Saddle up

Five of Twelve.

The McPhee clan continues to party on at extreme speed. Last nights escapade came off at my house without a hitch. And today we find out intrepid McPhee team launching The Big One.


Ali’s cutting up cheese. (Lots of cheese.)


Ian’s putting stuff in bowls. (Lots of bowls.)


I’m making little tart things. (Lots.)


Mum is directing traffic. (Lots of directing. Trust us.)


The sock’s putting out goat cheese and crackers.


Tuppers hauling in a smoked salmon….

And off we go. The dancing comes later.

Who do you call for this?

I have been quietly and consistently adding up the donations for MSF, and watching the number for Knitters Without Borders grow, fantasizing about the moment that the total might reach the goal. When Susanna and I met some time ago and she urged me to aim high, to try doubling the number and….well. To put it in the gentlest possible terms, I thought she was an extraordinarily optimistic human. (This is code in our family for “a few elves short of an effective workshop”…if you catch my meaning.) I explained that the last time we did this there had been a very visible emergency (the tsunami) that had galvanized people into giving…to all causes. I thought that without that sort of worldwide enthusiasm, that 120 000 was a lot to ask of knitters.

I was wrong. I underestimated knitters. (Me. Of all people.)

I asked you knitters to give on December 15th, at 9:28 am. I started entering the amounts in the emails as they came. I fell behind really, really quickly. Today I was entering emails from the 19th – trying to catch up….and lo….I looked at the total and….

On December 19th at 11:04 it was done.

That means that it took 73 hours and 36 minutes for knitters around the world to say “$120 000? I can do that. Actually, screw $120 000. We’re going to blow right past that.” I have hundreds of emails left to sort and Dudes. You doubled it. This means three things are true.

1. There is nothing….Nothing that knitters will not do in the name of decency and good behaviour, and that’s because we know how to share. (Ever had another knitter just hand you a ball of yarn because you needed it? Ever seen what happens if a knitter runs out of yarn mid-sleeve or says they have never tried wool? I should have known this.)

2. This is a very, very big team. There is no way to guess what that number will be when you are done with it. A quarter million? Half million? You are legends. Who do I call to report this sort of thing? Surely there is a list of good human effort I can put you on.

3. The muggles should not vex us, for we are mighty, we are organized and we now how to make big change…one small stitch at a time.

I’m honoured to have even the vaguest possible association with each and every one of you.


Third of Twelve

Sounds like a Borg name, doesn’t it? It’s the third of the twelve days of Christmas and, in true McPhee style this family is ripping through them with verve, enthusiasm and noise. Christmas Eve was with Joe’s family, where I only missed finishing two knitted gifts. (I blame the flu. I totally would have finished everything if I didn’t need to waste all that time sneezing, sleeping and coughing. ) I’m making good time now though, and Chris’ Irish hiking scarf with random stripes. (Totally inspired by Sandy) is finished now.


Pattern: Irish Hiking Scarf, Yarn: about 3.5 balls of Knit Picks “Wool of the Andes.” in fern, pumpkin and cloud. (If I had it to do again, I might use 4.5)

The socks for Joe’s mother are not done either, though this is the stuff that so many of you asked about in the last post.


It’s Socks that Rock – mediumweight in “Pink Granite” (love this colourway) and the pattern is also from Blue Moon “Rock and Weave“. I’m especially fond of how very different the yarn looks worked back and forth in linen stitch, and how it looks worked in the round for the foot.


Charming…non? (It is only this simple amusement that has led me to knit this not only twice, but twice without changing a thing. A rare honour.)

Christmas day we whipped through a wonderful morning, a delightful afternoon and a festive evening, gathered with just the immediate McPhees. Erin got her Kitri socks…


Although I did finish them right there in front of her, and it almost broke me to give them to her. I love these socks. Love them. I was so nervous about all the beading, but it turns out that it’s totally easy and beautiful. I’m thinking about beading everything from socks to the family pet.


There were oysters. There was merriment, there were wonderful, thoughtful gifts exchanged and savoured, and a good time was had by all. On the second day of Christmas (which is really the one I want to tell you about) we went to see my Great Aunt Helen, and My Great Uncle Don.


