Advent Activity Calendar :: The Middle School Edition

How it got to be December already is a mystery to me. Also a mystery to me? Why I decided six years ago to set myself up for endless pressured creativity and activity for Advent every year. But when my sons were in kindergarten, that’s exactly what I did, by creating an Advent Activity Calendar for them, with a slip of paper for each day with a family activity on it. I was such a gung-ho Mom back then. Also, my kids were young and seemed to appreciate any idea I came up with.

Advent 2009

But my kids are in their first year of middle school now, and let me assure you that they no longer automatically appreciate any effort or idea. Also, I am tired and not very gung-ho.

And yet, my little men-children still want an Advent calendar. When I raised the possibility that perhaps they were too old for such a thing this year, they were shocked, scandalized, and horrified. What? Not do an Advent calendar? That is unacceptable. (It was basically the exact same response I got when I suggested they were maybe too old to go trick-or-treating.)

And that is how I found myself last night, hanging up the garland.

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Those little mittens bring me so much joy, even though I’m now faced with the daunting task of coming up with 24 family activities that middle schoolers would enjoy. I’ve been working on a list, but if you have suggestions, I’m certainly interested to know what they are. Each year, I do some of the favorites from years past (making homemade marshmallows, for instance, is an absolute tradition at this point), but I also like to introduce some new possibilities, too. My ideal activity is one which engages the kids, is in harmony with the spirit of the season, and doesn’t wear me out. Pretty tall order, eh?

If you are interested in seeing what I’ve done in the past, you can click the Advent Activity Calendar tab above, or choose the Advent Activity Calendar category on the right side of the screen. I used to be way better at documenting our activities than in recent years (like I said, I’ve lost my gung-ho-ness), but those first three years have plenty of ideas you can use or build on.

And whether or not you are making an Advent activity calendar, I can’t recommend the Smitten holiday garland pattern highly enough. I’ve made two sets so far and could see more in my future someday (possibly handspun). These little mittens are so fast and so fun and so absolutely adorable.  If you are looking for some instant gratification or quick gift, you can’t go wrong in casting on for a single wee Smitten (but you probably can’t stop at just one).

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Smitten Advent Garland

For a Little Fashionista (Handspun In Threes Cardi)

Earlier this year, I did what is for me a nearly unprecedented thing – I finished a handknit present a whole six weeks before the gift-giving occasion. This feat was made even more remarkable by the fact that I also spun the yarn up first. I then made up for this extraordinary punctuality by waiting more than half a year to blog about it.

I think I did show you the yarn last spring, but just in case not, here ’tis:

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This is Southern Cross Fibre “Dragon Fruit” on Bond/Silk, the February 2015 Club Offering (my first SCF club!). I spun it up as soon as I received it, and it was a dream. I ended up with 252 yards DK 2-ply, perfect for a toddler cardigan.

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This picture doesn’t do justice to those juicy colors. Oh YUM, I love them.

The knitting was fast and easy, and one week later, I was done:

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This is the In Three Cardigan, and it was a very sweet knit. After finishing up, I had enough yarn to crochet this precious Flower Accent, perfect for embellishing the sweater or attaching to a headband. I found some gorgeous green bakelite buttons from Sewing Vineyard on Etsy.

The sweater was for my great-niece, on the occasion of her first birthday. I made the 12-month size but with a slightly bigger gauge, figuring it would fit for fall.

And it did…

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Oh mercy, y’all. She is KILLING ME with the cute! And those grey boots!!! With those jeans! There may be nothing I love more than seeing someone I love wearing something I made for them. And when one of them looks this good in it, it just makes my heart explode.

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Cyber Monday :: Shameless Self-Promotion

I get so much use out of my Shameless hat and mitts this time of year, but especially the hat:  


 In a bit of shameless self-promotion, I’m joining the Cyber Monday fun and offering 20% off all my knitting patterns from now through Saturday. 

  
No code required – just go to my pattern page and click “Buy Now” on any pattern, and the discount will be automatically applied. Or go through my Ravelry pattern store. Either way, happy knitting! 

