End As You Mean To Go On

There’s so much to do today, so much to do.  Our family has a tradition of starting the New Year with everything as it should be. The house in order, scrubbed and tidy. The laundry caught up. (That one’s a total pipe dream. I just organized the last two loads to go in and then watched Sam take two towels out of the hall closet for her bath. TWO. Luckily I am a mother of some experience so I didn’t strangle her with one of them while screaming something seething with the rage born of decades spent watching my daughters dry all the parts of their bodies with dedicated towels.  I just heaved an inner sigh and knew that it’s always going to be the towels that stand between me and a perfect laundry situation on New Years Eve.) All the bills must be paid, there’s money to in every wallet and purse, and Joe’s made three trips to Goodwill with all of the things that are moving out of here.  My desk is clear, the stash is tidy,  but I’ve still got to dust and vacuum the rest of the house if I’m going into this New Year with everything the way I would like it to be for the year coming up. I’ll be off to the grocery store shortly to buy food for our Levee tomorrow, and stop at the liquor store on the way home for some champagne, we’ll make everything beautiful and ready for the New Year to take up residence in fine style.  I have even finished the Christmas knitting, except for Joe’s socks, but I don’t think that stands in the way of me ending as I mean to go on.  I mean to be knitting him socks for many years to come, so a pair on the needles on this night is a fine place to be. 

Tonight, I’ll sweep up the dust of this year and throw it out the back door, I’ll make sure my First Footer is a handsome, dark haired man bearing salt. I’ll put out silver coins (we use quarters, dimes and nickels – we know they’re not really silver) so the light of the old year and the new year can shine on it. Tomorrow we’ll wash nothing – to make sure that no-one in the family is washed away in the upcoming year – and we won’t throw things away for the same reason.

We’re not superstitious, we’re really not, but these traditions and rituals feel binding, and help us mark the time, and feel like we celebrate the holidays properly.  We like them, and they’re what we do as a family. (I don’t think the kids have ever been grateful that we clean for the New Year – but they do it.)  Our house will be in order tonight – and I hope yours is too, in your own way.  We’ll be ending as we mean to go on, tidy, together, and well sorted, champagne in hand.

Happy New Year.

Bonus

Yesterday was our big family party at my Mum’s and we all chip in to help make everything ready- and to put out a spread for everyone who comes.  This means that once again I had to come up with some sort of finger food thing to contribute, and once again I made my black bean tortilla thingies.  They’re perfect for parties and are delicious, inexpensive, good hot and at room temperature and you can make a bunch fast, which makes them fit the bill exactly, if you ask me.  I know there can be a lot of pressure this time of year to come up with just this sort of thing, and everybody always asks me for the recipe, so here you go.

Black Bean Tortilla Things

(I try to be super creative with the names)

1 pkg large flour tortillas
375 ml / 1.5 cups grated cheddar 
1 small red pepper
1 small orange pepper   
1 avocado
1 bunch of spring/green onions
3 plum tomatoes
1 can black beans – rinsed and drained
250 ml/1 cup frozen corn, thawed
2.5ml / 1/2 tsp cumin
2.5 ml / 1/2 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

Turn the oven on to gas mark 4/ 180 C/ 350 F.  Chop up all the veggies pretty small (small like the corn and black beans) and mix everything (except for the tortillas) together.

Get a pint glass and use it upside down like a cookie cutter to cut the tortillas into as many rounds as you can squeeze out of them.

Tuck the tortilla rounds down into muffin cups.

Fill each cup with a spoonful or two of the black bean stuff –

Then bake for about 12-15 minutes.  You want the tortilla cups to start to  brown and be quite crisp, and for the cheese to be melted.

Take them out of the pans right away and either serve right then while they’re warm, or let them cool to room temperature on a rack (so they stay crisp) and serve later. 