This is a Boxing Day tradition. I have been to Helen and Don’s on December 26th every single year of my life. My kids have gone every single Boxing Day of their life. Going to Helen and Don’s on Boxing day is what our family refers to as a “Command Performance”. (Does your family have any of those? Days or functions which you cannot miss?) The only excuse for not attending a Command Performance is that you are dead, you are on fire….or now, as Helen and Don become more fragile, that you have a cold or something that you may pass on to them…see, Helen and Don are old. (They are also the owners of Cricket, the perpetual dog, but that’s a story for another day.)


Every year someone wonders out loud on the way to their house, how old Helen and Don really are. We don’t know for sure, anyone that would know for sure is dead, and if you ask Helen how old she is then she tells you it’s a State Secret. We’ve been trying to piece it together for years.


Helen and Don were married at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto in 1951. (For Torontonians, this would be before the Eatons Centre sprang up around it.) Helen has always maintained that the reason they have no children was that she married too late and was too old to have children. Couldn’t do it. For the purposes of argument, let’s call that…what? Forty? Forty years of age when she married, fifty-five years of marriage…at a minimum, that puts Helen at ninety years of age. Don’s a little younger than she, but not by much. They still live alone, still cook and care for each other, still walk the dog several times a day and still know the exact nature and whereabouts of every neighbour on the street where they still live in the house my Great-great grandfather built in Lawrence Park North.

Helen doesn’t see too well anymore. (Although I peeked in the knitting basket by the chair and saw that it looks like she’s still turning out mittens by feel and memory) and Don doesn’t hear too well at all….but together they get by alright, and they still care for each other in the most lovely way. (About five years ago Don took the time during our visit to show us all pictures of Helen in the bath…just to make sure we all understood that she was still a woman of profound beauty.) Helen still kisses you so hard it hurts, Don gets Cricket the perpetual dog to do the same tricks for my little nephew Hank that he did for me when I was little. The food they put out for us to eat should have the same “approach with caution” sign on it that it had when I was four, and Don still urges us all to eat it. (We still put it in our purses when they aren’t looking.)


In the thirty-eight boxing days that I have visited my Great Aunt Helen and My Uncle Don, only three things have changed.

1. At the end of the visit, my children receive $10 instead of the $1 that I got when I was little.

2. Five years ago they got a new chesterfield.

3. Finally, after being the legal drinking age for nineteen years… and in a stunning departure from way things usually work….

Yesterday? My Uncle Don offered me a beer instead of pop.

I took it.

(My sister Erin, the legal drinking age for 14 years, still got to choose between Ginger Ale and Sprite. She’s hoping that next year she may be old enough for tea. Cross your fingers for her. )

I love Don and Helen.

Print at will

Feel free to leave as many copies of this around as you feel like you need to. Copies required may be inferred by how related your last gift was to your actual personality or lifestyle.

Dear Muggle Non-knitter who loves a knitter,

I know that shopping for a knitter can be hard if you are not a knitter. I understand. You have two shopping days left (assuming the gift occasion is Christmas.) and your knitter will have a birthday as well. I’d like to help you. Please know that even though I have written this and your knitter has printed it out (perhaps multiple copies) – that we are not judging the gifts from previous years. The small appliances and countless bathrobes have been wonderful. We’re all just ready to move on.

First, take a really good look around your house. Even though you may not be very interested in the wool arts yourself, try and recall the times you have seen your knitter with wool.

1. Did you see one of these?


This is a ball winder. They can be procured from all reputable yarn stores and if your knitter doesn’t have one…they would like to.

2. How about one of these umbrella type action things clamped to a table? Perhaps in the dining room?


This is a swift. There are metal ones and wooden ones. Swifts hold skeins of yarn so that your knitter can wind it into a ball. Your knitter would like to have one, and more than that? You want your knitter to have one. Swifts replace the family member who has to hold the skein for them. (That might be you. If you buy this, then you can go back to whatever your hobbies might be.)

