The Longest Night

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

Susan Cooper

With profound thanks to Rams, our Lady of the Comments, who always knows the right poem for everything.

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I love this night. The longest one there will be all year, and the shortest day to go with it.  Tomorrow the sun will shine a little longer, the night – just a few seconds less.  We celebrate tonight, as we always do, with friends, and food and good wine, and mostly with candles, and light. Twinkle lights hang everywhere, the tree is sparkling against the afternoon dark,  ice lanterns will line the steps to greet our guests, fresh candles top every flat surface.  Dinner’s on the stove, and I’ve just finished the peppermint bark, which is good – because I think I have a friend or two who only come for the wee package of it they’ll find in their pockets on the way home.

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The friends who come tonight are women and mothers,  knitters too, in fact, and I feel like today I open my home to people who are the cradle of their homes. People who make things. Sweaters, dinners, presents… people… they’re powerful, wonderful women. (They’re a little twitchy this time of year, but that’s nothing that candlelight, a little knitting time and a glass of wine can’t fix.)  We’ll celebrate our unbelievable good fortune tonight, that we’re warm, that we’re full, that our children are whole and safe, that the light is all around us, and that there will be more of it tomorrow.

So many people can’t say the same this evening, and I’m going to skip gifts for knitters today, and suggest that this day, we think of a gift for someone with less.  I don’t know how much you have, and maybe all you can give is a few dollars, or even a little time – you’ll know best what speaks to your heart, and what you can manage.  We give to charity this day, it brings a little more light into the world, even while it is the longest night. Who we give to varies, according to what we’re grateful for, and what we wish other people had.  This year, it’s MSF – because we’re so grateful to have outstanding, affordable health care, and because we’re so impressed with the incredible work and risk that the MSF teams have undertaken on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak.  We’re giving to Because I am a Girl, because we have three educated, healthy daughters.  We’re giving to PWA because they do so very much good, and what the hell. I’m riding again. We’re giving to World Birth Aid, because on that map of maternal morbidity – I live in a country that is coloured blue.  There’s no safer place to give birth, and a clean birth kit can change that for another woman, so another family can have their mum with them, like I have mine, and my family has me.

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Happy Happy Solstice, dear ones.  Light a candle. Namaste. Peace.


(PS. Luis hung up the reindeer.  He has no sense of decorum.)

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That whole house is sticky now

When my girls were little (and when they were bigger too) we always had a Gingerbread Party.  It used to be that we’d fill up the house with people, and food, and music, and I’d bake a couple hundred gingerbread cookies, and make a few pounds of royal icing (that kind that gets hard when it dries) and then we’d just make merry all over the place while my gingerbread cookies got decorated by littles and big ones alike.  It’s been a few years since we did it now.  With no real littles around, the tradition seemed silly to the big kids I think, and I’d invite them and we’d try to make it happen and they’d say no, because it was gingerbread and what self respecting young person trying to assert themselves as an adult shows up for a gingerbread party? It undermines your adulthood.

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In my secret heart through, I really, truly believed that I wasn’t the only one who missed the gingerbread party. I brought it up a few years, but nobody seemed to want to – but I thought they were lying.  I had rented kids over to scratch my itch (the neighbours, and Jen provided a few) but this year I took a different tack.  I invited the family for dinner. A regular family dinner, like we do all the time, and then – I ambushed them.

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When everyone arrived, the gingerbread was laid out, icing was made and put into ziplocks to be makeshift piping bags (they actually work really, really well) and from there, instinct took over.

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It was a wonderful evening.  Music was made, dumb reindeer songs were sung, Lou decorated his first gingerbread, and everyone got into it. I’d go into the kitchen to lay out more food (the food – holy cats they demolished it all) and come back out to find someone else had sidled up to the table and was having a go.  People came and went from the table, but the die hards -the ones who decorated the most and had the biggest fun, were the young men. Exactly the ones who shrink back in horror when you suggest such a thing.

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The older men didn’t have a terrible time either, and my mum and Joe’s were happier than I can tell you.  It reeked of good, clean fun.  When the night was over, and the last gingerbread decorated, and the house tidied, I sat on the chesterfield and had a good, long smirk.

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I knew they would love it.  Sneak attack gingerbread  party.  One of my better plans, and worth the sacrifice of the knitting time.  They’ll remember this more than whether or not I finished their mittens.

What did Luis hang today?

El jersey.  (That’s an easy one to learn in Spanish, isn’t it?)

eljersey 2014-12-20

I knit this one almost to the pattern (although I admit to changing the shoulder shaping, and the pattern on the yoke, so it would match the hat. WHAT.  I thought it should be a set) and Joe used a paperclip to make a tiny little hanger.

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I know that a sweater isn’t something that would thrill Lou (and that likely explains it’s late arrival on the tree) but it was intended as a little homage to the many sweaters I’ve knit him.  I am the sweater Auntie, and when he’s bigger, maybe he’ll think of the sweaters I’ve made him over the years, keeping him warm and cozy.  (More likely he’ll remember that Sam let him squirt icing straight into his mouth at the party, but I can’t compete with that.)