Makes several dozen.  I’ve experimented over the years, and I can tell you this. I like them with cilantro in them, but some people don’t – I also like them with extra spring onion and a handful of chopped fresh parsley, and remember to cut things up pretty small.  You can put just about anything in them, just don’t make the mix of stuff too wet.  I used a whack of salsa one year and things were a little gloopy and the tortilla tart part was damp instead of crispy.  You don’t want that.  Damp tarts are not good – and yes. There’s a terrible, terrible joke right there,  I’m letting it go by. If you’re feeding a slightly more refined (or less diverse) crowd, you can get fancy and mince a hot pepper into them, and I’ve made a really good batch by subbing  some blue cheese and broccoli and taking out the avocado and cheddar.  It’s hard to go wrong really, and they’ll disappear off the table. 
Good luck. 

Just Like a Parade

I can’t remember how old I was, but one year I looked at one of my Christmas presents before Christmas.  I snuck out, slit the tape, opened the end, peered at what it was and then closed and re-taped it so that nobody could ever tell what I had done.  It felt instantly wrong and instantly like I’d sullied something,  and by the time that Christmas morning rolled around, I was so ashamed of what I had done that I am sure my performance as I opened that gift was so completely over the top that there’s no way that it could possibly have been believable.  It cured me of all curiosity around my Christmas presents, and turned me into a confirmed life-long non-peeker.  I am not the sort who will ruin my own surprises, and so this past month I’ve been as careful as I can not to ruin the surprises of others.  To that end, the knitting on this blog has been stealth the last little bit, but (almost) everyone has their gifts now, so I can have a big reveal.

First, Ken got socks -

Just a plain pair this year (from my sock recipe in Knitting Rules )  I let the yarn do the work, it was so pretty masculine. That’s Yankee Dyer "Yankee Puritan" yarn – very nice stuff.

Old Joe got a pair too -

Tanis Fiber Arts Blue Label Fingering in Midnight is the yarn, and the pattern is one I bashed out myself, and I like it so very well I just might publish it. 

Amanda doesn’t care for socks, so another hat found it’s way into her stocking.

Manos del Uruguay Maxima in Currant- and the pattern was a super fun knit called the Knit Night Hat.

Erin got a pair of Boot Candy boot toppers. 

The yarn was Nature Spun Chunky in Charcoal, and these babies were FAST. I didn’t get a super good picture of these because I finished them on the way to my mum’s in the car, and I’m still not sure that I understand the concept of boot toppers, but they were a hit.

Hank and Luis were the big winners this year.  I planned months ago to nail a few nephew sweaters, and lo – it did come to pass.  I finished Hank’s sweater at 11pm on Christmas Eve, but I did finish it – and I’m pretty sure he likes it.   (In order to get him to let me take his picture, I had to allow him to choose the poses. He’s a born model.)

Pattern – pretty much faked it – with inspiration from this pattern.  That pattern is knit flat, and I wanted to do it in the round, so I changed that…

and I didn’t want to knit the sleeves flat and sew them in, so instead I picked up around the armholes and knit them down, decreasing as I went.

(Yes. Hank has seen the Karate Kid. Why do you ask?)

I also made the hood bigger, big enough to really shrug into anonymity.  (When Hank described his perfect sweater it was dark purple and had a BIG hood. I wanted this worn, so I complied.) Yarn was Eco + in Ranier.

Finally (or almost finally – there’s a few presents not quite done, but I’ll get there) Little Lou got another sweater. 

His mum loves them and puts him in them all the time, and he’s so ridiculously adorable that he looks great in everything and so it’s a pleasure to knit for him. 

Yarn was Madeleine Tosh Twist DK in Betty Drapers Blues, and the pattern is from a Sirdar pamphlet I’ve had around since Hank was small.
It’s a classic little cabled cardigan, and he wears it like a pro. Big thanks to Kate and Carlos for taking these pictures.  I didn’t make him model it on Christmas Eve, he was too busy ripping up (and eating) wrapping paper and I didn’t want to harsh on his mellow.  

I love grumpy old man sweaters on sweet little babies. It makes me want to knit him another one. Or ten.

