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April 2009

mindless crafting

felting balls

When it's 90 degress, when your 39-week pregnant toes look like some dubious meat product, and when your mind has slowed to the speed of your forward-moving waddle (I hesitate to even call it walking nowadays) the only thing left to do is make felt balls.

Mindless crafting, friends. I'm all about it.

I used this tutorial to make five small balls for a simple baby mobile. More on that later, if I don't end up giving birth or melting before I get to it. Melting seems more likely.

follow the child

sound and movement
Observing big kids (Patrick and our friends) enjoying some freedom of movement at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham.

First off, thank you for all of your kind words about Finnian's room! It was truly a joy to put together and I hope that those of you who are interested in the Montessori approach to infancy will be able to find little bits of inspiration there.

From some of the comments left on the last post, I realize that I didn't clearly articulate some of the philosophy behind the set-up of his room, and that this lack of communication must have left some of you with a feeling that I'm an over-planning, controlling future mama! The fault is my own - sometimes I use too much Montessori lingo and I forget to explain the reasoning behind what can seem like a controlled, meticulously planned approach to childhood. In fact, the opposite is true. The overwhelming goal of a Montessori approach to education and parenting is this: follow the child. Our aims are simple:

  • to prepare an environment that gives the child a high level of independence
  • to observe the child living freely within this environment
  • to continually adapt the environment based on this particular child's personality and needs, consistent with respecting the needs of the community/family of which he is a part.

Thus, the goal behind Finn's room and our parenting philosophy in general is not to place our own expectations on him and guide him through life on a short leash, but rather to provide him with every opportunity to be himself and to give him the freedom and space in which he can develop and express his own special spirit. The Montessori approach actually demands the utmost in parenting flexibility, as we are constantly observing the needs of each specific child and trying out new and different ways in which we can make it easier and more interesting for him or her to navigate through and act meaningfully upon the world at large. I loved how Spider Woman Knits put it: "My only advice is that as parents, no matter what our philosophy, it helps to be deeply rooted. Think of trees. So strong with firm and deep roots but they must be flexible and able to bend with the wind." In Montessori the roots are "Follow the Child, Respect the Child," and the flexible branches are the many ways in which we can do just that.

And let me tell you - I know from my years of experience as a Montessori teacher that there are days when this comes easily and is splendidly joyful and that there are days that are chaotic to the nth degree and you come to the end of the day, bonking your forehead with the palm of your hand, wondering if you've made the right career choice because this. is. so. dang. hard!

Of course, as a parent, the road is even more splendidly joyful and even more frustrating and chaotic because of the emotional, social, and biological bonds we have with our children.

We put this room together, not because we think Finn's childhood or our relationship with him is going to be perfect - it won't be. But we plan to use the Montessori tradition to help guide us through the experience, as an ideal to orient us. Every parent can only do so much, and we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves when things fall apart. We think that having an ideal can be a source of encouragement, to help us recommit after rough patches. Montessori is only one of many wonderful parenting and educational philosophies. It may not appeal to everybody, but it is one that works for us and that we have found particularly fruitful.

I'll leave you, then, with some quotes by Maria Montessori:

I don't need to teach anything to children: it is they who, placed in a favorable environment, teach me.

We must give the child relaxation from the continuous direction of adults. So we give them the right environment, relaxation and freedom from orders.

The liberty of the child should have as its limit the collective interest.

One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.

It is well to cultivate a friendly feeling towards error, to treat it as a companion inseparable from our lives, as something having a purpose which it truly has.

The first duty of the educator, whether he is involved with the newborn infant or the older child, is to recognize the human personality of the young being and respect it.

The needs of humankind are universal. Our means of meeting them create the richness and diversity of the planet.

finnian's montessori room

finn's room :: another view of the floor bed

His name is Finnian Patrick. He will be an Irish citizen just like his Daddy (who got his papers last week!) His Mama is a Montessori teacher and a maker-of-things. And this is his room. It is waiting patiently for his arrival.

finn's room :: care of self table, baby-size, where he can brush his hair and wipe his nose, etc.

