Woolly Times

Building the House of Woolly Thyme June 26 2017

Hello Blog followers!  It’s been a while. Quite a while. But, hey. Let’s be friends again. Or not. Let’s be acquaintances that run into each other once in a blue moon. Deal?  I could never be committed to blogging because sitting at my computer for more than 5 minutes at a time is difficult for me.  However, Instagram is where I like to hang out, where punctuation and full sentences are optional.  So, be sure to follow us there.

There have been a few changes on this site since my last post, which was an inexcusably long time ago. While Woolly Thyme Press is still a big part of our site and business, we have opened this space up to showcase some of the other aspects of our creative life. Yes, we wrote, illustrated and published a children’s book, but we have always loved to dabble (which translates to become completely obsessed and stay up all night doing) in other crafts and artistic areas.

Travis and I are makers. He builds, designs, and renovates homes each and every day. But, in addition to creating unique and beautiful living spaces, he also makes toys for our children and teaches them how to draw and tie knots and build forts. My background is scientific and technical, but I’ve always loved creative writing, knitting, sewing, handwork and making a fierce effort to DIY cute, fun and sometimes completely needless items for my kids.  We felt that this love of general makery that we share with one another and our children should also be shared in this space.

So, House of Woolly Thyme was born.

 

HOWT encompasses all of our current creative loves and obsessions (our Instagram feed is saturated with the handwoven wall hangings at the moment!) and we hope that you enjoy following our journey to live a fulfilling and creative life with our three daughters in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Check out the Woolly Thyme Shop for new handmade items for your family and home as well as our children’s book, or contact us for information on weaving workshops, weaving and knitting commissions, and author readings.

See you soon.  Maybe?! 


Life in a Little House - The Write Space is My Right Place April 07 2016

Over six years ago, Travis and I moved into a little house with our two little girls.  It was a sweet home with good bones and a warm vibe in a gorgeous Unesco heritage town where two harbours anchor a hilly grid of colourful blocks like a box of fresh crayolas.  Lunenburg is dotted all over with charming homes and inns, galleries, museums, unique boutiques, coffee shops and hourly postcard worthy vignettes. Lunenburgers (new arrivals and settler’s descendants alike) all seem to possess a craft or creative talent, whether it provides them with a means of living or simply a productive passing of time. If you can’t find your creative mojo here in Lunenburg, you should consider calling off the search because living here is beyond inspirational.

Bit by bit, we have been changing this little home. With creativity and resourcefulness (some may call that a tiny budget!), we have been tearing down and building up and changing, adding and subtracting and colouring. I say “bit by bit” because we have been doing this as our little girls grew and we added two more square feet (another baby girl) to the dusting of dolls and drywall plaster.  Our convenient average family of four became a logistically trickier family of five and along with that came more beds, more bicycles, more snowsuits, bigger shoes and greater needs in a still little house.  We have shifted the home to suit our needs, or rather, our childrens’ needs.  Walls have come down and closets have been built up, play spaces created and workshops converted and each one of these little additions or take aways becomes my new favourite space, even if it isn’t technically my space.

My newest favourite space in our home is this cozy cubby, nestled perfectly between customized his and hers closets in our master bedroom. It is a place just for me, a peaceful space to sit, think, write, plan, color, read, or simply drink coffee completely untethered. Sometimes I use it as my own timeout space, which is fitting since its creation started with a tantrum.  


It was one those days.  My girls couldn’t stop bickering, the laundry was mounting, the dishes were piled, cooking supper was a nightmare, and I had not even gone to the bathroom once without interruption.  I felt like Miss Hannigan from one of my favourite movies Annie.  I was dripping in little girls. Out of nowhere I threw a mommy tantrum. It was a minor meltdown, but obviously a successful one.

I cried, "I just want a little space, somewhere that's mine, only mine.  I want a place where nobody can throw their Lego or their dirty laundry. I want somewhere to write." 

And that night after bedtime, Travis cobbled a beautiful, perfectly pointed writing table from bits and bobs in his workshop.  The next day he picked up a quart of paint for the wall, and the day after that I made some curtains. I gathered some of my favourite little things laying around the house and BOOM!  My Write Space was born.

I love this little nook.  It is a retreat and it is filled with things made by our own hands, given to us by family and friends, or treasures scooped up from local yard sales.

