Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas: honesty versus magic

We've I've decided to perpetuate the Santa myth. For as many years as I can muster, I'll be actively lying to my child and encouraging him to believe in this thing, this person that isn't real.

I was asked today: why? Why would I lie to my child?

We aren't religious and we won't be teaching him about capital G-god, but we're happy for him to partake in the various religious festivals that are celebrated at his childcare. We'll tell him that people have different beliefs about different things and he should respect that (to a point).

But Santa... Santa... well, I'm all about Christmas. It's my most favourite time of the year; it's when we fly home to wherever the family gathers; it's when we give and receive; it's when we share; it's when we help and love and bolster each others' spirits; it's when we collectively make a decision to be good to one another.

That to me is magic.

Do I wish it could be year-round sentiment and peace and kindness? Of course, absolutely and I'll be trying to teach him that too. I hope he'll be a good, kind person 12 months of the year.

But I want him to believe in the magic of people and Santa's my gateway: one person spends all his time making things for other people and delivering it to them, spends all his time focused on the joy and happiness of other people with nothing in return but the occasional biscuit and glass of milk. Wars haven't been fought or people killed in his name; sure there's some rampant consumerism surrounding his jolly visage, but that's up to me to mediate.

When someone finally tells him Santa isn't real (and they will) or he figures it out himself (and he will), then we'll have a more serious conversation about people magic, that millions of people who don't know one another have banded together across nations to create magic for children. That Dear Boy can be a part of that magic for other people, for other children; that he can make dreams and wishes come true.

Did you perpetuate the Santa myth? How about the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Handmade Christmas: More easy decorations

Christmas message in a bottle

What you need:
  • Small bottles with stoppers (I found a pack of five at the $2 shop and a six-pack at Spotlight)
  • Plain or coloured paper
  • Glitter (if desired; I used our Jo Sonya's Glitter Dust clear coat)
  • A printer or nice calligraphy pens (and whatever requisite skills that requires)
  • String, ribbon or wire to hang on the tree (if desired)
I typed up a list of Christmas phrases and lyrics from a few carols but you could add hopes and wishes for the new year, children's Christmas lists or family names. Type them up and print, or do some fancy writing; cut into strips and decorate with glitter or whatever flourishes you'd like.

To get the paper into the bottle, I curcled it around the end of a paintbrush and then used that to help it unfurl inside. I've had these standing on our mantelpiece but you could easily tie a piece or ribbon or wire under the lip of the bottle and hang them on the tree.

Some of my Christmas-y phrases include:
  • All is calm; all is bright
  • Making spirits bright
  • Jingle bells
  • It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
  • We wish you a merry Christmas
  • And so this is Christmas
  • Drinking white wine in the sun
  • Merry Christmas; war is over
  • Fa la la la la la la la la

Scrabble Christmas words

What you need:
  • Scrabble tiles and stands (we have an old set that I used for non-glued words; I found a set of wooden craft tiles at Spotlight for the glued ones)
  • Ribbon, jingle bells and other bits and pieces
  • Craft glue or a hot glue gun
The hardest part of this was trying to make the most number of Christmas words from a set number of letters (Christmas, Xmas, merry, peace, jingle, joy, Santa, St Nick, Rudolph, twinkly, etc). In the end, I managed just four from our wooden craft set, but plenty more from our game set. For the hanging words, I simply glued the wooden tiles to a piece of ribbon, folded over the top of the ribbon and glued it into a loop, then tied a jingly bell to the bottom and then folded the end up with another dab of glue.

Baubles in a vase

What you need:
  • A clear vase, jar or container (glass, plastic, doesn't matter)
  • Baubles or other decorations that didn't make it onto the tree
I'm not sure if this could be any easier: put decorations in the vase and sit it somewhere that hasn't yet received any Christmas spirit. Ours is sitting on the dining table like a centrepiece.

Have you gotten into the swing of Christmas this year? How do you decorate your tree and home?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Taking stock: December

In the normal course of an academic life, I've signed off for the year in mid-November after the last exam has been marked and the last result collated. As a contracted or casual academic, that's usually all she wrote for the year, and we're unemployed free until the beginning of the first semester the following year (February, sometimes March). But this year is different.