Thus ends the parade – almost. There’s two little gifts still on the needles, they’ll be finished today I think – and then Joe was the guy who took the bullet this year when the flu stampeded through my life and plan.
I owe him socks.  I’ll get on that. Soon.
Maybe Lou needs a hat first.

And Wait There is More

I know that happiness is not transferable, that I can’t give you a little of what I’ve had if you’re short, but I wish I could, on account of we’ve been so happy these last few days.  Our Solstice was lovely, our Christmas eve was amazing, our Christmas day so nice, and then we had a lovely Boxing day, although you wouldn’t have thought that a big snow and a power outage would do it, but it had its charms. (We observe the original intent of Boxing Day – more our less, and box up our excess to give away rather than go to the sales and buy more. It suits us. We’ll get it done today.)
I give you then, in the fond hopes that if happiness isn’t transferable, it might be contagious, a few holiday pictures from these parts.  Thanks for bearing with me while the blogging is sparse over these days. We’re enjoying each other.
Tomorrow, the knits. I finished (almost) everything.


Deepest Darkest Dearest

I love the Solstice. It’s such an important day of the holidays for us, marking the root of the whole season. We’re not Christian, so Jesus isn’t the reason for our season -  but the ideas that he represents within that religion, light, love, compassion, kindness, generosity, these are pretty universal human values that we can rely on to guide us through the darkest days and the longest nights, and for us, those are the spirit of Christmas, Yule and the Solstice.   Every day between now and Twelfth Night, this family will concentrate on those things- like we try to all year – but it’s just so much easier to keep our focus there when there’s a big honking pagan symbol of the season in our living room. 

Today, the house smells of apples, squash and onions roasting for the soup for dinner, the now traditional solstice peppermint bark is made and  put in wee bags,  ready to be slipped into pockets of friends who pretend to be unsuspecting, but are hopeful that it will be there.

Joe and I have straightened the house, put fresh candles in every holder- and the ice lanterns  that we light on this night are frozen and ready to line the steps to our door. We’ll talk later about what donations we’ll make for the season, today is the day that we give money to those trying to make more of what we would like to see in the world. (This year as always, MSF will be on the top of our list, as well as Because I am a Girl.)  Tonight I’ll welcome friends, and I’ll put out steaming bowls of soup, and they’ll bring bread and things to share, and we’ll lift our glasses to the longest night, the shortest day, the return of the sun, and the light and reaffirm our intention to bring more love to the worlds we live in every day.

Happy Winter Solstice. Light a candle, start the season, I wish you light, and peace and love. 

Randomly on a Day Close to Christmas

 1. I’m so glad the list of awesome and amazing stuff I was making for Christmas was private.

2. Now nobody knows how much of it I’m not doing.

3. Hank and I had our regular Christmas outing, and got his shopping sorted and made cookies. 

When we were done, Hank asked if he could use the ball winder, and reflected (in that way that twelve year olds talk like they’re sixty-two)  that he has enjoyed the ball winder his entire life.

4. That’s true, actually.

5. He also commented that he thinks he’s forgotten how to knit. I kept my mouth shut.  Nothing like adult enthusiasm to take the shine of a rose like that.

6. I am still sick.  I am starting to wonder if I am going to be slightly ill forever. That maybe that first cold I got lowered my resistance so I got the Noro Virus, and that lowered my resistance further so I got this cold,  and I’m thinking that I’m just going to be in a loop until I get in a bubble or something that breaks the cycle.

7. I’m pretty sure that’s happened to me before, but it was a yarn buying  thing.

8. One sweater almost down, one to go.

9. The other one has a long way to go. A really long way. I should be knitting right now.

10. I would show you a picture, but there are spies everywhere.

11. Last night when I was talking to my mum, she told me that she’d tried to make these Martha Stewart cookies and they didn’t work. They were supposed to hold together so that you could "gently shape them into haystacks" and they wouldn’t. She tried everything, even pressing them together so hard her hands hurt, and they still wouldn’t make haystacks.  Just screwed up inedible coconut lying in egg puddles. Apparently it was super frustrating to have a cookie failure this close to Christmas because then my mum said Martha Stewart should go f**k herself.