Admittedly, my literary masterpiece has not come pouring out yet, but it will.  And for now, this little space is free from clutter, free from Lego, free from tutus and tapshoes, free from laundry and any other remnants of my mom life.  It's my space, my write space, my creative workshop.  It's all mine.


At some point, we will move on from our little lovely house. My space will become another’s space, and that person will make it just right too.  I envision it as a meditation space, or a reading nook with a big comfy chair and a side table filled with Giller prize winning novels, or perhaps it will return to its original glory with an armless rocker for breastfeeding a newborn just like it did when we first moved here.  If these walls could talk, they'd tell many stories. Maybe I will create them myself, right here.


Books We Heart - Favorites from The Winter Beard April 27 2015

This month's selection of Books We Heart comes from Beth Ann Knowles, a local mom to two sweet and muddy little boys, who kicked off 2015 with a creative assignment for herself.  Known to the blog world as The Winter Beard,  Beth Ann has tasked herself to complete and post a new creative endeavour each week to woo a giant children's book publisher and become the next J.K. Rowling.  Be sure to head to The Winter Beard's FAQ page to read some funny and juicy details about Beth Ann. In the meantime, check out what is on the Knowles' overdue library account reminder when they aren't creating their own tales from the heart. 

Reading with The Winter Beard

by Beth Ann Knowles

Do you ever find yourself at the library and your kids are everywhere and the books they’ve pulled off of the shelves are everywhere and the puzzles and blocks they’ve unearthed are all dumped and mixed and scattered? In moments like these we don’t always have the time or patience or wherewithal to choose good books to bring home. We grab the five most colourful books we can see; their vibrant covers popping off the shelf and into our hands. And then we settle down with our brightly coloured books to find they are just the worst children’s books we have ever read. The story is so terrible we think there must be pages missing. Or perhaps the story is moving along great and we’ve fallen in love with the little girl and her dear Granny and then we realize dear Granny is about to die. 

I’m all for books that help children deal with difficult situations, such as the death of a loved one, but I like to know in advance. It isn’t fun when, after a long day of kids sliding down banisters and jumping off top bunks, when we have finally settled them into a cozy pile of pajamas and we open up the new library book only to read dear Granny gets Alzheimers and dies of cancer. That is not fun at all. Try to get your wonderfully sensitive five your old to sleep after that. 

Has any of that ever happened to you? It has happened in our house; except the kids being wild part. My kids are never not ever wild. Ahem. Sometimes, it is the colourless books that are the best; the smallest and the plainest books that make their way into our homes and hearts and library late fee log.

I can’t help you with the wild kid in the library situation. If you figure that out, please let me know. But, if you do have a few moments to select books, or, better still, if you can reserve library books from the comfort of your home whilst sipping wine and watching Netflix, I have a few recommended reads for you.

In our house everyone loves Julia Donaldson. Our most recent favourites are Zog and The Paper Dolls.

 

Like her most famous book The Gruffalo, Zog was illustrated by Axel Scheffler so you can bet the pictures are amazing. The rhymes you come to expect from Julia Donaldson won’t disappoint and the message is fantastic. While our boys love it, I especially recommend Zog to anyone with princess-obsessed daughters; if you are trying to wean them off of that infatuation.

Julia Donaldson’s, The Paper Dolls was illustrated by Rebecca Cobb. The story is very lyrical and whimsical and does a beautiful job of embodying the adventure of growing-up and the fun and importance of preserving our inner child and the memories from our childhood.

We’ve only recently gotten into Oliver Jeffers’ amazing children’s books. My favourite is The Hueys in the New Jumper. I love when books have powerful messages but deliver them in subtle and hilarious ways. A great book to entice conversations about how great it is to be ourselves, to be different and unique.

 

Nicholas Oldland attended Mount Allison University in New Brunswick where he earned a degree in Fine Arts. Not only does he write and illustrate hilarious children’s books, he also designs clothes for his family’s company Hatley. Big Bear Hug was the first of his books we discovered. It is a great read, especially if you love nature as much as we do, and it is filled with charming illustrations and a positive message for all of us preservers of the earth.

 

My sister lives in England and her love of books has helped us discover some great ones from across the pond. A couple of years ago she sent the children Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack by Lynley Dodd. It is an adorable story of friendship and the wonderful silliness comes in contagious rhymes which you’ll have in your head for days.

