Drafting an advent calendar

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Alongside the tiny-door cardboard calendars for the girls, this year I’d like to do a book calendar to mark the passing days of December. Unwrapping and reading a favorite book every morning sounds lovely. I first encountered this idea on Andrea’s bookscout blog two years ago. I’d love to wrap them up this way created by Oh Happy Day, pictured above. Brown paper book packages tied up with string.

Last year out of the twenty or so holiday books we checked out of the library, I found twelve favorites that the then-four-and-two year old loved (that means I need to come up with thirteen more!). I look for books that have detailed illustrations and writing that hints at even more of a story than it tells. All of these have that!

Here are last year’s favorites:

Christmas in Noisy Village, Astrid Lindgren // by the author of Pippi Longstocking, enchanting stories that portray life in a tiny Swedish village. Three small neighboring houses celebrate together, bake gingerbread once a year, and expect bright new rag rugs on Christmas Eve. It’s a peak into some amazing traditions that you’ll want to copy. amazon

The Tomten, Astrid Lindgren // This is a book that should be creepy but instead it’s calming. Last year it really spoke to two-year-old Joan. It’s quiet story about a tiny elf that wanders around a farm and checks on everyone who is sleeping. It’s not particularly about Christmas, more about quiet winter nights. Joan spotted these sweet Tomten ornaments in a catalog and I couldn’t resist getting them for her to accompany the storyamazon 

The Christmas Party, Adrienne Adams // I feel that Wes Anderson must have used Adams’ illustrations as inspiration for some of his own characters and dialogue. These trim and buttoned-up bunnies are so charming. The rich pastel colors are a break from the REDGREEN illustrations of many Christmas stories. amazon used

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, Gloria Houston // It really doesn’t get better than Barbara Cooney illustrating a snowy mother & daughter tale set in Appalachia. If your town has a Christmas tree, time the reading of this book with a visit to see it. amazon

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, Robert Barry // a rhyming romp, fun to read, plenty of critters scattered across the pages, and the moral of sharing the season. “Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree came by special delivery…” amazon

The Night Before Christmas makes for fantastic reading aloud no matter, dare I say it, how many times you’re asked to read it. The poem is packed with vocabulary words and simply by reading it I feel like I’m introducing the girls to our rudimentary American approach to Santa. Two favorite illustrated editions of mine: by Roger Duvoisin or by Holly Hobbie.

Joy to the World, Tomie dePaola //  gives children a peek into some of the Hispanic Catholic background of our traditions, like Poinsettias flowers. DePaolo’s illustrations so soothing and cozy, yet artfully Romanesque. amazon

The Jolly Christmas Postman, Allen & Janet Ahlberg // I submit to you that you’d better buy this one, and you may have to re-buy it after a time, because those letters are just too fun for children to keep them in one place! amazon

Letters from Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien // Though Joe read this one as I kid, I don’t know how I managed to miss it! A collection of illustrated letters that Tolkien wrote to his children for over twenty years. swoon. Please note: buy the 1999 version that I’ve linked to, or a much older one. There is an edition from 2004 that omits many letters and abruptly cuts off others–outrageous! amazon

The Littlest Evergreen, Henry Cole // A story told from the tree’s perspective: too little to be cut, he is instead dug up and brought inside, only to be planted after Christmas. He has a long life alongside the family. We loved the forest illustrations. amazon

Two wordless tales: I find that children love wordless books because it makes the reader-adult talk so much more!

Don’t Forget Me Santa Clause, Virginia Mayo // a little boy who notices his crib was skipped by Santa, so he tags along to the North Pole to get his due. Warm cozy illustrations and good for houses with sibling babies. amazon used

Peter Spier’s Christmas // Peter Spier’s spirally sketchy warm fuzzy spilling-over-everything illustrations are so amazing. The holidays in this book are not tidy, but rumpled and doing the best they can. amazon

Please share your favorites, I would love to check them out!

 

Cold Weather Reads

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It’s dark in the morning and dark over dinner, there are cranberries at the farmer’s market and foggy blue squashes on my neighbor’s steps–it must be autumn on the east coast! It feels like everyone in this little family is reaching for a book these days. Between my own book, and the pile of books Joan carts over to me every morning, I seem to spend most of my day reading–which is ideal!

Here’s what everyone is enjoying right now…

Joan, 3yrs old, friendly Halloween books and cozy stories, best read by the stack: The Soup Bone, Halloween Pie, Treasure Hunt, Each Peach Pear Plum.

