I am going to need elves

Knitters, things are bad over here. Try as I might, work the spreadsheet as I do… hours of my life keep evaporating in mountains of regular work, and I am starting to feel like Christmas is a big hairy beast with enormous pointed teeth, bearing down on me from behind.  I can practically feel it’s hot breath on the back of my neck, especially if I stop running for a single moment. I love Christmas, usually. Usually by this time of year (let’s not discuss the date. I’m already a little woozy) I have things sort of in hand.  This year?

treeup 2015-12-09

I like to get the tree up early – not early by some standards, but certainly in the first week of December. This December found Joe and I desperately comparing schedules, looking for the 90 minutes that we both had free to walk to the tree place, choose a tree, carry it back through the street, wrestle it into the house, move furniture around and then have the 20 minute conversation about whether or not it is straight in the stand, and what side is best. It took until this morning to find that time… and we had to get up a little earlier to make it happen, and we spent a lot less time on the task than we usually do, but by wool, we have a tree.  It is naked, it is possibly not straight, I have no idea if this is its best side, and the lights are still in the box (though we did collect the boxes from the basement.

ornaments 2015-12-09

Half knit items litter the house, the expected knit-rumpus happened this past weekend, but was not nearly enough, nothing is wrapped (holy cats someone better buy wrapping paper) the shopping list is completely out of control, and sometime between right now and Friday night, I need to seriously get a Christmas going on over here. A conversation happened a few weeks ago – where we all talked about how hard the parents are working right now, how busy we are – how much we all have on our plates….and we decided to only do the things we love this year. To let go of expectations, let go of traditions that nobody really cares about… we asked ourselves what really matters to us this time of year.

It turns out that the answer was that we want to be together, we want to see family and friends, we want to sing carols and make music, and we want to decorate gingerbread. We all agree that it’s not really Christmas without that, so, a few things got cancelled, a few others got moved around, and Friday night we’ll all gather for our traditional gingerbread party.  That means that we have just a little over 48 hours to go from zero (well, not technically zero, I do have a naked tree) to a house full of people, dinner for more than 20, a few hundred gingerbread cookies baked and ready for decorating, and (at least) five colours of royal icing made, put in piping bags, and ready for little (and big) hands to decorate them.  So far, I have… well. A naked tree and I’m leaving here in a few hours for another two bike rally meetings – though at least I can knit through those.

socksnot 2015-12-09

I have decided, after careful consideration, and establishing the minimums that must be a accomplished, that tomorrow morning I will get up, make a very large pot of coffee, delegate everything possible…. and then warp the time-space continuum.

It’s going to be fine. I think. Right?

183 thoughts on “I am going to need elves

  1. I commend you for sticking with the Bike Rally meetings. I do not have that leadership ability and would have wanted to ditch them by now.

    May you have things calm down and Christmas is there. It will all catch up one way or the other.

    • I am wondering why there are Bike Rally meetings in mid-December. Isn’t it run by volunteers…who are now developing that desperate look because I am sure that most of you do more than the bike rally…and it is coming to a head this time of year.

  2. You may not have elves, but you do have the ladies. They are able to make gingerbread and decorate trees. If they can only come for a couple of hours after work, that’s still helpful. My own son/elf has just volunteered to come and put up my tree tonight after work, so I know it can be done. Good luck!

  3. If you’re going to delegate everything possible, then you should “only” have to make one batch of gingerbread cookies, one bag of coloured icing, one main course for 20 people, decorate one tree, and knit your way through 2 meetings. Still a formidable list, but with some hope of getting it done. All the best, and I wish for you and your family a happy, busy,satisfying December run-up to Christmas.

    • Listen to the voice of wisdom here :-). If you’re feeling very strongly about it, you can distribute your cookie recipe. But even adhering to that is not necessary, in fact a gingerbreak bakeoff might get more enthusiastic participation. And you have adult daughters for all intent and purposes, if you don’t want to be going through this stress multiplied by 4 when you’re 80, this would be a good time to start getting them truly involved in the planning. Just don’t wait to announce the much limited size of your contribution so you don’t stress them out so much they flee to the bahamas next year :-).

  4. I am very much in the same situation as you – naked tree, decorations still in the box, and presents not ready. For me it is a bit weather related – I get wound up when it snows because then it is time for Christmas. This ridiculous weather does not help!

  5. Absolutely and totally fine – you’re forwarder than I am for one thing and while I don’t have gingerbread for twenty in the schedule I do have the certain matter of a little girl’s third birthday to attend to on Saturday – maybe if we both just remember to breathe!

  6. (Appropriately, to log in I had to touch the clock) “It’s going to be fine. I think. Right?” I suggest that while you knit/wrap presents you watch “Shakespeare in Love.” May not seem like a Christmas movie at first, but as the refrain “It will be fine.” “HOW will it be fine?!!!???” “I don’t know, but it always is. It’s a great mystery” is repeated and repeated, you may begin to change your mind. It’s a great mystery.

  7. Just take a deep breath and do those things that are necessary. A tree that only has lights is a thing of beauty. One of the years that I was totally plastered by life our tree only had lights. The kids still had a good Christmas. They had me and the rest of the family.

  8. I want to create for my daughter the same magical Christmas-time memories that my parents gave to me – cutting down the tree, decorating the house, baking cookies, etc. I just never realized how much work went into those things on my parents’ end. Now that I am a working parent, I think the time I have in which to accomplish Christmas tasks gets shorter every year…
    Perhaps your family would be on board with a new tradition – a Christmas potluck, or pizza to go along with the gingerbread? That’s certainly easier than organizing and making dinner for 20! And it’s the laughter and smiles people will remember, not what was on their plates.
    May your holiday continue to shine brightly through the chaos – best of luck!

  9. Not really sure how that time-space warp thing works, but if you do it in Toronto, I hope that means it also happens in Iowa. I sure need the help! Thanks.