3. Your knitter wants this.


Yarn. Buy yarn. I hear muggles say it all the time “But she has so much yarn. I’ll get her something else.” Hear me now. Your knitter has a lot of yarn because she LIKES yarn. Yarn is always a good choice. Go to a yarn shop, not a regular store and tell the nice people there that your knitter has lots of yarn, and that you would like to get some good yarn. They will help you. Yarn stores are just like other stores, and you don’t have to be afraid to go into them.

Further to that, if you go to the yarn store that your knitter goes to, then they will know him or her and probably be able to point you in the direction of whatever they almost bought last week. (Along with what they already bought.) If you still feel freaked out about the yarn store….two words. Gift Certificate. Yarn stores have them.

4. Audio books and something to listen to them on. Your knitter will love this. Seriously. Ever tried to knit and read? Well, no. You’re a non-knitter. Sorry. Still…I’m sure you can imagine that all “hands free” activities are going to be popular with people who don’t have their hands free.

5. Further to that…How about a headset for the phone? Your knitter would love to be able to spin or knit without getting her neck all crinked to the left like that.

Got a smaller budget? Gave a bunch of your money away? Need small things for the stocking? Knitters need the following, in pretty unlimited amounts. Even if your knitter has some of this stuff, don’t worry. She won’t have it for long. These items are temporary.

– Tape measures.

– darning needles

– Batteries for their digital cameras (your knitter likes to take pictures of his knitting.)

-Stitch markers.

-wool wash.

-ziplocks…of any size. (Big ones are good for stash management)

-small scissors.

-stitch holders.

-row counters.

-needle gauges.

All of the above can be procured in the aforementioned yarn shop, which is, as I have said, very friendly and nothing at all to be afraid of.

Now go forth and shop brave muggle, and we won’t talk about the time you bought your darling knitter a bathroom scale. (I know. Her other one was broken. I’m sure it all made sense at the time.)

Remember the magic words. Yarn Store. Go there. Ask for help.

Good luck, and please, when you see your knitter Christmas Morning? Wish them the happiest of all possible holidays from me and my family.

I could use more daylight

Sorry pets, sorry. I did not go into the mall and not come back (although the promise of needle wielding rescue missions promised in the comments were very reassuring), I did go to the mall and get the few store-bought items on my list (and it is not for nothing that this family calls the Dufferin Mall the “Sufferin’ Mall”) and I did buy screech for the nog and I did buy bits and bobs for Santa to put in the stockings, and I did go out to the Anniversary/Christmas party at Lettuce Knit where I gave Denny her present (see that? I knit it in secret!)


Whisper scarf 2, from Fiddlesticks Knitting, in Misti Alpaca laceweight.

and where (in a moment of festive joy) random street roaming carolers suddenly turned up at the yarn shop and regaled us with carols (including singing “The Grinch” in whisper mode so they didn’t wake the babies – although they had already woken a few) and in return in true mummer style we gave them beer and food and bid them well into the night.


(I don’t know about the other knitters, but it was a fine moment for me when they said that the yarn shop was a lot more fun than the pub across the way. Duh. I’ve been trying to tell everyone that the yarn store is the happiest place on earth for years.) Then, sated and happy I made my merry way home and went to sleep and woke up with a wicked, wicked flu which took me down hard. I was literally FELLED by it. (There were moments yesterday when, while I was sure that I would survive, I wasn’t sure that I was ok with that.)

Today is a little better, but yesterday was hopeless. I scarcely knit, I scarcely moved. Coughing and shivering were my hobbies, and ones I threw myself into. (After all, if you’re going to do a thing, do it right.) In my brief lucid moments I entered names and donations on my little excel spreadsheet…Truly, in fine solstice fashion it was the longest night I’ve had in a while, and also in keeping with the yule, today is better. I’m still not fit for the public, and I’m still making desperately slow progress on the knitting…



I’m reassuring myself that there are worst things than not finishing the knitting. (It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. I think my family is pretty used to receiving a bag of half knit bits and wool, along with an explanation. ) I’ll do my best, but I’m sharing knitting time with the tallying of your generosity, and knitters… Have you seen the total?

Knitters are the best people on earth. The total is only current for emails (almost) through the 18th too….so you can watch the total climb for days yet. Days. I’m so impressed with you.