 

When I asked the boys which is their favourite book there was no hesitation. They have been obsessed with Crosby’s Golden Goal by Mike Leonetti ever since we first found it at the library. My four year old, who cannot read, can find it within minutes of arriving at the library. The story is about a boy who quits hockey but then joins again after witnessing Team Canada’s win at the Vancouver Olympics. While it is not my favourite book to read over and over and over again, the story is a good one and can stimulate conversation about the importance of balance when it comes to extracurricular activities. 

 

I remember Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina from when I was a child. The book is a fun one and is great for early readers. In our house the peddler always sounds like JFK. I’d be interested to know how he sounds in yours. 

Another book my sister sent us is Bob the Man on the Moon by Simon Bartram. Most kids are interested in space travel so this book is an easy one to love. The idea of a man who travels to work each day to his job on the moon is incredibly captivating for little ones. And while you’re enjoying the story there are lots of opportunities to spot the aliens who are hiding on every page.

 

We score a lot of fantastic reads at secondhand stores. The Wild Girl, by Christopher Wormell, is one such book. Our kids love stories about children who do not-so-childish things, such as grow up alone in the wilderness with only a dog as a companion. The illustrations are simple and beautiful and when the plot twists and a bear shows up, any child will be completely roped in.

 

Our favourite self-help children’s book is Do You Have a Secret by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos. This book is fantastic for stimulating conversations about good secrets and bad secrets and what to do if someone does something bad to you. It is so difficult to talk to kids about stranger danger and predators; especially without scaring them. This book makes things a lot easier. It is a great one to have on hand and read on a weekly basis as it helps open up those lines of communication. Most recently the ‘secret’ in our house was that “someone said the ‘b’ word at school”. Interestingly, the ‘b’ word was “boobs”. Someday a secret that is not so innocent may emerge from our Do You Have a Secret talks. This book will help with those awkward or sometimes scary conversations we all need to have with our children.

 

I probably don’t need to mention this book because most people love it, but I will because it rocks. I think Love you Forever is one of the best children’s books of all time. My kids like this book but not as much as I do. Perhaps they don’t like all the pauses; when I am choking back tears and searching my pockets for tissue. This book gets me every time. To be fair, so does Crosby’s Golden Goal. I get choked up each time Crosby scores the winner against the US in the gold medal game.

About seven years ago I taught English for a year in South Korea. I read Love You Forever to my junior high students who did not understand much English. Even they loved it! No matter the age, race, gender or culture, Love You Forever will affect you. 

Lastly, I highly recommend making your own book. I made books for the boys a couple of years ago and they are starting to be able to read them on their own now. Kids love books about themselves so it is a great way to get them reading on their own. I simply did an ’S’ is for… type of book with all of the letters of their name. Add pictures of your kids or things in their life and you have a hit. I used Photolab for this but I’d also recommend Blurb

So those are some of our family’s favourite reads. I hope you too will have the opportunity to enjoy a few of them with the young readers in your life; there are some true gems among them. And I can’t recommend enough, going online to your library’s website and putting some great books on hold for you to pick up the next time you’re in. If you don’t, you might end up with some winners but you may come home with something like the 1964 early reader, Barbie Goes to a Party by Jean Bethell. A great book for you to read aloud to fellow adults, for a good laugh, but not a good book to read to your children, unless you are rearing a Kim Kardashian type.

Beth Ann lives in Riverport, Nova Scotia with her husband, children and dog.  She will be sharing her stories with the Bozzy Book Club this week at the Lunenburg Public Library.  To read more of her work, visit The Winter Beard.


Books We Heart, Part 1 January 30 2015 2 Comments

I have been working on a couple of children’s stories lately and have reached a frustrating point, a state of gridlock that any crafter or artist or maker of any kind encounters ... or so I assume and hope.  At this point I ask myself: Why do I think that I know what I’m doing?  Who wants to hear what I have to say anyway?   

While I have never claimed to really know what I am doing in the realm of children’s book publishing, I do feel that we have tales to create and share partly because we (like many other parents) have read thousands of children’s books over our short journey as parents.  Mind you, some of those thousands have been read hundreds of times each ad nauseam; some of them are just frivolous, mind boggling, make sense or not books that I could recite on demand like an annoyingly overplayed song, or books whose words we replace with toilet vocabulary just for the sake of making it new and silly again.  Sometimes our children adore books that Travis and I prefer to skip over, but we let them choose their books.  Some of these stories are well loved all over the world, while other books we feel a deep connection to but some families may just not get. 