After a completely crappy confluence of craptacularly crappy work issues, I did a little horizontal shuffling and have spent most of the year straddling several different professions. One foot still in academia and the other in a completely new role in outreach, communication and education programming for a research centre. I don't have three feet, but to follow the metaphor there was another foot somewhere doing something else. It's been weird and new and tough and challenging and interesting. Here I am in December, still working. Weird.

So the year is coming to an end, and so too (for now anyway) is the career path I thought I'd be following. Except it's kinda not, because nice things have happened in the background. I'll talk about it all in more detail in the New Year but for now, holy amazeballs, I've been signing forms about royalties and UK tax exemptions and copyright permission and all manner of weirdness.

I'm feeling all kinds of muddled up and scared and sqeeeeee excited about all of it; to be honest, I want to throw myself into glossy Christmas magazines and write long lists about what we'll have for lunch in two weeks. This is my blogging equivalent of that, c/o Pip, and joining in with The Veggie Mama and Katie 180 and others.

Making: all of these easy-peasy decorations for the Christmas tree.

Cooking: completely secular gingerbread stars for our neighbour who flagged us down when we taking a postprandial stroll and presented us with a box full of die-cast cars. Dear Boy thinks he's Santa. 

Reading: nothing but blogs, because I've added a crap tonne of books to my Christmas list and don't know what I'm getting. Book Depository is my current nemesis because I want all of the books.

Wanting: See above.

Looking: for Christmas lights in the neighbourhood but there's not a lot of twinkling going on round these parts.

Playing: as many Christmas carols as I can before Dear Boy requests the Cars or The Wonky Donkey CD.

Wishing: we could get two interstate trips out of a tiny bank balance.

Enjoying: moments with my boy ("guess how much I love you!")

Waiting: for a holiday (still waiting).

Pondering: ways to evict the mouse that's living under the fridge.

Watching: that episode of The Newsroom that folks are talking about. It was kinda-sorta the Isaac & Ishmael of the series: "earnest in its tone, admirable in its charitable intent and God-awful in its condescending pedantry".

Hoping: we go meldown-free for tomorrow's childcare Christmas party and concert.

Smelling: pine needles

Wearing: t-shirts to work and pretending they're business-y.

Following: some of the bloggers in Dubai at the moment. I'm aching for poolside drinks, desert oases, and camel rides.

Admiring: anyone who's getting stuff done at the moment and still blogging.

Sorting: through the mounds of paper I've set aside for shredding. P.S. Shredder only operates for 2 minutes at a time. I'm going to be shredding for weeks.

Buying: the last of the Christmas presents.

Getting: glitter out of the carpet. Yes, that stuff really is the herpes of the craft world.

Bookmarking: an oven-baked vegan naan recipe. Nom, nom. Can't wait to fly back to Newcastle and partake of tasty, tasty Indian there.

Opening: packages of presents I ordered and hoping the others arrive soon.

Hearing: Lovely Husband starting to watch TV without me. Peace, I'm out.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Handmade Christmas: Easy decorations

I've been all over Pinterest looking for ideas for cute handmade decorations (see my Homemade Christmas board) and thought I might make a different Christmas ornament every day to pop in the advent calender. Cue little meltdown at the thought of all that crafting. Plan B - a few easy decorations that are sweet and not particularly labour intensive. Here are four of my favourites (Dear Boy asked for some blue decorations this year, so we've gone with that theme):

Bird-on-a-branch bauble

You'll need:
  • empty, plastic or glass baubles ( I got ours from the local $2 shops - these ones split in half so they're relatively easy to load or decorate)
  • twig
  • small piece cardboard
  • 2 small pieces of felt
  • clear drying craft glue

I cut out a tiny stylised bird shape from cardboard and then used that as a template to cut two pieces from felt. I made the felt pieces slightly larger, which meant I could leave the carboard in the centre to keep it a little stiff, but still have enough edging so it didn't show.

It was important to see how the twig sat inside the bauble so I could attach the bird on the right bit (upside down birds - funny but less awesome).

I glued the bird to the branch and left it to dry overnight before sealing it into the bauble.