Let the tour begin!

I kept several things in mind when creating Finn's space: I wanted it to be child-friendly and easily organized, I wanted it to be hand-made to the best of my time and abilities, and I wanted it to be high-quality yet very economical.

The first thing you might notice, on walking into the room, is the crib-sized floor bed. In the Montessori educational philosophy, the child sleeps on a mattress directly on the floor in a child-safe room so that once he can crawl, he is free to get up and explore the room. Finn will use this bed for naps (if he so desires), but will be co-sleeping with us in our bed during the night. Although I would have loved to have provided Finn with an organic mattress, we opted for a cheap mattress with an organic puddle pad and organic sheets. We figure he'll be spending most of his sleeping time in a sling or on our bed at first, anyway.

I made the quilt using the "Little Bits" pattern in Joelle Hoverson's Last-Minute Patchwork + Quilted Gifts. The mural is awesome. It's the woodland collection by Wee Gallery. I've long been a fan of their graphic images for infants - I believe I first came across their art cards in the Michael Olaf catalog several years back. I also have several sets of art cards for him which I will use in various capacities - as black and white mobiles, as cards set up on his movement mat for him to study, and as visual stimulation during car trips.

finn's room :: 15" - high table, infant chair from

This little table and chair will be used once he's a little older. It's part of the "Care of Self" area - I will put a hairbrush and tissues on these two trays. He can see himself in the mirror and wipe his nose, etc. He can also use this table as a work table once he can walk and carry his "activities" over from the shelf to the table. The table itself is 15" high - we purchased a basic child's table for $25 from a local unfinished furniture shop, had them lop off the legs to the desired height, and stained it ourselves. The chair is the Michael Olaf Slatted Chair - ergonomically designed for the tiniest of sitters and light enough to be carried by the child. I found the recycled door frame mirror at Rowan's Room on Etsy.

finn's room :: area for elimination communication

Here's the Elimination Communication area. Now, neither EC nor Montessori require that you set up a special potty area for the baby. My bathroom does, however. It's so small that I can barely fit in between the sink and the shower at nine months pregnant, and it would be pretty uncomfortable to hold Finn over the toilet in such tight quarters. This was what I came up with instead. (We also have a potty bowl for use while nursing and during the nighttime.) Most likely, I'll hold him over this little potty until he's developmentally ready to sit up on it himself. We'll use the big-people's toilet, too - just not all the time in order to spare our backs.

Eventually, I'll put some t.p. and a toy or book on the little shelf for his reading enjoyment. :) (The owl and hedgehog are both from Wee Gallery).

finn's room :: iron-on vinyl fabric mat to protect floor under baby potty

(Please! Ignore the cat hair! The cats are so very grateful for all of the new cat nap surfaces that are popping up all over the place.)

I whipped up a little pee pad for the potty area. I used Therm-o-web iron-on vinyl to coat both sides of some Japanese fabric from my stash. The mat is easily finished with a store bought double-fold bias tape. It's sturdy, wipes clean, and doesn't shift on the wood floor.

finn's room :: care of self area

We took the door off of the cedar-lined closet to create a special dressing nook for Finn. This won't be in use for a good while (until he can walk and expresses interest in dressing/undressing), but you can get a sense for how the space will eventually be used.

finn's room :: dressing area

The galvanized steel tub is one of those staples that we brought back with us from Mexico, but I think that you can find a (much more expensive!) version at Montessori Services. The tub is for dirty clothes (and the cute "laundry day" print is from The Black Apple). The little stool, where he can sit down to dress/undress was a cheap find at the local unfinished furniture store. On the other side of the closet I will eventually install a suspension rod where I will hang two or three outfits a day from which he can choose. The rest of his clothing will be stored in plastic tubs according to size on the shelf above the cedar lining.

finn's room :: crate shelves and letters from Michael's, mama-made butterfly and snail from wee wonderfuls patterns

These little crate shelves that you see were a couple of bucks a piece at Michael's Crafts. The letters are from there, too - all were lovingly stained by the non-pregnant soon-to-be parent.