Gifts for knitters, Day 20

This one’s quick and dirty, easy and fast.  Personalized labels for your knitter to sew into the things they make. There’s great ones here, and charming ones here, and if labels aren’t quite your kntiter’s style, think about some personalized tags.  They all say “I’m proud of the things you make” and that’s a great message to send your knitter.

Maybe you need to lower your standards

All is well here, although only because I’ve given up, in the most relaxed way possible.  I’m still trying to get everything done by the 20th, but I understand that’s tomorrow and that  I live in a world of dreams.  Even if I don’t totally finish, I’ll be close enough that the last few days of the holidays won’t be an enraged blur of wrapping paper and baking.  The gingerbread was baked last night, dinner for tonight is almost made, and it’s a simple one, so it’s bubbling on the stove, making the house smell like I’m ready, even if I’m not. A little while ago I got this huge urge to vacuum, and then realized that only a fool vacuums *before* a two year old comes to your house for dinner.  I’ll clean up the crumbs he leaves behind tomorrow.  It was always a pipe dream to have the knitting done by the 20th – I haven’t thought I would make that for a while… but I stand by my idea that I’ll be knitting for me on Christmas Day, with a cup of eggnog and the tree twinkling next to me.  I don’t have that much to knit really (sorry, let me just stop laughing enough to type.)  No, really – it’s not that bad.  A pair of Cloisonée mittens remain to be finished…

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and I’d forgotten how much I love this pattern. Fast, fun, and easy to make the right colours for anyone – I hunted on Ravelry for just the right thing for a while before I realized that I’d already come up with it.  (You know you’re not thinking when Rav suggests a pattern you’ve written.)  After that there’s one more pair of mittens (two, if the sun shines) another pair of fingerless mitts, and one (two if the sun shines) hats.  I’m still in the running. This afternoon I’ll finish the cooking, work for a little longer, and then if all goes well, I’ll have an hour to knit before the hordes descend.  (Did I mention I’m looking forward to the hordes?) I was going to clean, but then I remembered I just don’t give a sh*t. I’d rather this was the first year I didn’t give anyone a gift still on the needles.

What’s Luis hanging today?

La luz de navidad. The Christmas light. (Edited to fix my crappy Spanish spelling. Big surprise.)

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I admit, I think of this as the “Christmas bulb” but Christmas light is close enough.  I was knitting it, and thinking that really, Lou probably wouldn’t know what it was, since all the strings of lights now are little LED things that look nothing like this, which is so much better for the environment, and so much worse for nostalgia.  Still, when I think of a the strings of lights you hand on a tree (and despite not having had anything that looks like this for years) this seems just right.  I  used this pattern, and didn’t change a thing, but for the gauge.  (The pattern called for worsted and 3.25mm needles, and I switched to fingering and 2.25mm needles to make it small enough.)  I imagine that when Lou’s old enough to really look at these, he’ll think of this the way that he will dial phones with an attached cord. If I were a better woman, I’d knit a long string of these for my tree.

Gifts for knitters, Day 19

Today’s gift for knitters, is project bags.  I know, I know, yesterday I did bags for knitters, but these are project bags, not knitting bags.  These go inside the knitting bag.  (I know. I told you we had a bag thing.)

I love these box bags from Splityarn with a passion.  There’s big ones, and smaller ones, and they squish enough to fit in my bag when I travel or go places, but they’re also tidy enough (and have a handle on the end) so that I can take it as is.  Lots of other great people make box bags too (look! Polkadots! This ones a call box! Sharknado! Hedgehogs!) Ones you can colour co-ordinate to your other stuff!)   and they’re fabulous (and they stack, like bricks so that the place your knitter is keeping projects is very tidy indeed.  (Yes, having more than one project on the go is normal, as a matter of fact, it’s a pretty good idea.) If you’re as crafty as your knitter, there’s a great tutorial on how to make a box bag here.

If your knitter isn’t that square (see what I did there?) then you can go the more traditional project bag route.  There’s a million of them, and they’re all good – there’s so many in fact that there’s no reason that you can’t co-ordinate it to fit in with your knitters other interests.  Sheep? CoffeeTardis? Do they wanna put a bird on it? Maybe chickens? Creepy stuff? The Enterprise? Crafty PiratesDaleks?  (As an aside, and this fits in with yesterday too.  If your knitter has a thing for the Doctor, maybe you wanna go nuts and pre-order this.)  If your knitter likes something, you can find a bag that goes with it. Go to Etsy, and modify this search with something your knitter likes.

Another Freakin’ Column

Without a word of a lie, I swear in the name of all things woolly that today was going to be easy.  Yesterday’s shopping mission went off without a hitch. I left, I shopped, I returned, and I even got home about an hour earlier than I thought, because it was all so easy.  I poured myself that reward beer and wrapped gifts for that found hour (I see now I should have been knitting. Someone else could have wrapped.) I got the meringues in the oven – right on time, and despite the perilous business of having to turn the oven on and off (it gets too hot otherwise, and the cookies colour instead of just dry out) I did not once forget that they were in there during the “on” phase, and ruin the whole batch. (I used a timer. I can’t be trusted.) I even put a post it note on the button for the stove, so that someone else wouldn’t turn on the oven – not knowing they were in there, and torch the whole thing. (We had a pizza dough incident a few weeks ago. Joe’s right. You should tell people if you’re going to leave something in there.)

