Cedar Gnomes!

Last year I introduced our new holiday friends: Nils and Thom. This year I had grand plans to spend a balmy autumn afternoon in the backyard with my craft supplies and camera to give you a detailed and artfully photographed tutorial to show you how I made my gnomes. Unfortunately, winter came to the greater Toronto area early and with guns blazing. I was running out of time so I had to work on this project within the tight confines of our small kitchen on a grey snowy day.

If you want to make some of your own, here’s what you need to get started:

Basic Wire Tomato Cages

I used a 30 inch and a 42-inch cage but if you can’t find multiple sizes you can always prop one up on a stool or crate to give the look of varied heights.

Evergreen Boughs

I used cedar because I have a backyard full of overgrown cedar trees but garden centers have other options that I’m sure would work just as well. As far as quantity, it would depend on the size of your tomato cages and the fullness of the greenery. I had about 40 boughs but my cedars are a bit spindly this year. The branches at the garden center were much more robust and uniform so you’d probably need less if you’re going that route.

1 yard of red felt (or colour of your choice for the hats) 

½ yard of grey felt (or colour of your choice for the mittens)

OR

Child-Sized Mittens

I made mine from felt because I had a lot of it in my fabric stash but a much easier solution would be to get a few pairs of small mittens from a thrift store. 

Knee-high Hose (for the nose)

Last year I made noses made from unbleached cotton but the fabric was too heavy and I wasn’t happy with the shape so this year I tried something a little different.

Cotton or Polyester Stuffing

Floral wire

I think the kind I’m using is about 20 gauge but it really doesn’t matter. P

Needle-Nose Pliers

Scissors

Needle and thread or sewing machine

To make the hat, I’m not going to re-invent the wheel here and instead, I’m going to direct you here to this tutorial. Just make sure to measure the circumference of your cages at the first rung and then the length from the rung to the top point of the cage and add an inch. The seam of my large lat was 21 inches and my small hat it 18 inches high.

For the mittens, I traced one of my own mittens and adjusted the size a little so they were slightly smaller. I cut 2 pieces of felt for each mitten and then added a little loop on one side of each for the wire. Then, I sewed around the edges, leaving a small gap for the stuffing, added a small handful of polyester stuffing to each and then sewed them shut. I have happen to have a huge stash of felt and in the interest of not buying more stuff, this worked best for me. However, if I wasn’t a fabric hoarder I would have popped by the dollar store or maybe thrift store and picked up a few pairs of kid-sized mittens.

To make your bodies, turn your tomato cage upside down so that the pokey parts are at the top and tie them together with floral wire.

Attach your boughs to the top ring with floral wire, working your way around the cage and fill in any gaps.

Next, you need a nose.

Cut your knee-high nylon sock in half. Knot one end and fill with a handful of stuffing. Knot the other end and then tie the two knotted ends together.

Slide a piece of wire through the loop behind the nose and attach it to the top ring of your cage.

When you slip the hat on it should cover the nose by about an inch.

At this point, you could call them done but I added a few little embellishments to mine. I’d had these vintage ice skates in my craft cupboard for years waiting for the right project. I didn’t want to leave Thom empty-handed, so I made him a little sign out of a little chalkboard from Dollarama.

Voila! Let me know if you have any questions. Happy crafting!

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Books I Read This Summer – Part 2

I hate to say this, but we didn’t have a great summer. Nothing really terrible happened – we’re fine. Everything’s fine. We just had some inconveniences and setbacks that made the season less than ideal. Our August vacation was cancelled due to my husband passing a kidney stone and we were potty training our stubborn 3-year-old to name just a few annoyances. Plus, it was just so damn hot and humid all the time.

On the bright side, because we spent so much time indoors over the past few months, I managed to get through a ton of books.

Here’s what I read this summer:

This is How It Always Is – Laurie Frankel

This was a really sweet, almost fairy-tale like story of a family navigating the unfamiliar terrain of raising a transgendered child. If I had to sum up this book in one word it would be nice. I’m not an expert, but I feel like childhood – before puberty hits would be the easiest time for a transgendered child and that’s where this story leaves you hanging.

The Good Daughter – Karin Slaughter

A woman in my book club recommended this one to me, assuring me that I would love it. She was so right.

In the midst of a plethora of personal issues, the heroine finds herself a witness to a school shooting and a defence lawyer, becomes involved in the investigation that followed. It’s a thriller told in a nonlinear style so the details of her past unfolds as the investigation progresses. It’s the kind of book that you need to clear an afternoon for because you won’t’ be able to put it down.

Love and Ruin – Paula McLean

Martha Gellhorn is a fascinating woman and it is such a shame that in the annuls of history she really only known as one of the Mrs Hemminways. This is a fictional account of her relationship with him. I loved The Paris Wife so my expectations were high for this one and I was a bit disappointed, although I can’t really explain why.

The Razor’s Edge – W. Somerset Maugham

This was actually a re-read for me. I’ve always considered this one of my favourite books although I hadn’t read it in about 20 years. The result: I still love it.