The softies currently on display are Mama-made using the hand-sewing patterns from Wee Wonderfuls. (I also plan on making him his very own wool kitty one of these days.)

finn's room :: photo of his grandfather (my dad) in 1945-ish

...a black and white photo of my dad circa 1945.

finn's room :: infant "work" shelf with rotating toys on trays, rotating pictures in frames

Moving on to another corner you can see the 14" high "work" shelf, the nursing area, and the reading area. Notice that most everything is child-height, including the artwork on the walls, so that Finn can see and enjoy it. The room is designed to be aesthetically pleasing to a young child, not to an adult (although it's a soothing place to be no matter your height!)

finn's room :: the work shelf

The shelf is nothing but a cube shelf turned on its side (and found, once again, at the local unfinished furniture store). It's so inexpensive compared to the shelving offered in the Michael Olaf catalog, and I like that it helps keep activities organized by providing three distinct areas for trays/baskets.

Finn will have limited, developmentally appropriate toys and activities available for his use on this shelf. Any toys that are not in use will be stored in a closet in the hallway and rotated in and out to maintain his interest and to make putting away toys a much easier task.

finn's room :: infant "work" shelf with montessori toys

I did decide to invest in a set of three Michael Olaf frames which have a space behind them for storing up to 10 illustrations/photos. The art on display will be rotated both according to Finn's interests and to pique his interest in other things. I have a collection of old calendars, National Geographic magazines, and other picture/illustration sets that I will use for this purpose. The set that you see here was a surprise find at Michael's Crafts - Martha Stewart's Animal Alphabet Cards. The little chipmunk is from Imagine Childhood.

finn's room :: nursing supplies, library books, and vegetarian-friendly lambswool fleece mat

The mama rocking chair we found in our attic - a discard from the landlord - who knew? I'm also very pleased with our lamb's fleece blanket, found here. I plan on using this a lot - as padding for my arms/rear while nursing and as a mobile movement mat so that Finn can hang out and play on the floor in other rooms, etc. I've heard such wonderful things about lambskins for babies, but I'm a vegetarian and I would feel sad whenever I saw that cute little lamby, so I opted for this animal-friendly, organic cotton-backed version instead. Plus, it's cheaper!

The burlap bags are from MayaMade (love them!) Right now they contain essential nursing supplies (flannel wipes, wash cloths, baby nail clippers, the little potty I mentioned before, etc. I'll also keep a stash of snacks and a glass for water for myself in there as well. I figure that, by keeping all of nursing essentials in these bags, I can easily move them from this location to my bedside, to the living room couch, the screened-in porch ... the list goes on. Portable, prepared nursing!

I found the adorable mini-rocker for $27 from Etsy shop RMD Creations. It's just perfect for a toddler. Once he's into books, I'll keep a limited, rotated selection for him on the bottom shelf. The books? Most of them are from my last trip to the local library - little black and white board books, some Eric Carle, and some more advanced reading if he's into listening to us read to him. The one essential? Favorite Poems Old and New.

finn's room :: movement mat

Here's a look at the movement mat. The mirrors are thrifted and securely bolted to the wall. We ended up buying the Sultan Snarka thin mattress from Ikea on the recommendation of Janice, fellow Montessorian and owner of Etsy store Pink House Handworks, where you can get a wonderful set of Montessori infant toys, including some of the ones you see currently on Finn's work shelf.

So - the movement mat. For the first few months, this is where Finn will hang out for tummy time and the important work of strengthening his muscles in preparation for sitting and crawling. He will also hang out on his back and be given the opportunity to concentrate on different mobiles hung from above with a super-duper, nearly invisible acrylic mobile hanger that I found in the Michael Olaf catalog. I liked its unobstrusiveness so much that I ordered another so that we can hang a mobile above our bed, too. 