Over the past 8 years, I would estimate that I have read Bill Martin and Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear 291 times; Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon 820 times; Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo a mere 465 times (this figure would be higher, but someone ate the book); and the complete Curious George Collection 130 times. Sometimes it feels like I’m in the middle of my own Groundhog Day nightmare.  But, we keep on reading.  No matter how tired, no matter how many times we have read the book, no matter how dog-eared and toddler nibbled the book may be ... we keep on reading.

With each of our daughters we have observed wildly different responses to books and reading.  Sophie, being the first born and an only child for two and a half years, had the pleasure of having both Travis and I put her to bed each night – a beautifully unsustainable routine that included waltzing to jazz music, measuring her height every single night on a growth chart, laying on the rug beside her crib while pretending to be asleep, and a whole lot of reading.  Having the two of us to her lone self meant that she could hijack us one at a time to read a baker’s dozen books before tucking her into bed.  Each time we would close a book, she would look up at us with her big try to say no to me eyes, stick her pointer finger up next to her right eye (I bet you thought that I was going to say stick her pointer finger up her nose, didn’t you?) and announce that we were going to read just “one mower”.  She did not ask, she told us.  And of course, each time we’d oblige.  Sophie would sleep with her books and to this day, at 8 years old, you can find a library in the crowded nest that she calls a bed with her miner’s lamp strapped to her forehead as she reads.

Norah’s growing love of books has been a wonder to watch.  She has always been at her happiest in someone’s lap reading a story.  Not a day goes by that she doesn’t run up the stairs upon returning from school to read to herself in her room; her way to decompress at the day's end.  She carefully turns each page and plays the narrator along with every character as though she knows what each and every word is.  Oftentimes she retells the story in the way that she wants or inserts some of her day’s occurrences into the plot.  At 5, she is beginning to read well, sparkling with pride and joy as she reads each sentence out loud, always out loud, to herself or whoever will listen.

Penelope is almost two and is at a point where she cannot sit still.  A pile of stacked books in front of her is a ladder.  Not in the symbolic ladder to knowledge sense, but a literal ladder.  It’s a climbable structure that will allow her to reach greater heights ... before she leaps into the air without fear of pain or consequence.   Reading books with Penelope can be a struggle at times as she flips pages and even switches books before we’ve finished reading them.  When we ask her what book she would like to read, it is always one of our Curious George books, or shall I say the most informative how-to guide for creating a mischievous life.  Some day she will sit.

With a house full of books for children, it would seem fitting that we would share some of our family’s favourite children’s titles on this blog.  These books make us strive to create our own stories; they inspire us in their own beauty, but also inspire us as we watch our children’s response to them.  This post will focus on some of our favorite Canadian titles.  It is just a short list of the many that we love and we love them for many reasons – a beautiful rhyme, a calm rhythm, sweet illustrations, a meaningful message. 

The first children’s title is one that makes my heart skip a beat each time we read it and was given to us by a dear friend when Sophie was born.  Newfoundland poet Al Pittman’s Down by Jim Long’s Stage (http://www.breakwaterbooks.com/books/down-by-jim-longs-stage/) is a beautiful collection of rhymes about fish, for children and young fish (as read on the cover).  Each fish has a name and embodies characteristics that will come to mind whenever you see a fish for the rest of your life, anywhere – in an aquarium, at a museum, in a grocery store, washed up on a beach, or even on a plate.  Too much?!  There are sing song rhymes such as:

Ella Eel so long and slinky met a squid whose name was Inky.
“Oh my!” said Ella slinking by when Inky inked her in the eye.

This book is a Newfoundland classic and was re-released in 2001 with the addition of whimsical illustrations by Pam Hall that beautifully complement Pittman’s poetry.  Down By Jim Long’s Stage feels like home to me, with phrases and references known well to Newfoundlanders.  I can hear my accent breaking through as I read it and can only imagine the beauty of a raspy recitation by someone like Gordon Pinsent. 