Glittery dinosaurs

You'll need:
  • set of plastic dinosaurs (or other figures; Lila at Mama Nourish used animals and set them on matchboxes) 
  • small eyehooks (and pliers if you need them)
  • white basecoat (spray)paint
  • coloured (spray)paint
  • glitter (with a glue) or glitter paint (I used Jo Sonja's Opal Dust)
  • varnish or clear sealer
I screwed in the eyehooks by hand then painted the dinosaurs with a basecoat, a colour coat, a glitter coat and then a sealant. There are probably some very important steps in there for preparing plastic , etc but I tried to simplify as much as possible as I was painting with hand in front of the TV at night. The only really problematic stage was after the first two coats, where the paint flaked if you handled it too much. I attached plain wool for hanging but might get some silvery ribbon next year.

Clothespeg angels

You'll need:
  • wooden clothespegs (I found these at Spotlight)
  • small eyehooks
  • circles of felt and/or fabric (I used the rim of a glass for a circumference and cut with pinking shears so I didn't have to worry about the hems)
  • small craft feathers
  • clear-drying craft glue
Screwing the eyehooks into these was more difficult than getting them into the plastic dinosaurs. You may want to use a very fine drill bit to get you started. Stitch together the coloured circles (no need if you're just using coloured felt). Fold over the lip of one side of the circle for a 'collar' look and glue onto the peg. Glue two feathers to the back (a bit fiddly but worth it to persist).

Wool-wrapped words

You'll need:
  • Craft wire
  • Coloured wool or twine
  • Hot glue gun or craft glue
Glue down the end of the wool to the wire and wrap, glueing occasionally or continuously. This was my first hot glue gun experience and it was a bit fiddly with all the stringy bits but they come off really easily afterwards. Once you have a long piece of wire covered in wool then you can start shaping your word. I ended up jumping on Picmonkey and testing words in their cursive fonts to see how to run letters together. Some words will flow together more easily than others.

Are you making any decorations this year? Where did you find your inspiration?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Questions I've asked lately: How embarrassing is your search history?

Have you ever taken a look at your google search history? I went looking for a site I could only vaguely remember and thought it might be in a list somewhere. And then I found not just the visiting history, but a big list of all the questions I've asked the google oracle. Hilarious and sad at the same time.

How do they get cranes on the top of skyscrapers?
No seriously... how do they do that?

Best easiest gingerbread recipe?
I'm not sure if best and easiest are mutually exclusive in the baking stakes.

How do I use a hot glue gun properly?
Christmas crafts require some hot glue. Time to pull that baby out of the packaging.

How do I use a hot glue gun without all the mess?
Obviously the answer to the last question didn't impress me much.

Christopher Pyne senate education reform?
News of the day. Hilarious that the headlines it pulled up were 'stop texting me!'.

Why does the sun shining feel hotter on some days and not others?
I totally get why we have seasons and the earth tilting on its axis, etc... but that doesn't really explain why one 30 degree day feels like your eyeballs are frying and another 30 degree day doesn't.

Awesome Christmas playlist?
If I'm listing to Christmas music, it better be good.

Drawing and art developmental ages stages?
Dear Boy draws circles, lots and lots of circles and he tells me 'I'm going to draw you lots of circles, okay?' I'm wondering when he's going to head into potatohead people territory.

Who coined the term 'threenager?
Yeah, they hit the nail on the head with that one.

DIY ornament dough cornflour not salt?
Sanding salt dough ornaments? Ain't nobody got time for that.

What age can kids start cub scouts?
We voted last weekend at the local scout hall. They were cooking damper on sticks over fires in half-barrel drums. City boys need to poke sticks in fire too.

I can has cheezburger?
Sometimes only a LOLcat will do.

It's nice to see I've been asking the hard-hitting questions. I'm too scared to check my phone's search history for all those things I look up while bored and/or on the run.

Care to share yours?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Weather-themed play: November (the wrap up)

'Mummy, come and rain on my head!'

Dear Boy seems to have enjoyed our month of weather-themed play. He finally discovered a love of craft glue when we made the umbrella and cloud, sticking in a frenzy of crepe paper and cotton balls. Since then, he's dragged out the little cloud and asked me to rain on his head so he can hold up his little umbrella to 'stay dry'. The rain cloud is blown away by the wind and our weird little stylised rainbow comes out.

I had thought we'd do more rainy walks and puddle jumping this month but rain's been a little scarce (or scarily intense); so instead we checked the bureau of metreology website to see if it's going to be sunny or cloudy or cold or hot before getting out our clothes for the day or packing a bag for childcare.

