21 December 2007

The Fog Is Lifting

If I've had something nourishing to eat and a nap I can go maybe three hours in a fairly coherent state. It helps if I spend that time fairly quietly.

I've been knitting on Twist

in Cascade 220 superwash. I got about this far in the cables and realized that I had neglected to change needles to the larger size once I'd finished the rib. I calmly ripped back to the rib, inserted a needle in all the loose stitches, and knitted back up to this point. I was too tired to be anything but calm.

I have been taking online quizzes

You Are a Cranberry and Popcorn Strung Tree

Christmas is all about showcasing your creative talents.
From cookies to nicely wrapped presents, your unique creations impress everyone.

Hat tip to Drew. This picture is pretty funny when you consider that we just had the "garland discussion" while setting up the tree last week. MrV favors the tinsel sort of garland (MrV would probably come out of the quiz as a fiber optic tree, if that's an option). I kept saying, "We could string popcorn, or make paper chains out of construction paper!". Yep, that's me, stringing popcorn for the tree, sending out the handmade Christmas cards, knitting up presents. (In the end we put some gold beaded garland we already had on the tree. We have so many handmade ornaments that garland is superfluous.)

I also discovered here that I am most like The Librarian (no surprise there) or maybe Death (probably due to my tendency to talk in capital letters; also, I'm on the skinny side), followed distantly by Carrot. None of which makes sense if you don't read Terry Pratchett's books. I discovered this quiz via Ravelry when I joined the Ankh-Morpork Knitter's Guild, by the way. Amazing what you can discover on Ravelry, especially when you're too groggy to do anything but click on links.

In the meantime, while I've been sitting quietly to one side, the kids have been busy cleaning the house. We are hosting a sleepover tonight (this may be really dumb given that I'm sick; or maybe it's really brilliant). They have handed me a list of planned activities, which includes building a roaring fire so they can cook dinner over open flames, then watching about 20 full length movies. Sounds fine to me. I'll be curled up with my box of tissues and my knitting.

20 December 2007

Zooming Down the Road to Bethlehem

Years ago someone gave us a book that had cardstock nativity figures you could punch out and set up. The book also had a little story you could read each day as you set the figures up little by little.

Which is fine, except we have tons of stories to be read every day in Advent, and the story in this book was rather dorky. But the kids wanted to punch out the little cardstock figures and set them up because they like that sort of thing -- it has a sort of paper doll vibe to it. And I didn't want to have random nativity figures strewn all over the house (well, more than we already do), getting all tatty and ripped.

So I came up with a sort of compromise -- we would use the cardstock nativity, but we would read a different story. We would use The Light in the Lantern. Of course, this involved getting other stuff into the scene we were setting up, as our cardstock set didn't come with, say, squirrels or spiders or rabbits. But we sort of had fun finding stuff all over the house to use to illustrate the story as we set it up little by little.

And, of course, the next year we did it again. And again. It had become a tradition. Except I don't think cardstock figures are exactly made to be used year after year.

And this year when we were getting out the Christmas stuff I just sort of left the bag of them laying there. No one seemed to notice that they were missing. "Ah," I though, "the kids have outgrown this. Which is fine, since I'm sick of this particular nativity set."

On Monday of this week Kid2 suddenly announced, "WE FORGOT TO DO THE LIGHT IN THE LANTERN!"

Egads. My bad -- I should've known that household traditions are household traditions, and must be laid to rest carefully, not casually overlooked and forgotten.

The book has 28 stories in it, enough to read one per day for four weeks. And it's about a week until Christmas.

So we did the entire first week (mineral kingdom) on Monday. The entire second week (plants) on Tuesday. And the third week (animals) yesterday. Mother Mary and Joesph are setting speed records on the road to Bethlehem.

Fortunately, we are pretty speedy about about getting our props. We no longer break open a new geode for the story about the boulder in their path -- I just save the same one to use from year to year. Run and get some jagged rocks from around the air coniditioner compressor, plunk down a shot glass with water and glitter in it for the well, the squirrel is in the Playmobil, the spider is in the box of Halloween decorations ... on and on.

Mother Mary keeps falling on her face, possibly due to the blistering pace, or possibly due to the fragile nature of cardstock figures. We have lost the sheep's horns. I have been campaigning to pitch the cardstock figures and get something else. Kid2 is tending to agree (although given how sick I am this week, the kids are being pretty agreeable to everything -- my complaints about the cardstock figures are a welcome break from my complaints that my head is going to explode or my eyeballs are going to fall out next time I sneeze, and today we have the entire new issue of how much my chest hurts when I cough or clear my throat and I might be dying here, do I really have to spend my final moments on Earth setting up these cardstock figures that keep knocking over?).

