Hospitality and Resurrection: Full Hands Boxes and more from Bethany Farm Knits

Imagine you’re a college campus minister, and you’re also the mom of two young kids, both with special needs, who each have “specialists up the wazoo.”

Imagine you live out in the country in New Hampshire, with only your chickens and your vegetable gardens for company as you boil sap for maple syrup and research the ins and outs of farming hops. Your husband is in the military, and you’re waiting to hear if you’ve been accepted to a Ph.D program at the University of Aberdeen. And you have your eye on some goats, and maybe beehives.

What do you do with all your spare time?

If you’re Cindy Cheshire, you open an Etsy store, of course.

Affiliate disclosure: This interview contains affiliate links, which earn me a commission through sales.

“I don’t do many things in a casual sort of way,” Cheshire said, stooping down to feed her little flock, “Because I don’t have the time.”

Something to keep your hands full while your heart is healing

Cheshire’s shop, Bethany Farm Knits, offers an assortment of delicate, hand-knit blankets

funky cold weather accessories,

and sweet baby gifts, and also something unusual: Full Hands Boxes.

These are thoughtfully composed knitting kits designed as gifts “for anyone who needs something to keep their hands full while their heart is on the mend.”

Cheshire received a similar gift herself several years ago, after enduring the traumatic birth of her first child in Juneau, Alaska. The newborn was airlifted to another hospital, and Cheshire was too weak to join her for several days. Then followed a time in the NICU that she describes as “brutal, brutal.”

A friend gave her some knitting materials and instructions, with the note: “You need something to keep your hands full until you can hold your baby.”

That idea of full hands remained with her, and now she’s offering it to other people, hoping to share some healing while helping to build connections between people.

People don’t know what to say, so they say nothing

Bethany Farm Knit’s line of Full Hands Boxes are for people surviving deployment, a NICU stay, cancer treatment, an empty nest, and even a bad break-up. There’s also one for simply learning how to knit. Each box includes knitting needles, yarn, instructions, a pattern, notions, and an appropriate “empathy card” that helps the giver express “words you can’t figure out on your own.”

Since Cheshire works with college students, I asked if she thought it was mainly modern people who struggle to come up with appropriate words. She does believe modern people have trouble sharing “deep, authentic communication,” and that pervasive social media can make human interaction superficial; but she’s defensive of millennials. In the past, she said, there was no internet, but people were not necessarily warmer or more connected.

“I know some 65-year-olds who don’t know how to relate,” Cheshire said. “Very often, people don’t know what to say, so they don’t say anything. The tragedy is, that happens when their friend really needs them to say something.”

A beautiful experience

Each element of the Busy Hands Boxes is chosen with care.
“Anyone can go to Michael’s and get cheap yarn,” Cheshire said. “I wanted it to be something that had heart at every level. Something sourced from a company that cares, something aesthetically pleasing, and beautiful to open. I wanted it to be a whole experience, to make you feel good even if you’re not knitting yet.”

The hand-painted knitting needles are made from New England maple and Russian birch.

Like the needles, the wool yarn Cheshire chose is locally sourced from Peace Fleece, a New England fiber company that “works to support pastoral communities that have been historically in conflict with the U.S.”

They are currently blending domestic wool and mohair with Navajo Rambouillet, which has been purchased at fair market prices from families living on the reservation.

Then there’s the slightly cheeky “empathy cards” from Emily McDowell , which bear messages like “I promise never to refer to your illness as a ‘journey’ unless someone takes you on a cruise” and “Please let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason.” One Full Hands box includes a foil card featuring a medal that simply reads, “KEPT GOING.”

Cheshire heads out to the barn
Value in particularity

For Cheshire, a natural introvert who spends much of her day in pastoral work, knitting is often how she keeps going. “I need alone time, or I go crazy,” she said.

One of Cindy’s cats also enjoys solitude – photo courtesy Cindy Cheshire

After a series of stressful meetings at work, she’ll often find a quiet corner and knit for five or ten minutes. “Knitting gives me something to do in that space, to clear my head.”

She also knitted her way through a batch of nervous energy while she waited for a response to her dissertation research proposal. The topic? Identity Formation in Pauline Communities.

Cheshire says she wants to use the baptismal formula used in Galatians, Colossians, and Corinthians “as a case study to see how those communities might have understood identity, on a community and on a corporate level.”

She says, “When we read there is ‘no slave, no male, no female,’ we mostly use it as a kind of whitewashing. It doesn’t matter, we’re all one in Jesus! Everyone’s one!

But this kind of thinking, she said, can make it easy to ignore how identity categories are actually hurting people in the congregation.

“It just perpetuates power cycles,” she says. “People in charge continue to be in charge, and they don’t have to look at other people’s experiences. But everyone has value in their own particularity.”

What do you want to do with your time?

I asked Cheshire if focusing on that particularity isn’t something of a burden for her, an already extremely busy introvert whose mission it is to foster personal, intimate connections in her work on campus.

She thought for a while, then listed all the many responsibilities she juggles. She noted that when people ask her how she does it all, she tells them she’s not doing as good a job as they think she is.

Cheshire’s daughter, wanting to join in the interview, writes up a marketing blurb for her mom’s shop

But also, she said, “God has made this situation into something good. He’s forced me and my husband to figure out something about ourselves.  What’s non-negotiable? What do you really want to be doing with your time? Because you don’t have that much of it.”

Although she and her husband have no background in farming, they’re slowly learning.

“It’s a little difficult to really engage in care for creation when you’re surrounded by concrete.” she said.  She’d rather work the land than support industries that exploit workers and contaminate the soil.
Some of the fruits of Bethany Farm – photo courtesy Cindy Cheshire
Their first harvests have been small, but encouraging, and they’re hoping to add berry bushes and fruit trees in the future. Of their harvests, the Cheshires save some, sell some, and give some to the food pantry. Cheshire was recently overjoyed to hear that, after she donated fresh eggs, one client was able to make brownies for the first time in ages.

“In my career,” Cheshire said, “I’ve gotten very comfortable with the fact that I rarely see the harvest. My entire job is to plant seeds and let God grow them, and maybe a few years down the line I’ll get a text message or an email from a former student saying how much their time at Newman meant to them.”

But establishing a farm gives her “something very solid to hold onto.”

Eggs from Bethany Farm chickens – photo courtesy Cindy Cheshire
Spiritual health is a real thing

One professional project she’s chosen is to reignite an interest in the spiritual life among apathetic college students. Very few students feel any kind of religious affiliation, she said, and the ones who consider themselves Catholic aren’t much interested in community; so she’s working on reformulating her approach.

“You can’t convince people to enrich their Catholic identity if they don’t see the value of spirituality to begin with,” she said. She had been warned that the campus was an anti-religious place, but is proud of the connections she’s made. She collaborates often with other groups, and sponsors “crafternoons” where students can work off some nervous energy of their own, making and building together.

“We’re trying to encourage the campus community to tend to their spiritual health, to realize that’s a real thing, just like their physical and emotional health.”

Cheshire is currently working her way through the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, which, she said, are about “finding the dignity of everything, finding God in everything.”

One of the Cheshire flock – photo courtesy Cindy Cheshire

I asked whether even knitting was part of that.

She said, “I love watching the process of turning a pile of string into something beautiful. It’s something that’s real, and something that’s very elemental. It’s the absolute opposite of digital, and it connects you to all these generations of people who have done this before.”

Cheshire said knitting forces her to notice and intentionally relax the tension she holds in her hands. She was recently contemplating the hidden years of Christ, before He began His public ministry. The takeaway, she said, was Christ saying, “Remember, I was an artisan, too.”

Hospitality and resurrection

Cheshire deliberately keeps the price of her goods as low as possible. She recalls wishing she could live Catholic social teaching by supporting small businesses, but she just couldn’t afford it. “If it’s a gift, it has to be affordable,” she said.

chalkboard wall in the Cheshire kitchen – photo courtesy Cindy Cheshire

Why the name, “Bethany Farm Knits?” Her shop, and her five-acre farm, are named after Bethlehem Farm in West Virginia. It’s a family of intentional Catholic communities, where Cheshire has led mission trips with the students from the Newman Center. The farms are named after Biblical towns, and the Cheshires chose “Bethany” for theirs.

She said ,”It’s where Jesus experienced friendship and hospitality” with His friends Mary and Martha — and also resurrection, when He raised their brother Lazarus from the dead.

