Category Archives: Art

A funny thing happened

We used to own goldfish. There were two of them, Swimmy and Splashy, and they lived in an old television that we stuffed with a fish tank and placed over our kitchen sink.

I know this because I wrote about them in a poem. I know about the poem because I found it today, while sorting through some of my portfolios from back when I was a creative writing major who wrote poems about things like goldfish.

But here’s the funny thing: neither Mitch nor I remember the goldfish. A dim, blinking light in the back of my memory confirms something about the television fish tank but little about the fish themselves (though presumably, they were gold). I don’t remember feeding them; I’m guessing that they died.

Maybe it’s my impending class reunion, or perhaps the second glass I’ve wine I’m working on now, but I’m a bit sad that we had so completely forgotten that detail about our first years of marriage. What else have we forgotten? I’m sure there are things that didn’t merit a poem that we don’t remember and so don’t miss. (Some of them did get a poem, but I’m still perplexed about the event that inspired it. For example, I found one titled “On the Way to Your Wedding,” but I have no idea whose wedding we were en route to.)

I’ll take a happy stance here, though, and suggest that so many good things have filled our memories over the course of the last eight years that there’s hardly space for remembering two simply named fish. We’ve lived in many small spaces with quirky neighbors and haphazard decor. We’ve made meals, hosted parties, taken up hobbies (and dropped them), lost objects, purchased new ones and seen friendships ebb and flow.

These years have been full, and they have been sweet. If I’m sorry to lose the memory of certain seasons, it’s a comfort to know that the ones I do remember are lovely, and the ones that I’ve forgotten aren’t gone. They may not be tucked away in an accordian file of old poetry, but someone does remember them, and He will remind me of them when they’re needed.


The passage of time

For Lydia, the past tense is encompassed by one broad category: “last year.”

Sometimes, this is a legitimate distinction: for example, “I turned two last year!” Sometimes, it isn’t: she might say, “We went to breakfast last year,” when we all know that she means we went to breakfast this morning.

Certain things that must be learned I take for granted, because I feel now as though I have always known them, and it isn’t until my pint-sized shadow announces that “a bird flew by the window last year” that it hits me: Lydia doesn’t know the shape of the calendar.

She’s only beginning to understand – much to her disappointment – that she’ll never be a baby again, and that she will always be older than Sarah. When I tell her that her birthday is on May 11th, that’s a simple fact, unattached to the understanding that those words function like an address. They tell us where her birthday fits into the year.

As lovely as it must be to have little concept of time, I came up with this idea for teaching her about the flow of months and years and seasons.

The idea is simple: every morning, we put a button into the jar. At the end of the month, we empty it out, count the buttons and put next month’s name on the front of the jar. We begin again.

The construction is simple as well, and you can tune it to your family’s needs. I wrote the month names out in letters large enough for Lydia to read and, as an afterthought, numbered each month, but you could use different colored paper for each season if you want to (by the time I thought to do that, it was too late.)

Jar of Days

You will need:

  • blank mailing labels
  • card stock
  • one ribbon
  • hole punch
  • a pen
  • a Mason jar (I used a quart-sized jar)
  • 31 small objects. We’re using buttons for this month, but dried pasta or beans would work, too, as would large beads, rocks, or origami boxes (if you happened to go on a memorable origami binge a few years ago, and still find yourself with a surplus of boxes). You could also number some squares of cardstock and reuse those each month. Lastly, I know I don’t need to say this, but I will: don’t let your child play with these unsupervised if you use something small enough to be a choking hazard.

Now, this next part is really easy. Ready? Write “May” and/or the number 5 on a mailing label. Stick it to the card stock and trim card stock to your desired size.

Punch holes on either size of the mailing label and thread ribbon through the holes. Tie label to a jar and drop some stuff in it!

Repeat for remaining months, and stash those in an envelope for later.

[This post is a part of Works for Me Wednesday]

Cherry Branch Hat (Free Knitting Pattern)

Note: My blog moved, and this pattern traveled with it! All updates to this pattern will be available at my new blog, Two Blue Buttons. Please take a minute to update your links and enjoy the new site. Thank you!