If we do keep the storybook but ditch the cardstock, I'd like to make some new figures. Out of wool. Using the concept of the angel off the front cover of Living Crafts, which is a magazine that I just discovered this week at Michaels and like so much that I want to sleep with it under my pillow. Many of my thoughts this week seem to center on "sleep" and "pillow", though, so this might not be a good measure.

Today we should catch up with the story, and be able to enter Bethlehem with grace and dignity. Assuming I live that long. Have I mentioned how much my chest hurts every time I cough?

19 December 2007

Tuesday Teatime

Teatime took place in the living room next to the Christmas tree.

Our menu was hot chocolate (in Christmas mugs) and Reindeer Nose Cookies (on Christmas plates). We had purchased the cookies Monday at the zoo; Kid2 had seen them in the gift shop and commented that we should get them for Tuesday teatime.

(An aside: Parking in the parking lots was free at the zoo on Monday. I don't know if that was due to the crummy weather. Maybe they figured that whoever showed up could just park wherever they want?)

And our reading? Need I even tell you what it was? Twas the Night Before Christmas, of course. This was followed by several pages of The Story of Santa Claus.

Teatime is a great way to take a break during the holiday!

17 December 2007

Cheap Filler Because I Am Tired*

This is the sweater I was wearing yesterday:

I'm not sure when I knit it. I know I had it in the early 80s, when I was going through a phase in which I made most of my own clothes (note that this was before I had kids). The yarn is acrylic, and is sportweight; this was back before we had a lot of that newfangled DK stuff.

It may be one of my first attempts at intarsia. The design is all knitted in -- I suck at duplicate stitch. That bit of blue along the shoulders is a horseshoe pattern. And, yes, I really would decide to do an entire intarsia sweater without really knowing how to do the required technique because, well, it's only knitting. What's the worst that could happen if you flub it up?

I have no idea why I still have this sweater. Many sweaters have been knit, loved, worn over and over, and eventually discarded. In some cases I've saved the patterns of those discarded sweaters because I have it in the back of my mind that I want to knit them again someday.

I'm glad I saved this one, though. It's nice to have momentos from the past, especially momentos that are actually useful.

* I expected a busy weekend involving a piano recital, having to be at church at 7:30am. dance class, having 1 (quiet) friend over for a playdate. I did not expect 6 inches of snow, along with the accompanying need to shovel everything and have large herds of children tromping through the house in wet boots and snow pants looking for hot chocolate during sledding breaks. Also, we now have an extra adult winter coat in our kitchen -- where did that come from? Yeesh. I'm too tired to call around and figure out who it belongs to.

14 December 2007

Halfway There!

(Okay, we're a little more than halfway there, but we lost our Internet connection yesterday.)

We have celebrated St. Nicholas Day on the 5th. He left wee little painting sets in the kids' shoes. They were immediately used to paint tiny little landscapes. Perfect for dollhouses.

If you need a painting set like this but were passed by on St. Nicholas day, Michael's carries them in the $5 bin with all the cheapy stocking stuffers. They come with that doll-sized duffle bag you see in the background.

We have worked on our Christmas cards. They are based on a design in Family Fun magazine -- you can see a proto-type there in the foreground. We aren't done with this project yet, but are moving along briskly.

We listen to Christmas music while working on cards. When "I Saw Three Ships" comes on we must halt production and dance a jig because we CAN.

We have celebrated St. Lucia Day on the 13th. This is a popular holiday at our house -- it's Swedish and involves lots of candles and a chance to dress up (white dress and red sash). What's not to like?

I thought the crayons in lieu of candles were quite creative. She is carrying a tiny brownie (actually a piece of sponge painted brown) and a tiny glass of milk (a plastic communion cup with a cotton ball in it). These are both items from the Brownie Swap meet last week -- Kid2 took off the safety pins for Kit's entrance as St. Lucia.

And we've been to see The Man.

I think in this shot he's asking Kid2 if her room is clean. He spent quite a long time talking to them. He remembered them from last year, which was ... magic.

12 December 2007

Swaps and Exchanges

The Brownie troop exchanged Swaps as a Christmas party activity. The kids made the swaps ahead of time, then handed them out at the party.

