Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Grow-with-me Christmas tree


live Christmas tree next to 6 month old baby
6 months old, Christmas 2007

live potted Christmas tree next to 3 year old
3 and a half years old, Christmas 2010


And you'll love this week's pictures on the topic of "Elimination Communication" over at Natural Parents Network!

Find sites to link up your Wordless Wednesday post
at my super-cool collection of Wordless Wednesday linkies,
and let me know if you have one to add.
You can also link up a thumbnail from your post below!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Breastfeeding through pregnancy: My second-trimester experience

Even babywearing babies need a snuggle break


Several people have asked how breastfeeding is going while pregnant. I've wanted to share and yet shied away from it because it's, right now, kind of a depressing story.

In short, it's hard. Really hard.

I don't want to suggest that mine is the only experience. There are many voices out there discussing their own experiences, and some are a lot more positive — or are positive in the long term, looking back (so I will have to revisit this subject later on). I don't suppose my experience is any less valid, though I don't want anyone reading to think that this is how it will be for you.

I think that's what worries most women about going into pregnancy while breastfeeding, actually: It's all unknown. Will my milk dry up? When? Will my breasts hurt? How badly? Will my child react to the change in quantity or taste of milk? Will my child wean? Is that what I want? Will there be successful tandem nursing at the other end of it all? Is that what I want? And, of course, the questions start even before pregnancy, because you have to wonder if breastfeeding is affecting your fertility.

And no one can tell you, Here's what will happen for you and your children. They can talk statistics (70% of mothers experience a significant drop in milk supply during pregnancy; 26% of children seem to self-wean during pregnancy, and up to 69% wean, when mother-led weaning is included), but you can't know where you will fall within those statistics.

I had high hopes I might avoid the largest groupings, but…yeah. We'll see.

First off, breastfeeding during pregnancy hurts. It never used to for me, ever. Well, there was that one time I had a scratch on my areola that stung like the dickens, and I was always a little ouchy premenstrually when my cycles got back into swing, but in general nursing has been an easy road, once everything was established. I say this not as a boast but as an admission and a point of contrast. I always had sympathy for nursing mamas who felt pain on nursing, I truly did — but now I have empathy. When Mikko asks for nummies, it's seriously the last thing I want to do. And I never offer anymore. It's like if someone went around asking you at random intervals, "Hey, mind if I tweak your sore nipples again?" You really, really want to say no. Even when there's a cute and eager little face attached to the request.

Secondly, my milk? Pfft. Gone, round about the 15-week mark. I had such high supply leading up to pregnancy, I thought I might avoid the often inevitable consequences of pregnancy hormones, but no. I can't squeeze a thing, and Mikko has confirmed it: He's getting nothing. And the further downside is that dry nursing hurts even more. I'd hoped that the soreness was a first-trimester sort of thing, but it's not.

It's frustrating, because all my tricks to increase or maintain milk supply are useless now against the onslaught of hormones. Supply and demand means nothing to my pregnant body. My techniques to limit soreness, starting fundamentally with a good latch and no nursing acrobatics, keep the pain within (barely) tolerable levels, but they don't prevent it, and they don't solve it. I still flinch on every latch and grit my teeth throughout the nursing. I can no longer stay asleep during nursing in bed, because it's too uncomfortable; I have to try to wait until he's fallen asleep and then push him away so I can roll over and try to get some rest. I find myself trying to put him off nursing whenever I can, which is both an immediate relief if he agrees, but somewhat worrisome to me as a habit.

It's confusing, because I'm such a staunch breastfeeding advocate, a defender of extended nursing, a person who really, truly loved breastfeeding — and now I'm not even sure what I want. Do I want Mikko to wean? In the individual moments, I want not to be breastfeeding. When I step back and look at the big picture, I feel horrible that he might wean before he intended to or would have otherwise, simply because I'm pregnant.

There's this patina of guilt coating everything. I would never lay such blame on any other mother, but I can't avoid feeling it for myself. Our decision to get pregnant was, yes, a little carefree, but my son is three-and-a-half years old. He doesn't need to depend on breast milk for his nourishment. And bringing a new baby into the family is a good thing, not a cause for recrimination, no matter what the circumstances (I believe). I think, in the long run, that Mikko will be glad to have a sibling, and we will all be glad to have become a family of four — no matter what the transition means to Mikko's nursing relationship.

And, yet, I feel I would forever regret it if Mikko were to wean within the next months — because I would always attribute it to my choice to get pregnant, and to my negative reactions during the pregnancy, no matter how justified each element is.

This is how it's affected me, but how has it affected Mikko so far? It's been rough on him, too.

The decrease in breastmilk really has had an effect. First of all, he's constantly "hungry and thirsty." I know sometimes his asking for food and drink is a result of boredom (just as that has sometimes been his reason for nursing). But the fact is, he's no longer getting the calories and fat he used to from breastmilk, and it's had an effect on how full he feels throughout the day and night.