    • Hi, Claudia, from Jo in Iowa City: I suggest we join forces and put a super mind-melding warp in Iowa’s space-time continuum – maybe even a weft! At the very least, my husband & I will have to bend tradition like crazy to get ready. (Actually the crazy part is well in hand; both of us still have the colds that were surprise Thanksgiving gifts…How long does a virus live in hand knits, I wonder.) Oh how I adore being with all the family, though they have not caught on to the idea of a 50 year term limit for hostesses. p.s. We can do the mind-meld electronically to preserve your health!

  10. Put on the lights, make gingerbread dough, set out the icing bags, make a contribution to the dinner potluck, st out frosting fixings, and have everything else be an old fashioned barn raising/quilting bee where the community works off it’s collective butt and shares in the warm glow of accomplishment and togetherness while the hostess stays sane and enjoys herself without being a martyr. It’s about togetherness and laughter not production. Enjoy and a very Merry time to all and to all a good night!

      • Totally! While it’s lovely to get to a house where everything is ready and glowing, waiting for your lazy butt, most people enjoy actually contributing to the celebration more. If you want to still appear to be in control, I recently used http://www.SignUpGenius.com to have people signup for categories like ‘3 vegetables’ and ‘2 desserts’ and it worked swimmingly.

  11. We also have the naked tree situation going on. Ideally, we’d get it the day after Thanksgiving, but we were traveling. We managed to get it during the first week of December, which is fine, and I asked my husband if it was okay if I went ahead and decorated it without him since he wouldn’t have time…and I haven’t either.

    We have found its best side, though.

  12. I agree with the comment about letting “the ladies” help. I’ve been a faithful reader for way too many years (think book book book one!) and watched them grow up to be lovely and competent young women. This Thanksgiving, I let MY lovely and competent young people take over the meal and the dessert, while I played with the lovely babies they have produced. It was amazing, and we all got to do what made us happy. (Since they deal with the lovely babies everyday, they were delighted to cook without having same lovely babies underfoot. And I was delighted to play with and read to and cuddle all of them.
    You raised them to be competent and helpful….it is time to let them be competent and helpful!
    As long as you make the butter tarts…..like my Canadian Nana did….everything else is gravy!

    Barbara M. In NH

  13. “we decided to only do the things we love this year” will make magic happen if you stick to it. Of course, you can always try loving the overload! I second the advice above about the Shakespeare In Love mantra. It is so true.

  14. There was one memorable year in my life when I put up and decorated the tree on the day after Christmas. It was still fun.

    Good luck with it all.

  15. Maybe the decorating of the tree could also happen during the gingerbread party? I have a tree-trimming party every year, and even if it’s just me doing the trimming, at least I’ve got company at it. (This will not work for some people; my mother would just redecorate the tree after everyone left.)

    • I agree with this – one of my friends holds a tree-trimming party every December ( this Sunday, in fact) puts up pots of chill, typical potluck ensues – hey, that’s an idea, ask people to bring their own batches of cookies and you just have to supply the decorations. As long as you don’t do a control-freak over the tree decorations, everything will be fine. How? It’s not such a mystery. Just let go.

  16. Can someone point me in the direction of a good gingerbread man recipe? I have failed so often making them. I don’t just need a recipe, I need the SECRET…whatever it is, to making them roll-out-able.

    • Chill the dough for a couple of hours after you mix it.
      Make the dough one night, and let it sit in the fridge all the next day if you need to.
      Cooler cookies are easier to roll (rolling between two sheets of parchment paper or wax paper helps too) and hold their shape better as they bake.

    • add more flour. you may need that for high altitude, or maybe your eggs are bigger than average. either way, more flour will make it easier to roll out, and gingerbread cookies are generally okay even if you add a bit too much. they’re not meant to be a delicate cookie. also, I think Harlot posted her recipe on the blog a few years back, so maybe search for that?

      • Unless they are particularly sticky, you don’t want to add too much flour to begin. By the time you reroll the scraps 2 times they’ll be really pasty from picking up flour off the counter.

        I recommend chilling the dough overnight in one pound balls wrapped in plastic. Then set them at room temp for 15 minutes or so before trying to roll. Chill the trays and cut cookies before baking, and rechill scrap dough as it warms up. Also, flour the cutters and use a pastry scraper.

        • Refrigeration is also drying, which you want–it helps the cut cookies keep their shapes. I learned this from baking molded cookies. If your fridge is overstuffed like mine, just put them in a cool dry place outside the kitchen. You can save time by putting the cut cookies on the baking sheets, and drying them that way. One last thing, I promise: I’ve had much better recipe results from edited, published cookbooks. Use one that is reputable and the recipe might work better for you. Or I just have bad luck with internet recipes…

          • Thanks for all the great suggestions. btw.. I searched past blogposts but could not find Harlot giving recipe. Lots of requests each year but no dice. Oh well. I’ll check a classic cookbook and try, try again.

    • Try the Canadian Living website – the gingerbread dough is easy to work with and (most importantly!) really tasty. I generally don’t do rolled cookies (too finicky) but my younger daughter wanted us to make them last year and it was great. We also made sugar cookies in a variety of shapes….and now it is a ‘tradition’ according to my daughter!

  17. “we want to be together, we want to see family and friends, we want to sing carols and make music, and we want to decorate gingerbread”

    I don’t see “driving yourself insane trying to knit gifts for everyone” on this list.

      • Cut yourself some slack. Everyone else will. I liked the comment a few posts ago about WIP gifts turning into the next year’s birthday gift. Lovely wrapped gingerbread cookies would make a great Christmas gift.

        • Who do you get handmade gifts from? Maybe this year it is time to try something new…like signing up everyone for the Bike Rally. If they can’t ride, they could volunteer. {Laughs madly}

          • Bravo. I haven’t received a handmade gift in years, except from my darling neighbor girls, ages 5 and 10. So I make gifts as I can, when I can, for persons who are likely to love them.