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Last night I almost finished a knitting project, and made the gingerbread dough so that it could chill in the fridge for long enough – and I went to bed early, thinking that today was just about going to be the most pleasant walk in the park that you can imagine.  I drifted off to sleep thinking about what a pleasure today was going to be.  I can only imagine that the high of finishing the shopping did some kind of number on my brain, because I woke up this morning, made coffee, sat at my desk and looked at the spreadsheet, compared it to the calendar, and then opened the top drawer of my desk and threw up into it.   Okay – that part didn’t really happen, but it could have.  I am a delusional lunatic if I think I’m finishing by the 20th.  I can’t even believe that was a goal. See, I think I forgot another column on the spreadsheet.  Social.  We have FIVE family gatherings between now and Christmas Day, and let me be super clear about this, that’s cool.  Actually, it’s better than cool, it’s fantastic.  I love it when the house is full and the family is here, and I feel right and whole and happy and the reason I do all of this is so that we have those evenings, but why the hell didn’t I put them on the spreadsheet? What part of me thought I would simultaneously host the whole family while baking gingerbread and pounding out another pair of mittens? Who exactly did I think was going to cook for that crew? Santa?

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I’ve moved up the cookie baking to today, so that tomorrow I can cook, clean and get that together, and since knitting tomorrow night will mostly be out while I run with Lou and the girls and put dinner on, that means that today I need to somehow finish the knitting I need for Saturday.  I suddenly regret the bath I took yesterday.  Time wasted, I see that now.

Wish me well, knitters.  Today has to be a miracle, and so far it doesn’t look so good. It’s 3 in the afternoon, and progress has been dismal. I think I’m tired.

What’s Luis hanging today?

I’m embarrassed to say that I had no choice this morning but to look up the word Carlos texted me.  I know I don’t speak Spanish very well (that is an understatement. Lou speaks Spanish better than I do) so usually I’m not bothered when I can’t figure it out, but this one is a word that matters to me so much in English, that I can’t believe I didn’t know the Spanish!  It was “El calcetin”

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The sock!  Now, this one I remember the pattern for very well.  It was this rather charming bit of business, although I converted it to be knit in the round, and knit it on smaller needles.  Also, when I was looking at that pattern just now? Mystery solved on the mitten.  There’s the chart I used. (I must have been having some sort of urge to make a matched set.) Voila.

Gift for Knitters, Day 18

There is an affinity that lies between knitters and bags that’s hard to explain. Knitters are, in general, so drawn to them that the presence of several bags about a person is a good way to spot a knitter.  (Usually we try to condense this, putting bags inside bags, but sometime we still end up with a couple visible.)  For reasons unknown, no matter how many bags your knitter has, another bag is always a good present. You can get just about any bag you think your knitter might like, except remember two things.  First, no velcro on the bag. Velcro is, along with moths and carpet beetles, a natural enemy of knitting. The presence of Velcro automatically makes something not a great knitting bag. Second, zippers aren’t so awesome either, depending on where they are in the bag.  A lot of zippers on the inside or near the top of the bag is just going to snag yarn in the pulls and teeth, and force your knitter to use language  unbecoming an artisan of their ilk. Last, it should stay open, and stay upright. If you’d like to get them a knitting specific bag? Start here. Tom Bihn had a whole line of knitter-friendly bags, from wee pouches to larger ones that are fabulous. (I have several swifts, and love them.) This Knit and let Knit tote is big this year, I see it everywhere, and this one is cute too.  Namaste bags are to die for, Della Q makes several nice ones, Offhand Designs makes ones that could go with any outfit (if your knitter wears outfits, instead of just clothes) and Green Mountain Knitting bags? Well. just look.  The Nantucket Bagg is super cool (and masculine, if your knitter rolls that way.) Jordana Paige has some good ones – and while you’re there, check out the tool butler. (Your knitter would dig that. They would put it in their bag.) Good hunting.

At least it’s not snowing

Today’s the day.  I’ve been trying to avoid it, I’ve done all I can to make it unnecessary, and yet, it has come.

I am going to the mall.

I made one last ditch attempt yesterday to shop in my neighbourhood, on foot, but I couldn’t get everything, and now there are five things left on the spreadsheet that Joe cannot get, that I can’t find, and even though five items is the smallest number ever, it means that I am going to the stinking mall. I am going to get in the car (that alone is remarkable. I drive my car about once a month. I am not fond of that thing either) and I am going to go to the one place where all the things I need are in one place, and I am going to go in, get the stuff and get out. The mall is the opposite of everything that I like about the world, and bad things have happened to me at the mall before, and so this year, I am taking extra precautions.

1. Last year (every year) I cannot remember what bloody door I came in and then I can’t find the car, and this ends up with me sobbing through the parking lot and I only find it right before I take the bus home and tell Joe to work it out. This year, I am taking a picture of where the car is, and of the door I go in, so that I have an escape route well planned.