“Those things are very much a theme in our family life,” Cheshire said: “Hospitality and resurrection.”

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Handmade Gift Guide for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day! Work it out, people! And really, you need to get it done by the 13th, not the 14th, because ashes and chocolates just don’t mix.

If you’re in the market for a gift for the one you love (or the friend you like), here are some lovely choices — all handmade.

Affiliate disclosure: Most of the links below are affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission of sales made through these links. 

And now for the gifts!

Handcrafted luxury yarn from Threads and Tales

Does your true love knit? How about a few skeins of luxuriously soft, ethically sourced yarns, some hand-spun (“on a spinning wheel like a legit pilgrim”), all hand dyed with safe, edible dyes? Em Ro and her family (including kids ages five and two, who help choose color pairings) have deliberately priced their goods much lower than similar yard of this quality. Here are a few that caught my eye:

100% Merino wool in “Little Red Riding Hood:”

Deep scarlet reds with cayenne pepper and paprika with very slight tones throughout, offering the beauty of tonal without a rainbow of colors.

Here’s a hand-spun and hand dyed selection in subtle, evocative tones, called “Moby Dick:”

Gorgeous. Threads and Tales also offers sturdy little handmade stitch markers in cute designs, including the Wonder Woman logo.

Door Number 9 puts the Saint back in St. Valentine’s Day

My love for Elisa Low’s work is legendary, and she’s always coming up with something new and quirky. This year, she has a valentine for everyone, with these moving and heartfelt Song of Solomon Valentines:

How can you possibly go wrong expressing your love with direct quotations from the Bible? How??

Set of eight valentines (with envelopes) with quotes from the Song of Songs.

More of Elisa’s antic humor: This St. Valentine Icon Magnet helps us remember the real reason for the season: Gory martyrdom.

Wie romantisch!

Elisa also offers a wide array of unusual, geeky handmade goods, from medieval bestiary tea wallets, to her very popular “Heretical nonsense: For research purposes only” stamp for the reader who knows better, to the replica of the Hamiltons’ interlocking wedding ring.

 Molded leather cigar cases from Lavish Expressions

Ooh, aren’t these swanky? Almost enough to make me want to smoke a cigar.  These handmade molded cigar cases can be monogrammed for free.

Molded full grain leather three finger cigar case, 3.75″ X 7.5.” Made of premium full grained vegetable tanned leather and stitched with bonded nylon thread.

Handmade in Arkansas by Tanya and Gerrod Desselle of Lavish Expressions. Order soon; they take a few weeks to make. Also many other sumptuous leather handmade goods, including iPad covers, messenger bags, journal cases, and more.

Dark chocolate whiskey truffles  from Sweet Addict

Well, chocolate, of course. Here are a dozen handmade truffles for a very reasonable price, guaranteed fresh upon arrival, filled with a dark chocolate ganache infused with Jameson Whiskey.

Many other truffles and fancy pants handmade treats available, including Red Velvet Truffles, S’Mores Valentine Gift Sets, and an assortment of fabulous caramel sauces.

Chain mail jewelry from Iron Lace Design

Spend $30 at IronLaceDesign and get 30% off your order!

So popular, and for good reason: feast your eyes on this opulent steel and green jasper chain mail choker.

I have a version of this magnificent necklace, and when I put it on, it makes me feel like the empress of the universe. It’s heavy, sleek, strong.

Or take a look at this sweet, bright little bracelet, silver plated chain mail with a fiery crystal nestled inside:

Many more styles at Iron Lace Designs, including heirloom-quality rosaries, plunge necklaces, pendants, earrings, and steampunk jewelry made of intricate watch findings.

Brilliant sacred art from Brightly Hude Studio

Here’s an arresting and luminous card, “Keep Us Near to Thee,” from Brightly Hude Studio by Adalee Hude: two hearts joined by the Sacred Heart:

Blank inside, and I think it’s framable.

Also check out the many other brilliant prints and original artwork, some with 23K gilding. I like this cheerful  giclée image of John Paul II.

Hammered tin Sacred Heart wall ornament from Mexico

Okay, yes, this is a Day of the Dead wall ornament. But it has a heart. The Sacred Heart. And flying skeletons! Are you going to argue with that?

Hand-hammered tin, hand painted in Mexico. I bought one of these with my birthday money last year, and it’s now in my kitchen. It makes me think of that line from Flannery O’Connor’s story “Revelation:” Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.

It was bigger than I expected, almost nineteen inches from tip to tip. I love it. Also see this unpainted tin Sacred Heart Milagro.

Bright flower jewelry in February from Smile With Flower

Ah, I love this resin jewelry made with real flowers, so your love can bring a bit of summer with her wherever she goes.

Many more designs, including very cute coffee bean earrings , and also bracelets, globe and terrarium pendants, stud and petal earrings, and

“You Are My Sunshine” card by Timothy Hodge


I admire the intensity in this solar flare card!

The message laconically notes, “You are my sunshine.”  Available through Zazzle; computer image by Timothy Hodge, Customizable size
Leather wrap beaded boho bracelets from Long Lane Jewelry

Isn’t this wrap bracelet lovely? Fresh, subtle shades of agate with silver and leather.

It’s playful but not juvenile. Frosted Agate Beads, Natural Antique Brown Genuine Leather, Handmade Sterling Silver Infinity Charm, Charm of your Choice. A heart, say!
Many more funky, fetching bracelets, many unisex, at Long Lane Jewelry.
 Stunning skyscapes by The Crain Wife Art
Anna Crain sent me images of her flower paintings as possible Valentine’s gifts. They’re beautiful, but her skyscapes knocked my socks off. Here’s “Morning By Morning:”

part of the “Faithfulness Collection.”

Here’s another splendid one: “Bright Hope.”

The Crain Wife Art is fairly new as a professional artist. One to watch!

Custom fashion portraits by Samia Lynn

Here’s a thoughtful and romantic gesture: transform your photo into a hand-drawn portrait. Here’s a sample of one fashion illustration Samantha made for a bride and groom:


Samantha also does portraits for graduations, engagements, family portraits, anniversaries, and more.

Morse code secret message necklaces from Apple and Azalea
I love this: spell out a word or message in Morse code, and go ahead and wear it.  Here’s an attractive, unisex “Totus Tuus” necklace:

Theresa takes custom orders, but they need to be placed by Tuesday 2/6 for delivery by Valentine’s Day. 


Copper jewelry from Cherokee Copper

Simple, classic designs by a Cherokee artist (and Catholic deacon!).

Original art prints by Kabuki Girl

. . . also known as (stifles screams of pride with some difficulty) my daughter, Lena Fisher. Here are my two recent favorites:


From her RedBubble store, you can order this image as a print, as a journal, as a phone case, and more.

and here’s Mary:

And there it is! Happy Valentime.

50+ gifts our ten kids loved: The 2017 list

It’s the fourth annual Fisher family Christmas gift recommendation list! These are all products our family owns and has enjoyed. You can find my 2014 list here, my 2015 list here, and my 2016 list here.

Many, but not all of these are from Amazon. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

And now for the presents:

1.Turn table with built in speakers

Good little machine for the price, and has held up well.

2. Acoustic Yamaha guitar with case and accessories



3. Squier by Fender “Mini” Strat Beginner Electric Guitar with Rosewood Fingerboard

Great starter electric guitar. It’s . . . so loud.

4. Distortion pedal bundle

This, my daughter notes, is the same one Curt Cobain had. Ha cha cha!

5. Machete

Good for clearing brush, gathering kindling, or just choppa-choppa-choppa. Hey, they have ten fingers, plenty to spare.

6. Prismacolor double-ended manga markers

A nice set for sketching, drawing comics, etc. Good, rich colors.

7. Light saber screwdriver set

These are on the small side, so they are not for heavy duty jobs, but they are real screw drivers, and solid.

8. Fox hat with ear flaps

As advertised. Cute! Runs a tiny bit small, so not for kids with tons of hair or giant heads.

9. OceanPetal Art Studio flower jewelry (Etsy)

So many gorgeous designs. Flora in resin, bracelets, pendants, and more. We have a lovely flat pendant with yellow flowers.