Kid2 decided that she wanted to make tiny little marshmallows-on-sticks. She loooooves to toast marshmallows in a fire, so it seemed appropriate.

She made the marshmallows out of white Crayola Model Magic. A tiny package made lots and lots of faux marshmallows. As she made the marshmallows she stuck a tiny twig through each one.

After they were dry she hot glued pins to the back. (Her sister nabbed a pinless one to use for dolls to play campout.)

Very cute. Many people were thought that she used actually mini-marshmallows that she had allowed to dry.

The Junior troop had a cookie exchange -- a half dozen cookies for each girl, homemade or purchased.

Kid1 decided to make meringues, which are basically whipped egg white and sugar baked at low temperature (250F). She added a little vanilla, peppermint extract, and also some mini chocolate chips.

It was her first time whipping egg whites into meringues. We don't have the equipment to pipe them out nicely on the cookie sheets, so they're sort of blobby.

But I think the final presentation looked appealing:

In other Christmas news, the tree is in the house and set up. I need to go get more lights, as one of our strands gave out. In the course of all of this putting-up-of-tree I've come to the conclusion that I'm mildly allergic to Frasier Fir -- my arms were splotchy and itchy from handling it, and my nose was stuffing up while I was around it. MrV offered to pitch the whole thing and come up with something else, but I think I can survive the next couple of weeks. But I'm thinking that we might look for a new artificial tree in the post-holiday sales.

10 December 2007

If I Had Two More Yards of Yarn

This is how much black Cascade 220 I have:

I'd like to knit 2-3 more rows in black. That's all. If I could knit 2-3 more rows, I could finish this scarf without having to do much thinking.

But, the yarn is totally gone. As it stands now, the ends don't match -- the beginning has a nice, substantial black border, the end has just a couple of rows of black.

I like that the scarf has 5 complete octaves. It would look wonky to rip out, say, a single black key. Especially since this is a gift for a piano teacher (I think she'd notice, know what I mean?). I like the current length of the scarf. Mrs. Piano Teacher is tall. So I don't want to rip out an entire half-octave.

And since Mrs. Piano Teacher is a knitter, she'll look at how things are cast on and bound off. Really. We actually chat about various cast-ons (casts on?).

So, here I sit, having to actually think about what I'm doing. Which is a shame, because this was a wonderfully mindless knit while we were travelling this past weekend. The illusion knitting takes just enough attention to keep you from dozing off.

The last time I'll see her before Christmas is at a recital next Saturday. I have until then to contemplate what to do. And a little voice in my head is saying, "take it to this week's piano lesson, show it to her and ask her how she would handle it -- she won't know it's for her." Hee.

(The travelling this past weekend was the first family Christmas get together. Gifts were wrapped, delivered, opened, oohed and aahed over. One down! More to come!)

06 December 2007


Every year I trade out the (quite heavy and large) every day dishes for the (quite heavy and large) Christmas dishes. Then, at the end of Chritsmastide, I trade them back.

It's a lot of work to unpack and repack those dishes twice a year. And when I pack them I do it well enough that we can load up the boxes onto a moving van. Our lifestyle dictates that sort of forethought.

We also unpack and repack the Fontanini manger scene every year. Early in Advent, the gang just sort of hangs out. Here are some of the crew, sailing the good ship Faber and Faber across the sea:

Later on they sailed on into the family room to watch a movie with us.

In the meantime, the Wise Men were hanging out on the coffee table (currently covered in green fleece for the occasion):

Did you know that they didn't get along? It's true. The guy with the gold started calling the guy carrying frankincense "Frankie", so Frankincense Man started getting all sneery and calling Gold Guy "Goldielocks". I have no idea what role Mr. Myrrh plays in all of this, but the whole thing started getting really ugly. It's no wonder the rest of the gang left the Wise Men stranded there on Coffee Table Island.

Of course, by Christmas Eve this will all settle down, MrV will read the Bible story of Christmas, and the kids will act it out using the Fontanini set. It's a cool tradition.

And, let's see, we have numerous Advent calendars going. We celebrate St. Nicholas Day and St. Lucia Day. Lots and lots of traditions. Beautiful, meaningful traditions.