For now, I’m taking some more tylenol, embracing the knowledge that the sun will shine a little longer today than yesterday, and that knitters are a force for good on the earth. (If a force that doesn’t always finish all the presents in time.) I’ll blog tomorrow. I have a tip sheet for how to buy a knitter a present that some of you may want to print and leave around for your muggles who haven’t bought you a present yet.

I knew I had to.

There comes a moment in the preparations for a holiday, when the truth must be faced. When, if one has procrastinated and put off doing a hundred things so that one could, say…(this is purely hypothetical) spend her time knitting green socks, then the piper must be paid and difficult choices will be faced. In this moment we search for strength as we face the veracity of what must be done in order to finish the chores. That moment has come for me, and after two really big cups of coffee and several deep breaths I am going to do what needs doing and not shirk. I will be victorious, I will be strong. I will not be afraid.

I am going to the mall.

Order of operations

I don’t know if anyone might have figured this from visiting with me here, but I may be a tad on the impulsive side. There is absolutely no end to the number of times that I have executed the order of operations in my life like this.

Conceive – Execute.

I come up with an idea, and then I just let’er rip. Whatever will be, will be. Sometimes (“Hey, you know what sounds like fun? Knitting Olympics.”) ideas take off and end up way bigger than I expected. (“Do you think maybe knitters could raise a little money for MSF?”) When this happens, because I missed a step, often I’m left running behind at a thousand miles an hour, trying to catch up with the idea I had in the first place. (“I think having three children would be so much fun.”) For the longest time, I had no idea why I kept getting messed up by this. What was going wrong? How did my own ideas keep ending up way more work than I thought they would be? (“You know what? I should spin and knit Joe a Gansey.”) I was thinking this right up until this morning, as I sat entering more of your generous donations. It’s overwhelming. Dizzying even. (Do you see that total?) I’ve finished entering all the emails that I got through the 16th of December, and there’s still tons to do and man….I wasn’t expecting this…

Same thing with Christmas. Same day every year, lots of lead time… it’s not like they announce the date in late November and everybody’s got to scramble to get it done by whenever Christmas is that year. No, no. December 25th. Every year. No surprises. I know I need cookies, I know I need presents, I know I need to have the shopping done and the house clean. I know. I conceive of a certain sort of holiday, and I start executing the idea and disaster ensues. This year I suddenly got it. I figured out what I’ve been missing. What on earth I’ve been doing wrong – the step I’m missing. It hit me when I got out what I have left to do this year.


1. Argyle socks. (No hope.)

2. Large socks. (Maybe. If I don’t sleep, and while I’m not a big fan of sleep – it’s hugely unproductive time, I have come to accept that I do require it.)

3. Cabled scarf. (No worries.)

4. Kitri socks. (These only need one beaded lace cuff. Walk in the park.)

5. Shawl. (Stop that laughing.)

6. Half done green socks. (Too easy.)

7. (not pictured) a pair of socks that I didn’t even start yet but still have high hopes of finishing.

Also not pictured is all the baking and wrapping and shopping. Although we’ve cut way back because of our MSF donation, there’s still some of this that’s unavoidable. (Apparently. I tried to avoid it but it’s still here.) I was looking at this whole mess and trying to pull it together and come up with some sort of an idea for how to manage it all, and that’s when it hit me. Order of operations. The missing step. I’ve been doing it like this:

Conceive (think it up) – execute (leap in and get started)

The step I’m missing?

Conceive – PLAN – Execute.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I need to go get me a plan. Should help a lot. (Let’s discuss the idiocy of learning this at the age of 38 another day, okay?)

Do not start with us

Okay. Look at the total. You guys started donating on Friday. It is Monday. From about $120 000 to about $180 000 in that space of time? Does anyone else find that sort of deliciously scary? That isn’t even all of you. I know some of you are yet to donate, and there is an alarming amount of mail still in my inbox. (I’m going as fast as I can. If you haven’t had an email from me, then your donation hasn’t been added to that total yet.)