10. Otamatone

This . . . is a little hard to explain. The stem is a touch-sensitive electronic music-maker, so if you press or slide your finger along it, you can make different tones. Then, with your other hand, you squeeze the flexible sides of the mouth to open or close it, to change the volume, to make the sound staccato or give it vibrato, etc. It. Is. Hilarious. It looks like the little guy is singing. It’s the cheesiest imaginable synthesizer sound.

11. Princess Leia Bun Hat

Warm and snug. And who might you be?

12. Hellboy Library Editions

The library editions are compilations of the comic books bound in heavy, oversized hardcover. My son rather heatedly explains: “Hellboy is Catholic. He fights monsters. He helps save babies. He gets help from priests a lot. It’s mythology based. The art is pretty gory, appropriate for age 13 and up.” And that is a direct quote.

13. Jewelry and rosaries from IronLace Design

We don’t have this particular piece ($45), but we have several necklaces, bracelets, and a rosary from Kyra Matsui’s studio, and they are all fantastic. Beautiful, original, strong, and striking. Chainmail and vintage watch parts.
COUPON! Get 30% off storewide with coupon code: NARKNON  Good until Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017.

14. Samsung Chromebook 3, 11.6″, 4GB RAM, 16GB eMMC

We have two of these (one for a college kid, one for a reporter). A good option for all-purpose computering, fine for movies and streaming. We used to buy refurbished, but now we get cheaper new machines so we can get the warranty. You have to get used to storing everything on Google Drive or saving it on a disk, rather than on your machine. A solid choice that doesn’t cost a million dollars.

15. Canvas Messenger Bag 

Amazingly sturdy at a great price. Nice and roomy and attractive, and the strap is comfortable. It’s bigger than it looks in the picture, believe it or not.

16. Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

A good introduction to Terry Pratchett and Discworld. Sergeant Vimes is the best. This one has a lot of dragons in it.

17. 10 x 50 Binoculars 

Good and heavy, smooth and easy to use. Comes with decent case, strap, cloth, and lens caps. Birds! The moon! Neighbors!

18. Pandemic Board Game

Lots of strategy and cooperative play, or you all die. My teenagers play it with the younger kids (age 7 and up). Suspenseful and lots of pressure.

19. 5th Element Panther XT Inline Skates

Son skates around town after school every day. These took some breaking in, but now he loves them, and says they are comfortable and easy to maneuver.

20. Mysterium Board Game

Help a dead murder victim remember details about his grisly demise, using clues from arty and deliberately confusing “vision cards.” Lavish and complex cooperative game. Comes with an app to play spooky music to add to the atmosphere. (Full review here.)

21. Funko Pop Eleven

Aw, wookit the widdle blood coming out of her nose. I don’t really understand Funko Pops.

22. Panda surprise mug

Helloooo! (There are also cats, monkeys, ducks, Santas, etc.)

23. Cow Cow Dresses

These come in hundreds and hundreds of amazing, unexpected, sometimes inexplicable patterns. The material is clingy but not thin, and has a bit of a sheen and stretch, like a bathing suit. Gathers fall nicely, and flares way out when you spin. On the short side, as you can see.

24. Die Hard: The Authorized Coloring and Activity Book

Sighhh. She loved it.

25. “Fools! I’ll destroy you all” Button

For that one kid.

Now we’ll move on to some gifts for kids in middle school. These are not hard and fast lines, as you will see.

26. Magic sequin pillowcase

Every single person in my household loves these pillows. (NOTE: The link above is just the pillowcase! You have to buy the pillow insert separately.) We have a blue-green-purple/black one and a few silver/gold ones, but there are many color combos. Draw with your finger to flip the sequins over, and reveal another color. Endlessly fascinating and soothing to play with, and they have held up remarkably well. Remarkably!

27. Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

The much-anticipated sequel to Hatke’s graphic novel Mighty Jack, which follows a boy who has to spend his summer helping his single mom care for his sister, who has autism, and who doesn’t speak — until she does. Good stuff, with an exciting twist at the end for fans of Hatke’s other work.

28. Minecraft stop motion animation set

This is the set that got my son started on stop-motion animation. It comes with a little stage, backgrounds, many props, a little stand for your camera, and an app to animate the photos and share.

My son has branched off on his own and now uses the free version of the app called Stop Motion Studio by CATEATER, but he says this set gave him the confidence to get going.

29. Godzilla 7″ Vinyl Figure from Destroy All Monsters

One of the many Godzillas my son uses for his stop motion videos. Nicely detailed and sturdy.

30. “Deal With It” Glasses

It’s possible my son is the only one in the world who wants these, but he sure does like them. I can’t explain it more than that.

31. Bricky Blocks Black Snapback

Bring your Legos with you! Put your Legos on your head! What a time to be alive!

32. Air hockey table

We got this with great reluctance, thinking it would be flimsy for the price, and that the kids would get tired of it soon. Nope! They use it a lot and have a lot of fun. It’s great for parties, and fun for the little kids to play with their big brothers. Kinda loud, but it’s air hockey. They just stand it up on its end to keep it out of the way.

33. Pikachu hoodie

Please tell me my kids aren’t the last ones in the world who like Pokemon. Good fit. Rather charming.

34. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe

Works as a standalone for kids who are not yet familiar with Squirrel Girl.

35. LCD Writing Tablet

For the kid who can’t stop doodling. Also great for car rides. Write with the stylus on the black screen, press the button to erase. That’s it. Surprisingly durable for the price. We have a couple of these in different colors.


And gifts for younger kids and toddlers:

36. Crocodile Toddler RC Car with Music and Lights

Toddlers really can control this simple RC croc. It does play manically cheerful music, flash lights, and chomp its mouth while it runs, but darn it, this thing does not break. It’s been in constant use for a year and is still going strong. Lots of fun to watch the little guys use it and baffle the cat with it. Good battery life, too.

37. Mama Kangaroo and Joey Plush, 13″

Sweet and sturdy. Good for the kid who likes to make sure the baby is always where he belongs. Stands up by itself.

38. I Got This! Game

Exciting, frustrating, some teamwork required, but lots of competition. Very entertaining to watch. Kids have to decide if they should push themselves a little further to do more and more challenging, silly tasks.

39. Tempera Paints Set, 16 oz, Pack of 6 .

Great price for this much paint.

40. Rubie’s Wonder Woman Costume

Runs a little small. I like the star pants. Makes a kid feel super without sliding into “sexy tot” territory.

41. Lots of things from Door Number 9. Here’s the wonderful St. Michael prayer Pillow, featuring a prayer very obviously written by a real kid:

So much geeky fun here, some of it Catholic, much of it for adults or older kids. We have several of Elisa’s lovingly handmade products and we adore them.

42. LYRA Ferby Triangular Colored Pencils

Our beloved kindergarten teacher introduced us to these lovely colored pencils. I balked at the price at first, but they are quite good. Vivid colors, nice and smooth, and easy to grip, even for lefties, and the tips don’t snap off.

43. Fleece lined koala hat

Cute and goofy, and very warm. Holds up great. My daughter wears this nine months out of the year.

44. Boomwhackers Whack Pack

Bright plastic tubes you whack to make different booming tones. You can arrange them in different orders on the mat and hit them with sticks, hit them with each other, or use them to hit other things. Music and hitting things! Sounds like a happy childhood. Longest tube is about two feet. These have been stepped on and mangled without any ill effects.

45. Chicken Soup with Rice Board Book: A Book of Months

Possibly the greatest poem ever written. I’m always happy to read this one. This is a sturdy board book. Here’s to you, Mrs. Ida Perles!

46. Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix

A fresh and exhilarating style that incorporates the words of the text into the illustrations. Quite powerful.

47. Little Tikes Shopping Cart

We looked at many, many shopping carts, and settled on this one because it has a little seat for your little friend to ride along. Irresistible. This gets constant use. The bigger kids have managed to take it apart, and then put it back together again, with no ill effects.

48. My Little Pony Monopoly Board Game

Uhhm, check the price on this one. The price currently listed is insane, but it seems to fluctuate. The game itself is nice for MLP fans and gets lots of play. Pony game pieces are heavy and well made, not flimsy.

49. Melissa & Doug 20 Animal Magnets in a Box

Bright and pleasant. Magnets have stayed on, animals have not peeled off, despite occasionally getting wet.

50. Dreamy Dress-Up Butterfly Wings

We keep buying these. Found some lovely bright ones this time. The material is strong, but thin enough that you don’t have to take it off to strap your little butterfly into its car seat.

