Fun, plastic-free, low-impact ideas for giving to friends, and family, teachers and kids.
Read the post here, then leave a comment letting me know what you’d add to the list!
Oh, time. Knock it off.
Because, honestly. When did this…
When Sage was about to turn 1, a dear friend suggested a tradition to me that she was just beginning with her own toddler. An annual birthday ritual of dressing your child in an adult-sized piece of clothing, until–eventually–it fits. It is a way to watch the unseeable, their growing into themselves and adulthood, frame by frame.
And so it’s been our fall tradition for the past seventeen years. First with just Sage, then four years later with Sage and Lupine. Jacket pictures and marking time.
With a 17 and nearly 13 year old. Poof. Just like that. What an honor to watch them grow.
I will stand by the statements I have made in the past that watching my children grow, and walking this path beside them, has been one of my life’s finest gifts.
Thank you, Sage and Lupine, for choosing me to join you here.
The kids and I slipped away for a little “Camp Hygge” time beside the river this week. We embarked last Friday for one week away: our small car piled high with too many books, too much food, and more knitting projects than we could complete in a year. And, of course, three sets of snowshoes and cross-country skis.
We brought board games and sourdough starter; art supplies and wool socks; read-aloud books and bags of yarn. Everything we’d need for a hyggely week away from home, snuggled down in the northwoods at my parent’s cabin.
While it has been a snowy winter, we honestly had no idea how much snow would greet us upon our arrival. I can’t recall the last time we’ve had so much snow! Thigh deep! (And I’m nearly 6′ tall.) So much show, like all of my childhood winter dreams come true.
Needless to say, we’ve spent much of each day outside–snowshoeing, skiing, making ‘camp’ in the woods, and building a quinzhee (our favorite sort of snow fort).
Then back inside we would go, for hot tea, comfort food, and time thawing out by the fire.
On one favorite day, we packed up a can of baked beans, some cold sausages, and a few oatmeal cookies. We added matches, a hand saw, and pocket knives, then strapped into our old woven snowshoes and headed into my family’s woods.
We walked atop of the knee- to thigh-deep snow for some time, then, finding a sunny clearing in the balsams and hemlocks, we set to work clearing snow, gathering firewood, and making camp.
It was only a day camp, but cozy and homey nonetheless.
After a spell, our fire crackled, and our lunch sizzled.
We spent the day in our makeshift camp before extinguishing our fire, packing up, and returning home. We rolled back inside cold and damp, but well fed and contentedly tired, then warmed ourselves with tea and a fire in the fireplace.
After a full, delicious week away, we stumbled back home to the Driftless last night. So happy to reunite with Pete (this is a trip that just the kids and I take each year), Moose and Grandpa (the dogs), the barn cats, and this quiet valley we call home.
We returned much changed.
We are more sore and more fit; more fed and relaxed. We are simultaneously more tired and more rested than we’ve been in a very long while.
Back home, unpacking our cooler and our car, another adventure is behind and within us; another hyggely winter week enjoyed.
Happy holidays, dear ones!
I hope you are enjoying a joyous holiday season, however and whatever you choose to celebrate.
As many of you already know, our family’s big, annual celebration is the Winter Solstice. While we both grew up celebrating Christmas, Solstice always felt like a wonderful match for our family, and in the past 20-some years, we have woven our own traditions around this celebration of the returning light.
The four of us gather and celebrate the longest night beside the fire, spending our time playing board games, often dipping candles, and exchanging small handmade gifts with one another.
This year (like last) we spent our holiday at my parent’s cabin alongside the Wolf River. It added so much to our celebration, to step away from the day-to-day of laundry and to-do lists (and Wifi!) and just sink into the silence of the long, dark nights.
This cabin was built by my grandfather’s and my great grandfather’s hands. Even the smell upon unlocking the door each time we visit is as familiar as home.
This river, where I learned to navigated sharp rocks and swift currents; where I learned to tie on a hook and cast for trout is familiar as well. I know which rocks offer safe purchase, and which ones wobble, which are slippery and which will safely hold my feet. My parents and grandparents before me knew the same, and my children have unlocked many of her secrets as well. This river where we spread my grandma’s ashes, and where Pete and I–both clad in leaky chest waders–became engaged, and later married (arguably better dressed on that latter date).