Lux, 5yrs old: Lux is going to be Medusa for Halloween, a character she fell for after we read Athena. She is so intrigued by all the Greek Gods right now so I was happy to order other books from this illustrated and historically-accurate Olympians series for her. Please note: these are violent and selfish characters, and though I feel comfortable introducing these themes (I vastly prefer them to the same themes introduced in Marvel comic-types), you may not!

Rachael: I just finished Barbarian Days, a surfing memoir by a New Yorker staff writer. The first part and the last part of the book are the best. In the first part, he is a middle school outcast in Hawaii, who grabs his surfboard first thing in the morning. In the last part, he’s in his forties, fifties, and sixties–a successful writer settled in New York, still chasing waves. I had to skim a lot of the wave-description parts throughout, but I loved his humble storytelling style, his affection for the characters in his life, his wry theories about the surf obsessed. You will never look at a surfer the same way again.

Next: I think I’ll try The Everlasting Meal again. I couldn’t get into last time I tried, but a friend argued that it was best read in cold weather as it’s all about roasting, grocery shopping with economy, and planning ahead. Yes please.

Joe: Joe is finishing Substitute, Nicholson Baker’s somewhat dreary nonfiction chronicle of substitute teaching in a Maine public school.

If you’ve never read Nicholson Baker, his fiction title A Box of Matches is absolutely the best cold-weather read! It’s a love letter to fireplaces and thoughtful dark mornings.

What are you reading?

Night Sky Party

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a star party, for our girls who love the moon, constellations, and the stories behind the constellations. ^^ invitation postcard, back and front. Designed by Joe, and the included star chart is really useful to have! ^^

July has been beautiful in Boston, but the night we chose for the outdoor in-the-park party was cloudy and cold. I had visions of a quilt of blankets in the Public Garden, children with flashlights weaving through the trees, but oh well, maybe next year.

We stuck with the special post-dinner time, but moved it indoors.

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A few photos, all taken before the party started, of course…

Joe and Lux gave their finest effort to making moon pies for the evening, but the recipe was junk and they turned out like so. I think the idea of moon pies popped into my mind from one long ago teenage summer spent reading Ellie’s Peopleyoung adult novels set in an Amish community. The story’s characters were always going to picnics, building barns, and looking forward to moon pies. (it turns out the Amish moon pie is different from what I imagined, it is similar to an apple hand pie.)

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After the moon pies crashed on us, we turned at the very last minute to an icebox cake made with chocolate wafer cookies and whipped cream. I’m so happy we discovered this dessert because it’s incredibly easy to make and the girls ended up making their own with the leftover ingredients–it is really so fun. I put it in the freezer the day before. Frozen it tastes like a cake version of cookies-n-cream ice cream, and it was delightful to share the icy slices in a warm kitchen with our friends.

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We dimmed the lights, and put little ikea lantern lights in the dark stairwell. Joe helped the kids make a star can, something we use frequently for indoor star shows. Buy a tin coffee canister, empty out the grounds, and use a can opener to cut off the bottom. Cut out the inside of the plastic top, leaving the edge. Cut out circles of paper, punch the holes for the constellation pattern (the big dipper being the easiest of those, looks similar to this) and put the circle of paper under the lid. Then shine a flashlight through to project the constellation on the wall. We’ve also made fun, non-constellation shapes like cat’s faces and bunnies.

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Lux originally fell for the stars peering out of her bedroom window at night, during the very-early-dark winters we have here in Boston. She could see just a few constellations, and it so happened that Lepus, the bunny constellation, was one of them!

I don’t know if it’s something about this age, the amazing brains of five year olds!, but we also attended a friend’s five-year-old Rocket Ship Party, and I’m loving the photos from Hudson’s Astronaut Pool Party. Interestingly, our girls aren’t really interested in the gear/gizmos of space travel, just the planets and stars of space.

Our two favorite books on the stars are H.A. Rey’s The Stars and Find the Constellations. And we’ve saving up for one of these incredible constellation quilts from Haptic Lab.

 

World’s Best Mom Watch

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photo from American Apparel. Not my long fingers, alas. 

This tiny Casio edition, released by American Apparel, is the best mom watch ever. The six numbers across the top designate a timed alarm you can set with the push of a button. I use it daily to pleasantly resolve sharing fights with my girls. The timer goes off 3 or 5 minutes later and they trade whatever toy was in dispute. They believe in the power of the timer because it is loud enough that we can all hear it beep, thus I never forgot to tell them to trade.