51. Color Paddles, Set of 18

A slightly odd present, but I knew my five-year-old would love it. These are just transparent colored paddles to play with, mix together, and look through. Despite they way they are arranged in the photo, they are not attached together. I strung six of them on a chain and put the rest away so I could replace them as needed. Kids love peering through them and seeing Purpleworld or Everythingisgreenville. It’s just cool! Good for car trips. There are also slightly raised different patterns on each.

51. Tinkerbell’s Learn Ballet Step by Step DVD

I previewed tons of ballet videos, and this one is by far the best. It teaches the girls actual ballet positions, but is simple and easy to follow and has pleasant piano music. The teacher is cheerful and seems to enjoy children. It’s not manic or cutesy and has no unsettling mascots or animated characters (“Tinkerbell” appears to be some generic name; there’s no Disney fairy involved). Kids can use a chair back as a barre.

52. Kitty Cat Riding A Unicorn T-Shirt

For the child who, for reasons of her own, is slowly building a collection of strange, oversized cat shirts. This is actually a men’s size, but that’s just not right, so I’m putting it in the kid present section.

Whew, that’s all for this year! Hope you find something good.

Chainmail, goth, and rosaries: An interview with Kyra Matsui of Iron Lace Design

“I watch my kids cover themselves in duct tape and use whole rolls of wire to wire their siblings together,” says Kyra Matsui, proprietor of Iron Lace Design, “and I can see who I was from the beginning.”

Kyra, 39, lives in Toronto and turns out a dazzling array of intricate, sturdy jewelry and rosaries, at once heavy and delicate, many incorporating Japanese-style chainmail and vintage watch movements.

Her drive to create started early, she says:

“I was an isolated child, hiding in my room, making stuff. I remember when I was six, there was this plastic dollhouse stool. I figured out if I wove Kleenex around it and wet it, then when it dried, I could slip it off, and I would end up with a little basket. I started painting Kleenex with food coloring and hanging it all over the ceiling. My parents were so patient!”

Kyra, 39, who is separated, has boys ages seven and nine, and five-year-old twin girls. She recently got a diagnosis of autism for her oldest son, who also has diabetes. Kyra uses a combination of homeschooling and public school.

“My own public school experience was pretty bad,” says Kyra. “I didn’t really learn any kind of work ethic, or how to concentrate, but I did learn how to be quiet so I could get away with anything.

“What I wanted to do [with my own kids] was give them a space to socialize with people not just in their own grade level, but who were interested in the same thing. To give them the space to figure out what they were interested in.

“For me, that was making stuff. I remember reading Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Warrior Scarlet when I was nine or so, and teaching myself to weave on a little loom I made out of a cardboard box. I was supposed to be doing schoolwork. Instead, I pulled stuffing out of a pillow and figured out how to make a spindle.”

Here’s the rest of the conversation I had with Kyra about her current work:

How did you get started making jewelry? What is it about chainmail that appeals to you?

It’s because of my Japanese cultural heritage, plus historical interest, plus fantasy. When I was fourteen and hiding in the school library, they had a couple of really good costume history books, and I devoured those.
I was briefly in the Society for Creative Anachronism doing costuming, and some friends were doing chainmail. The kind I do, Japanese, is the simplest. Usually what you see in movies is European. It runs in one direction, almost like snake scales.
What I like about Japanese chain mail is you can hang it any way, like fabric.

You can attach dangly stuff to it and incorporate it into the construction.

Lapis lazuli and stainless steel choker

You also have some jewelry made of watch parts on your page. Tell me how you got your hands on that.

Two brass watch movement pendants

It all belongs to my father, whose parents emigrated from Japan in the 20’s.  He was eight or nine when the Japanese Canadians were interned. His family ended up in Toronto after they were relocated. He trained as a watchmaker and repairman and jeweler, and he had a workshop in the house I’m sitting in now, the house I inherited.

When digital watches came, he became a tool and die maker, but did watch repair privately. He had a workshop that was floor-to-ceiling tiny drawers full of watch movements, gears, springs, some of them almost microscopic. You need tweezers to pick them up.

After he died, I was clearing out all his stuff, and thinking, ‘This is beautiful stuff. ” I’m not going to learn to do watch repair. I tried to sell it, but I didn’t get any takers.

What would he think of the jewelry you make with his watch parts?

He would be appalled!

Chainmail and vintage gear charm necklace

Well, he would be happy it was being used, but perturbed. He wanted me to go into fine arts and into jewelry-specific programs, metalworking, gemology. But I’ve always come at things more from a costuming and textile end.

Chainmail is a lot more like working with fabric then metalwork. I’d like to learn to solder, but that requires a lot of precision. Chainmail is more like knitting.

How long does it take you to make one of those necklaces or rosaries?
A rosary takes about four or five hours of intensive labor. Because I make them out of stainless steel, it’s really hard on my hands, so I split it up over two or three days.
I’ve ended up with carpal tunnel from doing too much! I made a Mexican wedding double rosary over a weekend, and that was a bad idea.
It’s very intricate work. 
And I’m extremely myopic. I was told by an ophthalmology student that my close-up vision is excellent. I can see much finer detail than most people, as long as I hold it an inch and a half from my eye. I also have a jeweler’s visor loupe.
You have four kids, you’re completely renovating your house, you exclusively homeschooled up until recently, and you’re a single mom. So in your abundant free time, what do you do?
When I was in my early 20’s, I did about ten years of belly dance classes. Then I had four kids in four years. But I love to dance. I found that goth clubs are the only place you can go and belly dance for the entire night without being hassled. My friend Cynthia and I found this lovely place that has industrial goth night once a month.
It’s the same people from twenty years ago. We’re all older and tireder. We have a few drinks, thrash around on the dance floor, and then go back to our lives as attorneys or whatever. There are some really terrified-looking twenty-year-olds who turn up, too. Half of them embrace it, and half of them sidle quietly out the door away from the scary, old people.
[Below: Kyra in her Halloween costume as Jadis, Queen of Charn:]
If you had unlimited time, energy, and resources, what would you make?
I was looking around Etsy and found this chandelier thing you hang between your nipples. This . . . is not what I’m going to be doing.

If time and money weren’t a factor, I’d love to be working in precious metals and gems. I’m learning how to solder and make my own findings. I’d love to do some sort of elaborate fantasy set, with headpiece, necklace, hand flowers, and neck piece, and make a dress that goes under it. I’m not watching Game of Thrones, but the costuming is fantastic. I’ve been looking up jewelry for the Southern Kingdom. Very East Indian-Ottoman Empire-Persian stuff.

If people want to order from Iron Lace Design for Christmas, when should they order?


If they want a special order shipped before Christmas and they’re in the states, get the order in by early December. Regular mail tends to be a week. Priority mail is faster, but pretty expensive. But if I have to source material, I may have to order it online.

[Two special order stainless steel rosaries, one in lapis, one in garnet:]

Kyra also makes single-decade pocket rosaries like this one in jade:

Stainless steel and jade one-decade rosary
Tomorrow, I’ll be hosting a giveaway for a single decade rosary handmade by Kyra. Entry will be free. Stay tuned!

Wow! So talent! Much teenage daughter!


Lena’s just opened a Redbubble store, and would like you to know that you can order today and still get your stuff before Christmas. Lots of quirky and oddly elegant stuff here, mainly geeky, including fan art featuring Naruto, Big Hero 6, Psychopass, Metroid, Teen Titans, Gorillaz, Star Wars, X-Men, Ruroni Kenshin, and some other stuff that just fell out of her fevered brain.

Because I’m a big, elderly poop, I’m encouraging her to add some of her lovely outdoor watercolor scenes. She is uploading more art as I write. Here’s a few more images than I’m partial to. Far and away my favorite:

Wandering Swordsman:


Song of the Sheikah:


The Enforcer:



An image from the side altar at church:


And this obliging Wolverine with Baby Jubilee:


Do stop by her Redbubble store! You can buy these images printed on T-shirts, stickers, and mugs.

or you can check out much more of the artwork she’s posted online on Tumblr, The Otaku, and Paigeeworld.

Guys. IT IS FUN HAVING TEENAGERS. They are always surprising you!

50 Gifts our 10 kids loved, the 2016 list!

We have ten kids, ages eighteen to almost two. We buy . . . . a lot  . . . .of gifts. Here’s a list of fifty that our kids tried and liked this past year. They’re mostly under $50, and are in order from cheapest to most expensive, so it’s a little book-heavy in the beginning.