  18. Yup, I’m feeling it too. Time slipping away and the ToDo list is laughable. For that reason, I’m:

    Making the crock pot my friend. I can’t cook every day but I can throw things in the slow cooker and get going with my day.

    Grocery delivery. It’s the only way to go when I’m this busy.

    Finally admitted I need the help of a cleaning lady. Between the two of us (me putting things away) and her (she cleaning surfaces), it is a lot more manageable.

    Shortcuts are a very good thing.

  19. Things have a way of working out. Enjoy yourself. If the Tardis drops by and bails you out of a time crunch, send the Doctor to my house next, ok? 🙂

  20. why not have family decorate the tree and do the ginger bread stuff. Keep everyone busy doing something then there are no arguments, fights, throwing of food stuff at you sister…

    did I actually write that.


  21. This is what take out was made for. Delegate some of the cookie baking, get lights on the tree. Let guests decorate the tree and the cookies. Done.

  22. If the decorating of the cookies is what is most fun, I’d say this is the time to tell everyone to buy a box of premade gingerbread to bring along and save yourself from baking all those cookies! You could always make one or two batches and buy the rest.

  23. It IS going to be fine, really it IS! And I agree with the folks who suggest having guests trim the tree, and getting take-out for dinner (at least part of it?).

  24. I understand how you feel. After a very very stressful last week of classes, I’m finally done with the majority of my group projects (not even the fun knitting kind). Just have my final exams, and I’m free for the holidays. But my Christmas knitting encountered a serious setback. I believe in the harlot!

  25. I am new to your website so I am currently reading the 2010 November posts. Still funny and engaging btw. I can’t help but notice how the sock a month was working for you back then…you seemed very happy with everything you had amassed towards Christmas. Perhaps you should give yourself a break. Clearly you have had some very productive years. No one should judge you if you don’t get quite as much done this time around. We as women/moms put way too much pressure on ourselves…I may wrap one scarf for a son whilst it is still on the needles….he will get it when I finish it!

      • I may actually try it this year….but I will have to choose yarn carefully so as to not kill my budget. I am scared to go into the new LYS for that very reason 🙂

        • Oh, I know. Somehow every time I step into my LYS I end up losing about an hour or more…and about $100 (or more). I always tell my boyfriend I had no idea how it happened.

      • There are some affordable sock-yarns out there to be starting with. Check Lion Brand Yarns website, especially their ‘clearance’ section — often some of the colours of SockEase are anywhere from 30% to 75% off, when bought in a 3-pack (each ball makes one pair); the colour selection and discount amount changes frequently. Red Heart Heart & Sole (2 balls per pair) is available at many Walmarts — you may need 3 balls to match the stripes exactly, but once you complain to them about that, they’ll send you a free pair of skeins (very carefully wound and matchy, to try and win you back to the Dark Side lol). Michael’s Craft Stores carry Kroy Sock yarn, just print off one of their ’40-50% off one item’ coupons each time you go. Also, wander through the stash search on Ravelry – you never know what folks are selling, often at a disount.

        (Checks off “Sock Enabling” on the To Do List) 😀

        • So I caught your comment after I posted…..”sock enabling” love it. Knitters (and crocheters too) have the best sense of humor! I have bought LB clearance and I have used Kroy….just want to try some of those other lovely yarns. But I am not whining a bit….well, maybe a little bit

        • I’ve used Kroy quite a bit for socks, but I couldn’t see myself using Red Heart. Even if it is inexpensive. I love knitting, but I also like fine fibers (or at minimum wool/nylon blends). Hence the whole killing my budget thing.

          • Red Heart’s Heart & Sole sock yarn is 70% wool/30% nylon — the only RH product I’d ever buy 🙂

      • Wait till you get to February 7 of 2011…..so funny! And yes, I am that far already. Reading this blog is my favorite way to relax 🙂

        • You’ve got to be careful, though, because the knitting is contagious! I was one of those people who was never going to knit socks — I mean, really? Socks??? Waste-of-time/Walmart/$1-per-pair/blah blah blah……

          Three years into the archives, a small pile of sock patterns materialized next to the computer. A couple more years’ worth, suddenly there were dpns there, too. Before I knew what was happening, I had the ribbed cuff and a dozen rows of Basic Sock on the needles. Having already exhausted the thrills of plain stockinette, I thought, “Well dammit, since I’m here … I’ll throw in a few cables…”

          Haven’t been without a Sock In Progress since.

          So, be careful, but accept the fact that you’ll be sucked in. Just like The Rest Of Us.

          The Stepford Knitters
          (waits to see if anyone gets the reference — I feel soooo old, sometimes LOL)

          • Oh yes – I once said “no sock knitting” and then..well after a few patterns and some sock yarn as a Christmas gift, I too am knitting socks. But, instead of all dpns or magic loop, I use a 9″ circular needle from HiyaHiya along with dpns for the heel section and the toes. Just cause I could since it makes my daughter shake her head lol

          • I get it lol…Stepford wives! Very funny, but remember, old is just a word not necessarily a state of mind….I was amazed when I came to a later post and saw the Great Organization of Knitting Needles that the Harlot had to begin. I thought I had a lot of needles. Nope. Turns out I have a baby collection. Love them though. Every last vintagey pair of them.
            And socks? Yes, hooked (needled?) I am!

  26. Can the gingerbread party double as a tree decorating party, as well? I’ve been reading your blog for years and your Christmases have *always* turned out so beautifully!!

  27. I just read this joke and had to share – a good laugh can ease the stress.
    Did you hear about the cat who swallowed a ball of wool? She had mittens!

    PS I had to click the tree – seems to be a bit of a theme here…

  28. Can you delegate some of the cookie baking? Maybe 100 cookies instead of several hundred? Sounds like you are on the right track by focussing on the important things. Good luck!