People seriously underestimate knitters. Seriously. It is a good thing that we do not use our powers for evil (mostly) because if we ever took it into our collective heads to mess somebody up I shudder to think what would happen, and how quickly. You people are a force to be reckoned with and if you weren’t feeling powerful when you got up this morning, then dudes…you should be now. I think we should get tee-shirts that say “Be nice. I’m a knitter, and I’m on a big team.”

Before we carry on I want to take a minute to ask a favour of all of you who are yet to send in your donation. When you send me the email to tell me about it…..don’t apologize. Many of you are writing to me and saying “Sorry it’s such a small amount” or “I’m sorry, but this is the best we can do right now”. There is no need for this. Look at the amount in the sidebar. You aren’t one person…you’re part of a team, and teams are formed because one person can’t do all of the work. This is just like just like knitting, where an individual stitch (or $5) may not seem like much, but if you repeat it enough times….Besides. You should ask the MSF people if they think $5 is a lot of money. Considering that most of us can’t fix our lives with our whole paycheque…it’s stunning what they can fix with $5.

The one downside to your incredible generosity is that adding it up cuts pretty seriously into the Christmas knitting time. My first priority was to make mates for all of the single socks that I’d knit…


And now I’m working on the green socks. (And two scarves, and a hat, and some other socks and…..can you tell it’s Christmas crunch time? I’m going to have to make a full accounting tonight. I sort of don’t want to. Ignorance is bliss.)They don’t bug me so much now that I’m allowed to finish them. The whole delayed gratification thing was painful. Funny how if it’s never bothered me to leave half knit stuff all over the house until now. Joe would say that this is because I am one of the most contrary women alive. Tell me I should be finishing socks…I leave them in bits around the house. Tell me I’m not allowed to finish them? The urge is overwhelming. Maybe someone aught to tell me I’m not allowed to do housework.

The Return Of The Light

These weeks are the darkest of the year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, each day we have a little less light. Each day things are a little colder, the sun rises later, sets sooner and darkness overwhelmingly outweighs light, while it gets harder and harder to take a good blog picture of yarn on the front porch. (Maybe that one is just me.) For many of us, our moods head in the same direction.

Luckily, Northern humanity has figured out a way to get through.

Christmas. Solstice. Yule. Hannukah. Humanlight. Kwanzaa. Saint Lucia Day. Diwali. Yalda. Dong Zhi.


All over the world, people gather their loved ones together, light candles, decorate their homes, put up trees, share a meal or exchange gifts with each other and all of their celebrations have one thing in common. They are celebrating (among other fine miracles and beliefs) the return of the light. All of these holidays happen on or around the time of the solstice. The magic day that follows the longest night, when the planet swings far enough over and whether you can feel it or not….the days get longer. Sun wins over moon. The earth begins to warm and another long dark winter is on it’s way out. (You may have noticed, what with February being what it is in Canada that this process is fairly gradual.) The balance shifts.


Balance is what I’ve been thinking about this season. I’ve been listening a lot to people like Stephen Lewis and it seems to me that nothing at all is ever going to get any better in the world if we can’t learn to share our wealth. (I know when you’re trying to pay the gas bill it doesn’t always feel like you are rich, but I’m comparing globally.) It should be impossible, in a world is as decent as the people that I meet in it, that some of us should have three coats and are trying to drop a few (or more) pounds before we fête the season with more food and gifts, that others will starve or die of preventable illness and disease while we party on. I am convinced we can do better. I really am.


It simply can’t be that we are this rich, so far in the sun, that many of us will die of our excess, while others, as worthy and hardworking as we are, will remain so very poor that they will die of it. In 2004 the tsunami killed an estimated 229,866 people and humanity rose to the occasion with unprecedented attention and worldwide fundraising. Now, this year more than four million people have quietly died of Malaria and HIV/AIDS – and we, as a planet, are somehow pretty quiet about that. We need to step up like we have done before. We need to step up every day. We need to learn to share, in a global sense.

In thinking of this, discussing it with Susanna (and being the lady who sorts the emails for Knitters Without Borders) I’ve fashioned a challenge, similar to the one that put more than $120,000 in the sidebar over there. It’s easy.