Narrated by the author as himself, the story is of a man who returns from World War 1, with survivors guilt and a bit of shell shock who rejects his upper-class lifestyle in search of a greater meaning in his life.

It’s a masterpiece (in my humble opinion) and If you haven’t read this already and are a fan of The Great Gatsby you will love this.

We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

We Were Liars is actually a young adult book but I’d heard enough good reviews about that I decided it would be worth a try.

Told from the perspective of a teenage girl suffering from memory loss due to trauma, she tries to piece together the summer she spent two years prior on her grandparents’ private island in Massachusets. There’s a plot twist that becomes fairly apparent as the story progresses but there’s still enough detail that is held back to keep you in suspense.

As a middle-aged adult, I liked it but I’m pretty sure 14-year-old Danielle’s mind would have been blown.

Someday, Someday Maybe – Lauren Graham

Yes, it’s written by THAT Lauren Graham and it was the name recognition that lured me into reading it. At the risk of sounding basic, I was a HUGE Gilmour Girls fan and you can obviously tell how big of a fan I was by the number of caps I’ve used here.

It was a cute semi-autobiographical account of a girl trying to get her acting career off the ground in the mid-1990s, so there are plenty of mentions of Doc Martins, payphones and Filofaxes. Overall, this was a nice beach type read and I really enjoyed it.

A Separate Peace – John Knowles

This is a story about a pair of high school seniors at a New Hampshire boarding school during the second world war. I think there was supposed to be some kind of moral lesson to be learned but I didn’t quite get it. While I love a good coming of age story against the backdrop of a world war type read, this one was pretty meh.

The Girls – Emma Cline

Not to be confused with the excellent identically titled book by Lori Lansens, this is a fictional tale of a cult similar to the Manson family told from the perspective of a now middle-aged woman. The narrator looks back on her misspent a summer at their ranch and it’s effect on her life afterwards. It was a good read although I felt that it was a tad incredulous at times.

Now it’s fall and the heat is less oppressive, my husband’s stone has pased and save for a few accidents, Little B is finished with diapers. I’m feeling good about the season ahead and especially looking forward to crisp cool mornings reading in front of the fireplace.

What are you reading this fall?

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What I’ve Read This Summer – So Far

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, Helen Fielding

A friend of mine passed along her copy of this book to me and she endorsed it as a vacation read, which is when she’d picked it up. I was skeptical because, as much as loved the first two books, I’d read them at a different time in my life. There are some things that resonated with me when I was younger but didn’t quite hold up for me 20 years later (I’m looking at you, Sex and the City!)

When this story begins, Bridget is the widowed Mrs Darcy, who had been focused on raising her two young children but finds herself ready to start moving forward with dating and a new career. Her journey is fraught with hilarity.

My friend was absolutely right in her assessment. It was a good book to just be mildly entertained.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, Jessica Bruder

My husband and I occasionally romanticize about a retirement where we would live in an RV, spending our summers living on the Bruce Peninsula and then moving south for the winter. That’s not the kind of lifestyle this book is about though. This is about the growing number of Americans who can no longer afford to live in conventional homes so they’ve hit the road full time. It’s written by a journalist who immersed herself in this subculture for a few years.

These nomads live in all sorts of vehicles – from mass-produced RVs to converted buses and vans all the way down to people just living out of their cars. Many of them travel around the country doing short-term seasonal work to survive. The jobs are often physically demanding and sometimes dangerous and while these travellers are of all ages, many are older. For them, Freedom 55 has been replaced with 10 hour plus days in an Amazon warehouse in Nevada or harvesting sugarbeets in the Midwest for minimum wage.

This was such a disheartening story and ever since I read it I’ve actually felt a bit dirty shopping with Amazon. With the increasing gap between the haves and have-nots and I can only assume that the next step for the United States will see the poor and aged driven into Amazon run Dickensian-esque workhouses when those people can no longer sustain their life on the road.

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life: Essays, Samatha Irby

I’d never heard of Samantha Irby but I was drawn to her book based on the cover. Sometimes you can judge a book that way. She’s a comedian and blogger and this book is a collection of essays about her life. It’s great stuff. I really admire writers who can take their complicated relationships, less than perfect childhoods and most embarrassing moments and turn them into quality entertainment.

The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah

This was one of those books that people just won’t shut up about so I had to see if it lived up to the hype. It was very good.

Told mainly through the eyes of a teenage girl whose father, a Vietnam veteran with PTSD moves their family to an isolated part of Alaska to live off the grid. In a remote community where even the most experienced homesteaders and survivalists could perish with the slightest misstep, they struggle to keep afloat while her father’s mental illness worsens.

Garbo Laughs, Elizabeth Hay

I read the first 100 or so pages before asking myself: what is the book even about? Then, I read 100 more and was still asking that question. Despite the thin plot, I kept reading, as the characters were engaging enough and the writing was excellent.

I still don’t really know how to describe it. It’s about a group of neighbours drawn together by their love of classic movies. I think?

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