Remember the knitting pattern I’ve been writing? The one for the beautiful blanket that I’ve been diligently working on for months? Well, the blanket is done, the pattern needs proof-reading and photographs are forthcoming, so in the meantime, I decided to try my hand at a simpler pattern. (Because heaven forbid I should start with a simple pattern in the first place.)

This pattern is so simple, in fact, that even if you’ve never knit a hat before, you could try your hand at this one – not least because you know exactly where to bring your questions. (If you do try it, please let me know how it goes! I would love to see photos.)

Cherry Branch Hat

This is one of the most basic hats you will ever knit, but because it’s so simple, the pattern is incredibly versatile. I love to embellish these hats with all manner of embroidery, buttons, and felt details (I’ve already knit half a dozen), but I’m sure you’ll find your own way to fancy these up.

Another big advantage to this hat is the rolled brim: you’ll notice that the sizes are pretty broad, and that’s because the rolled brim allows the hat to grow with your child. The toddler size is a little loose on my 7 month old and a little snug on my (almost) 3 year old, so rest assured that you’ll get a lot of mileage out of a single hat.

One final note: this hat is not machine washable. The yarn specified is wool, and if you use wool felt for the details, you will definitely not want to put it in the washing machine. If that’s a problem for you, there are several superwash wool and wool/cotton blends available that would work just as well for this pattern (try Cascade or Mission Falls for some great superwash options).

Stitch Nation Bamboo Ewe (55% Bamboo/45% Wool), 1 skein Sprout
US 8 circular needles (16” length), or size needed to obtain gauge
US 8 double-pointed needles (set of 4), or size needed to obtain gauge
Scrap yarn, embroidery thread and a small amount of wool felt, in desired colors
Tapestry needle
Embroidery needle
Stitch marker

16 sts and 21 rows = 4”

Instructions are written for Baby (Toddler).
Circumference: 16 (17½)”
Height: 7 ½ (8 ½)”

CO = cast on
k2tog = knit two stitches together

CO 60 (70) stitches. Taking care not to twist the stitches, join into a round and place marker at the beginning of the round.

Knit in the round until hat measures 4.5″ (5.5″ for large).

Begin decreasing as follows, switching to double-pointed needles when the stitches are too tight to knit comfortably.

First decrease round: *k8, k2tog* Repeat to end.
Round 2: Knit.
Round 3: *k7, k2tog* Repeat to end.
Round 4: Knit.
Round 5: *k6, k2tog* Repeat to end.
Round 6: Knit.
Round 7: *k5, k2tog* Repeat to end.
Round 8: Knit.
Round 9: *k4, k2tog* Repeat to end.
Round 10: Knit.
Round 11: *k3, k2tog* Repeat to end.
Round 12: *k2, k2tog* Repeat to end.
Round 13: *k1, k2tog* Repeat to end.
Final round: *ktog* Repeat to end. You now have 6 (7) stitches remaining on your needle. Cut yarn, leaving 6″ tail; pull it through remaining stitches and weave in ends.

Using a small amount of scrap yarn, embroider the branch in the outline stitch. Because you’re paying homage to nature here, I find it looks much more realistic to free hand the branch design (as opposed to drawing it on the hat beforehand).

Cut flowers out of felt (with these, I find it helpful to either draw a pattern onto scrap paper, then pin it into place on the felt and cut around it, or use a quilter’s pencil to draw a template directly onto the felt).With your embroidery thread, use the daisy stitch to attach flowers to the hat. Knot thread and weave ends into the underside of the embroidery.

The Box Library

When we received a library kit, a large box and a collection of dilapidated picture books last week, inspiration struck. Remember our cardboard kitchen? I present to you our cardboard library:

The library kit included an old-school library stamp (which I seriously considered keeping for myself), along with some adhesive book cards. I taped those bad boys into the covers of our books, handed the stamp to my little head librarian, and opened the doors for business.

A few hours later, she’d learned words like “renew,” issued library cards to the baby and stained her fingers red with what turned out to be un-washable ink. From there, she turned her desk into a house, invited Sarah inside for lunch and shut me out.

