What about the early worm

This time of year fills me with a sort of general, vague panic.  Just the creeping feeling, omnipresent and pervasive, that I have forgotten something, fallen behind on something or am about to light the holidays on fire (metaphorically speaking.) I’ve got all kinds of strategies for staying on track, most of all the mighty Christmas Spreadsheet, but mostly I’ve learned that I feel this way because there’s always something that I actually am falling behind on, forgotten or have (occasionally literally) lit on fire. (Usually cookies.) I love having a large family that does Christmas big, but it means there’s a lot of moving parts. This year, I wasn’t doing too badly. I was working the spreadsheet, getting stuff in order, pulling it together, and Joe had his list, and he was working hard on it. It was looking pretty good, something getting done every day, until Joe came to me – handed me a glass of wine (never a good sign) and said “Thing is, I’ve got to go out of town.”  Turns out that as much as he’d like to avoid it, he’s got another work trip to make this year.

I took a sip of my drink and thought about that, and decided what I wouldn’t say, which was something about abandonment, and being a team player and how if this meant I had to go to the mall twice or something unreasonable like that, it was right the hell out. I also decided against reminding him that for years and years we’ve had a deal. I cook, clean, knit, organize, make lists, hand out lists, wrap, remind him what we need and when we need it by, and he goes to the store. I hate the store. The store is his. As much as Joe would rather wax his armpits than make cookies, that’s how much I don’t want to go Christmas shopping, and I am willing to do a million other things to avoid it. I thought about laying all that on him, thought about telling him that there is no bloody way that I am going to be here by myself pulling together this whole thing while he’s in a hotel room and not running out of tape at all, while I stand in a queue at The Bay with meringue in my hair, desperately knitting a sock while trying to buy the last stupid roll of wrapping paper in Toronto, even though it’s ugly.

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I said none of that. I took a deep breath, and asked him when, and for how long. The answer was the worst possible.  A week. The week before Christmas. Okay then.  I took more deep breaths, and Joe asked if that was going to be okay, and said maybe he didn’t have to, and I thought about it, and thought about how hard he works to make things nice, and then I didn’t say what I was thinking, which was something about how it really wasn’t, and then I went to the spreadsheet, and had a  good look. Then I finished my wine, went back to Joe and told him that it was totally fine, if we made one change.

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We will be finished before he leaves. We’ll do it all before he gets on a plane. All the shopping, all the wrapping, all the stocking stuffers, the whole thing with the tree. Everything that’s going in jars, everything that needs printing, the stupid trip to IKEA -all of it. He can go, and I’ll smile and drive him to the airport and wish him well, and he can feel great about it and I will too – if we’re all done. “No problem” he said, and I know he meant it. I started changing things on the spreadsheet, and we made a plan to go get a tree, and started to get stuff out of boxes and pull it together – and then Joe stopped, frozen in his tracks, and said “Wait… All of it?” I nodded. “All of it. No exceptions.”

He looked at me stunned, and I couldn’t quite figure out what he was worried about. We have a list. We’ll work the list, and be ready a week early. Boom. No problem. It was kinda exciting, actually.  “Everything.” I said, and Joe said “But… not all of it? Not….. ” he paused, and I could tell that he was about to drop something huge. I looked at him questioningly, and finally he said it. “Not the knitting though… I mean….”

I almost laughed. “Of course not the knitting Joe. Get real.”

Gifts for Knitters: Days 1, 2 and 3. (See, I’m going to catch up.)

It’s tradition around these parts, for me to provide ideas for those who love knitters and are tasked with buying gifts for them this time of year. I know that if you love a knitter, and want to get them a present that they’ll love, that it can be confusing to know what you should get, or where to find it, or if it’s any good. To that end, I’ve got a list for you. Not everything is going to be right for every knitter, but if you keep an eye out, there should be something that works for yours.

Day 1: A swift. Does your knitter ever ask you to stand with your hands out, holding a skein of yarn for them? Do you see them with yarn draped over chair backs, or sitting with their legs out, yarn held by their feet while they wind it into a ball? If so, they need a swift. A swift is a yarn holder that replaces … well, you.  Buy one of these, and you never have to do it again. There’s all sorts of them. The basic entry level one looks like this, and that works for most knitters -but can be squeaky, and doesn’t last forever. Still, a good start. If your knitter has that kind and complains about it, you could upgrade them to a wooden one, and these are a little nicer.  If they have one of those, or you want to get a really great one, take a look at these.  They’re hand made, wooden, don’t clamp to anything (the clamping thing can be hard, depending on your furniture) and don’t squeak. They’re beautiful.