  29. Steph don’t panic just yet. My hubby and I have been sick. He has a new job that has super long hours and I commute. Mix that up and I haven’t touched the laundry in 2 weeks now (we’re running out of undershirts for goodness sake..), the tree isn’t even out of the attic, there isn’t a light on the house and not a single present has been purchased let alone wrapped. This weekend is my company holiday party and the granddaughters (my generation) annual cookie bake off on Sunday.

    It could be much worse! (in fact, why not have a decorating party with your gingerbread? You have a fleet of spare hands, put them to work! Make it a game!

  30. Delegate what you can, do what you can, and don’t stress (or stress as little as you need to). What gets done will get done; the important thing is the time with family. It won’t be a tragedy if some cookies aren’t iced or if someone’s socks aren’t finished. Remember to breathe and enjoy the season.

  31. It’s going to be great. Even if it seems like a disaster 5 minutes before the first visitors arrive, and even if cookies are still coming out of the oven during dinner.

    It’s going to be lovely.

  32. Good grief! You have me sitting on the edge of my seat. Watching you prepare for Christmas is more intense than any thriller movie I’ve seen.
    I hope you make it out in one piece!

  33. I vote with those who suggest combining the cookie decorating with the tree decorating. I might even add decorating foam gingerbread men to hang on the tree…and cut back on the edible kind.

  34. You got this! It’ll be great and you’ll have fun and enjoy with your loved ones even if everything is not 100% perfect. The tree looks great!

  35. Maybe someone has already suggested it, but could you incorporate tree-decorating as part of the celebration on Friday? Wishing you a successful time/space-warp endeavour!

  36. I work for a garden centre in Winnipeg that delivers Christmas trees for free. Set up, in the stand, with the tree bag, placed where you want it in the house. My boss knows the meaning of Christmas!

  37. If your team could make perhaps three soup/stews ahead (slow cookers?) – then ask others to bring breads, salads, drinks and yes cookies! maybe it would be less crazy-making.
    We can definitely use more candle light at this time of year.
    Looking forward to the party photos whenever you can get around to posting them.

  38. Things are hectic, but these sound like incredibly wonderful problems to have honestly. 🙂 Everything will be great, even if all the cookies aren’t done on time, or if the knitting doesn’t get done/wrapped by Christmas. You all have each other and really, that is all that counts.

    Enjoy the holidays. Stressing is such a waste.

  39. I was asked to touch the music note, how appropriate!. Still recovering from major dental surgery here, hopefully will have the tree by this weekend. I’d like to add to the chorus of having a takeout, tree decorating gingerbread party with lots and lots of singing. My favorite quote is from the Bext Exotic Marigold Hotel, “it will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright you’re not at the end.” If I lived closer to Toronto I’d stop by to help.

  40. Hey, thanks for the update! Somehow (well, its no mystery, its been a cruddy year over here), I feel completely pinched by Christmas this year, too, and despite all of my knitting projects, I’m not quite moved by the season this year. I would never wish any of this on you, you guys know how to live it up, so I hope the Spirit (and Time) finds you sooner rather than later!
    #NoCrankyPokes. 🙂

  41. PS- because I don’t have enough on the Knit List, I’ve added some Wee Elves from Churchmouse, because, well, they’re Wee Elves, thats why!!

  42. Want advice? Use gift bags for everything – a simple sheet of tissue crumbled on top hides the gift and takes seconds. Buy undecorated cookies AND frosting from your local bakery. Make decorating the tree be part of the Christmas Eve activities with the whole family (will be done in minutes). Have the meals be potluck and you just prepare the main course. And, finally take the phone off the hook and knit like crazy!

  43. A) You have three grown daughters. Put them to work.
    B) The naked tree could be decorated while everyone is waiting turns to decorated cookies.
    C) as others have pointed out. One batch of cookies – one colour of frosting – one dish for 20 people. Have other adults bring the rest. Delegate – delegate – delegate.
    D) If all the Christmas knitting doesn’t get done; slip each project not finished in a Christmas bag and give the bag. You work for a living.
    E) Ditch the wrapping paper and buy bags so much easier to fill and less time consuming.

    Final thought; when my kids turned into teen-agers, I quit with decorating. If they wanted the decorations, tree and such, it became their job. I cooked as usual for Christmas Day because I had the time that day. I just quit sweating it.

  44. We have a cypress in a pot on our deck. Come December we haul him in and add a string of tinsel and a star (he’s young yet, can’t carry a lot of weight). Job done in 5 minutes. Now if only organizing gifts was so easy… Every year I swear I’m going to stock up the gift cupboard months ahead and every year it’s December before I even get started.

  45. I have lost count of the amount of times I have run out of time and given my mother one sock, with a second sock appearing for Mother’s Day or her birthday. Fortunately she is a knitter who doesn’t make socks so she is pretty understanding.

  46. I put my vote in for a cookie decorating/tree trimming party! Use your crockpot for a wonderful soup or stew and delegate the crusty breads and rolls and salad and dessert to those that will be attending. If they have wee ones – a stop at a bakery for the bread or rolls is easy enough. Even delegate a few dozen cookies for decorating to several people will help. Then, decorating cookies and tree can happen along with music and laughter and a wonderful new traditional Friday evening gathering.

  47. I wanted to let you know that because of your spreadsheet post last year, I made one for myself in November. (OK. Technically, I made it because my nostalgic collection of hand-written lists that I’ve re-written and kept in a folder since I got married 24 years ago, got misplaced by my well-meaning-tidying-up husband.) It works great! I have one general to-do list page, one page for immediate family and another for everyone else. (I did print it once when it looked like my computer was going to bite the dust, but after a check-up, the PC fine.) THANK YOU for encouraging me into 21st century Christmas planning!