It’s the river from whom we borrowed our name, and the place where we return again and again.
To rest, to celebrate, to savor. While this place isn’t home, it really is (if that makes sense).
We arrived at the cabin a couple of days before Solstice, allowing us time to finish gifts and preparations for the holiday. On Lupine’s request we didn’t cut a scraggly balsam from my parent’s woods as we have before (and as is always my first choice), but instead visited a nearby tree farm to purchase something fuller and, well, a little less “Charlie Brown”. Lupine was over the moon, of course, and I was happy to accommodate.
Back at the cabin strung up twinkle lights, hung our favorite homemade ornaments on the tree (some made by me, and others by my grandmother decades ago just for me, and right next door to where they now were displayed), and we set to work baking cookies and gingerbread for the coming dark, and wrapped up gifts to exchange throughout the day.
The gifts we exchange are small and simple: Lupine knitted a cowl for Pete, and I made him a hat; he is carving me a wooden kuksa cup. The kids got a windfall of mama-made Totoro creations on their request (t-shirts, hand knits, and ornaments).
One stand-out handmade gift was the gorgeous burl wood shawl pin that Sage carved for me, after hearing me express my wish for one for years. So thoughtful, so beautiful.
We played board games and nibbled cookies and gathered by the fire long into the night.
It was a lovely celebration.
After Solstice we packed up and headed to visit my parents for Christmas eve.
More handmade and thoughtfully chosen gifts were exchanged (like the towels my sister printed for my mom and I, below–gah!–), too many cookies were eaten, and lots of time was spent knitting and visiting beside the wood stove in my childhood home.
And after a busy season and a full week away, there has never been a cozier sight than that of our farm. This hardworking, scrappy, weathered home—messy floors, worn paint, and all.
And no where else feels better than that.
Wishing you and yours a joyful winter season, filled with peace and patience, self-love, and kindness for all.
Early yesterday morning, Lupine woke with a sore throat and a queasy stomach. It quickly unraveled into something of a mild (yet, um, productive) stomach bug that kept us busy for much of the day. Poor thing. We’re just not “pukers” (if you’ll pardon the expression) and stomach bugs are a particularly nasty surprise to wake up to, especially when the lot of us so rarely throw up.
And so the homeschooling rhythm was scrapped, and a bed was made on the couch by the fire.
There was a hot water bottle filled to soothe a sore tummy, teaspoons of water dispensed, and homeopathic remedies to take.
Before long the wave of sickness had subsided, a tiny bowl of brothy wild rice + chicken soup was devoured (and then a second, and then a third) and we were well on our way to health once again.
I thought it would be fun to share with you a few of our childhood-long favorite winter books, in case you’ll hoping to restock your winter book basket this season. All of the photos are clickable links (afflinks).
Most of the books listed we happily own; others we check out each December from our public library.
Wishing you all wellness this season. And happy reading!
A Winter Booklist
Around the Year, by Elsa Beskow is one of our favorite books. Though not a winter celebration, it’s a journey through the year. We can’t get enough of Elsa Beskow, or this title in particular.
Sky Sisters, by Jan Bordeau Waboose is a delightful tale of two Ojibway sisters, setting off into the darkness to see the northern lights. We adore this book.
It’s Snowing, by Olivier Dunrea is a simple, charming story about a mother and baby’s adventures in the snow. A gift for Sage when he was small, this book has a permanent spot in our bookshelf.
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Gloria Houston is a bittersweet tale of family, motherhood, and Christmas. A tattered paperback copy of this book found its way into our world many years ago, and it’s pulled out each December.
The Shortest Day, by Wendy Pieffer is one of the few Winter Solstice celebrating books out there! We were delighted to stumble upon the whole series at our library years ago, and continue to enjoy these seasonal books.
Children of the Forest, by Elsa Beskow is not a winter-specific tale, but a lovely journey through the year beside the charming forest children and their parents. A perennial favorite in our home since our kids were tiny.