So why, when Kid1's Sunday School discussed family Christmas traditions, did she choose to tell everyone about the freezer-burnt chicken nuggets for Christmas Eve supper? It started in a year that was such a low spot in our Christmas celebrations, having to do with incredibly icky weather, excited little kids whose priority was making butter cookies for Santa instead of making sure we had edible food in the house for supper, and all those stupid luminarias the neighborhood insisted we should all do (it's really hard to light the candles in luminarias when you have strong winds at about -5F -- your lighter stops working, and you can pretty much stick your fingers right into a lit match and barely feel warmth -- just a little tip from me to you). Believe it or not, the chicken-nugget tradition has gone downhill from there. But I always considered it our family's little secret, not to be shared with the general public.

It's moments like this that I realize I've lost control of the magic of Christmas. My children's Christmas memories are apparently full of bizarro, whacky events that we keep stumbling through. Which is probably more fun, come to think of it.

Deer-Approved Christmas Tree

In the past we've been artificial-tree people. MrV thinks it's stupid to kill a tree just to stick it in our living room for a couple of weeks, plus cats don't climb artificial trees as much. Plus they're cheaper over the course of several years, especially if you keep using the same artificial tree year after year after year, to the point that your kids associate the plastic smell of the tree with Christmas.

But we knew some people with a tree lot. So we decided to get a real tree.

We got in our car here in Major Metropolitan Area, drove down Fairly Busy St. and stopped to turn left onto Cut-Through St. (which goes over to Really Busy St., which leads to Extremely Busy Avoid-It-If-You-Can St.). Out of nowhere, 4 deer appeared, and went trotting down the sidewalk into the night. They looked like trick-or-treaters, except they weren't carrying treat bags.

We got our tree and brought it home to put in the garage in a bucket of water

and happened to glance out the garage door because of a loud noise. We were being studied by a buck and doe. It was eery. They would not leave, even when we went out to have a better look. MrV tried to take their picture, but we just ended up with pictures of lots of darkness with bright little eyes in the middle.

The tree is a Frasier Fir. We'll keep it in water in our garage, protected from sun and wind, for another week or so.

No deer have been sighted in the garage today, although a cardinal flew out earlier. I'm wondering if the forest creatures want to reclaim our garage now that we have a tree in it.

03 December 2007

Our Story So Far...

Advent is such a special time of year.

It's a time to, well, to eat a breakfast of crinkle cut potato chips dipped in Ranch dip while updating your blog because really you don't have time to sit and be reflective, or even fix something decent to eat.

We started Advent-craziness in earnest last Friday, when I made a skirt for Kid1 to wear to the various Christmas functions:

Ottobre Woman 5/2007 #18. The original in the magazine was made in gold dupioni silk. Kid1 wanted a black skirt; we looked over the black dupioni at JoAnn's, but she felt it "looked like it has dust on it" (there was a sort of white sheen to the black silk). So we ended up with a polyester from the bridal section. She wears it with a pair of my high heels, and looks impossibly grown up.

I was a tad nervous as I got to the invisible zipper insertion, since zippers are often my downfall. The zipper was going in fairly smoothly (I have apparently made every mistake possible with zippers, and am starting to get the hang of it), but I kept noting how amazingly brown the black zipper looked compared to the black fabric. I finally got up to check the zipper package, and discovered that I had purchased a brown zipper. Doh. So, a quick trip back to the fabric store, and I was set. No further problems, although I'll admit that I hand sewed the lining to the zipper since I didn't trust my skills at machine sewing that little bit together.

Saturday morning we went downtown to Shades of Green, a scouting event involving thousands of Girl Scouts wearing identical green t-shirts tromping around a cavernous convention center looking at scouty-type stuff. I felt I should've earned a special badge for driving us to a downtown location I'd never been to before, finding a parking spot, and remaining calm on the way home when the highway entrance ramp I expected to use was closed for construction.

The rest of the day was spent cleaning the house and putting up some Christmas decorations. Then Kid1 and I went to church for an evening Advent service in which she sang (looking all impossibly grownup there in her black skirt and my high heels, sob). Kid2 was sick, and stayed home with MrV.

Sunday morning we all went to church. It was wonderfully balmy when we left home around 9:30 am. By the time we left the church at noon rain was coming down in sheets. The temperature dropped steadily all afternoon. But we were snug inside having a Suzuki piano recital -- Kid1 played and Kid2 read the little story that tied all the piano music together. Various relatives and neighbors were in attendance, as well as Mrs. Piano Teacher. We served snacks on our Christmas dishes. Yay us for getting out some of the Christmas dishes!

The kids decided they both were too sick to go back to church for the evening, so we watched Elf and put up more Christmas decorations.

Two days of December craziness down, 29 to go.