12.  I was not even shocked by that. It’s almost Christmas.  There’s a lot of cookie pressure.

Hitting the High Points

Out of all the comments yesterday,  the best advice I heard was "don’t try to catch up" and you know what? I’m not. 

The whole point of the Christmas Spreadsheet was to make this last week before Christmas lovely. It wasn’t to get a lot done, or to make more cookies than I ever have before or to do anything like that at all.  It wasn’t volume based, it was sanity based.  The goal was to make the last few days before the holiday everything I love.  Cozy and warm, with time to enjoy the things that I do it all for.   Watching the power of the spreadsheet get trampled under the tiny and unmerciful feet of a noro virus (and yes, knitters should get to rename that) made me think, for just a few days (and they were slightly dark days) that now I wouldn’t be able to do those things I like. I would be back on the crazy train – and then it hit me.

I get to pick.  Not everything, I mean – I’ll still have to wrap gifts, but I can ask for help.  I still have to bake, but I can just do the part of the baking that’s fun.  There’s less time to knit, sure, but I can drop several projects because you know what? There’s a whole week left, and you guys are right. There’s no difference between December 25th and December 31st, especially for adults.  I’m going to keep trying to finish a few things for people I know will care (because they are young, or because they are just like that) and I’m going to recognize that this year, all this family has that’s different is less energy and ability – not less time.  I get to do what I want with the same amount of time.   So, the really cool extra things I was doing that were going to be amazing and everyone would love? They’re now 12th Night gifts.  It’s all going to be fine… it’s still going to be a lot of hustle, but we’ll be fine.

This being the theory, and armed with buckets hand sanitizer and no end of washing up – we went ahead with our annual gingerbread production.  Christmas wouldn’t have been the same without it, and I realized that when, on the day traditionally allotted for said cookie management I got a text from Sam at 8:30am that said "GINGERBREAD DAY!!!!!!!"
Note to self: This is important to the family.  Okay. Then we’re doing it. We did less than usual, but we still nailed it. 

We are strict gingerbread traditionalists around here – so we do all the classic Christmas shapes.  Stars, trees, reindeer, persons, Santa…

sharks (we had some very young helpers)

seahorses…

sheep – decorated like swatches…

and what would Christmas be without the mighty Canadian Gingerbread Moose, Lord of the cookies?

Today I’m using my limited energy to take Hank on our annual holiday excursion, and some other stuff won’t get done instead, but it won’t matter – because stuff like hanging with Hank? That was what the spreadsheet was for.   

Gifts for Knitters (I’m not trying to catch up here either. That way lies madness.)

A knitting bag. Knitters love knitting bags. Love them. Even if they have one, they would probably like another one,  and keep in mind that most knitters I know aren’t super interested in carrying two bags.  That means they’re probably going to want to use their knitting bag as a purse (or man-bag) and that therefore, the bag should be able to go anywhere a purse can, style wise, and should have room for their regular stuff (wallet, keys, etc. and there should be a separate compartment for keys, because getting your keys tangled in your yarn sucks.)  You can get almost any bag that doesn’t have velcro (velcro is, as I have said before, yarn’s natural enemy.) Here’s some suggestions.  I love the look of Offhand Designs – a cool vintage look, if that’s your sort of knitter. Namaste always ranks high. I’ve got a few, and these are quite purse-like, but a few of them also make pretty manly knitting totes, if your knitter happens to be that sort.  (The Boardwalk in particular, hasn’t a single emasculating feature, no matter how picky you are.) The Tom Bihn Swift is a classic, relaxed looking bag, and I always get compliments on my cork one.
Jordana Paige is always good, I have several of them, but my new favourite is the Cezanne.  It’s got all the cool features of all their knitting bags, including that they all look as chic as any purse, none of them are a dead giveaway as a knitting bag – but the Cezanne has the extra bonus of being a bag you can carry cross-body.  If your knitter is an urban knitter, and on and off the subway and through crowds and riding their bike, then that means that a bag that goes across you and doesn’t fall of your shoulder all the time is darned handy. Plus it comes in orange, which is a deeply personal perk. Your mileage may vary on that colour.
 