  48. Damn elves! You can’t count on them for anything. Do they cook (or in your case, bake) when you are away? No! Clean? No! Sort the mail? No. Just useless…

  49. Christmas will come whether you´re ready or not. Nobody likes how gingerbread cookies taste anyway, they just love to decorate them, so buy ready made cookies. Make a few pretty gift cards for knitted items to be delivered i january. Relax!
    best wishes from Iceland
    ps. and I really, really must tell you how all of us here in Scandinavia are totally in love with your new prime-minister, he´s a true rock-star.

  50. Not to be Pollyanna, but I finally learned that the importance of the “Season” is being together. ALL the rest is frosting that does not actually have to get on the cookies that might, or might not be baked…

  51. My take away from this is a wish that my family were close by to enjoy all of the Holiday confusion that I once took for granted. Do what you can, sit back and enjoy. It is fleeting. Merry Christmas!

  52. I’m sorry. But I have to say it. At least you HAVE a tree. My family hasn’t said anything yet, but I am getting ‘looks’ accompanied by ‘sighs’. No tree, decorations, no lights, just knitting. Furious knitting. I’ve got the ruddy William Tell Overture playing over and over in my mind. I promised myself NO KNIT PRESENTS this year. What a silly fool I was. And now I’m a sucker, to boot. “Make me a hat puhleeeeeeese!” + puppydog eyes. Daughter jealous of hat I made for her cousin…Sprig Cloche for daughter…Forgot to get a gift for Brian…”Just Try It” neck warmer in Aran…niece is having a baby any day…Baby Coccoon in Super Bulky!…Husband says, “Did you make anything for the 2 kids back east?”…Crap. 2 Olaf Hats… Head banging on stash armoire #1……yes, I have furniture for my stash…the tree gets a box. Lace shawl for Me collecting dust on the now dangerously crowded knitting end table…bwock bwock bwock bwock bwock! Who’s a Christmas turkey?!

    • Daughter making puppydog eyes for a hat can darned well pitch in and decorate etc. for at least as long as it takes you to knit a hat.

  53. Oh! And Patti’s right. Firesteed [Oregon] makes a lovely Pinot Noir! Somehow a glass with friends and family makes everything better. Tee hee!

  54. My girls (wee ones) were sick last week. Of course, that means Mama is sick this week. This is my husband’s busiest time of year, so his ability to pick up the slack is limited. I am trying very hard to remember that what my girls need most is a Mama with patience and the ability to joyfully celebrate with them.

    I’ve been listening to what my five year old brings up and setting my priorities from there. The 9 month old, thankfully, has no expectations. So far, they are: a tree (done!), stockings (I’ve shopped for both but must make the baby’s), Angel tree gifts (another one done), and cookies to deliver to the nursing home (scheduled). I also host our family party the Saturday before Christmas, but we have a long-established pot luck tradition and whatever cleaning and decorating doesn’t happen won’t be noticed once the house is full of people.

    I’ve also decided on one – yes, one – handmade gift this year. Actually, that’s not true. I supported several talented local artists this year.

  55. Bulk Barn sells premade royal icing in piping bags. It’s less than $2 a bag and comes in red, green, and white.

    It totally saved my sanity last week for my gingerbread decorating party. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a snob about gingerbread but I decided that royal icing was not the hill I was going to die on. It was an excellent decision.

    • Ha! I’ll have to use that line on my sisters.

      I haven’t got a thing done yet. It was 14C and sunny today in Ottawa! It really doesn’t feel like Christmas.

  56. A handful of years ago, my husband and I also decided to only do the holiday things we enjoy. It makes me so happy to read that you’re taking a similar approach, because IT’S AWESOME. Kudos to you, and may you and your family thoroughly enjoy these next few weeks.

    PS. Thanks for having a blog that I can count on really enjoying, and for continuing to post here even when it’s hectic, and December.

  57. Try this “Dear daughters. I love you. HELP! Love Mom.”

    I got a text from my darling daughter last week She is working full time, going to school full time, and raising two little girls that was the reverse of that “Dear Mom. (Hubby) working doubles. Thurs exam. Killer. Can girls spend weekend with you?”

    So we got the grandgirls and had a wonderful time cutting and decorating our tree. They’re coming back this weekend to make wreaths and presents for their parents. I expect my daughter is going to sleep, because exams will be over and it’s her weekend off.

  58. Bless you’re heart. (The sweet southern way of saying “You’re in a mess of your own making, and I feel for ya.)
    I have to tell you; I REALLY think that your family can help pull some of this off. If it is important to them, they can help make it happen. If it’s not, then it probably isn’t worth the stress you’re enduring to bring this dream about.
    I totally agree with commenters above about the dinner. Our extended family pretty much always does an organized pot luck. Host makes the entree, one family brings the salad, another the drinks, another the bread, etc. People LIKE to contribute, because they know YOU will enjoy having them more if you didn’t stress yourself out preparing. Easy for everyone.
    You are expressing your love for your people in so many tangible ways. Asking them for help doesn’t diminish from the magic that you are making for them. How about if you make the dough and icing, and let the girls have an auntie date with Luis and Hank to do the baking? (You can even let them use your kitchen while you are at a rally meeting, or finishing up your shopping.)
    Since you’re on the Rally steering committee, I would steer them away from meetings in December in future years. (I know that doesn’t help much right now.)
    I would decorate the tree before anything else. That will make everything FEEL less stressful, even it it isn’t.
    I hope things will fall together nicely for you.

  59. Just remember that no matter what happens, your family and friends will still love you. Even if they get IOUs instead of knitted gifts. 🙂

  60. Every year my husband and I try to convince his family not to exchange gifts. We live hundreds of miles away from each other and it’s a lot of effort gone to waste, really, and stress for us all because we never know what to buy. We’re still having that conversation because not everyone is willing to let go. This year, we’re in the middle of a huge remodel that is (of course) taking much longer than planned, so we can’t even have a tree, much less make cookies. It’s ok. We’re a happy family and we’ll make up for it next year.
    By the way, have you ever heard of the radio show To The Best Of Our Knowledge? It’s produced here in Madison WI and distributed by PRI. A couple weeks ago they did a show on handwork and opened with a segment on knitting. I bet you’ll appreciate the first 10 minutes or so. Here’s a link on how knitting improves your health (they obviously skipped the whole Christmas knitting idea…):

    • Bravo. I haven’t received a handmade gift in years, except from my darling neighbor girls, ages 5 and 10. So I make gifts as I can, when I can, for persons who are likely to love them.