The Big Snow, by Berta and Elmer Hader is an old-fashioned sweet story of wildlife (and people) through a blizzard. It’s charming.
We love Cicely Mary Barker’s fairy books, and the winter collection is no exception. Short poems about plants and their fairies are a simple celebration of the season.
Snipp, Snapp, Snurr, and the Yellow Sled by Maj Lindman is a tale of kindness and generosity. Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Reindeer is a lovely winter tale as well.
The Wild Christmas Reindeer, by Jan Brett is another wintertime favorite. If you’re familiar with Jan’s artistic style, you can expect this book to captivate you as much as her other titles. Beautiful illustrations and a sweet message.
The Mitten, by Jan Brett, is another visual feast. A charming story of childhood, wildlife, magic, and knitting. What’s not to love?
I would be remiss in not mentioning (one more time) my own book (ahem), Herbal Adventures for winter reading. What better time to get to know the plants that will spring up come April? And some (mullein and pine in particular) can even be foraged now for use this season. You can pick it up on my website as well!
And let’s end where we began, shall we? With another Elsa Beskow favorite, Ollie’s Ski Trip. Magic, innocence, and winter cheer abound in this charming classic tale.
When my great, great grandmother Anna was just 16 years old, she and her sister said goodbye to their parents, their community, and their homeland, then boarded a boat in Norway destined for America.
I wonder what what she thought about on that journey across the sea at such a young age. Was she fearful, hopeful–both?
I don’t mean the other European immigrants who had similarly embarked in search of a better life, but the indigenous people of this continent. The people who already occupied the land she now planned to make her home.
On the long timeline of North American human history, my great-great grandmother’s arrival on this continent wasn’t all that long ago. I still have her spinning wheel; her stories of the seven waterfalls of her childhood home in Norway are still shared in our family today.
I’m a fourth generation life-long Wisconsinite. My great, great grandparents arrived here from Norway and Eastern Europe, chasing the dream of a better life that the “new world” offered. These hills looked like the home they had left behind, and so they stayed.
State (or national) pride will only take us so far, and what we’re left with is a tragic and violent legacy that as a collective we often choose to ignore.
Growing up in Wisconsin, I remember tracing my hand on brown construction paper each November, then affixing colorful paper “feathers” with paste to create a turkey in elementary school. I also remember cutting a strip from that same shade of brown, and affixing those paper feathers into a mock-headdress as our teacher explained the friendship between the pilgrims and the non-specific Indians of lore.
Most Americans grew up hearing a similar story (if not making similarly culturally inappropriate crafts).
The land beneath my feet in my childhood suburban Milwaukee home was Peoria, Potawatomi, Menominee, Miami, and Očeti Šakówiŋ (or Sioux) territory. The hills where my dad grew up in the Driftless (and where my family now calls home) was the homeland of Očeti Šakówiŋ, Sauk, and Ho-Chunk. And the northern Wisconsin land that my mom (and her parents before her) grew up was that of the Menominee.
My mom grew up in a predominately white community just across the county line from the Menominee Reservation. She has a lifelong friend to this day grieves never having learned the traditional Menominee ways.
Not because she left her homeland, but because Europeans arrived.
And each year as Thanksgiving approaches, I think more and more of America’s true history surrounding this holiday. I sit with increasing discomfort at our table laden with food and steeped in myth, struggling with the story we have painted of the first Thanksgiving.
I feel a strong pull in two conflicted directions. The first is to find deep gratitude in this day that we devote to family each year. This is the Thanksgiving I have convinced myself we are celebrating, with our gratitude tree, homemade food, and time shared as a family.
This more important tug is rooted in a need to decolonize a holiday whose traditions run deep in our cultural belief system.
If America focuses on Thanksgiving as simply a day to celebrate the people that we love (as I personally have done for most of my of adulthood), we are conveniently overlooking the bloody handprint that exists upon this day, and upon our place here in North America if we are of European decent.
I acknowledge that there is discomfort in sitting with these stories, in opening ourselves to the implications. I’m certain in even opening this conversation here I will make some missteps. But putting away the myth and picking up history is our responsibility–as parents, as the descendants and benefactors of colonists, as Americans.