Of more concern for me are the other elements of breastmilk he's now missing. Mikko, like many preschoolers, is a terribly picky eater. Some friends on Twitter and I were talking about how we used to pride ourselves on our adventurous eaters — and then they changed into their current incarnations, which we can only hope is a temporary manifestation. Basically, Mikko's diet is white. White chicken, carbs, potatoes, pasta, and whatever sugar he can get his paws on. We're lucky if we can convince him to eat some fruit or broccoli (his sole vegetable). I used to not worry so much about his limited diet, because I knew he was supplementing with all the nutrients in breastmilk. But now, I know anything he gets is from what he eats. I'm feeling a lot more pressure to encourage him to variety, and it's all of a sudden.

Another important element of breastmilk is the immune-boosting properties. Mikko had a fever the other night, and I was so sad as he was nursing to sleep, knowing he wasn't getting any antibodies anymore. I worry that he might get sick more often and not recover as quickly; plus, nursing during an illness was sometimes the only thing that would comfort and nourish him.

But where we've most noticed a difference is sleep. Ugh. We're night owls, anyway, so you have to translate the times a little. For instance, Mikko used to go to bed somewhere around 10 p.m., and we would stay up a few hours more to get some work done, then all get up around 10 in the morning. When I say that we were happy one night that Mikko fell asleep one night, without too much struggling, at 3:30 a.m., you can get a sense of the frustration we've been feeling — and the exhaustion.

The night before that, I had lost it. I'm not proud at all of how I reacted, and I had to apologize to him the next day. I had tried to go down to bed with him at 1:30 a.m., several hours past his usual bedtime, in hopes my presence would lull him to sleep as well. Plus, I was exhausted, too. His nighttime sleep had been horrendous for the past week or so. He was kicking me, waking up with dreams, needing to get up to go to the potty, nursing several times a night and for hours at a time, a big change from nursing to sleep and nursing a couple hours before he woke up — a rhythm he had fallen into in the past six months or so. Combined with my pregnancy-induced tiredness and other stresses, I was ready for sleep.

But Mikko was not. He was pinging off the walls, rolling on top of me, kicking me in the face, chattering to me, trying to climb over me to get to my nightstand. At 3:30, after two hours of unsuccessfully trying to sleep through this, groggy and livid, I roared. I started swearing. I told him he had to stay in bed and he had to go to sleep. He called me a monster, and I couldn't disagree. He cried that he wanted to go downstairs to his dad, who would be nicer, and I refused to let him. I think at that point I could have used the cooling off, but I stayed. I sulked and locked us both in the bedroom together. Half an hour later, through tears, he fell asleep. I stomped down the stairs. I was still too angry to sleep, so I tried to get some of the work done I'd been neglecting without my usual nighttime hours of adult time.

Sam looked over at me and told me he'd asked Mikko earlier that day if he was getting any milk. "No," Mikko had said simply, "the baby took it all."

I about cried. For what it's worth, that's not the language we've been using about where the milk has gone, but that's how a three-year-old interpreted it. Sam pointed out that Mikko has nursed to sleep his entire life and now, within the span of a week, he had lost his full tummy and the warm, sweet taste in his mouth as his cue to drift off. It threw us all for a loop.

I assume that this part of the transition is temporary — that Mikko will figure out how to get to sleep and stay asleep without breastmilk. But, for now, it's tough on all of us.

And the psychological conundrum is ever present. I was lying in bed last night, Mikko latched on with me unable to sleep, calculating the months left in my head. I wondered, Can I really do this? Can I really put up with the discomfort for that long? I tried to remind myself it's only scattered times a day, and I only have to endure each one as it comes — but it's still not something I look forward to. But what I do look forward to is having an abundance of milk after the baby arrives, and the joy I might be able to give Mikko then if he hasn't forgotten how to latch or lost interest. I also love the idea that tandem nursing might ease Mikko through some of those early issues of sibling rivalry and make him realize we're all still connected, even though he has to share his mama now.

I watch him latch as he dry nurses, and it's still perfect for now. But I struggle, mentally, with allowing him to nurse so very much since he's not getting anything physical from it and since, no matter how often he does, my supply is going to stay the same. It's one of those weird contradictions again, because I'm a huge encourager of "comfort" nursing, both because breastfeeding is an act of comfort — but also because all suckling, in a non-pregnant situation, encourages milk supply. In this case, that second motive is lost, and I find myself feeling justified cutting nursings shorter and shorter, or distracting him at times.