I’d also like to apologize for the graphic.

Most of these items are from Amazon. I’m an Amazon Affiliate, and all of the Amazon links in this post have my code embedded, so I earn a small percentage of the sale price, which is how we buy more presents for ten kids next year, and on and on it goes.

Here is my Amazon Affiliate link:


Simcha’s Amazon Link!

Please consider bookmarking it and using it every time you buy from Amazon! Thanks a million.

Here’s the first list of fifty from a few years ago, and here’s a list of twenty-five more the next year. And here are this years gift ideas:

1. Orthodox icon suncatchers and nightlights, $3.50 – $6

You can see a few in the window of my dining room here:


Jesus’ beard is sparkly! They are plastic and vividly colored. I want them in every window of the house.

2.Stretchy tattoo choker necklace, $3.99


Apparently these are back in style? My daughter wore one to the senior prom, along with hot pink Doc Martens (see below). (I wore my grandmother’s pearls to my prom, if anyone’s wondering.)

3.Nixon decal, $4


“I’m meeting you halfway, you stupid hippies!” Possibly specific to the needs of my family. For the right person, it could be the best $4 you ever spent. When people ask how my kids deal with being one of the few Catholics in a giant public school, this sums it up pretty well.

4.The Mysterious Benedict Society, about $5.


This book came highly recommended by trusted friends for kids grade four and up, and it lived up to the hype. Original, exciting, and the author actually wrote it with care and wit, rather than just assembling a plot with the right keywords. Kids and I both enjoyed it. It’s part one of a series of four.

5.Betsy-Tacy collection, $5.99


Another book my friends have been lauding forever. My first-grader just adores this series, which has ten books total. I admit I haven’t read it yet, but my daughter doesn’t put up with a lot of nonsense, so I respect her opinion.

6.Hanging glass egg vase, $6.99


This is the one of two items on this list that I haven’t actually bought yet, but it’s on my list — in this case, on my wish list. If someone gets it for me, I plan to grow ivy in it. Ivy will grow easily in water. I need green in the house to tide me over until spring!

7.Bubble motion tumbler, $7.50

This was a gift for the six-year-old, but everyone loves it, from the baby on up. Those orderly little drops, marching up and down the steps, hurrying or strolling, as you choose. Endlessly fascinating, miraculously never mixing. (There are any number of liquid motion toys to choose from. Great for babies, older kids who need calming down, or adults who need calming down. I once spotted a few of these toys in the waiting room at the washing machine repair shop, and I’ll be darned if I didn’t mind waiting.)

8.Feasts of Our Lord and Our Lady coloring book, and A Feast of Saints coloring book, $7.95


Matthew Alderman’s new offerings this year. Alderman’s style is so fresh and inviting, reminiscent of Trina Schart Hyman, who drew heavily on heraldry and illuminated manuscripts, nodded at the pre-raphaelites, and then opened the window to let some air in. Great stuff. Kids (and others) soak in knowledge as they color.

9.Oreo teether, $7.97


Corrie got this last Christmas, when she was teething hard, so it became known as the Corrie-o. The little ridges are perfect for sore gums. It’s bigger than a real Oreo, so not a choking hazard. Super cute, still a favorite after a year of gnawing.

10.Babies DVD, about $9
How I adore this movie. It shows, without comment, everyday scenes from the lives of four babies, from just before they’re born until they’re learning how to stand. The families live in San Francisco, Tokyo, the Mongolian steppe, and Namibia, and their lives vary widely, but some things are always the same. Sweetness and a little melancholy, but mostly sweetness. I always feel restored after watching this short, gentle, agenda-free movie, and the kids love it.

11.Mighty Jack, about $9


Ben Hatke’s first installment in a new graphic novel series. It’s a reimagining of Jack and the Beanstalk, and it’s wonderful. You care about the main character right away; Hatke is generous with understated details that tell you what you need to know about the world they live in; and I have no idea what is going to happen next. Some serious themes — serious money troubles, danger, a younger sister who is autistic, and a difficult friendship — but suitable for kids age 7 and up, if they’re not highly sensitive.

12.The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, about $10


We loved The Pirates! Band of Misfits movie so much (made by the same folks who make the excellent Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep), and recently discovered that it was based on a series of books that are even odder and nuttier than the movie. These books do include some bawdy jokes and some violent details, but I feel that the most inapwo-pwo stuff goes over the little kids’ heads, and it’s just edgy enough to give the older kids a little thrill, without crossing any lines.

13.Slingshot rocket, about $10


Light foam, low-tech, lots of fun until the three rockets get lost. The feral 8-year-old daughter had a blast with it.

14.Garden fairies scratch book, about $10


Sturdy, spiral-bound (so you can open it up flat to work). Scratch away the black to reveal rainbow swirls and glittery colors underneath. Sweet little poems, pictures to copy if you like, and blank pages for sketching, besides the scratch-off pages. Many themes available, from  outer space to mermaids to Jurassic creatures.

15.Galaxy infinity scarf, $11.95


My fashion-minded ten-year old would wear this every day if we let her (which we do). Pair it with the TARDIS hat (which she does) and and maybe the TARDIS dress, and you have a themed ensemble. The scarf is a stretchy rayon, machine washable.

16.Baby smartphone, $12.65


This toy distracts the baby from your actual smartphone for maybe ten minutes. Worth every second. I like B. Toys because they make sounds, but they are intentionally soft; and they have an off switch. This one has held up well, and doesn’t gobble batteries too badly. Also records your voice, so the older kids are always pranking each other.

17.Little Dalek action figure, about $12.95


Shiny and detailed. Perpetuate the Doctor Who obsession for another year. PER-PET-U-ATE!!!!

18.Wooden ball rattle, $12.99


The large wooden balls are linked with elastic, so you can wear it like a bracelet, or you can roll and twist them to make all kinds of lovely clusters of color. Each ball is painted a slightly different shade, it’s pleasantly heavy, and it makes a soft clacking sound.  Fine, I bought it for myself, and sometimes I let the baby play with it. We’ve had good luck with this brand, Manhattan Toy.

19.Dragon scale leggings, $12.99


We looked at a lot of mermaid-print leggings, but realized that our kids are more the dragon type. Snarrrrl. These come in a few different colors.

20.Krakitten T-shirt, $13


I’ll let this magnificent garment speak for itself. Comes in a few different colors.

21.TARDIS hat, $14.88


Aized about as expected, even on the inside. The pom pom on top is generously poofy.

22.Calico Critters Triplets, $14.99; Triple bunk bed, about $10


Whenever my kids put Calico Critters on the list, I grumble and complain about how stupid and pointless and expensive they are; and then I start shopping, and then I go, “AWWWWWWW.” They really are adorable. These are very small toys, so not great for kids who lose stuff; but they are sturdy and sweet, and come in dozens of different species. We also have the pool and sandbox set.

23.Headband kit, $14.85


I actually resisted buying this kit, because it seemed dumb (ALEX toys are hit or miss) but one kid desired it greatly. It turned out to be quite good. The headbands haven’t broken after a year of use, which is almost a miracle; and she had a surprising amount of fun making different combinations.

24.One Potato, Two Potato, about $15


My current favorite read-aloud. This book has an unusual focus for a children’s book:  a very old couple, so poor they have to share everything, including a chair, a blanket, and the one last potato in the garden — or so they think.  A simple and hilarious story of unexplained magic, but so much to unpack about what you really need in life.  The illustrations are understated but extraordinary.

25.CowCow dresses, about $18 Something for everyone!


My ten-year-old daughter worked to earn her very own ice cream and candy dress, but maybe you’d prefer beetles, constellations,  or cute ghosties. More varieties, some of them truly bizarre, than you can shake a stick at. These dresses are on the short side for adults of average height, but work fine for shorter folks. They come with or without sleeves, and are made of a stretchy rayon material.

26.Butterfly wings, about $18


Flap flap flap! Always in style.

27.Hanging glow lamp, $18.99


Oh, I lied, this is another thing I haven’t bought yet, but friends say it’s lovely. I’m a sucker for little worlds under a dome, and I love how this comes with a hanging hook. Friends say it’s brighter than you might expect. We recently redid the little girls’ room with two sets of bunk beds, so we may be investing in individual lighting for individual preferences.These come in three different colors, and you can get either the rabbit thing, or a plump little bird.