Sure, the tidy history that we learned in elementary school (had it been factual) carries a greater appeal. But learning the truth, and peeling it back layer by layer to realize how it effects indigenous and non-native peoples to this day is crucial for deeper healing.
I have a few links to share today if you, too, are interested in decolonization, putting away the paper headdress-perpetuated stereotypes, and playing your part in acknowledging the generations of violence done to Indigenous people across this continent.
As a white person, what I have to bring to the table is to simply acknowledge that we have work to do, then digging in and beginning to educate myself and my children with facts instead of myths. From there I hand the floor to the people below who know far more than I, many of them indigenous.
If you have additional resources to add to the list below, I invite you to include them in the comments.
Thank you for stepping into this uncomfortable space with me. It’s not easy to change traditions, or to acknowledge that our own actions may cause harm. Healing generations of trauma is no quick fix, but–like so many of you–I’m ready to show up and do what I can to begin moving in that direction.
This list includes:
1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving (afflink)
Special thanks to my friend Shawn Nadeau for editing help with this post.
Few things are more of a pleasure than celebrating birthdays and holidays with my family.
Our birthday traditions have been pretty well cemented since my kids were small. Yet time continues to catch me by surprise as our need for the candle spiral and birthday buntings seem to grow closer together year after year.
This weekend it was Lupine’s turn to celebrate as we marked her twelfth trip around the sun.
In lieu of a friend party, she had requested that we go as a family to a trampoline park an hour or so from home. It was a ridiculous amount of fun for all of us, and a quiet follow-up day on her actual birthday was just the ticket to rebalance that crazy energy. (And rest our collective sore muscles!)
Have you been to a trampoline park with the people you adore the most? It’s madness, I assure you. And totally not our day-to-day jam. But honestly, I can’t recommend it enough. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard, or jumped so high.
Her desires for her birthday itself were simple: a quiet day at home spent eating favorite meals, wearing PJs, and playing board games together. (Yes, please on all counts!)
She pulled out her favorite games, and we whiled away the day drawing one box after another off the heap. I think we got halfway through the stash below before the day was done.
In the evening as we set out candles and dessert, I found the birthday crown that my sister and I made for her when Lupine turned 2.
It was buried at the bottom of the birthday bin where we keep the buntings, candle spiral, and other celebration necessities. She hasn’t worn it since she was small, having preferred a newer, less juvenile crown that I made her when she was five, or – more recently – none at all.
I gave her mittens for her birthday the first year she wore this crown. Carefully snipped and sewn from an old cashmere sweater, she adored them. Yesterday, a decade later and with her crown again in place, we repeated that storyline.
New mittens, a beaming smile, and a birthday story by candlelight.
Hang onto your hearts, parents of wee ones. You’re in for a beautiful ride.
Postscript: If you’re curious about our family’s longstanding birthday traditions, there are a zillion posts in the archives if you search “birthday Lupine” or “birthday Sage”.
I also wrote a two part series some eight years ago about our favorite traditions. You can find them here and here. Many of the customs I outline (from the spiral to the story) are still in joyful use. And my free bunting tutorial is here, and my birthday crown pattern is up in my Etsy shop.
It’s hard sometimes to believe that we’ve been doing this for the past 16 years.
Pressing pause and pulling these old jackets out of the hall closet for our annual photographs (AKA: bribing our kids with ice cream in exchange for a picture).
As homeschoolers, we don’t have annual school pictures to help us mark time. So some 16 years ago, we made up our own tradition.
On the suggestion of a friend, we chose an adult-sized piece of clothing for each of our kids to wear for an annual photograph. Each year we would stage the same picture until someday (in the far distant future), the clothing would fit.
So we chose Pete’s old leather jacket for Sage and my Grandmother’s for Lupine, propped them up and took a few snaps.
We fell in love with this tradition immediately and we’ve done it every autumn since.
And from a beginning as seated, chubby, pink one-year-olds draped in heavy coats, we’ve moved on. They’ve grown up.
When they were small we bribed them with ice cream, to sit still long enough for a photo. It was the one thing I did just for me, the one time I bribed them with refined sugar all year.