I also use it for clutch phrases such as “We’re leaving in 5 minutes.”

It tells you the date and day of the week. It’s slim, lightweight, and the leather strap is pinch-free. It doesn’t have a light, which is a bummer with infants’ night waking. (Or is it?)

I used it obsessively after Joe bought it for my birthday last year, then I lost it on vacation. Then last month, my Aunt Anne bought me a new one, hooray!

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my kitchen wants…

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Ruth Reichl posted about how much she loves her 15″ cast iron skillet, and now I really want one. Ruth drives me a little crazy on Twitter (sample tweet: So still. Clouds stretch across the valley like a soft white ribbon. One red bird flies past. Fragrant black beans. Fierce salsa. Tortilla.) and yet, I still follow her! But her blog is the wisdom and writing that you’d expect from the former Gourmet editor in chief, especially if you’ve read any of her books.

I have the same hesitation she did—too much space and too heavy! But then whenever I have a big steak or want to make lots of pancakes, the thing I really find myself needing is big heavy hot pan. It seems like the kind of thing where once you buy it, it’s your daily staple. Right now I have just one petite cast iron pan. Maybe it’s time to go big or close-up shop altogether.

Photo from West Elm

Tippin’ Local

Two wonderful local drinks, pictured here for identification out in the field.

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I picked up this growler of cold brewed coffee at Dwelltime in Cambridge after contemplating buying every pastry option on the shelves. Their pastries are unbelievable. And so unpredictable. There seems to be something new and avant-garde and just quality every time I visit.

Dwelltime brews Barismo coffee which is considered Boston’s most elite coffee. The owner does direct trade with the grower’s for their beans and often prints the growers name on the label. Quite unparalleled, quite delicious. I’m no expert but I feel that they specialize in lightly roasted floral flavors. I love the idea of a cold growler of coffee–what a tasteful hostess gift for a weekend away. And even better for a mom sneaking a half glass here and there throughout the week. I left the milk out and there was no acidity whatsoever–just light and toasty.

32 oz for $12, $10 for a refill.

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I mentioned this amazing cider in my pizza post. Fortunately you can also find it at select stores  (see Bantam Ciders site here for listings). Buy this if you see it on shelves. Here’s the important thing to say: IT’S NOT TOO SWEET. I know you’re thinking it’s going to be sappy and apple juicy. It’s seriously light and dry and tastes like honey and apples jumped on a raft and floated down the river together.

22 oz bottles for $8.25

Birthday gifts

A little post of what I got for my birthday this year. Perhaps because of pinterest, I’ve gotten gifts for both Christmas and my birthday that I really wanted. What a treat! This year, sweet family sent me money before we left for Rome so I was able to pick out a few things there. That was really fun. The candles and tea kettle have been on my list to splurge on for a long time.

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I’ve become a bit of a beeswax candle fanatic. It’s unfortunate because they are so much more expensive than the plastic-y ones, but I really do buy the hype that they emit negative ions, clean up your air, etc. A room just feels better after a beeswax candle has been lit. These were from Terrain on sale, but more affordable ones can be found here.

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Leather sandals from Rome. I hate telling people I got these in Italy when they ask where they are from–so typical! Why isn’t there a shop selling great simple stuff like this here? (mention in the comments if you have found a good US source!)

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Something I pinned that Joe bought for me. A bright hardy enamel teapot for the stove. From Poketo, the most fun web store.

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Two gifts pictured here.

1/ a brass signet ring I bought in Rome. I talked with the artist in Italian for a long time, and I have almost no idea what he was telling me. He was very Eat, Pray, Love; by which I mean he had longish curly dark hair and seemed to only work two days a week. I bought it in the Monti neighborhood, where I also had delicious coffee and gelato and admired great hanging walls of ivy. Yes, brass does leave traces of green on my skin sometimes, but I really love the color.

2/ a letterpress drawer repurposed as a drawer for my jewelry. For now it is out of Lux’s reach! This is the first letterpress drawer we’ve bought that has those letters sketched inside, I guess it really was used to store type, ha. Joe and I are always trying to come up with more uses for these drawers, but in reality there aren’t too many useful ones.