I was hoping that maybe my colostrum would come in early. I seem to remember it coming in around 20-ish weeks when I was pregnant with Mikko, but I don't have it written down anywhere. At the time, it was a curious and interesting fact, a harbinger of what my breasts would be able to do, but there was no point to it other than that then, so I didn't remember the timing exactly. I've been thinking maybe if Mikko got some colostrum, (a) he'd be more likely to keep nursing, and he'd get some of those antibodies I like to pass on, and (b) it would hurt less. But I asked on Facebook and Twitter, and the responses were quite varied. Some tots like the taste of colostrum, and some really don't. Some mamas noticed a decrease in pain, and some did not at all. So even that's no true hope.

The good news in all of this is that, as mentioned before, I have an intensified sympathy for any other mamas struggling with low milk supply or tender breasts while breastfeeding. I've always considered women who persevered past such problems heroines, but now I can really feel it. I mean, the optimism inherent in a situation like that in early breastfeeding is that it often can be overcome, with help from a lactation consultant when needed. In my case, the only light at the end of the tunnel is birth.

My takeaway message from all this? Well, first of all, don't let me discourage you from trying to breastfeed through pregnancy. There's no reason not to give it a shot if you have an older nursling and are expecting already. Don't beat yourself up if you're already pregnant and are now in this situation; children can adapt, and you can figure out a way through that works for you and your little ones. See how optimistic and tolerant I can sound when it's not my kid and my discomfort?

If you're trying to decide when or whether to start trying to conceive while breastfeeding, all I can recommend is thinking about it carefully, acknowledging that, statistically speaking, you'll likely have to supplement nutritionally (donated breastmilk or formula for infants under a year, increased table food and drink for babies of an age to be eating solids). You also need to consider how you feel about the heightened possibility of weaning, whether because your child chooses it or because nursing becomes too uncomfortable for you. If your child is prone to illness or is under two years of age, you might also consider the effect on health of losing the supply of antibodies that breastmilk brings. For most women, there's no danger with nursing during pregnancy, in terms of miscarriage or preterm labor, or diminished nutrition for the expectant mother or unborn baby.

In the end, only you and your partner can decide if trying for another baby now is right for you and your current nursling — after you weigh the benefits of adding to the family with the drawbacks of what might happen to your present breastfeeding relationship.

I would also suggest, whether you are pregnant already or seeking to become so in the near future, that you prepare your older nursling for the transition as well as your child is able to understand and adapt in advance (depending on your child's age and maturity). It can help to be matter of fact and positive about it, at least outwardly, so you're not projecting your own fears onto your child. For instance, I started suggesting to Mikko early on in the pregnancy that the milk in my nummies might go away, but that it was all right — he could continue to have nummies, and if he was thirsty or hungry, we could find him other drinks and food. I've also kept reminding him that the milk will come back when the baby's born, and he and the baby can share, which he seems to understand and look forward to. If you know you want to wean (or night wean), you might start gradually cutting down on nursing sessions in terms of frequency and length now so that it's a gentle process. Even if you don't want to wean, you might consider finding methods of putting your child to sleep at night that don't involve nursing, perhaps getting a co-parent to help you. If your child will have a tough time transitioning to eating more solids or drinking other fluids, or eating a varied diet, you might try increasing exposure to foods and encouraging frequent snacking. We did some of these transitional techniques, but if I could go back in time, I would work harder on the sleep angle!

I started writing this post before Christmas, and just getting my thoughts out has given me a clearer vision on what I want, and how blessed we already are that Mikko and I have had this attachment for so long — and that we'll continue it, no matter when breastfeeding stops being involved. I'm going to try to be patient and less grouchy, and just look forward with him to the new baby's arrival, because he truly is excited about becoming a big brother. He'll be fine, I'll be fine, and the baby will bring us all joy. Eventually.

I'll stop back in with you next trimester.

Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and BeyondSome helpful resources for you from kellymom.com and Hilary Dervin Flower, the author of Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond:

What have your experiences been with breastfeeding and pregnancy? Did you wean beforehand, cut down during, or go on to tandem nurse? Or are you in the same boat of trying to conceive or already expecting and wondering what your course will be?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Calling for submissions for the January Carnival of Natural Parenting!

We continue to be delighted with the stories and wisdom our Carnival of Natural Parenting participants share, and we hope you'll join us for the next carnival in the new year! (Check out January 2010, February, March, April, and May, June, July, September, October, November, and December if you missed them.)

Your co-hosts are Lauren at Hobo Mama and Dionna at Code Name: Mama.

Here are the submission details for January 2011:

Gabe's 1st drawing of us as a family of 4 :)Theme: Learning from children: We are often reminded that we learn as much from our children as they learn from us. What lessons have your children taught you throughout the years?

