Things I Love

Sophie’s Room

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Sophie’s room is slowly coming together. Months ago Andy’s Dad painted her bead board white, three walls a soft pink and perfect stripes on the wall behind her bed (quite different from the grownup, wallpapered nautical theme it used to be, when we moved in). And recently my mom brought over a beautiful, handmade quilt for Sophie’s bed—a birthday present, and something my mom, I know, spent hours and hours on.

And even though it’s not finished, Sophie loves her room. Anytime someone comes over she insists on showing them her room.

We’re so lucky to have the help of our parents.

Thank you.

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” —Nelson Henderson

Tsutsumu

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The word “tsutsumu” means “the Japanese art of wrapping items in an attractive and appropriate manner.” I’ve long loved homemade gifts and Sophie received many this holiday season. My mom made this one. Wrapped, it looks like this.

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Unwrapped, it looks like this—a delightful play land perfect for a strong and budding imagination. Sophie loves it.

My mom discovered the project in a Japanese sewing book, which she found in a small shop in California.

The project proved more difficult than many things she’s made for us, in large part because the instructions were, well, in Japanese.

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But it’s just a lovely plaything for Sophie. Unwrapped, Sophie moves small, wooden animals and trees (from Haba) around on Japanese linen. When finished, she simply piles the wooden pieces in the middle of the fabric, pulls the corners together, loops them shut and stores the entire package in a wooden cubby in our entry. (Although, it’s probably more accurate to replace “she” with “I” in that last sentence.)

Tsutsumu!

“In Japan, it is said that giving a gift is like wrapping one’s heart.” —Kunio Ekiguchi

Laminated Cotton

We live in a foursquare. Therefore our formal dining room is very much our everyday dining room and we use our formal dining room table (which has been in Andy’s family for years and which Andy’s parents had refinished for us as a wedding present) daily. Normally, I don’t love the look of tablecloths. But I needed something to protect our dining room table—something that I didn’t have to wash after every meal. My mom suggested laminated cotton.

Kaffe Fassett Laminated Cotton Millefiore Brown

Moda Martinique Sundress Laminated Large Flower Sea Glass

I purchased some Kaffe Fassett fabric from Fabric Shack and some Moda fabric from Fabric.com. (Amy Butler and Michael Miller also offer laminated fabrics.) My mom (most thankfully) cut the fabric to fit our table. I love it. It washes off so easily and makes everyday dining so much less stressful (no longer am I worried about Sophie gouging the table with her fork or if that spaghetti sauce stain is going to come out of my linen tablecloth).

The laminated cotton is also perfect for Sophie’s craft table when she’s doing something messy, like painting, as well as our patio table for outdoor meals (oh, how I miss those lately).

“A good upbringing means not that you won’t spill sauce on the tablecloth, but that you won’t notice it when someone else does.” —Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

Christmas Around Our House

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Last year Sophie made this beautiful painted wreath with Nini as a surprise Christmas present for Andy and me. This year my mom transferred a picture of her making it onto fabric and sewed it on the back. We used a tension rod to hang it across the middle window behind our window seat. I love it.

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I needed to turn our dining room centerpiece (Japanese Lantern Stems in a Profile Vase, both from Crate and Barrel) into something more fitting for winter. So I ordered some Iced Birch Branches from Nettleton Hollow, which, I think, did the trick.

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Finally, we have an advent calendar. Sophie enjoyed moving the marker (when we would remember).

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This year I used velvet ribbon from Sundance to wrap presents—upon its arrival I thought it looked so pretty I put it in a handmade wooden bowl and used that as a centerpiece on our kitchen table.

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My mom has made stockings for all of us and this year she had two more to make—one for Owen (top) and one for James (bottom). She continued the tree theme (and each stocking has a small, heart-shaped button near the root of a tree). James got stars out of respect for his middle name—Orion. They’re perfect.

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lighted snowflakes in the window

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Andy’s mom ordered handmade Christmas outfits from her sister, Susan. The kids looked so cute in them and they served as nice bedroom decorations while waiting to be worn.

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Sophie and I spent a particularly cold morning making a Christmas paper chain out of red and green construction paper for her art area—the boys watched the process from a blanket on the floor nearby.

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Christmas cards

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backyard snow

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” —Norman Vincent Peale

Best Triple Stroller

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I first learned about Valco strollers from my friend Peggy, also a mom to a toddler and newborn twins. I ran into her (and her fabulous stroller) at Cincinnati Children’s Museum. She found hers on eBay—in Florida. Friends, while vacationing in Florida, picked it up and drove it back to Fort Thomas for her. I found mine on Craigslist—in Baltimore. My mother-in-law graciously drove a good hour to pick it up for me, strapped it on top of her car and then drove it home. Several weeks later my in-laws drove it to Fort Thomas for me.

It’s not that Valco strollers are impossible to find. You can buy them new. But they’re expensive. Really, really expensive. Like, my-dad’s-pretty-sure-my-sister’s-first-car-cost-less-than-that expensive. But if you’re lucky—and determined enough—to find one used, they’re so very much worth it. But I say lucky, and determined, because they’re difficult to find. And you have to be quick. And willing to ask family and friends who live outside of Cincinnati (I never see them listed for sale, used, in Cincinnati) to go to some stranger’s house, and buy and transport it for you (and even folded, it’s big). And you have to negotiate accessories—or be willing to shell out a pretty penny for them (for example, the toddler seat alone runs $100 new). And finally, you have to be willing to answer strangers’ questions about your stroller when pushing it in public, because everyone asks questions about it—this can be difficult for someone who mostly just smiles at strangers. But it’s all so very much worth it.

A regular triple stroller (three seats front-to-back or three seats side-to-side) is simply too big for me. And a double stroller is problematic when Sophie decides she no longer wants to walk or she no longer wants to hold my hand or I’m in a crowded, high-traffic place. But this ingenious thing has what they call a toddler seat—I put the boys in the side-by-side double stroller (which easily fits through doors) and Sophie sits on top of them, in what we jokingly call her throne—the toddler seat. She loves it. The boys are comfortable thanks to the newborn headrests and padded straps. It steers like a dream.

Before kids I probably would have silently made fun of women who got so worked up about strollers. Before kids I probably would have thought $50 a reasonable amount of money to spend on something I’ll only use a few years, once or twice a day (if that). Before kids I probably wouldn’t have finished reading this post. But now that I have kids, an easy way to get out of the house, go places, explore and see becomes so necessary—not only for me, but also, I believe, my children. And while that may sound overly dramatic, it truly is difficult to go somewhere alone, with a toddler who needs hand-holding and two babies who can’t yet walk, without a contraption of some sort. My car requires car seats. I can’t bike with all of them. I can’t hold all of them. I can’t wear all of them. But with this, I can push all of them. And thus, I feel free.

“I have always had strong maternal instincts. Even when I was still a child I cut out pictures of prams from newspapers and imagined the feeling of pushing my own pram through fresh winter snow and seeing the wheels’ tracks behind me in the snow.” —Agnetha Faltskog