  61. I’m sure that the people in your life will divvy up the tasks. One party, 20 people- everyone brings a dish and a dozen gingerbread cookies. Others can stop before/after work to help clean. Night of the party, first they decorate the tree, then they eat, then they frost the cookies. Put unfinished gifts in bags, keep them and finish them and give them away after they get finished.

  62. I seem to have reverse tree issues. We got it up and decorated in November, but our little helper-elves (2 years and 5 years) keep undecorating the tree so that they can dance around the house wrapped in tinsel and bells. VERY cute ‘problem’ to have…I’m not discouraging it at all.

    Steph, you bring a great deal of joy and love and peace to people all over the world with your various efforts to help others. I think you totally deserve some of all of those things for yourself over the festive season, so PLEASE take on board some of the short-cuts suggested in the comments, and the “this isn’t the hill I plan to die on” attitude of one person. It’s totally about the love involved, not the perfection of the execution. Thanks for all you contribute to the rest of us!

  63. I hereby make you an honorary Scandinavian. We put up trees on Christmas Eve, not early December. The tree stays up through Epiphany, on or about Jan. 6. Much easier, fire safer, and cheaper since so many people buy trees early and let them dry out in the house.

    And I second the comments above for buying some of your foods, to give you time to catch your breath and enjoy the season. Presents are more fun in February any way, when it is even colder than in December! We used to have Xmas every year in August because my most generous aunt couldn’t get stuff in themail in time. It was lots of fun!

    • Kristina, I do so like your suggestion of a family Christmas gathering in February (or August). I suspect we need a winter break and family cheer much more in February than December. And, just thinking of all the extra time freed up earlier in the winter, when folks in need could use our knits and volunteerism, makes me joyful. Peace, love and sustenance to all!

  64. I have two suggestions. First put the lights on the tree. Then ask each person on Friday’s party to put two or three ornaments on the tree. That way they are part of the process. Second, ask who wants what tradition and ask that person to be in charge of making that tradition happen. Your daughters are talented intelligent women who have had great training watching you put everything together. I expect each can make a part of Christmas happen while you do your favorite part of Christmas. I expect it will all be wonderful and joyful—another year to remember.

    • I think the issue for a lot of moms is that we feel responsible to create a wonderfully festive time for our families on the various holidays. That’s what moms do. But I remember the first time one of my daughters offered to make Easter dinner for all of us at her home. I accepted gladly, stifling the little niggles of guilt, and thoroughly enjoyed this new grown-up stage of my children. Since then, Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving are split among the three of us. Lovely.

    • Perfect. I also boldly suggest that you make the dinner a potluck? Additionally, have the most handy, go-to people come early to help you get ready.
      At least think about it.
      Nancy P

  65. Uh-oh. She’s already going off the deep end. . .

    Steph. feeding the masses is easy: Spaghetti. Your tree is not naked — it’s a nudist. Decorate Joe, instead/ Pay the squirrels to come in and bake the gingerbread. Everything will get done eventually, given an infinite amount of time

  66. Have your guests decorate the tree at the party. It won’t be perfect, but they’ll have a great time and you’ll have a decorated tree.

  67. Lots of good suggestions here. I’m 100% on board with spreading around the gingerbread baking. If your recipe is preferred, perhaps you can make the dough and parcel it out to others to cut and bake. If it was me, I’d definitely opt for the pizza and salad route for dinner. As others have said, the gathering is the most important thing, the food will be forgotten. Best of luck to you and happy family memories no matter what you decide to do.

  68. Hi Stephanie, I love your spreadsheet adding up the gifts and times of the holidays over the years. Brilliant. I’ve used so much of your holiday making advice and ideas over the years. This year I did get lots done during the year, I cut back on the baking but ramped up a little jam making. I give it away at Thanksgiving and then a little more at Christmas. Even with all the planning and prep, I’ve been knitting for gifts since September and I’m still adding a few things to the list as we speak. I think I’d miss the fun of the run up to Christmas with all the knitting madness. I know it’s crazy but I love it.

  69. RIGHT!
    This is precisely how I feel about my work week this week. Not enough time in the day – or night, if I’m honest – to get the customers’ baking done, our son just got home from college, the other needs math help, family party Sunday….
    I vow to keep Christmas in my heart, even if it’s not evident looking at my house. Cheers!

  70. Hello Stephanie: whatever does, or does not, get done, or gets done by someone else below our own standard, give everyone grace, and extend the same to yourself. That’s my plan for this year. I gave up perfection in gift-giving a few years back.

    Happy cookie- and merry-making! Enjoy your family!

    • What a lovely thought. I agree with you, and bless all the women who work so hard to make Christmas. We are the ones who stay up all night mopping the kitchen and wrapping gifts and rescuing the cat from the tree. Why are we so hard on ourselves? This is the season for a glass of eggnog and the old greeting, “Peace out!”

  71. Love the sock and #2 in larval stage (he he , what a description).
    Picking the priorities is a good start .. and definitely delegate.

    There are plenty of adults invited to the gathering(s) and they should be able to bring food / dishes / decorations / icing and other odds and ends. Start a new family tradition … Pot Luck at Steph & Joe’s!!

    At my house, the artificial tree was unpacked over 10 days ago and is still mostly neekid (my mother did find a few angels to hang around the top). Getting the ornaments out of the closet is still on the to do list.

    Hang in there … you could always give gift-swatches for those WIPs that don’t make the deadline.