28.Melissa and Doug 12″ baby doll, about $19


A sturdy favorite. Here is Corrie on her first birthday, getting to know her new baby.

29.Tinkerbell learn ballet DVD, about $20.


By far the nicest instructional ballet video I’ve ever seen. The music is pleasant, there are no bizarre mascots or intrusive animation, the teacher seems to actually like kids, and you will learn some true, basic ballet. We put a broomstick between two chair backs to make the required barre.

30.Hooded cloak, about $20


Exactly what the kid was hoping for. It’s not real velvet, obviously, but it’s held up well. Comes in many colors.

31.Werewolf Deluxe game, about $20. Good for ages reasonably-alert-10 to adult.


The premise is that, when night falls in the village, a werewolf comes out and kills someone; and everyone else has to figure out who the werewolf is and what to do about it. Everyone closes his eyes, and the leader instructs one person at a time to wake up, take a look at the card that reveals his role (werewolf, bodyguard, witch, villager, etc.), and then go back to sleep. There are several rounds of play, in which the players anonymously decide to kill, save, protect, or silence each other.

Then everyone has to vote on whom to lynch. Players are eliminated one at a time, and it becomes more and more evident who is killing everyone, who is being framed, and who is lying through their teeth (and, in my case, who forgot the rules and accidentally blabbed too much information).
32.Airzooka air gun, about $20  


More low-tech fun. Aim, pull, and release. Shoots a harmless blast of air, enough to make your hair blow back, and makes a satisfying “choonk” noise, too. 

33.Twirled Paper book and kit by Klutz, $20; Refill of  Quilling paper, 720 strips, about $10


Quilling is making a comeback! A lovely, old-fashioned craft where you roll up thin strips of paper, loosely or tightly, then pinch them into various shapes. No end of possibilities here. You can make free-standing 3-D ornaments, glue the paper to eggs, make cards, or even jewelry. A very pleasant way to spend time. My nine-year-old needed a little help to get started, but she caught on fast.

34.Parachute hammock, about $24


An excellent hammock for the price. I wish I had had a hammock the last ten times I was pregnant! Heavenly. These sturdy, easy-to-use hammock straps, about $16, were a good investment, too.

35.Lenox ballerina jewelry box, $25.


With eight daughters, we’ve tried a number of jewelry boxes. A number. This one is by far the sturdiest, but it still looks delicate and dainty. The ballerina still pops up, the music still plays, the hinges still function, and the box is still a box. Pretty, silver-satin quilted design. Plays “Fur Elise.”

36.Godzilla hands, about $25


I don’t know what to say about this. We have these. They are by far the most luxurious Godzilla hands we’ve ever owned.

37.Ramona complete collection, $27.50


A much-desired gift. For the right kid, a boxed set of every single one of their favorite character’s stories is a wonderful prize. Ramona really holds up all these decades later.

38.Blowfish tea set, about $30


Quirky but elegant!  A very good product for the price. This is a full-sized, functional tea set for two, not a toy.

39.Toddler slide, $31


Probably the most-used piece of furniture in our entire house. This lived in our living room for at least five months, and saved my sanity while Miss Insano clambered up and threw herself down hundreds and hundreds of times. Folds for storage.

40.Legend of Zelda stained glass backpack, about $34


Just a light nylon backpack, but it was what the kid wanted. It’s a little roomier than it appears, and the pattern is actually more vibrant than the picture shows.

41.Long Ballerina Tutu, $36


This is the absolute last untested item on this list! We’ve bought many items from The Little Dress-Up Shop, and have always been completely delighted, so I’m confident that this sweet, poofy ballerina skirt with rosebuds will be well-received.

42.Portable Bluetooth speaker,
about $37


Exactly what we needed. It works with my kid’s phones, and lets them blast music while slaving away in the dirty dish mines or cleaning up the yard after the last raccoon garbage party. Easy to use, and a good value for the price.

43.White bird mobile, about $38


Marketed as a baby mobile, but it’s a real work of art, and very large. A cloud of white birds in constant, gentle motion. We got this for our fourteen-year-old, and it really transforms a space.

44.Darth Vader Skechers, about $40


These are adult sized, in case your kids grow out of kid’s shoes before their brains grow out of a love for Star Wars, which of course could never happen.

45.Punk tartan purse, $41


Sturdy and awesome, lots of zippers, buckles, and studs, perfect for that one punk kid who needs a place to keep all her black lipstick. Has an adjustable shoulder strap and shiny black insides.

46.Dark Prince sword, $43


It wouldn’t be Christmas without at least one sword. This one is long, shiny and seriously heavy. Not sharp, but you definitely could kill someone if you tried. Not meant for heavy fighting, but good for stage or costumes or just swaggering around with a big-ass sword.

47.Stilts, about $45 a pair


Greatest inspiration I’ve had all year. We now have two sets (they come rated for different weights), and they are adjustable. First kid went from zero skill to wobbling across the floor in a few minutes, and now she can jump, run backwards, spin, and do all kinds of terrifying stunts. Good exercise, good for improving balance, and great for building confidence. Excelsior!

48.Hot pink Doc Martens, $75


For the prom! For everyday wear! For making yourself awesome from the ground up. A million colors, all shiny and rugged and BACK IN STYLE. Aw yiss.

49.Casio Keyboard, $129.95


A very serviceable electric keyboard for people learning to play. Comes with a stand and headset, so you can practice without driving your sister crazy, assuming that’s your goal.

50.15-foot Trampoline and enclosure with basketball hoop, $329


Yes, this is the second trampoline we’ve bought. We finally destroyed the mat of the first one, and after several unsuccesful attempts to replace it (we kept buying the wrong size, the wrong spring size, etc. etc.) we just threw in the towel and bought a new one, upgrading to fifteen feet. I know all about the horrible stories of mangled faces and splintered tibias, but we are still a trampoline family all the way.

Baby loves it. Kids love playing with the baby on it. It’s instant entertainment at birthday parties, with or without water balloons and a sprinkler or Easter dresses.


Grouchy or sullen teens discover that life is worth living after taking out their troubles on the trampoline. And it’s a perfect spot for stargazing or sunbathing or lying down while the kids run around you, blissfully under the illusion that you are playing with them.

You really need a trampoline. (And if you happen to have a spare trampoline frame, you can wrap some chicken wire around it and make a garden fence, or maybe a chicken coop.)


Okay! That’s it for this year. Happy shopping! Thanks again for using my link when you shop on Amazon.

Catholics on Etsy! Christmas and Advent gifts for 2016

Catholics on Etsy! Mostly! Here is a selection of handmade goods by Catholics, so we can all support each other when we shop for Advent and Christmas. Some these goods are religious, some are not. Some of the stores sell all kinds of items, and the featured one is just the tip of the iceberg. It was painful to narrow down this list to a manageable size!

Today, I’m showcasing jewelry, because I like jewelry, and art and prints, because I like art and prints. Here we go:



Mazzoni Mosaics: Handcut Glass Mosaics and Jewelry
Featured item: Red Millefiori Mosaic Pendant, $40


So arresting! I love it. Like a poinsettia made of living stone. Millefiori is wonderful. Many more original and eye-catching designs in the store.

Cherokee Copper Greg Stice, a deacon who works for the Cherokee Nation, makes the jewelry that he and his wife, Lisa, design.
Featured item: Rain texture copper cross bracelet, $40


Oh, copper. Spectacular. You could wear this cuff with jeans and a t-shirt, or with an evening gown.

IronLace Design by Kyra Busbridge
Featured item: Silver Lace necklace with deep red beads, $60


I think everyone knows by now how much I adore Kyra’s chain mail jewelry. It makes your neck feel strong, cool, and beautiful. Elegant and powerful designs, including earrings and chainmail rosaries, too.

Pink Salt Riot by Jill Simons
Featured item: Amen cuff bracelet, $16


So light and pretty! Many of the goods in this store are made from books that schools and churches were about to throw out. 

Janalyn offers handmade fiber goods, and also milagros and Day of the Dead jewelry, jewelry made of sewing notions, and some really neat bookmarks and Loteria fabric art.

Featured item:Hand-felted indigo earrings, $8


Boy, it was hard to choose just one, because the goods in this story are so varied. Really interesting, quirky stuff.