2. I am leaving my coat in the car. It is better to be freezing for the three minutes that it takes to walk from the car to the door than it is to be sweaty, overheated in the mall for two hours while still trying to be nice to the lady in front of me in The Bay who is paying for her foundation garments with dimes while complaining about the quality of service.  I want to extend her patience, but I just can’t do it with my coat on.

3. I am taking hand sanitizer,  because other people don’t wash their hands, and a few years ago I got Noro Virus, and I’m sure it was at the mall, and it was the Nightmare Before Christmas.  (I’m not a germaphobe, I swear.  I don’t use seat protectors in the loo (because there is nothing you can catch through your thighs) and I don’t use a disinfecting anything in the house, but I know some of you are not washing your hands after the loo (or you are, but then you’re touching the taps and door handle again) and this year I’m just going to use the hand sanitizer a few times, and that way I can feel less nervous about the worlds hygiene.  (If you care, turn on taps, wash hands with soap, get paper towel, dry your hands, turn off the taps with the towel, use the towel to open the door, discard towel. If I’m in a bathroom where the bin isn’t by the door, I know something.)

4. I have a list of the stores I have to go into. I am not going into any other stores. I am not adding a single thing to the list, I am not being swayed by panic, nor 50% off signs.  I know what I need. I do not need more than that.  I have enough wrapping paper (I checked) and everyone on my list has plenty.  The list is all I am getting.

5. I am not even looking at the food court, never mind trying to find something to eat there.

6. I am taking my knitting in with me. It’s not like there’s knitting time, and it will be too crowded to knit while I am walking, but it’s a small comfort.

7. I am not going to let the way things are marketed to me shift the way I think Christmas should be, by wool.  I am not going to be tricked into thinking that I’m not doing it right, that I didn’t buy people big enough presents, or that I need to buy them more for them to be happy.  I am not going to be convinced that this family needs to dress differently, value different things, or stop baking our own cookies, and giving little kids books as presents. No matter how this season is presented at that place, their goal is to make me feel bad enough about what I have that I give them all my money so I can have better stuff, and therefore be happier.  I will keep it in my mind the whole time I am there that I am not unhappy because I don’t have that stuff.  I am unhappy because I am in a mall.

8. I am going to be like the wind. I am going to go in, strike like a ninja, and get out. I am going to be extra crazy nice to every other lunatic in there, and if I start feeling bad about it, I am going to remind myself that when I get back home, you can stick a fork in me, because I am done shopping.

9.  I am going to smile, and be the nicest stinking lady in the mall.  In the name of merino, I swear that every person who encounters me is going to have a better day for it.

10. I am putting a beer in the fridge for when I get home.

What’s Luis hanging today?

The wreath!

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This morning there was no text from Carlos, because he had taken a picture of the thing, and sent me an email because (while he liked that ornament) he didn’t know the word for it in Spanish, because it’s not really a Spanish thing.  “El Circulo de ramas?” he suggested – a circle of branches?  We eventually settled on “Corona de Navidad” which is close enough.  This one has no pattern either, though I was inspired by these ones, for sure.  I cast on, worked in that pretty blackberry stitch for a while, then cast off, folded the knitting edge to edge, to make a tube, stuffed it lightly, and sewed it into a ring.  Then I knit that bow to cover my seam.

Gifts for Knitters, day 17

Another simple one, though it can be hard, because to do it, you need to go to a yarn shop.  Knitters well, like people who have a pub they always go to, a lot of knitters have “a local.”  At this local, they might even know your knitter, and know what they would like.  (Big tip, some yarn shops have gift registries – just like when you’re getting married, and you go the The Bay and put everything you would like on a list? The yarn shop might have that. Ask them.) If they don’t have a registry, and your knitter isn’t a frequent enough flier that they shop can advise you on what to get (because if they know your knitter, you should just give them a dollar value, and then step off. Take the bag they give you. Smile. Leave.) then you should get a gift certificate. Your knitter will like it a lot, and they’ll really like that you went to their local. It’s nice that you know where it is.

Another column on the spreadsheet maybe

You know, there’s one thing you can say about the universe, and that’s that it has a sense of humour.  After explaining yesterday how I was a total paragon of organization (at least when it comes to Christmas, let’s not discuss the basement, or the state of every drawer in this house) I have been bitten hard on the hind parts by my own failure to keep track of something.  See while I was knitting Lou’s advent calendar, I already had this plan, that I would show them to you one at a time, as he hung them.  I admit, at the time I thought he would hang them in the order I put them in, but it’s turned out differently (and way more fun – for everyone. Actually, let’s take a minute and give Carlos three cheers for dutifully texting me every single morning to tell me what Lou hung. He’s a peach.)  In any case, I took pictures of them and got it all sorted, and I was ready.  At the time, I had this niggling feeling that I should have been keeping the links somewhere, so that when I posted about them, I could show you the pattern, but you know how it goes. I thought “No, I’ll remember. I’ll totally remember” and off I went on my merry way.  It’s worked too. I mean, here I am, the 16th of December, and I’ve blogged every day, and remembered every day, and been completely and totally vindicated in my faith in my memory. Then this morning, I got a text from Carlos that said “El adorno del dia: la monopla.”  Mano is hand, so a quick guess took me to mitten!