Saturday Spinning

I have a new favorite fiber, y’all. It is Eider Wool and it seems very similar to Shetland, but with maybe a little more poof after washing.

 

Southern Cross Fibre “Water” on Eider


David (of Southern Cross Fibre) is a genius with color, as you can we’ll see.

This is 226 yards of DK-weight 2-ply, and I’m extremely pleased with it.

  
I’m planning to use it as weft for a scarf I’m going to weave, with some Hello Yarn Kent Romney Lambswool as warp:

  
I’m pretty excited about this project and hope to get to warping it soon!

Thanksgiving :: Feeling All the Feels

It’s amazing to me how grief and gratitude can both occupy so much space – at the very same time – in my heart. This day has been full in the best possible way and also hard – I have wanted so many times to call my mother, to ask the most basic questions (how long do you heat a spiral-sliced ham? I don’t want to know what the Internet says, I want to know the way my mom does it), and give her the full report (I finally did everything right to get the Bundt cake to pop out of the pan perfectly and intact! I did a buffet line this time instead of putting all the food on the table, and it worked so much better! Charlie was so happy we had ham in addition to turkey – just like you, he likes ham much better than turkey.), and also let her know how wonderful it was to have my dad and brother at the table for the first time in 15 years even though it just emphasized for all of us all over again how she is gone and everything has changed.

There’s been a lot of missing her today (which is true every day) but also so much gratitude – for her; for all she taught me (about cooking and hosting and mothering and so much more); for my entire family; for the amazing honor of feeding 13 people.

  
And I’m so grateful for you, too. My virtual community is more than virtual – it is a real support for me, a net of kindness and care during this difficult time, and I am grateful.

I tried to make you a little video of me saying thank you, but I looked far too earnest and also a little bit teary (which I honestly wasn’t). So instead, you get this goofy time lapse video, of me feeling all the feels and trying to show my love.

  
Thank you for being my people. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Handspun Sisterhood Stretcher (Quaker Yarn Stretcher)

Last month, thanks to a cancelled flight and some reshuffling, I had some extra hang time in airports on my way to Rhinebeck. It seemed to me the perfect time to cast on for something new.

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I had packed this skein of my own handspun – the first yarn I spun after my mother’s unexpected death, after weeks of not feeling like knitting, spinning, or doing anything I usually enjoyed. The yarn felt special to me, a symbol of hope and comfort as I began to try to emerge from those early dark days of devastation.

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Southern Cross Fibre Organic Merino, “Laurel Crown”

It was so deeply satisfying to knit with this particular yarn, in our cabin in Red Hook, surrounded by a circle of friends. As I’ve already written, the time with these women was nourishing and healing and strengthening, and just so, so good.

On our last night together, I bound off the project I’d started on the way there.

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It was a fast and thoroughly enjoyable knit, extremely easy and perfect for travel. The pattern is the Quaker Yarn Stretcher, a free pattern designed for using a single skein of handspun (it can be adapted to be bigger or smaller depending on your yardage).

The simplicity and texture really show off the beauty of handspun.

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I enjoyed every stitch, and now that it’s done, I love wearing it too.

It’s like a little piece of Rhinebeck I brought home with me, the hours of laughter and stories from knitter-sisters stitched into it.

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When I put it around my shoulders, I feel wrapped in sisterhood, which really helps these days.

Also, it’s just pretty!

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It is rare to find a pattern that is so deeply satisfying in both the knitting and the wearing. It’s so functional too – perfect as a scarf, it also works up easily in more yarn as a shawlette or shawl. I would highly recommend this pattern, and I will almost certainly be knitting this again.

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Fashion Friday on a Tuesday: Stitch Fix Review #11

It’s been more than a year since my last Stitch Fix – I went out on a high note, keeping the whole box for the first time ever. I decided at that point to quit making clothing purchases and focus for awhile on refining my fashion sense and editing my wardrobe accordingly. This past spring, I worked towards a minimalist wardrobe centered around a specific palette and I’ve been trying to do that again this fall. It isn’t as hardcore minimalist as the wardrobes of people who limit themselves to 33 items, but for me, it’s pretty pared down.