Deadline: Tuesday, January 4. Fill out the webform (at the link or at the bottom) and email your submission to us by 11:59 p.m. Pacific time: mail {at} HoboMama.com and CodeNameMama {at} gmail.com

Carnival date: Tuesday, January 11. Before you post, we will send you an email with a little blurb in html to paste into your submission that will introduce the carnival. You will publish your post on January 11 and email us the link if you haven't done so already. Once everyone's posts are published on January 11 by noon Eastern time, we will send out a finalized list of all the participants' links, to generate lots of link love for your site! We'll include full instructions in the email we send before the posting date.

Please submit your details into our web form: This will help us as we compile the links list. Please enter your information on the form embedded at the end of this post, or click here to enter it on a separate page: January Carnival of Natural Parenting participant form

Please do: Write well. Write on topic. Write a brand new post for the carnival. As always, our carnival themes aren't meant to be exclusionary. If your experience doesn't perfectly mesh with the carnival theme, please lend your own perspective. Please also feel free to be creative within the gentle confines of the carnival structure. If you're feeling so inspired, you could write a poem, a photo essay, a scholarly article, or a book review instead of a regular blog post (though those are welcomed, too!), as long as what you write is respectful of the carnival's intent. If you want help determining that ahead of time, please talk with us.

Please don't: Please don't use profanity of the sort that might be offensive to more sensitive readers or their children. Please don't submit irrelevant or argumentative pieces contrary to the principles of natural parenting. You don't have to agree with all our ideals — and certainly you don't have to live up to them all perfectly! — but your submission does have to fit the theme and values of the carnival.

Editors' rights: We reserve the right to edit your piece or suggest edits to you. We reserve the right to courteously reject any submissions that are inappropriate for the carnival. Please also note that since there are two co-hosts on different schedules and conferring over email, our personal response to your submission might seem delayed. Don't be alarmed. We also reserve the right to impose consequences if the responsibilities of the carnival are not fulfilled by the participants.

If you don't have a blog: Contact us (mail {at} HoboMama.com and CodeNameMama {at} gmail.com) about potentially finding you a host blog to guest post. Please write your piece well in advance of the deadline in that case, so we can match you up with someone suitable. But if you really have something amazing to write — why not start your own blog? If you want advice, we find Scribbit's free Blogging in Pink ebook to be a very helpful and down-to-earth guide, for beginners on up.

If you have questions: Please leave a comment or contact us: mail {at} HoboMama.com and CodeNameMama {at} gmail.com

Links to tutorials: Lauren, Dionna, and her husband, Tom, have written several tutorials for our participants about how to schedule posts in advance, how to determine post URLs in advance, how to edit HTML — all for both Wordpress and Blogger users. For these tutorials and more, please see this handy summary post at LaurenWayne.com.

Stay in touch:

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Surviving well-meaning relatives while traveling or over the holidays

This post is part of my special HAVE KIDS, WILL TRAVEL series to give you advice and wisdom on traveling with kids along with some reviews of travel-friendly items.

toddler crying in a family portrait
One of the outtakes from our portrait with the grandparents. I should submit this to Awkward Family Photos.
When we were recently visiting family this summer and fall, I wrote down some notes about awkward situations and uncomfortable interactions that might help you in your own visits with family and friends — whether at home, over the holidays, or traveling.

This is a list of negative interactions, which is not to imply that visits with other people are to be feared or avoided. I hope there will be mostly bright moments as you witness your children attaching to the people who matter most to you, but this is a list that might help protect you against the scattered storm clouds that threaten your peace — and your parenting ideals.

Types of uncomfortable situations you might encounter during family visits:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Why we're not visiting Santa this year


Christmas 2009




Today's the last day to enter the Mothering magazine giveaway — a free one-year subscription for yourself, or a much-appreciated last-minute gift for a fellow parent.

And you'll love this week's beautiful pictures on the topic of "Breastfeeding" over at Natural Parents Network!

Find sites to link up your Wordless Wednesday post
at my super-cool collection of Wordless Wednesday linkies,
and let me know if you have one to add.
You can also link up a thumbnail from your post below!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Surf: Christmastime is here

Welcome to the Sunday Surf! Here are some of the best links I've read this past week.

I hope you're all enjoying the Christmas season (assuming you celebrate same). We went caroling around the neighborhood (with a group; it would be odd if we'd done it by ourselves). We quit early when we all got cold, one of the benefits of having a three-year-old along. I'm going to try to take Mikko out to see the lunar eclipse tomorrow night as it ushers in the Solstice. That he'll still be awake is one of the advantages that he's been having trouble sleeping lately — and pretty much the only one. We had our seasonal viewing of The Muppet Christmas Carol, which I am glad to report Mikko loved as much as we do (and we only had to fast forward through a bit of the Marleys and the Ghost of Christmas Future, who — let's be frank — gives me the creeps, too). We also watched the RIFFtrax Live Christmas Shorts-Stravaganza again, which Mikko loved and did not grasp at all was satire. We hope to go hear the Christmas ships this coming weekend, though a lot will depend on how rainy our Christmas is. Since I skipped last week, I have more links than this saved up but no time to pop them all in here before midnight, so check back on Boxing Day. Till then, have a joyous and blessed week!