Ornamentation by Mary
Featured item: Leather wrap cross boho bracelet with semiprecious stones, $119.99


I may have gasped out loud. Do check out the rest of the stock at this store. She has the rare skill of making artfulness look casual and careless. Gorgeous.



Wood Pigeon – oils and watercolors by Kristina Closs
Featured item: Crow watercolor, $100


Check it out! This crow is about to launch himself off the page, as soon as  he’s done cooling off in this breeze. Many more vivid and arresting paintings of birds, bees, and landscapes on the site.

Brain Cheeks by Rochelle
Featured item: Set of eight Mother and Child watercolor print cards, $15


Oh, sweetness. She never gets tired of looking at Him.

When Beauty Met Truth by Lauren Santos: watercolors, prints, and hand lettering
Featured item: “Wherever the art of medicine is loved” print, $15


Eek, a heart! I love it, and your favorite doctor will, too.

Herons Gate Arts by Sarah Pierzchala
Featured item: framed print of her original painting of a cosmic Sacred Heart, $40


Sarah also offers an array of fantasy dolls, wings, and hair jewels. Clay, twigs, beads, loveliness.

Santa Clara Design, paper prints and instant digital downloads
Featured item: Padre Pio Print, $10


Etsy is flooded with bland inspirational digital downloads, but there’s real artistry in Santa Clara’s graphic designs. Many designs and styles, digital downloads as well as physical prints.

Hatch Prints.

This isn’t an Etsy site, but Katrina Harrington was kind enough to send me one of her “Offer It Up” mugs, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t actually work. It makes morning better when I get that reminder. It is a nice mug, too, large and sturdy.


Along with mugs, Hatch Prints also has watercolor and hand-lettered art prints and tote bags inspired by the saints.

SPECIAL OFFER FOR MY READERS: Use discount code LOSINGMYMIND15 for 15% off purchases of $20 or more.

Rakstar Designs
Featured item:“Jesus, Coffee, Naps” sign, $25+


Made me laugh! It’s as good a motto as any, although most days, I’ll settle for two out of three.

Kristyn Brown Photo

Featured item: Holy Family 2, $35, one in a series called “The Saints Project” which uses Catholic photographic models


Neat project! I’m looking forward to seeing more.


In the Loft by Sue Dow
Featured item: Mary Holding Jesus wood figurine, $40


There’s a very appealing quietness in these gentle painted figures. Also various nativity figurines, saints, animals, and a few nativity backdrops for your home.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, $95



Breathtaking. Look at her beautiful face. This is just a detail; the full work includes the entire image of Our Lady of Guadalupe supported by an angel, painted on rough wood with a laquer finish. Lots of variety in this store, including matrioshka dolls, beeswax goods, and very cozy tea cozies.

Honeychild Forest
Offer it up, Buttercup” print, $15


HA. This is kind of perfect. Heather says, “Because sometimes I need to just gather up my fragile little buttercup feelings and OFFER IT UP, nah mean?” For when your prayer life isn’t all thees and thous and “vouchusafe unto us” this and that. Sometimes you just need to offer it up, buttercup.

That’s all for today! Tomorrow: Rosaries and rosary accessories; knitted and crocheted and fabric items; and a bunch of wonderful goods I couldn’t categorize but couldn’t stand to leave out. See you then!








10 low-tech toys that flash, buzz, wiggle, and zoom!


Let’s . . . let’s just talk about toys.

A trip last weekend to my childhood home has made me nostalgic. It’s far too early to share a list of Christmas present ideas, so how about this list of toys I remember from my childhood? Many are still popular, in one form or another. Here’s ten of my favorites, most for under ten dollars:

1. Sparking wheels!

The ones from my yoot were made of tin, and were very sturdy. I liked to sit at the bottom of the stairs, at the darkest spot in the house, and just crank that wheel, watching a mesmerizing little red and blue galaxy flash in and out of existence in the palm of my hand. The scratch and catch of the mechanism was very satisfying for the hand and ear, too.

Shopping around for a sturdy version that didn’t cost a million dollars, I came across this sparking toy:


which also toddles around aimlessly when you wind it up. Looks like today’s version of the hand-cranked wheel I remember is plastic and more flimsy, but probably still four bucks’ worth of fun.


2. Magic rail roller!


If you haven’t seen one of these in action, it’s hard to explain what it does. The axles of the wheel have little magnets in them, and if you hold it by the handle end and flip it around the right way, the wheel goes whizzing around and around the frame, and, I dunno, it’s fun.

3. Siren whistles!

My migraine-plagued father had an inexplicable drive to buy us wonderful toys that drove him crazy. One perennial favorite was siren rings, which (like everything in my childhood, it seems) used to be made of metal. You could wear them like ordinary rings, and whenever the time seemed right, you would blow into the round window in the top and it would go “wwwweeeeeEEEEEEEEeeeooooooooooo,” and it never ever ever ever got old.

The closest I can find is siren whistles built into lips or mustache, or just in little tubes.


These get okay reviews, and you get, um, four dozen for $7.50, thereby ensuring that you will never ever ever ever run out of hearing “wwwweeeeeEEEEEEEeeeooooooooooo.”

Some inefficient part of me wants to buy myself this lovely, shiny little siren whistle, not a toy ($33) but designed for making sound effects.


It’s from the Acme company. THE ACME COMPANY. Wile E. Coyote c’est moi. The description also points out that it’s “a useful and unusual warning signal for small boats.”

4. Chinese drums!

Oh, my gosh, these are fun.


You roll the handle back and forth between the palms of your hands, which makes the balls swing on their strings, whacking the drum on both sides. Very satisfying! These are about $7, and they will send you a randomly-chosen design.

5. Clacker balls!

Did I ever get the hang of these? No, I did not. But they were enough fun that I tried for years and years; and I liked walking around the house looking at the world through the transparent balls with their tiny captive bubbles, too.

The trick is to loop the middle of the string around your finger and sort of jerk them in a rhythm so they smack together at the end of their strings until they start arcing up and down, clacking against each other high and low. (One of the reviews here shared a video, so you can get an idea of how it goes.)


Okay, so these are plastic (about $5 a pair). We had dark blue glass ones when I was little. Nostalgia aside, I can’t shake the idea that maybe it’s okay that today’s kids are pampered and coddled and aren’t generally encouraged to make glass balls crash against each other. Old ways are not always the best ways. Either way: not recommended for kids with short tempers.

6. Magnetic scotties

I’m not gonna lie to you: these are magnetic scotties. That is, they are two plastic dogs with magnets in them. See?


$6.55, and you get two dogs that have magnets in them! This mean you can make them kiss, or you can make them chase each other! It was a simpler time! It was fun, I tell you!

7. Mooing cans


They put farm animals on this item (about $8) to make you think it’s a toy for children, but it’s actually for anyone who just needs to hear a little moo from time to time. I believe it works with a weighted rubber membrane inside, and when you tip it over, it creates a suction that pulls air through the . . . you know, I don’t know how it works. But it’s hilarious. If you shake it really fast, it sounds like the cow is hysterical!

8. Color paddles

The one I had just had the three primary color, but kids these days are lazy, so get their purple, green, and orange handed to them on a platter.


This one gives you three sets of six colors for about $7. You can mix the colors together to make other colors, or you can just peer through them and think, “What if everything were purple all the time?

9. Balancing bird

Balance it on your fingertip! Balance it on your chin! Balance it on your tongue! It’s such an obliging bird.


I think the product description says it all: “Extraordinary gift for someone.”

10. Jacob’s ladder

The perfect toy to feed into an introspective child’s Heraclitean confusion.


About six bucks. I understand how it works. Really, I do. The ribbons hold it in place, and the thing flips over, and I understand how it works. But damn!  How does it do that?


I should note that all of the links are to Amazon products because I have an Amazon Associate’s account. If you buy any of these products, or if you buy anything at all on Amazon after getting to the site after clicking to one of my links, then I earn a small percentage of the sale. This is so helpful to my family, you wouldn’t believe it.

If you shop on Amazon, won’t you consider using my link? I’ll have a button on the sidebar here soon. In the meantime, here is Simcha’s Amazon Link. Be a peach and bookmark it for me! Thanks!

And now tell me about the toys of your childhood, especially the lovely, low-tech ones that keep on going through generations.