Something from Nothing is the retelling of the Jewish folktale “Joseph’s overcoat” by Phoebe Gilman (http://www.amazon.ca/Something-Nothing-Phoebe-Gilman/dp/1443119466).  Gilman’s other books, especially her Jillian Jiggs tales, are always a hit at our house.  But this retelling is wonderfully illustrated with another story parallel to the main story, similar to many of Jan Brett’s books.  In Something from Nothing, we see as Joseph’s blanket made by his grandfather gets worn, torn and reborn into first a jacket, then a vest, a tie, a handkerchief, and a button, while the mice living beneath the floorboards (in the other story) make a home from the scraps.  The kids love the repetition as the grandfather mends the tattered wears, “ ... his scissors went snip, snip, snip and his needle flew in and out and in and out ...”   We love the message it sends to kids about turning nothing into something and giving old objects a new life, a concept that is often forgotten when everything in our world is so disposable.  Our kids live in a house where many of their toys and clothes are handmade by friends and family. When something gets worn, torn and broken you will often hear them say “Daddy can fix it!” or “Mommy can fix it!”, much like Joseph himself.  That is, as long as it doesn’t have batteries! 

A review of favorite Canadian children’s titles wouldn’t be possible without a Munsch book, now would it.  The Paper Bag Princess (http://www.amazon.ca/The-Paper-Princess-Robert-Munsch/dp/0920236162) is a hilarious book with an unlikely superhero and a twisted fairytale ending.  One of Norah’s first sentences as a toddler was “you are a bum” after reading this book several dozen times.  She couldn’t wait until she heard the words “you look like a prince” before she would quickly pipe in with her favorite line.  The heroine, Princess Elizabeth, saves petty Prince Ronald in a crafty duel with a dragon only to be snubbed by him for her dowdy appearance.  This book has a great message for all children, but the dragon’s fire burns a little hotter for us with three daughters who we want to be confident, strong, and capable of outsmarting any dragon (or Ronald) that they meet.   In the end, Elizabeth trots happily into the sunset without her handsome, ungrateful and superficial prince. 

This post could go on and on and on (wait, it already has) and I am leaving a great many books out.  I thought, what about Bradley McGogg The Very Fine Frog, any number of Sheree Fitch’s books, or the Jack series by Andy Jones.  So I have decided to make this post the first in a monthly series called Books We Heart.  If you have books that you love and would like to share or your kids have quirky reading habits, leave a comment.  In the meantime, keep reading and reading and reading and ...


The Joy of Reading (and Christmas too) December 03 2014

This past weekend was very busy for families and businesses in Lunenburg.  The town was buzzing with Christmas events that included tree and schooner lightings, craft fairs, carolling, local shop sales and celebrations, the annual Santa Claus parade and a pervasive yuletide feeling throughout the streets.  There was so much happening that it was a challenge to fit it all in – a great feeling for a small community. 

We were honoured to play a small part in this weekend when we were asked by the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic (http://fisheriesmuseum.novascotia.ca) to give a reading and signing of our Oak Island children’s book.  The fisheries museum plays an integral role in our family’s calendar of fun.  We visit dozens of times a year and often find ourselves in the museum’s aquarium or at the Tidal Touch Tank on what-do-we-do-today? days.   If you are in Lunenburg, the Fisheries Museum is a must see for the young and old.

    

Our evening began with friends and sweet children snuggled around us as we read in the museum’s kids corner.  It was a treat to read to this adorable and attentive group of children and interesting to observe them as they arrived and scooped up books to read to themselves. 

   

From there we stepped outside of the museum with our hot cider to join in a countdown to the lighting of the fishing vessels.  We then danced to live music on the wharf and even tried roasted chestnuts, provided by the Grand Banker Bar and Grill (www.grandbanker.com), for the very first time.  It was a fantastic way to begin the season.

Thank you to the fisheries museum, to those who joined us at the museum on this very chilly night and to our good friend and talented local photographer Madeleine Kendall for photographing the event (www.madeleinekendall.com).


Planting Woolly Thyme October 15 2014

Welcome to Woolly Times.

This blog is not being launched, we are planting it. We hope that you will watch as we grow from a small seedling between two stones into a pathway that leads families on adventures as they read.  Woolly Thyme is often described as tenacious and sturdy; growing easily, almost effortlessly; softening and covering ground.  We hope to do the same with books that encourage thought, imagination, and connections to our past and present.

 

This blog will be a place for us to share the creative side of Woolly Thyme Press and the adventures that we lead as we create our story.  Follow us and feel inspired to create your own tales.