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A teeny tiny mitten, knit on 2mm needles, in the round, with a proper thumb gusset and everything, and all of a sudden, the world fell apart.  I have just wasted three perfectly good hours searching for the pattern. I know I used one, or at least started with one, and I searched Ravelry, and then Pinterest, and then google images.  I used at least 10 different searches, and I’ve been squinting at this screen forever, and I’ll be damned if I can find it.  Moveover, I don’t even really remember anything about how I found it in the first place.  I can’t remember if I charted it (I don’t think so, but maybe?) I don’t really remember knitting it (which is bizarre, I’m sure that thumb made me crazy.)  All I can think of is that I blacked out. I was knitting so many tiny thing so quickly, and I’ve even gone back to my phone and looked up the date that I sent a picture of it to a friend, and then gone into my browser history for that day…. Nothing. Not even a stinking hint, and I am officially throwing in the towel.  If you know this pattern, put it in the comments. I’ve got full size mittens to knit. (Actually, I wondered this morning if Lou was channeling my psychic mitten energy when he chose it. It’s the year of the mitten around here, for sure. I’m up to my eyeballs in them. I’d show them to you, but I’d blow peoples surprises. )

Gifts for Knitters, Day 16

Dear Non-knitter who loves a knitter,

Hey, you know how your knitter dries stuff all over the house? You know how there’s sometimes sweater parts drying on the bed, or how on woolly washing day, the stuff is all over the place? It’s because your knitter doesn’t have a good place to dry things. You can solve this, making your knitter both happier, and less annoying at the same time.  Get them a sweater drying system. This one hangs, and holds three and this one stacks. This extremely posh one dries sweaters really, really fast. (It also might not be available anymore. Look around, there’s no way it should be $300.) I am crazy in love with that one. (Sometimes knitters need to dry things very quickly, and in July people object if you turn on the radiators.) If you are the handy type, double points if you make them this one.  Quadruple points if you make one for me.


The Spreadsheet of Joy

There’s been lots of questions about “the spreadsheet” and how I use it to keep track of Christmas, and get the whole thing off the ground.  I wrote about why I use a spreadsheet here, and you don’t have to go read it – I can tell you that I love Christmas, and I love it to be a certain way, and that for years I’ve searched for the proper balance between the things I love to do this time of year (gingerbread, knitting, gatherings with friends and family, beautiful tables full of good food, a big tree, gifts people love opening) and the things I don’t love so much. (Shopping, cleaning, wrapping… to give you the short list.) For me, the answer has been to organize the crap out of it.  Spread out everything to make sure I don’t get stuck wrapping at midnight on Christmas Eve (when I should be sitting by the glow of a tree, glass of excellent whiskey in hand.)  So, it all goes on a spreadsheet, and a bunch of you have asked what’s on it, and what it does, and so – for better or for worse, and I hope it helps, here’s what I do:

It’s a simple sheet, with two tables.  One for gifts, and one for tasks.  The tasks one is pretty straightforward.  It lists things that need doing by Christmas, what I need to do them, and when I need to do it.  The tasks run down the side under “To Do”  and then the columns read: Purchase what?, Zone, Begin, and By when?  All of those should be pretty clear.  “Purchase what” lists all the things I don’t have on hand that I need to complete the task, “Zone” lists where that thing comes from, and who gets it. (Me vs Joe) “Begin” is when the task needs to be started, and “By When” well, you can figure that one out. Everything I need to do is on this list. Bake cookies, make ice lanterns, menu for Christmas Brunch… everything.

As an example, the first task is “Put up Tree”, and following that task along, it says “2 strings white LEDs” “Canadian Tire” “December 5th”.  The part about buying lights was keyed to a reminder in my calendar, so that it got done while the store still had a selection of lights, so that I didn’t leave it so late that all was left were the multicoloured flashing ones. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s pretty much the opposite of what I want.)  The reminder popped up in mid-November, and the next time Joe said he was going to Canadian tire, boom.  Done.

The second table is a little more complex.  The names of people run down the side – everyone I need to do something for, even if it’s just drop a card at their house, or bring a bottle of wine to their party.  The columns read like this:

Idea – this is what I’m planning on doing for them. What I’m going to buy, what they’ve dropped hints about, etc.  I colour it green when it’s a solid decision.

Knitting: This one should be clear. It’s what I’m going to knit for them, and how many hours I think it might take.  I pad this pretty generously, because of LIFE. So, that column might say “Hat – worsted, 10 hours.” I colour the box yellow when I change it to the specific pattern name, and put a link to the pattern in there – so “Hat – Linga – 10 hours.” I colour it green when It’s finished.  (Finished also means blocked.)

Stocking: This is where I list everything I have to buy for their stocking.  I colour things green as I buy them. (Or add them as I find them, and colour them green.) At a glance, I can see what I’ve got for each person.  It really, really helps me from going overboard. I can see it all in one spot.  (As an aside, I also put the stocking stuff into individual bags, one labeled for each person, as I go along. Then it’s all sorted when it’s time to help Santa.) I don’t delete things as I get them for this, just colour the text green.  I want to see what’s there.