I've mentioned before that Montessorians have a different view on mobiles than the typical nursery-decor designer. We like the idea of changing mobiles based on the developmental stages of babies - first hanging a variety of black and white, high contrast mobiles that are visual only (the one I have up now is the whale mobile from Michael Olaf, but I will be making several over the next few days and sharing that process with you). Then, once the baby can move the mobile with his feet, eventually realizing that he can grab onto the object, the mobiles will provide incentive for such grasping and various levels of grasping challenges. These "grasping" mobiles are hung from a hook in the ceiling and attached with a combination of fishing wire and elastic.

The movement mat is also good for rolling soft balls a short way to encourage scooting and crawling. You can also attach a bar along the wall at the baby's "pulling up" height so he can practice standing and cruising. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Eventually, once Finn is walking, we'll take out the mirrors and movement mat and this wall will become the art area and will sport a nature table, a la Waldorf.

finn's room :: birds and matryoshkas

Now, here's a funny side note: this print by Belle and Boo is the first thing that I ever purchased on Etsy. I bought it for my future child's room, years back. This darling boy and his bird friend are actually the color/decor inspiration for the entire room. And I can't help but think that my little Finn will look an awful lot like him ...

finn's room :: mama-made bird branch, belle and boo print, russian nesting dolls, a glimpse at our sling collection

Once again, just so you have all of the info in one place, I made the bird branch using an online tutorial. I talk about the Russian nesting dolls here, and in the corner you can see our collection of slings - eco-silk ring slings from Baby Pockets, a pouch from Gorgeous Baby, and a Moby wrap, which you can't see because it's already packed in the "bring to the birthing center bag"!

We're ready whenever you are, Finny!

the giving tree

view from baby's window

I love that my little boy will have such a happy tree just outside his window. Is it a Japanese maple? I'm not sure, but it's been in bloom for weeks now. It's equally stunning in Autumn. I'm thinking about making a bird feeder to hang on one of its branches.

Maybe it will become his Giving Tree. "Once there was a tree ... and she loved a little boy."

Ah, Shel Silverstein. Ikle-me, Pickle-me, Tickle-me too ... went for a ride on a flying shoe. I still have so much of it memorized. Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout would not take the garbage out. I remember when Mr. Silverstein passed away. I was a senior in high school. We spent the entire AP English class reading his poetry aloud. We all had it memorized, and it brought smiles to all of our surly, seventeen-year-old faces. What does that say about the man? His words formed the rhythm of our childhood. I hope they will do the same for my son.

And just in case you thought that I was all ready to have this baby ... not so. Here's the current state of his room (previously the guest room):

baby room before shot

Jeepers. Nothing can be done until the bed is moved. If I could haul the queen-sized guest bed into the basement, I totally would. Patrick and I can't do it alone so we have to wait for the stars to align and for my sister-in-law and her boyfriend to come and help out. This is a rough thing for me, being someone who likes to have everything ready months in advance (ask Patrick how early I finished my senior thesis in college - he would tease me constantly. Me: "I really have to write 10 pages by x date". Patrick: "But, isn't it due in three months?" Me: "Yeah. But I have to get it done now so I can do x, x, and x.") Chalk it up to my INFJ-ness. I consider living in and appreciating The Moment to be an enormous personal challenge.

Thank you, Furniture Moving Fairies, for helping me face my weakness with humility. I think that, in your absence, I'll just go ahead and take a nap since that's what I need in This Moment.

just barely booties

knit booties

Remember this hat? Last night I set out to make a set of matching newborn booties with the left over yarn. I thought it would be a relaxing project, a well-suited culmination to a day of sun, left-overs and porch-sitting. Boy was I wrong.

The pattern itself is wonderful - I highly recommend it: Cutie Booties Knit in the Round. She also has a set of instructions for the same booties knit on two needles, for those who prefer to avoid knitting in the round.