But last month, I realized I had built up a little bit of referral credit in my Stitch Fix account, and I thought it would be fun to get a box and see if I could find one perfect piece to add to my wardrobe. Before I show you what I got, if you’d like to read previous reviews, you can check them out here:

Stitch Fix Review #1

Stitch Fix Review #2

Stitch Fix Review #3

Stitch Fix Review #4

Stitch Fix Review #5

Stitch Fix Review #6

Stitch Fix Review #7

Stitch Fix Review #8

Stitch Fix Review #9

Stitch Fix Review #10

My 11th box arrived on Friday, and my first impression of everything was very good. I had stipulated that I didn’t want any accessories this time, and that I really wanted to focus on work-appropriate tops and jackets/cardis. I was also open to a skirt or dress. My stylist Shannon kept to my requests and picked out some really cute stuff, all within the price  point I set.

As usual, please ignore my dirty mirror and messy room! All my house cleaning efforts have been focused on the downstairs, where our Thanksgiving company will be!

First up was this sweet Daniel Rainn Minal V-Neck Silk Blouse, in a deep teal – a color I had been looking to add to my fall wardrobe.

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When I first pulled this out of the box, I instantly thought this was the piece I was going to keep. And when I tried it on, I was still pleased with it. It’s 100% silk, which I like, but it’s different from my other silk blouses in that it doesn’t button all the way down the front (meaning I don’t have to worry about a gap between the buttons at the chest, as I sometimes do). It’s also long and just a wee bit blousy, so again, different from other tops in my current wardrobe.

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However, it lies a little funny around the shoulders and bust, and it looks like it wants to stay this way. Also, at $78, it costs more than the silk blouses I’ve been able to buy on sale at Ann Taylor, which also have a more upscale feel. So though my initial impression was positive, I’ve decided that I’m just not wowed enough to keep this one. Verdict: Send Back.

Up next was this really sweet Market & Spruce Kristah Ruffle Knit Blazer.

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I was suuuuper excited to see a black blazer in my box. The last time Stitch Fix sent me one, I fell in love with it and then it ended up being way too tight and I had to send it back. That’s one down side of this service – you may get something you love, but if it doesn’t fit, you are out of luck; you can’t exchange it for a different size.

But I had a very good impression of this when I first tried it on. It’s a pointe knit with a great feel, and I just thought it was so completely cute. With three-quarter sleeves, it’s different from the other black blazer in my wardrobe (which gets a lot of wear). I felt like I would definitely get a lot of use out of this piece. Plus, it has this really adorable little ruffle detail on the back:

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It’s like a slightly sheer two-tiered ruffle coming out of the bottom back of the jacket. I was sure this was a keeper.

Then I tried it on for my husband. And he immediately pointed out what my brain had selectively chosen not to see:

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Yeah, it pulls, y’all. It doesn’t feel too tight. But that pulling is not flattering. And when I looked around online to see this same piece in other people’s Stitch Fix boxes, I saw this same thing happening in their pictures – unless they were wearing it open, which many of them were. But on me, wearing it open just looks unflattering. Plus, I don’t like buying a piece that’s supposed to button but can’t be worn that way. Verdict: Send back, with a huge sad face.

Next up was this RD Style Kalin Draped Cardigan.

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It’s hard for me to love an acrylic sweater, y’all. Call it knitter’s bias, but if I’m not wearing a handknit wool sweater, I want my store-bought sweaters to be either wool or cotton. I’m also not a fan of the marled look. That said, the fit of this was kind of cute:

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But still, this one was a no-brainer. Verdict: Send back.

Next up was a sweet little Pixley Kathy Striped Fit & Flare Dress. My stylist wrote, “I checked out your Pinterest board and I noticed you pinning a ton of vintage inspired Fit & Flare dresses. I thought you may fall in love with this gorgeous Pixley striped number. The silhouette is very classic but the v-back is what makes this dress extra special.”

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I have to say, this dress is pretty cute. I love the stripes and I love the shape and I definitely love the v-back, which I didn’t manage to get a shot of. At $68, it’s a nice price for a dress.