Shopping: This is an important column.  It lists everything I need to buy – including yarn and groceries.  I delete things as I get them.  I can scan the column and see what it is that I need.

Zone: This again. This is one of the most helpful things on there.  I list the place (or zone – like “the mall” or “grocery store” or “village”) in that square. Then if Joe calls and says he’s going to the grocery store, do I need anything, I scan that list, and give it to him.  It also means that if I go to the village, I go ONCE, picking up everything on the list. I also list “order on line” in that box if I’m going that way, and change it to “Ordered” when I do it,  along with the expected date of delivery. Helps me remember what’s coming in the mail, and when. (If a job has been delegated, or belongs to someone else, I write their name in the Zone.  Then I know who’s doing what, and that it’s not me, but it’s still getting done.)

Deadline: This column is easy.  It’s when it needs doing by.  We celebrate with different people on different days, and it’s easiest for me when I list all that.  As we make our holiday plans to gather with people, I plug in the day I’ll be seeing them so that I can prioritize, and avoid that wrapping at midnight thing.

Wrapped: I do this one for two reasons.  First, I can’t colour in the square until it’s wrapped, which sort of motivates me to get it done, and because a few years ago I searched the house for a book I’d bought my sister for 45 minutes, sobbing because I’d lost it, and the whole time it was wrapped under the tree.  I don’t want to live that way. Now, I know where things are, and what that package is.

For every cell, I colour it green as it’s completed – and I also colour a cell red if it’s a problem. (For example, I ordered something, and it’s not going to arrive on time, and I need to do something about that.) When the whole thing is green, bob’s yer uncle. Christmas is ready.  I get up every morning, and while I drink my coffee, I consult the spreadsheet (and calendar) and ask if there’s anything I can do on it that day to make things better.  There’s always something that can move me towards a green square.

Now, I know this approach isn’t for everyone. (Joe, for example, hates the spreadsheet. He’s a fly by the seat of your pants guy, and enjoys that.) It’s meant a world of difference to me though. Makes me feel like I’ve got it all in one place, and I can see what’s happening. For me, it’s reduced work, and shopping and rushing around, and made the whole holiday season totally do-able without tears, which is the whole goal, right? You’re supposed to enjoy this time of year, and around here, if Mama ain’t’ happy, ain’t nobody happy.  It’s also had a really amazing side effect. It’s improved my ability to accept help. It used to be that I was so overwhelmed and all of the jobs were so disconnected, that if someone tried to help me, I honestly couldn’t think of what they could do to get me out of trouble.  I’d refuse the help, because sorting that out seemed so complicated.  Now? Now if someone asks what they can do – I take a look at the spreadsheet and I can see what exactly needs doing.  I can see if they have time to pick up one of the things on the list, or if what I really need is time to do something that only I can do, I can give them the task I had for that day.  Sam can’t knit socks for my brother, but she can totally wrap a few finished things while I knit. Joe can’t bake cookies to save his life, but dude can stop at the drug store on the way home for stocking stuffers and more tape. It’s made things a lot better for us, and somehow made it so that we work together better.  I really like it.

That’s it. The whole approach.  Take it, and do what you will with it.

(PS. I start the next year’s spreadsheet in December of this year. That way I can remember what didn’t work, and change it for next year. That’s totally how I remembered to get the tree lights in time. Last year I was a deranged person in the dollar store at closing time.)

What’s Luis Hanging today?

My favourite.  The toque.

tinyhat1 2014-12-15

I can guess that it’s not Lou’s favourite, since he’s waited this long to hang it, but what else could I expect? (If I was 2 3/4, my auntie making me a toque would be low on the list.) This morning, Carlos texted and said Lou picked “el gorro” which I guess is Spanish for “toque” because I swear to you I though that “hat” was sombrero. Live and learn.  I knit this hat from the pattern, pretty much exactly (except on 2mm needles to make it small enough) and really the hardest part was making the tiny pom-pom.

I couldn’t figure it out, until I remembered Denny making a gagillion tiny pop-poms one year out of Kid Silk Haze, and I remembered that she did it on the end of a pencil. That worked, and although the tiny pom-pom is incredibly satisfying, I don’t need to make any more.  (If I do, I’ll call Denny. She got a lot of joy out of that.  I think she made hundreds.) I love this ornament.  I think it’s one of the most charming ones on the tree.  It’s even more charming in a picture that shows how small it is. That’s a quarter. (Canadian and US quarters are about the same size, that’s the same as 5p.)

tinyhatmaking1 2014-12-15

Gift for knitters, Day 15.