'There's raindrops, Mummy. Where's my blue jacket? Don't forget your umbrella.'

We've had a far richer time this month with songs than in other months - more universal theme, I'm guessing. Our list included:

  • Rain is falling down
  • It's raining, it's pouring
  • Rain, rain go away
  • I hear thunder
  • I can sing a rainbow
  • Rainbow connection - The Muppets
  • You are my sunshine
  • Raindrops keep fallin' on my head
  • Singin' in the rain
  • Meteorology - The Wiggles (yeah, I know, go figure... but awesome nonetheless)
  • It's starting to rain - Justine Clarke
And sanitised, non-euphamistic versions/belted out choruses of:
  • Rain - Madonna
  • Umbrella - Rhianna
  • Good day sunshine - The Beatles
  • You are the sunshine of my life - Stevie Wonder
  • Walkin' on sunshine - Katrina and the Waves
  • Riders on the storm - The Doors
  • Have you ever seen the rain? - Creedance Clearwater Revival
  • Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen ('thunder and lightning, very, very frightening...')
  • I can't stand the rain - Tina Turner
  • Here comes the rain again - Eurythmics
  • Only happy when it rains - Garbage
  • Love is like a heatwave -  Martha and the Vendellas
  • Ain't no sunshine - Bill Withers
  • Steal my sunshine - Len
  • Blowin' in the wind - Bob Dylan
  • Fog on the Tyne - Lindisfarne
  • Summer rain - Belinda Carlisle
  • Thunderstruck - AC/DC (although this is mostly because Dear Boy is digging on Planes 2 at the moment)
There are so, so many weather themed songs out there and it was fun trying to throw in as many as I could remember in various conversations and moments of play.

We weren't all that successful in finding weather-themed books. The real star of this month for me was this pair of books by Jackie French with the sublimely heart-rending illustrations of Bruce Whatley. Amazing and distressing, and probably far beyond where Dear Boy is at in terms of picture books, but he was thoughful and empathetic while we worked our way throug these. The fire book in particular was visceral.

They were really good opportunities to talk about extreme weather and their consequences: baking temperatures and hot winds; prolonged, heavy rain; blizzards (polar vortex?); tornados; drought. They're often difficult topics for kids (and parents) but introducing them early and taking a causes and consequences route helped us here. It's also been reassuring to me to start building that weather-watching culture that we know saves lives.

After covering the Boxing Day Tsunami in a tiny little newsbooth all by myself and getting closer to the graphic detail of that than I would have ever wanted - I know that a weather-watching culture is important. Where that isn't in place, where there is no system of weather/snow/surf reports with the news or people watching the horizon, the waves roll in or thinking about the drift of the clouds - then people get caught unawares and lives are lost when big weather happens.

It's so easy to do with kids - setting up a rain guage or a weather vane in the backyard, sitting them down on the sand for a few minutes before swimming and watching how the waves break, gazing at clouds, watching the direction the wind is blowing the leaves in the trees or the clothes on the line. All of those things build an awareness of weather and their environment that sticks.

Are you a weather-watcher? Can yourkids tell a Cumulonimbus from a Nimbus 2000?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lumberjack softie with pattern

It's Softies for Mirabel time again and I've been battling my natural urges to leap right into Christmas to put together a few cutie-patootie softies for a great cause.

Last year I shared the Mermaid pattern and tutorial I made. This year, I've gotten all brawny and attempted a Lumberjack. If you're interested in making your own bearded and flanno'd fellow, please feel free to download my free Lumberjack pattern and tutorial (in .pdf format).

The pdf includes the basic pattern with a list of optional extras like shirt cuffs and tattoos. I didn't include the detailing on the denim in that list, but I'm a little in love with it.

 Cute, n'est-ce pas?

Are you making a softie for Softies for Mirabel this year? Give it a go! I'm still a rank amateur in the softie stakes but it's a lot of fun and very satisfying.

The fine print: as always, the pattern is being made available for sharing rather than selling (i.e. non-commercial, not-for-profit use only). Any 'copying' or alterations need to attribute both Lilybett and Boy, creator of the Lumberjack variation, and Emma Martin, who created the original Black Apple Doll pattern (I found that via Martha Stewart).


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