    M in NC

  72. I know you’re going to be too busy to read this, but –

    I’ve finally gotten my sister-in-law (who was the holdout) to agree we’re not doing presents between nuclear families this year on my husband’s side of the family. I’ve got so much stuff we’ve received in the past that it has become ridiculous. We live too far away to see each other often and know what someone would really like. I’ve given away much of it, and I’ve still got enough bath products in the house to start a store, though a lot of it has been donated. Thank goodness I only have to worry about our immediate family this year.

    When we were at my in-law’s on Christmas Eve, we often went to midnight mass at a Polish shrine about an hour-and-a-half from where they lived. The Christmas after she died, my husband and his brother asked their dad if he’d like to go to that. His answer – “That was your mother’s thing, not mine.” Here’s to choosing to do what matters to those there to enjoy it.

  73. Christmas last year was rearranged by dying Mother-in-Law. It was hectic and chaotic. She died end of May. Christmas tree never came down last year as every weekend was consumed. We set up the tree at our weekend home since that is were we spend Christmas so it did not seem so strange, felt festive or like an art installation. Most of the ornaments were removed.

    This year – tree up on time. Things have a way of balancing out over time.

    Makes a difference when you shorten your To Do list to the Most Important things. Do not compromise on those, it might not feel like the ‘Real Holiday’ to you. Focus on what you decided to prioritize drop what you scratched off the list. Enjoy your Gingerbread Gala.

  74. Sadly, I keep failing the human verification test. lol
    Yes, you should chill and let the others (insist the others?) do their share. There are lots of great suggestions here. Someone above said, it’s about togetherness and laughter, not production. They are so right.

  75. On the plus side, was it only last year (I know, I could go check the archives) that you “tricked” your family into the gingerbread cookie decorating? It seems you were correct that it was secretly one of their favorite things!

    What we are trying to tell ourselves by telling you is that much of the stress of Christmas we bring on ourselves by WANTING to do it. If someone else is heaping the stress on us, we should feel free to allow them to handle the part they WANT but we don’t really care about!

  76. Wow! Reading all the comments, the “votes” are overwhelmingly for a potluck supper with guests decorating the tree. Tell your family, “The Blog has spoken!”

  77. I know how this is going to sound (bad), but the best Christmas in recent memory was two years ago when I was injured. Not horribly, badly, but bad enough that I simply HAD TO GIVE UP doing many of the things I usually do…..like knitting. (My left shoulder was immobilized.) No matter how worked up I got, I just had to let go. And you know what? Christmas still came, and the important things still happened and it even still felt like Christmas. I cooked the roast in the crock pot, because I couldn’t haul stuff in and out of the oven, and my kitchen impaired husband carved and did the washing up. Because getting dressed (in anything but button front pjs) was more complex than launching the space shuttle we didn’t travel.
    When I finally let go, it became the best Christmas ever and I didn’t miss ANYTHING! I’m trying to remember that today….it’s still hard.

  78. I’ve become a big fan of “delegate”. It’s ok not do do everything yourself.
    Leave the tree untrimmed too – just put the lights on – and have each of the attending guests put some ornaments on.
    Can each family bring their own batch of gingerbread too?
    Can you have a potluck?
    You sit back and orchestrate, knit, and watch it all come together.
    Ha. Sometimes I ought to listen to my own advice.

  79. take a deep breath – you will have time to get ready for Friday. Enough time – no more and no less. B R E A T H E and enjoy. And maybe reach for the screech??

  80. Oh poor you …. this is the time of year when I read your blog and talk to friends and have to make sure I don’t get that probably very annoying and slightly smug look that comes from being Jewish at Christmas time … we are currently in the middle of a very low-energy-level festival, Chanukah, that lasts for 8 days but doesn’t really involve much more than lighting candles and singing a bit each evening, making latkes (potato pancakes) when we feel like it (2 nights so far), and exchanging small presents (idea pinched from Christmas) which we are far too lazy to wrap, so usually swathe in pretty scarves (not part of the present, they get given back) …. do I sound smug??? Apologies if so, but rest assured, it’s the people and the love that make the festivals, so I am sure yours will be fine, even if the tree is naked and not all the socks are finished. Just go for the fun ….

  81. You’ve been writing this blog for almost a dozen years (the Blog says thank you, Ken!). In those years, every single Christmas has gotten out of hand, apparently, and yet every single Christmas has been wonderful. Have fun, have faith in Christmas and your family, reach for the really good wine, and knit.

    • I was going to post a suggestion to make some time in January to re-read the Posts of Christmas Past. Every year you feel totally out of control, and still somehow the day rolls around and you get it done. It seems that stress is a major part of family Christmas tradition, or yours at least. Is this an integral part of what you want to transmit to your daughters?

      But you have been a lot busier this year than previous ones. And your busyness has significantly shifted from family stuff to outside-obligation stuff, which means there is less leeway to adjust. You’ve learned to handle travel better, although it’s still a source of really funny posts, sorry :-). But maybe you’re overlooking the long-term tiredness effect that it can induce? And knitting used to be your joy and your hobby, now it’s still a joy but it’s also a job, there is a subtle but definite difference.

      I am not a new-year-resolution person at all. But I’d like to suggest one about building in more slack in your schedule. Real slack. If it’s filled with knitting, let it be filled with desultory, aimless knitting, not knitting-on-a-deadline. But your life can no longer be counted on to provide those occasional breather mornings, you have to act in self-defense and make them for yourself, and defend them tooth and nail against not only other people’s demands but your own.

  82. Call me Scrooge, but I really got tired of being the magic maker for my entire family. Begging for help and getting zero appreciation- not even a simple thank you. I have a list of the bare minimum that needs to get done – the rest is gravy. Why should gingerbread fall to one person? Why do I do all the shopping? Why am I the only one addressing cards? Why am I de orating the tree by myself? One year I just went on strike and no one died bcsuse we had no tree, my kids were old enough, but just didn’t want to go get one and you know what? They missed it and we had one the next year.