Robin’s Handmade Goatmilk Soap! 18 new varieties

robins soap header

You’ve heard me sing the praises of my friend Robin’s handmade soap. Her Etsy shopis now open for November, and has listed a whopping eighteen new soaps — many molded into lovely designs.

soap home sweet home madonna

Robin’s soaps are just beautiful — especially the multi-colored bars. They are like little works of art.

soap chocolate orange

They smell wonderful, they are creamy and lush, and they last much longer than any soap I’ve ever used. The ingredients are great for people with sensitive skin.

I have my favorites (I’m partial to Sunshine Yuzu — so cheerful! — and my husband likes the plain goat milk bars for his winter dry skin)

soap yuzu flowers

but I’ve never hit a bad soap from Robin’s workshop. Here’s a list of the new varieties:

1.) Cedar Bay
2.) Spiced Mahogany
3.) Sunshine Yuzu (a favorite of many!)
4.) Eucalyptus Mint (100% essential oils)
5.) Lemon Cake
6.) Energy!
7.) Blackberry Sage
8.) Chocolate Orange (LISTED 2 November)
9.) Frankincense & Myrrh
10.) Lemongrass (100% essential oils)
11.) Mahogany (is like the Men’s Cologne)
12.) Chocolate Mint
13.) Rosehip Jasmine
14.) Patchouli Lavender (100% essential oils)
15.) Summer Lilac
16.) Home Sweet Home (was my #1 best seller among friends and family between 2002 and 2012, before I opened up Robin’s Soap Shoppe. I finally made it again, after several years)
17.) Lavender Madonna & Child only
18.) 100% Goat Milk Madonna & Child

Robin’s a single mom who’s treading a long, difficult road. She’s a hard-working, proud Army vet who really wants to support herself, despite her many health problems. Please consider checking out her Etsy shop. Her soaps make wonderful stocking stuffers or little gifts for friends, family, teachers . . .

25 Back-to-school Items Your Kids Can’t Geek Without

Doing your back to school shopping online, maybe? Do me a big favor and usethis link.

It will take you to Amazon, and you’ll have the exact same shopping experience as you always do — only my code is craftily embedded in the link, and every time you buy something, I get a percentage. Easy for you, super super super helpful for us!

We are still in denial about school shopping, but there are a few items that caught my eye – things that will help ease the pain when we can’t put it off any longer.


25 Back-to-school Items Your Kid Can’t Geek Without

Message in a Bottle flash drive – about $6. An appealing mixture of old and new storage techniques. 6GB of storage corked away inside a little glass bottle. Perfect for kids who tend to drop things in the toilet a lot.

bottle flash drive



12 large beeswax crayons – about $7  Yarr, $7 for crayons. But what crayons. Silky, velvety, brilliant. Everyone should color with these at some point in their lives (and they come in a nice case).

beeswax crayons


Slingshot pencil – about $4 – How to make friends with your kids’ teachers.

slingshot pencil


Nose pencil sharpener – about $3.50 Tee hee.

nose pencil sharpener


Totoro messenger bag – about $10 Note that the model is a weensy weesny Asian model. For the typical causcasian American kiddo, this is more the size of a purse than a messenger bag! It’s not exactly sophisticated looking, but for the right kid, it’s the best ten bucks you’ll ever spend.

totoro messenger bag


Little Alchemy – free  Just a neat little game that you may actually want to play yourself, or at least it won’t make you feel horrible when your kids play it all the time. All you do is put stuff together to make more stuff, until you have all the stuff. It’s just difficult enough to be fun, and the breakthroughs are very satisfrying. I meant to type “satisfying,” of course, but they are also sometimes satisfrying.

little alchemy screen shot


Robot pencil sharpener – $13 Nicely made. You wind him up by sharpening your pencil (or by using the key), and his little head fills up with shavings. He can hold your pencil in his robot hands as he marches along, too. Sturdy construction; nice and small so you won’t feel the need to assert your human primacy.

robot pencil sharpener


Dinosaur earring – $6 (Note that this is a single earring, not a pair!) For an extra boost of confidence for the first day of school, know that you have a dinosaur sticking out of your ear. Also available in T-rex .

dinosaur earring


Totoro lunchbox – $12.99.  This lunchbag took a beating all year and held up really well. Cute and sturdy.

totoro lunch bag

Human organs lunchbox – $12.99 Boy stepped on it; lunch box still functions.

human organs lunch box

TARDIS dress – $35. Picture day!

tardis dress


I had to stop myself from linking to all the Peter Pauper journals. Dozens of gorgeous styles, and very reasonably priced for the quality, according to the reviews. Here are a couple that caught my eye:

Celestial journal – about $7

amazon celestial journal

Cosmology journal – about $12

amazon cosmology notebook

The cover design of our magnificent journal is adapted from the celebrated Catalan Atlas (1375), attributed to master map-maker Abraham Cresques of Majorca, Spain.

  • This cosmological diagram places earth in the center, personified by an astronomer holding an astrolabe.
  • Around the earth, the elements, planets, signs of the zodiac, and moon phases are displayed within concentric circles, and the four seasons are portrayed in the corners.
  • Cosmology is enhanced with subtle iridescent highlights and embossed for a dimensional effect.
  • The journal provides 192 lightly-lined opaque pages for personal reflection, sketching, making

Drumstick pencils – about $6 I don’t hate teachers. Honest, I don’t.

drumstick pencils

Clip-on adipose for backpack or zipper – about $8. A nice little companion. Clips on so it won’t just walk away.

adipose clip on

Luffy T-shirt – about $15  For those kids who are – *sighhhhhhhhh* – really, really into One Piece, especially that one time when they were all in a ship, and Luffy was sitting on the figurehead, and he ate the gum gum fruit, and if you eat any kind of devil fruit, the price is that you can’t swim, and everyone was telling him he shouldn’t sit there because he might fall in the water, and he was like, “No, it’s my special seat, you can’t have it!” And then one time Luffy fell off into the water, and there are two other devil fruit users on his crew, and they’re the ones who jumped in to save him! Also there was one part where he was trying to get this guy who was a shipwright to join his crew, and this guy only wears a Speedo and a Hawaiian shirt, and he wanted to join, but he also wanted to stay where he was, so Luffy stole his Speedo and told him he couldn’t have it back unless he joined his crew, and it was the only one he had, and so he was running through the town to get his Speedo back, and . . . it was just great.

one piece t


Super Mario earrings  Oh my gosh, are you kidding me? – about $10 (Note: these are from China and will take forever to get to you unless you pay extra for fast shipping.)

polymer mario earrings plants


Zelda ocarina and songsheet – about $8  You certainly won’t regret buying this for your kid so that you can hear those Zelda songs all the time even when they’re not playing video games; you certainly won’t. (There are a great number of Zelda ocarinas available on Amazon. This plastic one is the one my kid happens to have, and it’s fine. I started to plow through the reviews of the higher-quality ones, thinking I would find a better product, but I started to feel kind of sad about humanity.)

zelda ocarina


Terrifying owl backpack – $49 Whoa. If you are worried about your kid being a little bit frail and puny and maybe not ready for the wilds of the hallway, it might help to send ‘em out wearing one of these.

owl backpack


Set of 6 sushi erasers, about $10 Tip: never make back-t0-school lists for your blog when you’re hungry.

sushi erasers


Zita the Spacegirl graphic novel series – about $9 each. I’m getting my kids to write a proper review, but in the meantime, I can’t say enough about these books, which are clearly a labor of love, written by a dad who really knows kids. So funny, weird, sweet, and exciting – and fairly back-to-schoolish, if you kid feels like she’s been catapulted out of her familiar world onto a strange planet on the first day of school.

slingshot pencil

Musician’s transposition ring – about $15 Useful and pretty. Does this count as cheating? I’m not sure.

amazon musician ring

This ring helps you transpose musical notes into different keys! It is a simple way to pick the number of steps or half steps you’d like to change for any musical sequence. Want to move a score up a major 2nd? Just turn the top band two position over. Works for any transposition you need. You can also use it for more complex variations such as descending 5ths root movements. One example is ii-V-I’s which are the basis for most jazz tunes.



Lovingly handmade bags and pouches in awesome fabrics from Door Number 9 on Etsy. A few samples of the pouches, wallets, and mini bags for sale:

star wars pencil bag

Sherlock Holmes

sherlock holmes letter bag

My daughter has this one: the One Ring Tea Wallet. Gorgeous, one-of-a-kind.

one ring tea wallet


Okay, I think that’s it! Happy shopping!