    knitted sweater on baby with father My very first attempt at knitting a sweater, on my first victim.
  • "Can Knitting Save the World?" from The Practical Dilettante:
    "Knitting will not save the world. It won’t even clothe it very efficiently. It takes 15 – 75 hours to knit a pair of socks by hand. Depending on the density of stitches, a sweater takes 20 – 200 hours. This is a very slow way of making cloth. … Yet, here we sit, week after week, clicking away at a skill that was rendered obsolete by the ready-to-wear industry decades ago."
    On how knitting is slow — and why that's a good thing.
  • "Ropa y la frugalidad" from Kelly Hogaboom: On the intersection of clothing and income, a fascinating read. For instance, I had the same dilemma with trying to replace my fading wool coat with a wool blend — and finding the cheaper version, though purty, had none of the warming and wetness-repelling properties of pure wool. And, yet, whenever I try to price a new 100% wool coat, it's out of my range. So I have bought lining material to replace the sadly depleted lining and will try to pull it through another year or two. Kelly volunteered to guest post further on the subject for me, and I have yet to write her back to agree, even though — heck, yeah. (Sorry, Kelly, my inbox is the stuff of nightmares, as is the jumble of my mind. And mentioning this here is not a contractual obligation…) I've been sewing and knitting up a storm lately and musing on what is and is not affordable. For instance, my grandmother used to sew her family's clothes to save money — but I was noting that now sewing/crafting is something usually only families with some disposable income can afford.
  • "It Isn't Criminal to Be Poor" from Natural as Possible Mom: Answering an asinine pundit's talking-head stupidity about the supposed criminal negligence of parents who sign their kids up for free school breakfasts and lunches.
    "My family would have qualified for free breakfast and lunch when I was little. My mom never signed us up because she was too proud. I wish she had. We often left for school with empty stomachs. … She was a working mom who did everything in her power for us, but she wasn’t making a lot of money, and sometimes that meant we struggled. Since when is being poor a criminal offense?"
  • "Facebook's Zuckerberg pledges to give away wealth" from The Bellingham Herald: Like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, another 17 of America's richest people, including Mark Zuckerberg and AOL co-founder Steve Case, have pledged to give away most of their wealth to philanthropic causes. I keep thinking there comes a point after which making more money won't make a difference. It's nice to know some young multi-millionaires have noted this and decided to do something meaningful with their earnings. If I ever become a billionaire, sign me up.
  • "My babies were healthy without Lysol" from PhD in Parenting: I've never understood the heavy marketing of Lysol to parents. I could sort of understand to day care centers and the like, but in the average household, are such harsh chemicals really necessary on a regular basis? I was surprised to read in this post just how scary Lysol products are and have renewed my commitment to stay far away. Shared via Code Name: Mama's Facebook page.
  • "US Maternity Care: Still Failing Mothers" from Momotics: Here's a horrifying statistic: The United States loses over 68,000 mothers annually to maternal mortality, meaning deaths during childbirth or of complications following. That puts this country at a rate higher than 49 other countries, so that a woman in the U.S. is five times as likely to die during childbirth as a woman in Greece, for instance.
    "We have been taking steps backwards, clearly not forwards. During this time we have also seen a rise in managed births, and the way childbirth is handled. More c-sections, more inductions, more complications in pregnancy, and a slight rise in multiples. Not enough to warrant the cesarean rise by any means, which some use as the main culprit."
    Danielle points out that the groups most at risk are mothers of immigrant descent, limited English, and limited prenatal care availability, women in the African-American community, and women living in the inner cities.
    "Women of African American background are four times more likely to die from a pregnancy related complication, or during childbirth than a woman of white background. And of high risk cases, African American women are five times more likely to die than white women. Shocking and seriously alarming numbers."
    I will agree with that last statement. What's causing this at root (poverty? medicalized birth? lack of prenatal care? other health factors due to inequalities in healthcare? discrimination within the hospital/doctor's office?), and what can the U.S. do to reverse the trend?
  • "We Work Better Together" from Natural Parents Network: On gentle discipline and respecting your children. Interesting conversation in the comments, too.
    drive-by nursing
  • "Extending Breastfeeding Beyond a Year" from The Accidental Pharmacist: Look, my drive-by nursling is famous! I love the accompanying article, too, given that it's a subject near and dear to my heart:
    "This post isn't about the challenges or controversies of nursing a toddler - quite the opposite. It is about the normalcy of extended breastfeeding. The perfect naturalness of feeding a small child. It is about the fact that many moms feed beyond a year, unexceptionally. And that this behaviour, this choice, is the most simple of human acts. It is not sexual, restrictive or illogical. It is natural. It is normal. It is simple. And it is a perfectly acceptable choice for as long as is mutually beneficial for mother and child."