    I used to get so bitchy and worn out trying to give everyone the best holiday. All I got was more work, less joy amd a virus from running myself ragged. No more!

    • “they missed it and we had one the next year”– hopefully because they took charge of making it happen! We had a similar situation with cut-out decorated cookies. I announced at Thanksgiving that I couldn’t fit that in to my Christmas run-up that year. The kids took over. Then a few years later the oldest (a girl) explained that she couldn’t do 80% of it anymore and so there would be no cookies. Miraculously, the brothers stepped up. But this year the two oldest won’t be joining us and it looks like no cookies.

  83. Why not simplify the decoration over the weeks leading up to Christmas, and then celebrate Christmas in its proper time: afterwards! 12 days’ worth of parties, celebrations, gift-exchanges . . . imagine giving yourself until Jan 6 (Epiphany) to get all that knitting done!

  84. I think The Blog pretty much has a handle on this year (just on the off-chance that Your Life is really a democracy that we of The Blog get to vote on): dinner is pot-luck; it’s a Gingerbread & Tree Decorating party; white royal icing bought by the ton at Bulk Barn, to be tinted at home; gift bags instead of wrapping paper — did I miss anything? Oh, yes! Wine. Lots and lots of wine 🙂

    Notes for Next Year?:
    – check The Spreadsheet on the first of every month, ditto the Long-Range Planning Box;
    – knit ahead (as you do) but with a little more emphasis on sock size;
    – cook ahead — periodically, tuck a batch of something into the freezer, marked ‘For Gingerbread Night!’;
    – bake ahead — do the same with moderate-sized batches of gingerbread, either already baked and packed in containers, or just rolled/cut/laid-out-on-parchment-ready-to-bake (freeze them on the cookie sheet, then stack the frozen parchments in large heavy-plastic bags).

    Gosh, it’s so much easier to run other people’s lives than it is my own 😀

    You’ll have a lovely Christmas – you always do, because you are you. Have a glass of wine.

      • “Gosh it’s so much easier to run other people’s lives than it is my own” — I LOVE this. Truer words were never spoken. Merry Christmas to all, whoever is with you and however it turns out. It will be fine.

  85. Hey, at least your tree is standing upright inside your home.

    Ours is still in a box in the storage closet.

    Sooooooo behind this year…..

    It’ll all come together, and then you can breathe. 😉

  86. Entirely possible. I bet your hot astronaut buddy might even have some pointers on getting around that whole linear time scenario.
    Glad to see the word delegate in there. Pretty soon your girls will be hosting-maybe at your house-but still…might as well get in a practice run.
    Maybe starting with a gross or two of gingerbread cookies.
    How wonderful to have everyone together-a gift to treasure!

  87. This is probably blasphemous, but… don’t knit for Christmas. Knit for the people you love who appreciate your handknits, and give them to them when they are finished. Happy July 17th! Merry February 10th!

  88. If it hasn’t already been suggested before, I don’t see why the tree can’t be decorated by those who are coming to the gingerbread party. More of a group craft/project. It’ll be great fun and it’ll look like you did it on purpose. win-win.

    As for the knitting, if an adult receives something on needles and a promise for it to be finished at a later date, it is not the end of the world.

  89. I know it’s not your intent, but the lead up to Christmas in your blog always reinforces my delight in living a quiet life with my husband. Being old is quite relaxing.

  90. Tree: not up.
    Cats: ready to pounce on tree whenever it comes out of the box in the basement
    Carols: listening to them during dinner no matter from now till Christmas
    Movies: Need to watch ELF Need to watch ELF need to watch ELF
    Christmas cookies: Big fat zero. Lost 28 lbs on Weight watchers this year and have more to go. Sigh. NO cookies….well maybe a bite of one

  91. Several, actually many, Christmases you have written posts that were just what I needed to hear. Maybe it’s your turn to hear some of them. It is enough. Being with family and friends, enjoying the time together – that is enough. If pressure is part of your Christmas excitement, as it is for many people, then wonderful. Otherwise, focus on finishing things that involve young children – those old enough to be aware of what’s happening and too young to understand delayed gratification. Everything else can wait. A pair of socks received in the middle of January, when all is bleak and the holiday season is past, may be even more appreciated than one received in the midst of a whirlwind. Gingerbread to decorate is obviously a family favorite so I’m glad you’re doing it. But could other family members bake a dozen or so apiece and bring them to your house? Delegate. Then remember that your JOYFUL presence is the best present you can give to your grown-up family, and enjoying their presences is the second best present you can give them. We all like to be enjoyed and appreciated. And don’t forget to leave time and energy to DANCE!

  92. I said one year I was tired of cooking for 3 days to make food nobody liked, so I asked each person to suggest a dish they love. I got, fudge (can be bought), spicy chili with Louisanna hot links! for my son, shrimp platter from Costco, melted cheesy stuff like you buy at the ballpark to pour over chips (Smart and Final has it and an old coffee pot kept it hot and molten), fruitcake (costco) and a salad. Easy schmeezy.

    I asked my 3 year old daughter what made a birthday for her and she said, Well, you have to go to a park with swings and invite Grampa and eat hot dogs and baked beans. Bingo! Lots easier than what I had in mind.

    There is a trade-off between control and easy delegation. Determine to love what other people do for you and express appreciation, and you can put your feet up and knit!

    We put the tree up after Channuka ends, so I’m not behind yet. Presents done and wrapped because I take the long range planning box really seriously.

    My sister gave everyone See’s candy gift cards this year. She knits for birthdays when there is less time crunch.

    Julie in San Diego

  93. Good luck with the rest of your xmas knitting. I just finished my last hat yesterday and I was celebrating. Then my damn neighbor shoveled the snow off my side walk and porch the next morning while I was sleeping in. Sigh…gotta make another hat.

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