Oh well. I had plenty of library books to peruse, so I was in no danger of feeling left out.

The assistant librarian covers for Lydia while she takes a nap break.

Here’s the How-To:

For Lydia’s desk, we took a big box, tucked in the top flaps and turned it on its side. She pulled up a chair from her little table, I topped it with a name plate (cut from a spare bit of cardboard) and voila! The little girl turned into a head librarian.

For her desktop organizer, I used an old dayplanner with pockets. Into those pockets we tucked her stamp pad, purple sparkly pen and library cards – one for each family member plus a few blank ones, should grandparents or friends happen to stop by.

The cards are just “Ex Libris” stickers (from the library kit, of course), backed with cardboard. If you don’t have an awesome library kit, you can decorate the cardboard itself, or use blank mailing labels in place of the name tags.

For the bookshelf/returns bin, I used an old milk crate (leftover from the early days of our marriage, when I worked at a gas station) topped with an office-style inbox. Simple enough, and the beauty of it is that everything but the big box will fit into the milk crate when we’re finished playing, so we can build the whole library again some day, should an opportunity (and box) present itself.

Lastly, the books themselves: the ones we were given are too well-loved to have much of a lifespan on our bookshelves (some of them went straight into my art stash, where they will eventually be “re-purposed”), but they’re perfect for stamping repeatedly with a library stamp.

You could hit up the free shelves at your (real) library, or stop by the free/discount boxes outside your favorite used bookstore. Don’t overlook your own shelves, though: I’d be lying if I said that a few of our books hadn’t been demoted to “box library” status – namely, the ones that I’ve never liked, and wouldn’t mind packing up into a milk crate for the majority of the year.

Restocking the shelves in an outfit that is decided NOT "Librarian Chic."

Another perk: all of the sudden, Lydia was presented with a dozen books that she had never seen before. That made for one content little librarian.

[This post is a part Works for Me Wednesday]

Little imperfections

In exchange for a pair of handmade earrings, my friend Sarah knit me a pair of lime green wristwarmers. I know now that the cuff is knit in a 1×1 rib stitch, and that the thumb gusset increases every other row, but at the time, I only knew that they were warm.

What I didn’t know was that those wrist warmers took hours to make, and that the second one probably took longer than the first. When I lost one, I thought nothing of asking for a replacement, because, at the time, I was not a knitter. I had no idea what I was asking.

But I don’t know what I would do now if I lost one of my lime green wrist warmers. They have become irreplaceable.

You see, Sarah died two summers ago, in a meadow in Alaska, and those wrist warmers have become my favorite memento of her. (No, wait: my daughter’s name is my very favorite memento, with the wrist warmers taking a distant second.)

On certain days, I have studied those stitches and considered the hands that knit them. After all, those were the hands that first taught me a knit stitch, though only in a passing, informal lesson that didn’t stick, and those are the hands that held mine as we walked through the auditorium at our high school graduation.

When I consider those wrist warmers, it occurs to me that a handmade gift possesses a life and history that a machine-made one simply cannot have. A mass-produced sweater is neat and orderly–no untucked ends, no crooked seams, no sleeves that just wouldn’t “taper elegantly,” no matter what the pattern promised.

What makes a handmade gift live is the hands that made it, and all the little imperfections that they could not avoid.

On shelves now

“Shelves” is an extremely general term in this case. If I were to be specific, I would say, “On my shelf now.” But I could be referring to your shelf as well, for reasons that will become clear in the next sentence or so.

Do you remember Little Red Riding Lu? Well, I put a picture book together for the girls through Blurb, and I thought I would give you the opportunity to order one as well. If you’re interested, comment below and I’ll get in touch with you, and give you further instructions.

Revamped lamp

I suppose that a project post is more dramatic when it includes a “Before” picture, but let’s just cut to the chase and look at the “After”:


What the lamp looked like before isn’t really worth mentioning. Our living room considers this an improvement, and its occupants concur.

(I bought one of these and covered it with this.)