Dear Non-Knitter who loves a knitter,

You know what’s hard? Counting.  I know that’s disappointing to hear, what with the way you non-knitters think that it’s easy, but knitters have to do it all the time, and we’re not great at it.  (It doesn’t help that you keep talking to us while we do it. Here’s a good way to give a gift to a knitter, if you see them with their fingers on their stitches, and you say something to them, and they reply with “32, 33, 34…” they’re counting. Shut up for a minute.  Here’s another tip, you know what’s not funny? Saying other numbers while they’re counting. That’s little brother crap from when we were all kids. Don’t do it.)  Your knitter (even if you stop messing with them) probably needs some help counting stuff. Buying them something to help with that could make up for some of the times you were the reason they unsuccessfully counted to three four times in a row.   There’s a lot of ways to help them – I love these Ablets.  It’s a knitting abacus, and it’s very charming, and a great way to rock counting old school.  (Heck if it was good enough for Demosthenes, it’s good enough for a knitter.)  These bracelet versions are a good option too… and like the Ablet, look like jewelry.  There’s more modern ones too, like this kind you click (it’s got a cord that goes round your neck) or this digital one that goes on a finger or thumb. For complex counting missions (counting more than one thing happening different numbers of times, like rows, increases and repeats, all at once – your knitter is a genius by the way, they do that all the time) this Sirka Counter is just about the coolest ever.  I have this app that I use sometimes, but it really drains your battery, and the batteries on the Sirka never run out.

If all else fails, buy your knitter a bag of Smarties (or in the US, I guess it would be M&Ms – I mean the candy covered chocolates, not those things that American’s call smarties that are Rockets here in Canada – although those would work too, if your knitter likes them) and tell them that they can set out how ever many they need.  If you’ve got twenty decreases, put out twenty, and eat one every time you do a decrease.  When they’re gone,  you’re done.  (Note: this only works if you don’t eat your knitter’s candy while they’re in the loo.  Don’t be a jerk.)


Right Down To Business

What’s Luis Hanging today?

You know who’s a good boy? Luis is a good boy, because despite asking (again) if he could hang Santa, and being told (again) that it’s not time for Santa, Luis went ahead and picked something else, and I can hardly believe it.  Lou is apparently nothing like my kids at that age.  Lou’s seen Santa around town several times, he’s even visited and spoken with the guy, he understands that when you hang Santa, it’s Christmas, and still, upon being denied this several times, he apparently hasn’t shredded the entire advent tree while throwing himself on the floor in a temper tantrum that made the kid in the Exorcist look restrained.

elarbol 2014-12-14

Instead, the gentleman picked the Christmas Tree. (That’s Arbol de Navidad, for those of us giving the Spanish a shot.)  This one was a pattern I figured myself, although this one looks to be pretty similar.  I didn’t want to sew two sides together though, so I worked mine in the round.  I cast on enough to make the tree as wide as I wanted at the bottom (x2) and joined to work in the round.  Round and round I went, decreasing 4 stitches (k2tog and ssk at the sides) every third round.  When I was done, I stuffed it with a little wool, added the wee trunk, and sewed on the little gold beads to be ornaments. Simple, sweet, and a little sparkly.

Gifts for Knitters, Day 14

This one is simple and straightforward.  Your knitter needs good tools to work with.  If they were a carpenter who spent as much time building things as your knitter spends making things, you wouldn’t expect them to have a crappy saw, right?  If your knitter was a cook that spent this much time cooking, you’d think they’d have some pretty slick tools in the kitchen, right? Absolutely.  Take a look around your house and see if your knitter has these tools, and choose what seems right for your budget and their level of engagement – but remember, these are tools your craftsperson will use not toys for their amusement.

Swift:  A swift is a tool that holds a skein of yarn so that the knitter can turn it into a ball that they can knit from.  There’s  several kinds, like this one - it’s great for the knitter who has no swift, this sturdier wooden one, and this (I have one of these and love it so, so, so much) Hornshaw Woodworks one.

Ball Winder. The swift spins, and the yarn is connected to the winder.  Ball winders are pretty freakin’ handy – even if you’re knitter doesn’t use yarn that comes in a skein.  You can wind half of a ball off of an existing ball to make two things of equal size, you can rewind a commercial ball that’s gotten sloppy – Your knitter needs one.  If you don’t see one around the house (and your knitter hasn’t expressed a profound love for winding balls of yarn by hand *) get one of these.  This blue and white one is ubiquitous, it’s a good winder, but has a lifespan, then the gears start to go, it makes skipping noises and starts making breasts rather than balls.  It’s a great, great place to start though. This one from Nancy’s Knit Knacks looks like a workhorse, and the Strauch winder is a joy to behold.

* About that knitter who loves to wind balls by hand? Think about getting them a beautiful Nostepinne.  There’s basic ones here, but you can find a million beautiful handcrafted ones.

Let’s not think about the cookies

Today’s a knitting day, my pretties, or – as close to a knitting day as one may be permitted, if there’s still a hundred other things to do. It’s actually going pretty well here, if you keep the parameters loose, and the priorities shifting.  A hat’s drying over there, I’ve got the first of four mittens done, and there will be time even for a brisk walk today – if only to keep me from becoming that crazy lady who stays in her house and knits all the time.

Onemitt 2014-12-13

I’m still completely determined not to fall behind, and so for today, let’s just have our ornament, and gifts for knitters, shall we?

What did Luis hang today?