And it was always worth it.
We still make a habit of the ice cream (how could we not?) but somehow–after more than a decade–it has stopped feeling like a bribe, and now feels like more of a celebration.
Yesterday we set off for the creek and captured this year’s edition of the jacket pictures.
Sitting here, with sixteen years worth of photographs spread out in my lap, I am thumbing through time as it unrelentingly spools out before me. Time is a marvelous and disorienting thing.
This growing up before your eyes business is no joke. It’s humbling, inspiring, and so much more than most of us imagined when we decided to have “a baby”. Because it’s not a baby we had after all.
It was adults we were raising, from the start.
Birthdays celebrations are my jam. Whether marking milestones for my kids, Pete, or enjoying my own birthday celebration, I love a simple and meaningful day centered around time together enjoying our favorite things.
The way we celebrate has changed little through the years, except, perhaps, finally dialing in our game. There is a birthday bunting to hang (I shared instructions for making your own here), favorite meals to make, and a day to take off of work, no matter what’s on the usual agenda.
Even in my teens and 20’s I took my birthday off of work, and now my team at LüSa is given the same, a day off to celebrate family, friends, and life.
This year my birthday brilliantly conceded with our weekly pottery lessons, and I convinced Pete decided to join us. For his first time at the wheel he was fantastic! (No surprise there.)
We spent the morning throwing pots, making messes, and enjoying ourselves thoroughly at the pottery wheels.
Back home there was ample time to knit in front of the wood stove (clay still on my jeans), hike to the spring to forage some watercress, and soak in some needed sunshine.
In the evening I even set to work exploring the herbalism course I signed up for (mentioned yesterday). It seemed like the perfect day to begin!
The best part of the day was that Pete and the kids managed all the birthday prep work, cooking, and clean up while I gluttonously relaxed by the fire. The food was incredible. Perhaps partially because I did zero to prepare it; perhaps because it was made with love; or perhaps because these three are fine cooks and bakers!
Likely all three.
And the day wouldn’t be complete without some small, thoughtful gifts handmade by my loves. We have never gotten into the habit of buying gifts, and I’m glad. That means the fabric, paints, hammers, and saws are pulled out for each celebration and the gifts are made with heart.
This year Lupine freezer paper stenciled some t-shirts for me from her own art (at 11 she can do every step herself, a tutorial for those is here). Sage took apart and rebuilt the gearbox of my stand mixer (wha?!), something that has been broken for the three or four years and sorely missed.
And Pete carved me two mind-blowingly beautiful wooden spoons from wood he harvested in his prairie restoration project. Whoa. They are amazing, and the ladle even has a little heart carved into the end of the handle.
And just like that, I’m 45!
(photos from previous birthdays, since today we’re covered in a blanket of snow and ice!)
When I stumbled upon “Thank an Herbalist Day” earlier this week, and discovered that it fell on my birthday of all days, I was tickled. Because what better newish holiday to overlap with my birthday than this?
And though here in Wisconsin this year Herbalist Day/my birthday looks more like Winter Solstice, I’ll take it!
Several of you have reached out to ask if I’ll be hosting another Women’s Herbal Retreat or Green Magic Summer Camp this year. And the short answer is: no. (Not yet anyway.) While I absolutely loved doing each and every retreat I have done so far, other projects have risen to the top and retreats are on hold until further notice. (More on that very soon. I promise!)
In the meantime, I’ve been expanding my own herbal knowledge, which feels fabulous. After months of research, I finally decided on where to study and signed up for a class with Herbal Academy (afflink). They offer classes at a variety of levels, from beginner to advanced, and the kids and I decided to study together as a part of our homeschool and my continuing education.
Herbal Academy is currently releasing a foraging and botany class that looks lovely, and speaks to skills many of you have asked me for tips to develop. (They have the class discounted today on account of Herbalist Day, so I thought I would mention it for those of you who were interested in furthering – or beginning – your study.)
And with that, I have birthday goodness to get on with. We’re off to make pottery together, drink good coffee, and eat all manner of delicious foods – cooked by my favorite people.