Imagine that your family, however big or small it is, gets another member. A baby is born, someone marries, it happens all the time. Now, naturally…as is the case when someone is added to a family, they are welcome at your winter festivities and they will be fed and receive a gift (or, in the case of many of our families, multiple gifts.) When a new family member is added, no-one declines to feed them because you can’t afford it, no-one refuses to buy them a birthday or holiday gift because the family is big enough. You spend a little less on each other person, you spread your budget around, maybe if you’re really broke you make them a card… but you make it work.

The challenge is to imagine this person has been added to the list of people you care for in some way, and to give their share to my favourite good guys, Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders.

In short, and to the best of your ability, I want you to include MSF/DWB and the people they help to your family.

Canadians can give here

Americans here

Knitters from other countries here

MSF / DWB provides medical care to those in desperate situations and is transparent and neutral, without religious or political affiliations. They have won the Nobel Peace Prize and you can read their charter here.


When you’ve done that, send me an email (stephanieATyarnharlotDOTca ) and tell me how much you were able to give. (It is very helpful to me if you mention if that’s in Canadian or US dollars) When you do, I’ll add you to my list of Knitters Without Borders or, if you’re already on it, I’ll up your total. I don’t need to see a receipt or proof that you have given this gift, because I truly, truly believe nobody would lie about this. (If you are someone who has been giving a monthly donation since the first time we did this, let me know and I’ll update your total.)

Here’s the fun part. I would like to stun the world with the power of knitters. I’d like them to see what I already know about you. I’d like you to achieve something incredible and legendary. I’d like to you aim high and make other people inspired.

I would like knitters to double the number in the sidebar. ( Currently about $120 000)

This will be a big job. It won’t be easy, it might even pinch a little, but it can’t hurt as much as doing nothing, or it can’t hurt as much as being one of the people in the world who needs help for a loved one and is watching them die because they have the bad luck to live in a country where you can’t call 911. For my family to manage our goal, we will need to spend a few dollars less on each gift, skip store-bought hot chocolate, ask Santa to put a tiny bit less in the stockings, and bake a few less cookies. (I’ll have to knit from stash for a while, and that’s not exactly punishing. ) I bet your family could find somewhere to trim a little so you could share too. Maybe there is even someone on your list who would like it if their whole gift was a donation, made in their name. Dig deep.

For a lucky few of you there will be some Karmic balancing gifts, that will be drawn randomly from among the gift givers. Not the least of these are donated by Susanna, who has reached deep into her pockets and will give three gifts back. A Bohus sweater kit of your choice (be still my heart) a Blue Shimmer hat and scarf kit; and a kit for Green Meadow mittens.


These gifts (and some others, along with some stuff from me.) will be given in the same spirit of your human giving, not for the biggest donation, but by random selection, since I think each of you are going to give the absolute biggest gifts that your personal finances will allow, whether that is one dollar -or a thousand, and I’m not going to judge that amount, or provide a list of names of those who have given. I hope every single person who reads this blog manages to do their best. Share until it feels good – or wonderful, or fantastic. Share as much as you can. Imagine yourself explaining to your family or children about this, imagine explaining about global sharing, and then give, my lovely knitters, whatever this season means to you, and celebrate the amount of light coming into your life. I promise that it will seem a little brighter.


(tap, tap, tap)

Is this thing on?

If you’re reading this, then Ken is a God walking the earth as man.

Update: For those of you asking, The whole blog has been moved to a new web host. (A better closet.) The other web host was…well. We shall not speak of them again.

I know Bloglines hasn’t caught the feed yet, that should fix itself…and any other little bugs should go away too. Feel free to point out anything that seems weird or wrong to you…It helps us (who am I kidding) it helps Ken sort out anything that might still need tweaking.

You can look forward to a new post tomorrow (blog fates willing) and in the meantime, my Christmas knitting (there’s a ton of it) and I are going to a nice quiet corner with a nice cuppa tea to shake off the tension produced by running around screaming “BLOG DOWN!”

(Or, my technical skills being what they are “Blog broken! MAKE BLOG GO!”)

Boy. Did I ever miss you guys.