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Little slippers bought in Rome from a lady in her tiny shop near where we stayed. I thought she told me they were 60 euro and I was sad. But then I realized she said twenty-five. My Italian has really taken a turn.  : ) They are the type of thing I would love to learn to make for myself, but until then…

It’s fascinating how different the things you aspire after from year to year are. I hope I can keep up this type of post and track my changing acquisitional interests. What did you ask for this year?

 

Tiny Bottle of Perfume

First of all, you should know that Joe loves nice smells. Whenever we have a chance to sit down together with a new fashion magazine, we flip to all the perfume ads and smell them. Then we make judgy comments about the scents, the advertising, the color. OR we make gushing comments. “oh yes. orange liquor and cobblestones in Rome.” This type of nonsense.

Sooooo when my aunt Anne sent me a perfume sampler from OLO I think for sure it was the most fun $24 gift I’ve ever received. You get four 1ml samples, tiny little things labeled with names like Dafne or Violet/Leather.

We carefully opened each one and hmm and ooo over them. Our absolute favorite was one labelled Cedar & Rose. I went to her blog to read about it, I was so allured. It’s interesting story: she (Heather, the owner) made a hair tonic (with argan oil, the stuff that makes that blue-labelled Moroccan Oil famous) and scented it with cedar and rose. Her customers loved the smell so much, they begged for a perfume of the exact scent. You can read about the development of it on her blog, here.

I said they were tiny (see middle photo for size) but actually 1ml is enough for about 12 uses. So now I feel like Cleopatra with a full collection in my kingdom (queendome. pyramidom.). But as soon as they run out, I’ll be ordering a nice bottle for keeps.

Do you have a signature scent yet, my friends?

Photos from OLO and the bottom one from Reading My Tea Leaves.

Follow the Honey // Cambridge

Let’s not bring up the shiver-inducing qualms about buying honey from generic brands. Where is this from? Who made it? What did the bees actually pollenate? Sure guys, we definitely believe you and your marketing department of plastic bears.

This is a timely topic in the season of colds too—the healing properties of raw honey. Thus I bring you: a brief tour of Follow the Honey in Harvard Square!

Every time I visit the shop there seems to be a new young maven of health behind the counter. Where does one find these women of honey passion? They look at you with wise eyes, nod eagerly at your questions, offer you samples of nearly everything you might want to try, and bring up tendrils of conversation you never would have thought of. Beeswax as ear plugs? Sure. Try some honey made from killer bees? Why not! Beeswax candles ionize your air? Sounds delicious.

Here’s another thing about a shop like this: when you mull over your options, read labels, flip through books written by the beekeepers, examine expensive choices and cheap ones—-when you are deep in the heart of Honey Temple, whatever you bring home, whatever it is, you will cherish it. Friends will come over and you will peer in your cupboards and say, “oh, would you like some honey?” or you might try to trick them into tea instead of coffee so you can plop some inside the mug. It will be that prize possession in your pantry.

My favorite thing is the Honey on Tap. I am one of those who dreams about small Italian villages where we bring our tins to be filled with olive oil from the local barrel, or we recycle our our wine carafes and refill them weekly. Thus, the idea of an enormous keg of honey, changing seasonally and always local, is perfect. The first time you buy a pound of honey from them, it is $18.60. Bring the jar back, it’s $16.50. Relishing in between? Priceless.

On your next visit to Harvard Square, stop in! And if your schedule is a bit footloose  definitely sign up for their newsletter, they’re always hosting fun activities.

 

Behind the Scenes at Pounding Mill Press

Don’t mind the survey, it will be up all week in order to cull the Erstwhile readers who are erstwhile, ok?

Thank you so much to the 30+ of you who jumped right in yesterday! I’ve already learned so much, seriously.

I love an artist who shows the behind-the-scenes work. It must be the wannabe baker in me; I really like to know how things look along the way. So I loved seeing this photo on Pounding Mill Press’s tumblr:

It’s the invite-in-progress for a wedding, showing the library where the couple got engaged. I mean, really.

I love Ming’s work because each design always has a story behind it, or a reason the design developed the way it did. It’s a one-woman show (plus, she has a day job!) and I imagine she has thoughtful interviews with her clients, gets lots of personal details, and then develops something totally unique to them. Amazing.

Like this one: a burger themed announcement suite because the parents had nicknamed their baby Whopper, Jr.

all this and much more, over at Pounding Mill Press. (also, lots of photos on their facebook page)