Check out Authentic Parenting, Baby Dust Diaries (on hiatus), Maman A Droit, Navelgazing, Momma Jorje, pocket.buddha, Breastfeeding Moms Unite!, Enjoy Birth, A Domesticated Woman's Adventures, This Adventure Life, The Parent Vortex, and A Little Bit of All of It for more Sunday Surfing! (If you also participate in a regular link list, whether on Sunday or not, let me know and I'll add your link.)

Feel free to add your recommendations in the comments. Happy reading!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Make a knotted fabric bead necklace

fabric bead necklace on personI have another simple tutorial for you for a last-minute Christmas present.

I saw a friend of mine wearing a necklace made of sheer fabric knotted around chunky beads, and thought, I could make that! So I did.

I like that it's chic and intriguing without looking overly crafty. It works well to dress up a plain shirt or add interest to a winter sweater. You could make it out of any fabric that speaks to your sense of style, or your gift recipient's.

The nice thing about this necklace is you can put it together for not a whole lot of money. You might already have the materials you need around the house, and if not, you just need a quick trip to the remnant bin for the fabric and to the bead aisle or thrift shop for the beads.

It's even something you could whip together by hand if you don't have access to a machine. It's faster with a machine but not overly onerous by hand.

I just made one of these necklaces for one of my friends (hi!) and am going to make a second for another, so let's hope she's not reading along…

What you'll need:

  1. Around 7-11 large beads.
  2. fabric bead necklace graduated pearl beads
    I lucked out and found these graduated necklace beads (above) on clearance. But any large beads will do, such as these inexpensive bulk beads (below). Try to get at least two different sizes to give your necklace some variation. You could also take apart an old chunky bead necklace you don't mind repurposing, or one that you find at a thrift store.
    fabric bead necklace bulk beads
  3. Small amount of lightweight fabric. Sheer, gauzy fabric works best, though any lightweight fabric can work. You can look for remnants, or buy a very small amount of yardage (1/8 of a yard should do it). You need only a few inches in length, and whatever the standard bolt width is should be fine.
  4. fabric bead necklace sheer bead choices
    Above shows one of the sheer fabrics I used, with different colored beads (pearl, silver, brown) behind it. If you have different colors of beads, you can see which look best peeking through your fabric. Below is a bead inside an opaque crinkle fabric; any fabric can work as long as it's lightweight enough to knot.
    fabric bead necklace crinkle
  5. Thread that coordinates with your fabric.

Putting it together:

fabric bead necklace width
1. Determine the width of your necklace fabric. Let the length of the necklace be the width of your bolt of fabric (generally 42"-60"). The length will become smaller as you knot. To measure the width to cut, hold your largest bead against your fabric and make a fold that will accommodate that bead, with a little sewing and wiggle room. It will likely be around three inches wide, or 1.5 inches folded, but it depends greatly on your bead size. Smaller beads are less likely to stand out from the knots so aren't recommended, but larger beads could work fine. Cut your fabric at the width you've chosen.


fabric bead necklace stitching
2. Fold your fabric over, right sides together (if your fabric has a right and wrong side). Stitch along the length, about 1/4 inch in, to make a long tube.
fabric bead necklace zigzag stitch
If your fabric is very prone to raveling, you might zigzag or serge the edges before or after stitching. It's probably not necessary, given that necklaces don't receive machine washing and rough handling, but it's not a bad idea if you're worried. Make sure you use a coordinating thread rather than this startling white I tried out because I was too lazy to change the machine; with sheer fabric, a non-matching thread will show through when turned right side out.


fabric bead necklace turning
3. Turn your tube right side out.
fabric bead necklace black tube
Then you'll have a long tube of fabric, open at both ends. It might change color, but don't let that throw you. Just joking.


fabric bead necklace middle bead and knots
4. Knot your biggest bead in the center. Drop your largest bead down one side. Fold your tube in half to find the center. Holding the bead in place in the center, knot first to one side and then to the other. It can help to slightly twist the fabric to pull it as taut as possible over the bead as you knot, and cinch the knots as close as possible to the bead, and in line with each other, before pulling tight.


fabric bead necklace outer beads
5. Add beads from the center out, knotting in between each one and keeping them as close as possible. There are options for how you can choose the sizes of your beads, and some will depend on what you have available. You could have one very large bead in the center, and gradually smaller beads heading out. You could have three to five large beads in the center, with two or three smaller beads at the end on either side. You could have all the beads be the same size. It's easier to keep the necklace looking centered if you use an uneven number of beads, though you could center a knot rather than a bead for an even number of beads. Keep trying on the necklace as you go, making sure the length isn't getting too short as you knot the fabric.


fabric bead necklace tube end
6. When you're done adding beads, finish off the ends. For an elegant look, cut the ends at about a 45-degree angle. Fold under the raw edges at each end, pin, and topstitch closed.


fabric bead necklace finished
7. Enjoy!