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But here’s what’s keeping me from keeping it:

  1. Though it feels comfortable, it looks too tight.
  2. The shoulders have a little bit of puff to them (intentional, part of the style). This isn’t a feature I care for – looks good on other people, but just not my personal style.
  3. I have no place to wear something like this. It is too fun/casual/party-ish for my work but not something I would likely pull out for a night out, either. (I learned this lesson from the last dress I kept through Stitch Fix – I love the dress and thought I would wear it for going out, and I think I’ve worn it precisely once).

It’s a shame, because it’s an adorable dress, but I want to be very realistic about what looks good on me, what fits in my wardrobe, and what I will actually wear. Verdict: Send back.

Finally, there was this Paradigma Firnat Henley Blouse. My stylist wrote, “I noticed that a lot of the items you liked from your last Fix were very boho-inspired. The Paradigma henley blouse brings boho into fall with the sheer material and loose silhouette.”

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This is an interesting piece. It’s got a sheer black cami to be worn underneath, and then the top itself it also sheer (but layered on top of the cami keeps the body of the blouse from being sheer). It does have a loose silhouette, but the light, sheer fabric makes it flowy rather than maternity-ish (right? you guys would tell me if it made me look pregnant, I hope)

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I would not be pairing it with this A-line corduroy skirt as shown above. When I tried it on with skinny black jeans and black cowboy boots this morning, it was exactly the right balance between loose and fitted.

It looks black from a distance, but up close you can see that it actually has dark blue squares printed on it:

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It’s different from any other piece in my wardrobe but also fits right in. It was not a WOW piece when I first pulled it out or tried it on, but I think this is the one I’m going to keep. The price is right (it is exactly the cost of my credit), I like the color, the fit, the feel, and the styling. I could see myself wearing this out for dinner or fun, or even under a blazer to work. So unless y’all tell me that the knit blazer fits just beautifully and I should keep it instead, this is the piece I’m going to keep. Verdict: Keep.

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So that’s my 11th Stitch Fix. In the past, I would’ve been tempted to keep at least three pieces from this box – the silk top, the henley top, and the knit blazer – or maybe even four (the dress), which would’ve led me keep all five since that would be more cost-effective, and then I’d be stuck with an acrylic cardigan I wouldn’t wear. It feels good to be more disciplined with myself about what stays and what goes back, and I think I’ve made the right choice. But what do you think? I’m returning the box later today so there’s still time for me to be persuaded by other input.

*Stitch Fix is a personal shopping/styling service – you fill out a style questionnaire on their site so that they get a sense of your “style profile.” Then you pay a $20 “styling fee” and they hand-pick five items for you, based on your preferences. They ship the box to you, you try everything on, and then you select what, if anything, you want to keep; the $20 styling fee goes toward the cost of anything you choose. If you don’t want to keep anything, you ship everything back in the package provided (they keep the $20 styling fee). If you decide to keep everything, you get a 25% discount (minus the $20 you already paid them). I do not receive any compensation from them for reviewing my experience with them.

But I *do* get a credit towards my next Fix if you schedule a Fix for yourself via my referral link: here. If you have questions about how it works, you can see their FAQ here – and I am more than happy to answer any questions based on my experience, too.

In the kitchen, BRB

I had a different post all planned for today but could never make it to the computer long enough to get it finished. The evening has been spent in preparations for the hosting we are about to do – family will be arriving tomorrow night, and on Thursday we will be 13 for dinner!

  
More soon!

Sunday Shawl Progress

I haven’t had a lot of time for crochet this week, but still the shawl grows:

  
I guess I’m having some tension issues, because I’ve got a little wing thing going on, but I’m going to press on anyway, and try to be more mindful. My stitch count is also a little off. I obviously still have a lot to learn when it comes to crochet.

But I’m very much enjoying the pattern as well as watching how fast crochet grows.

  
The yarn is Knit Picks Swish, acquired years and years ago for a Tubey sweater (remember that pattern), which I never got around to. Now I’m glad about that, because I am really pleased with how it’s turning out in the shawl.

Since it’s called the Sunday Shawl, it only seems fitting that I spend some time today (Sunday) on it, yes? Yes, I think I shall.