My problem? A teensy-weensy ball of yarn that seemed to get even more teensy and weensy very rapidly. I was totally biting my nails the whole time, because I wasn't going to be able to justify buying one more skein of this super-luxe silk yarn just to be able to finish 1/4 of a baby bootie.

Here's what was left over when I finished:
almost ran out

Lucky. So, so lucky.

And lo and behold, the baby now has a complete "first outfit" to keep him warm and comfy on the way home from the birthing center.

baby's first clothes

Hat: Hand-knit by mama, 1 skein Jade Sapphire's Maju 100% silk in Silver Fern, pattern from Leigh Radford's One Skein
Booties: left-over Maju, pattern from MadCowDog.
Shirt: Ruskovilla Oy newborn wool/silk shirt, a shower gift from my thoughtful sister-in-law
Diapers: Kissaluvs newborn fitted. I have 12 of these (thanks, Mom!) and another handful of hemp/cotton prefolds to start out with. I'm just not sure about making all of his diapers right now. I figured that we'll wait and see what his/our preferences are and then make the larger-sized diapers that work best for us. After all, we are doing EC, which should minimize our need for so many diapers in the future. We'll see ... I guess we'll just have to go with the flow - literally!

leisure sewing

Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm about the turned-in book manuscript! To answer a recurring question - the book is due out on shelves in the beginning of December. I'll keep you updated about the progress and let you know when you can pre-order!

oliver + s playsuit close up

I've moved on to leisure sewing, and it feels oh. so. good. It's kind of reaffirming that I still like it as a hobby even though it's my job. Not a bad job to have! But you know what? I'm quite happy to read and follow other people's instructions for the time being. After months of coming up with my own projects and figuring out how to go about constructing them, I really want someone to do all of the thinking for me. I'll keep my brain working just enough to feed the fabric through my machine while singing loudly and thinking about my baby boy.

Hats off to Liesl of Oliver + S for providing me with the perfect project. This is the first hand-sewn garment for little Mr. Rib Kicker, and I dare say that it defies all of the preconceived notions that clothing for little boys is not as cute as clothing for little girls. I say bah to that. (But I also happen to think that froo-froo pinky-doo stuff for girls is bah. Just my opinion - I was a purple girl myself growning up, and we all know that purple girls define themselves as complete tomboys next to pink girls. :) )

I think the key to snazzy boys clothes is to avoid overtly "boy" themes (unless, of course, they are on a nice Japanese linen/cotton blend). As I look at the pile of stash fabric that I've set aside for baby boy garment construction, I see a lot of linen blends, browns, grays, and splashes of red, orange, blue and green. Almost everything will contain at least a small amount of a fun print - primarily from Kokka.

oliver + s playsuit 1

I have a hunch that the baby will live in these short suits during the hot, humid summer months. Their design is friendly for dressing, as it doesn't go on over the head. The snap crotch will make it easier to work on EC.

I hope to finish a few more of these over the weekend. I'm also thinking that his mama wants to sew he needs some matching sun caps. What do you think?

Have a relaxing weekend!

it's done!

the manuscript is done!

No, really - it is ... I'm not just pulling one over you on April Fool's Day! 210 pages of writing. I love that stack of pages. "My Life in the Past Six Months" is what it should be called, I think.

So there it is ... stuffed full of thirty sewing projects and fun anecdotes, waiting for the touch of the publisher's magic wand to turn it into a book.

I feel like I've given birth. I'm riding this wave of oxytocin or whatever that "love" hormone is, and I want to twirl around and around and dance and sing. I feel so blessed to have had this opportunity to write, to send forth into the world a piece of my creative self. The whole process required a leap of faith in my own creative abilities - I had to work through a healthy dose of self-doubt. Little by little, projects were made and instructions were written, and with the "birth" of each one, I gained a bit more confidence. I may not have been born a writer, but somehow I've become one. And I'm happy about that.

Now I'm ready for the real birth. Bring on the baby!