Other easy, last-minute holiday gifts:

For my fellow procrastinators, check out these ideas:



{Update December 2011}


I've finally gotten to test out my knotted fabric bead necklace with a grabby baby (huuuge hit), and I've made a new version with wooden beads to be, more specifically, a nursing necklace:



The shiny fabric makes it holiday-festive.

I've also made a couple more non-wooden versions for my mom and mama-in-law, for prettiness:


I was in a children's store today and saw some made from bright calico for little girls. These necklaces are versatile, and so easy to make quickly with scraps and supplies you probably already have around!


Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links,
and Mothering is sponsoring our giveaway.
See my full disclosure policy here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Free (good) Christmas music

I'm a fan of nonstop holiday music from Thanksgiving on, and especially when I can get it for free! Here are some of the resources I'm using this year.

Amazon MP3s

Amazon's 25 days of free Christmas music download mp3s

Amazon is once more sponsoring its 25 Days of Free, for a new free holiday mp3 every day in December through Christmas. They vary in style and quality, so read reviews if you're a beggar who's also a chooser. When it's free, I tend to download first and ask questions later.

You can also run a search for "free Christmas music" and come across whole downloadable sampler albums. Here are a few with decent reviews:

If you like the sound of a free album, look down under "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" for other ideas. Some of them aren't holiday-specific, but that doesn't matter in the long run.

iTunes Store MP3s

ONLY TO BE USED WITH FREE CONTENTIf you're an iTunes user, the iTunes Store also regularly has free downloads available. Not all of them are holiday-themed, but some are right now. Scroll to the bottom where it says "Free On iTunes."

Pandora radio stations

Pandora's Music Genome Project

I'm loving Pandora again this year for making custom holiday mix stations (available to U.S. listeners only for royalty reasons). So far, I have two stations — one that's more mellow, and one that's more varied and includes songs that all my family members like.

To get your personalized holiday station started on Pandora, click on "Create a New Station" and enter an artist you like who has a holiday album (or the album itself or a song from it). Make sure you scroll down to click on the entry that says "(Holiday)" after the artist's name, e.g. "Over the Rhine (Holiday)." That way, it should give you just holiday music that's like the artist or album you put in. Once you've created your station, you can click on "Options" to rename it (e.g., "Upbeat Holiday"), and "Add Variety" is perfect for adding in other musicians and styles you're interested in hearing. Then click "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" as Pandora plays songs for you; this feedback will let the system know what to offer you in the future.

Here are a few more Pandora tips. I've had problems when I've agreed to Pandora's suggestions for similar artists — and then realized I've added non-holiday music to my music station. Even if you like the songs, be ruthless about thumbs-downing any non-holiday music if you want to keep your station purely holiday. But see below for more information about thumbs-down limits. You can also go in to "Options" --> "Edit Station Details" to permanently delete seed songs or inaccurate thumbs-up/thumbs-down ratings.

With the free account, you need to interact at least once an hour or it turns off. This is pretty easy to do. Just "thumbs up" the songs you like. Be a little more cautious about using the "thumbs down" for songs you don't like — definitely do it (so you don't have to hear songs and styles you don't want!), but be aware that you get only six max an hour and twelve max a day. This includes skipping a song by pushing the forward arrow. To conserve your thumbs-downs/skips, you can let a song play out before selecting "thumbs down." I'll do that if I don't particularly dislike the song but feel like it doesn't fit the style of station I'm trying to build, such as non-holiday songs on a holiday channel.

You also get only 40 hours free listening per month — which is hard to reach unless you repeatedly forget you have Pandora on, unheard, in the background. So, when you're done listening, hit "pause" or close the window entirely. You can see how many hours you have left by clicking "Account" next to your login address at the top of your listening window.

You can play your Pandora station for other listeners by hooking up some external speakers to your computer. This could be nice for a holiday party, even though there are occasional ads.

Pandora app on a smartphoneI've also downloaded the free Pandora app for my smart phone that links to your online account. I can then plug my phone into my car's speakers and listen as we drive. It's like having my own holiday radio station playing all the songs I like! There are just a couple issues with listening in the car and/or on the phone app:

  • First of all, it's too dangerous to be using the thumbs-up and thumbs-down actions while you're driving. But you'll be tempted. Oh, so sorely tempted. Resist.
  • Secondly, the app is more limited than the regular online version. You can't rate songs that have stopped playing, whereas online you can scroll back through recently played songs to work your magic. For the safety reasons I referenced above, having this feature would be really nice for the smart phone app, because you could then do all your rating after you'd parked. I also don't see any way to add variety, which bothered me when I had just created a new station and it kept playing a very limited selection of songs. So I recommend getting your stations well established at home before taking them on the road.


