big sister and her family. He spent the whole day wearing this hat, using his magic wand (filled with purple crystals he made), and mixing potions. The present was obviously a big hit!

Advent Day 21 make-up :: Help mom make candy
This was the make-up activity that had been planned for Advent Day 21 :: Help mom make candy. We made Peppermint Bark – easy to make, delicious to eat, fun to give.

Advent Day 23 :: Eat a piece of candy with breakfast
Sunday, Advent Day 23 – Eat a piece of candy with breakfast. My Old Man isn’t convinced of the value of eating chocolate with breakfast, but this activity it always a huge hit. The boys love it, of course, and I appreciate it was a no-stress activity once the season gets crazy.

Our Advent activity for Day 24, Christmas Eve, was to make cookies for Santa. We made them, and Santa loved them, and I got no pictures.

Phew! This season flew even faster than usual, it seemed. I was grateful for the Advent activity calendar as a way of marking the time, giving my kids a little bit of extra special focus each day, no matter how busy the season was. Sometimes it feels like a lot of work, but I know they love it, and that makes it worth it.

Thanks for following along! More knitting content coming soon!