Today, Carlos texted to say Luis picked the bastón de caramelo, which I only figured out was the candy cane because bâton is stick in French.  (I call this my “panic Spanish” approach.  When all else fails me, I think about French, and see if anything works. I’m constantly surprised how close the two languages are.) Once I knew that bastón was stick (or might be stick) then the only stick-like thing I made, was the candy cane.

candycane 2014-12-13

I used this pattern,  but I downsized it from 5mm needles and worsted yarn to 2mm needles and fingering weight. To say that knitting a few stitches in the round in colourwork at that gauge was fiddly would be an understatement.  Next to the snowflake, this is the ornament that made me the craziest.  When I was done, I had something so tiny that there was no way that a pipe cleaner would fit through it- and it was a straightened paperclip to the rescue again.  It’s no surprise Lou picked this ornament today. He’s worked out that if you see Santa, you get a candy cane, and he’s been accosting Santas all over town to get the goods.  At least this one doesn’t leave him so sticky.

Gifts for Knitters, Day 13

Dear Non-knittter who loves a knitter,

Your knitter is a handworker.  They work with their hands all the time, and a really lovely gesture that recognizes that you think that’s important, is to make their hands important.  Today I’m going to suggest that you procure for them a knitter-specific hand product. There’s several soaps made just for knitters, like these ones,  or these ones.  I like hand lotions and creams a lot (especially in the winter, it makes knitting nicer to not have scratchy hands) and there’s lots out there that’s knitter specific. Soak has one that’s new to me, but looks great, there’s got to be a scent that would suit your knitter here, and these look fabulous. My all time favourite for the winter though, is (well, anything from Goodies Unlimited) the Everything Balm.  I can’t live without it.  (I also have deep, personal feelings for the stress-free green tea soap and the E-tomic balm, but that’s not knitter specific. Just good – although I do use the e-tomic if my hands are tired and aching at the end of the day. It’s on my bedside table.)  Good hunting.

Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear

I gotta tell you.  Up until today, I thought things were going pretty well.  I mean, yeah, there’s a lot to do, but it’s all simple and straightforward and everything is going to be fine as long as I stay calm, I thought, and then, there was today. Today I could no longer ignore the waning yarn supply (I know. I can’t believe it either) and I sat down very carefully with the spreadsheet, and I figured out exactly what I needed, and made a very good list.  I even had colours on there,  I didn’t scrawl  “some green worsted” because you know how that ends up, no, no.  My list was precise. It was abbreviated, there was nothing on it that I do not hope to need in the next three weeks and  I got myself off to the store, walked in, got just what I needed (I have witnesses who will verify that I was not in there long at all) and I paid for the yarn, and they put it into a bag and handed it to me, and I brought it home, spread it out on the table, and promptly lost my mind.

yarngo 2014-12-12

It felt so reasonable until now. It felt so possible until now – yeah verily when you’re looking at it on a spreadsheet it all seems fine, but there’s a big difference between that mountain of yarn and a short list on a spreadsheet, and there’s only 13 days and I think I might have miscalculated a little bit. Just a smidge.  I’m going to knit my brains out this weekend, and reassess my situation on Monday.  There’s a few things going on there that should reassure me.

1. I do not believe that the projects will take up all that yarn. Some of each, but not all that yarn.

2. There is only 2 skeins of sport weight on there. Everything else is worsted, and three are bulky. That’s a good thing. That’s an amazing thing.

3. The spreadsheet doesn’t lie.  It might occasionally tweak the truth, and it might make things look easier than they are, but it does. Not. Lie.

I’m going to keep repeating that, and dive in.  I’m a fast knitter. It’s going to be totally fine. Fine, I tell you.

What’s Luis hanging Today?

Oso Polar. Polar bear.

tinybear 2014-12-12

Technically, it’s just a wee bear, but I thought it more Canadian (and possibly fierce) if it was a polar bear, so white it was.  I used this  Bear Christmas Tree Decoration, and two things happened.  First I knit the pattern exactly as written, and second, I barely escaped from there without knitting a million of them.  They are ridiculously stinking cute, and fast to make. You make one and then think, my stars! I could make EVERYONE a tiny bear! (Then you remember that you have other problems (see pile of yarn above) and get a grip on yourself. When Luis pulled this bear out the day he got his calendar, he squealed with laughter, which is exactly the right response.

Gifts for Knitters Day 12

Today it’s more paper things, to go with the posters from yesterday. (Did you look in the comments? So many nice ones. Your knitter would enjoy any of them.) If your knitter is the paper sort (and they very likely are. Knitters have a thing for both paper goods and bags. I’m not sure why) then this is the day you’ll find a ton for them.  How about these good moth/bad moth notecards? TillyFlop has tons of beautiful ones, like this one (trust me, all those things are good) or how about a M1 card for a new baby? Inc 1 for a birthday? Keep calm and cast on? There’s so much there, and look at this thing too – a card that turns into a paper die to help a knitter make up his mind what to make next. If none of those look right, how about alphabet postcards with sheep by species? Or wee gift tagsPeace Love Knit notecards? Or there’s lots of tags here, but I love these best.  Good hunting.