Day 2: A yarn bowl.  Now, these aren’t for every knitter. Knitters who knit everywhere, trucking their project from place to place, they might not need one of these. If your knitter is the stationary type though, a yarn bowl can be a nice thing. They plunk the ball of yarn in it, and then it doesn’t roll around or get covered with cat hair. There’s wooden ones, and ceramic ones, and Doctor Who ones, and … you get the idea. There’s got to be something on this page that suits.

Day 3: Knitting needle organizers.  Look around your house. Somewhere there might be a nest of knitting needles.  If they mostly are long and straight, then your knitter might like a knitting needle organizer for straight needles.  There’s lots of kinds, but these roll up ones are pretty good.  If you see mostly straight needles, but they’re short and fine, then think about grabbing one of these.  They’re from Handwork Hardware, and they sort the needles by size (trust me, that’s a great thing) and store them too.  I’ve got one, and it’s reduced needle related swearing incidents quite a bit.  If your knitter mostly has needles that have a cable connecting them, then they’re into circulars.  You can get a hanging one like this, or like this, or – if your knitter seems more the type, there are cloth folders like this, or this.  If your knitter has all kinds, or you’re looking for something a little fancier, look no further than Grace’s Cases.  (She’ll even do a custom one, and if your knitter is a guy, she’s got ones that are made from suit fabric.)

Also the server didn’t work

I  know someone who used to say that in their family, if you did something twice, it was a tradition.  This used to be a sort of a joke, where you’d do something that the family or your friends enjoyed, and you’d think to yourself “note to self, so-and-so really liked that” and I’d write it on the Christmas spreadsheet to make sure it happened again, and everyone would laugh, and say “watch out! You’ll have to do it forever!”

Little did I know, that my family is so sensitive to tradition and ritual, and the little things we always do that make our family special, that for us, it doesn’t take twice.  If the thing you did was really good, and it resonated, and everyone loved it, then whammo. It was an instant tradition, this time of year not the same without it.   Such was the case with the Advent Calendar I made for Lou’s family two years ago.  I thought I was making a calendar, but it turned out I’d made an instant tradition, so much so, that this year everyone asked. “Myrie is three,” they said. “Isn’t this the year for her calendar?”

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I sighed, and started with the knitting of the tiny things again.  All last month, tiny thing after tiny thing came off my needles and it was sort of a secret. I didn’t say out loud that it was Myrie’s calendar, but everyone knew. The whole thing culminated last weekend in a flurry of sewing and applique and a general sort of hysteria. I always remember too late that the sewing machine and nine oceans worth of felt is a bit of a production.  I cut the whole thing out, and I embroidered all of the numbers on the pockets – I’d forgotten you can embroider over tissue paper then rip it away. Way easier.

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I sewed those parts on, and then sat down to sew the buttons on, and in that moment, realized I didn’t have any.  A trip to downtown and the button store later, I had all I needed, and sewed every single one of those twenty-four buttons on. (I tried to do it with the machine first, but after I broke two needles and the ones I’d done fell off anyway, I decided to rock it old school. I sort of had to, once I’d broken all my needles.) When it was done, I hung all the tiny things from the buttons, and then moved half of the buttons to the right places.  (Little problem with the order of operations there.)

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Then, I loaded it into the car, and did something I almost never do.  I drove somewhere.  Myrie doesn’t live very close to me, but she had to have it for the 1st of December, so off I went, wending my way along the highway, over the big hill to Myrie’s house.  When I got there, Myrie’s mum Robyn opened the door and said “I think I know why you’re here!” and I went to the car and got the thing.

There is a danger in giving a gift to a three year old, unless you have your head on straight. The three year old could not like it. They could be afraid of it. They could cry and refuse to look at it, or they could promptly flush three tiny things down the toilet because they’ve just learned how the lever works.  You cannot care. Gifts to three year old’s need to be freely given, in the spirit of the thing, and without ego.  I marched in, hung it on the wall, and waited for NOTHING to happen.

It was my lucky day, as an auntie.  Something did happen.  All the ornaments were taken off, exclaimed over, cuddled, taken out of pockets, put back in pockets, and though I have no doubt that the kid has no clue what it’s for or how it works, she was delighted, and so was her mum, and that was enough for me.  Robyn’s reported back since then, and apparently the star was hung on the first with much enthusiasm, and today the candy cane went up. (Unlike her cousin Luis, Myrie seems to be keen on doing them in order, and the candy cane was in the day two pocket, after all the shuffling.)

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I didn’t know when I was making the first one that there would be a second, but I’m clear now that there will be a third. When my grandson is three. I’ve got three years to get it together.  (That’s right, a grandson. We’re completely shocked and thrilled, Megan is expecting a boy.) I can’t wait to find out what tiny things he’ll like.

Santa Mouse for sure.

(PS. I know too that Gifts for Knitters is a tradition, and I’ll get right on it. Give me a minute, I’ll catch up.)