Favorite holiday albums

Here's a selection of some of the holiday music I've discovered recently or loved for years. First I'll share my thoughts on how to access said music in a frugal manner:

  • Check your library to see if the CD is available. Unfortunately, at this point in the game, most holiday albums will be checked out throughout the Christmas season. Do not despair. Get in line, and be cheerful when your album gets into your hands in January (or March, or whenever everyone else gives up). Copy the songs you like to a special holiday folder on your computer, and enjoy having new music ready to go for the next season! If your library does not carry a particular favorite, this is also the time to put in a purchase suggestion. Check the FAQs on your library's site or ask a librarian how to do this.
  • See if family members or friends have albums to loan you. Often they'll want to share, especially if you suggest a (temporary or permanent) swap of both your favorites.
  • Look for online deals for mp3 downloads. Sometimes you'll get lucky and can find something completely free. We scored some last Christmas off Amazon, but I forget what the occasion was; it might have been a reward for spending a certain amount, and I don't know if they'll repeat it. I like checking RetailMeNot for current coupon codes and whether they're working for people.
  • If you must spend money, it's almost always cheaper to download the album as an mp3 bundle than to purchase the CD (plus pay shipping) or buy all the mp3s individually. You can also preview the songs (such as on the Amazon album page or at the artist's site) to see if you even like the whole album or just want a couple of the songs.
  • Particularly for smaller artists, don't count it a defeat to spend money on good music. If you can afford it, think of it as a donation to the cause of art. Artists might receive more of the proceeds if you order directly from their sites, so check the prices and deals there as well. If you want to send a CD as a gift, just so you know, Amazon has extended the Free Super Saver Shipping deadline for U.S. Christmas delivery to Sunday, December 19.

New & sweet

Tidings My Holiday The Dawn of Grace

Darkest Night of the Year Snow Angels City on a Hill: It's Christmas Time

  • Jewel: Joy: A Holiday Collection — Her voice is so beautiful on this album. You can hear her classical training shining through.
  • Rebecca St. James: Christmas. This one's a little more rocking than most of my Christmas albums.
  • Barlowgirl: Home for Christmas, because I'm a fan of harmony.
Joy: A Holiday Collection Rebecca St. James Christmas Home For Christmas

Barenaked For The Holidays O Holy Night Wintersong

The Gift This Warm December: Brushfire Holiday's Vol. 1 A Very Rosie Christmas

Christmas In Black and White Holiday Songs And Lullabies Christmas

Holiday Spirits Songs for Christmas Come Darkness Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas

A Child's Christmas, Holiday Songs & Carols The Promise A New Thought For Christmas


Old & loved

  • Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity, my favorite John Rutter album. Great for atmospheric choral background music at a Christmas party, fyi.
  • Anonymous 4: Wolcum Yule: Celtic and British Songs and Carols — despite the group's somewhat edgy sounding name, this is an a capella women's quartet that sings very old-time songs, often in old-time languages. Breathtakingly gorgeous.
  • First Call: Beyond December — this one's kind of hard to find, but I'm always surprised more people don't love it. Maybe it's because there was kind of a scandal with the group, yadda yadda, and one of the trio left soon after, but I love the blending of voices and the unique holiday songs. The song "Carol" makes me very happy and I wish I could sing it at church with my parents some year, but I have had no luck finding the sheet music anywhere. Oh, wait, I see the songbook on Amazon now — for $64.40 used. Heh heh. No.
Christmas Night: Carols of the Nativity Wolcum Yule - Celtic and British Songs & Carols Beyond December

A Winter Garden: Five Songs for the Season To Drive the Cold Winter Away Midwinter Night's Dream

  • Amy Grant: The first Christmas album I ever owned (on cassette tape!) was the aptly named A Christmas Album, and Amy just keeps popping out pleasant holiday albums with a mix of familiar tunes and a few touching additions. At last count, here are the other options: Home for Christmas, Christmas to Remember, and The Christmas Collection (a greatest-hits album and might be a good place to start, but contains some new songs as well).
Christmas Album Home for Christmas A Christmas to Remember The Christmas Collection

Holiday Celebration A Prairie Home Christmas: With Garrison Keillor & Hundreds of Friends & Acquaintances (Lake Wobegon) A Christmas Album


What are your favorite holiday albums — or ways to score good deals on them?

Disclosure: Amazon & iTunes links are affiliate links,
though not, surprisingly, Pandora links,
despite the big smoochy-smooch I gave them.
See my full disclosure policy here.