I Still Think the Mall Did it

We’ve had a setback here, and I’m not sure it’s one that the Christmas Spreadsheet can recover from, even if I might.  On Thursday, when I went to the mall, I didn’t feel right when I left. My tummy was a little off, and over the next few hours it became apparent – as I visited numerous mall bathrooms in rapid succession, that I had a significant problem.   A rough night followed, and and even rougher day, in which – not to tarnish the fine character of this blog with nasty details, in which all points of egress from my person became involved to a rather dramatic degree.

The unbelievably horrific day turned somehow into a really horrible night and a really shaky day there after, and friends, I’m going to tell you something shocking.  I was too sick to knit.

There. I’ve said it.  I couldn’t do it.  For two days I couldn’t get myself anywhere but the bed and the loo, and for the day after that knitting induced some weird sort of motion sickness, and truthfully I’ve been mostly asleep anyway. Then Joe came down with the cold that I had before I had whatever H-E-Double Hockeysticks this was, and Sam looked super peaked when she went to school today and…

I guess I’m saying that I might have been a little smug about the spreadsheet. More tomorrow. I’m going to go make tea.

Steady Now

I am leaving now.
I am getting in the car, and I am going shopping.
I have researched what are of the city has the maximum number of stores that I need in the smallest area.  It is a mall.
I have plotted a route there and home that takes me past the liquor store and the specialty grocery store.
I know where I am eating lunch.
I have a flowchart outlining not just what I am buying, but in which stores, in what order and how I will move from store to store in the most efficient manner possible.
I looked at the mall map.
I have uploaded this document to my phone.
My phone is charged.

If this works, when I come home I will not have to go to a store again this season.  If this works,  I will arrive home triumphant and victorious, with a car full of all the last bits and pieces that we need to make Christmas happen. If this works, there will still be a lot left to do, but none of it will involve shopping. and since nothing harshes on my Christmas mellow like a mall and buying things, and because I’ve never, ever liked any sort of shopping very much… and because the whole time I’m in those stores they’re trying to tell me I need a bunch of stuff to be happy that I really don’t need – but the lights are funny and I don’t think they pump in enough oxygen and you can’t see the sky and pretty sure you’re leaving with tupperware that you don’t need and some other light up thing that you’re never going to plug in and you didn’t get tape but you did get more bows even though you just worked out that there are more bows in the house than you would need if you were responsible for wrapping all the gifts for the 5th Brigade and Son of a Moth are you even kidding me I hate Tupperware and why does it always seem like a good idea in that stupid mall and you know what else? I don’t like that you have to wear your coat the whole time you’re doing it because I get really hot and that makes me crazy too and don’t even get me started about the parking thing. I am parking two kilometres away on bloody purpose just so there’s no way I have to be part of some sick human competitive thing to get your car into the closest spot. It takes less time to walk than to play that parking game  and how can that popcorn store have so many flavours, doesn’t it seem like a lot? And I can never remember what door I came in.

If this doesn’t work. Know that I loved you all. Rachel H knows what to do with the stash. 

Randomly on a Wednesday

1. I am feeling much better. This has only left me extremely behind schedule, which  is sort of a shame, because if I was ridiculously, hopelessly behind I could give up.  Instead, I haplessly still believe it can be done.

2. The kid next door told me a Christmas Joke.

Why are Christmas Trees like bad knitters?
They both drop their needles.

3. I finished the next to last pair of socks on the list. 

4. That also makes hope spring up within me.  All I have left is some other stuff. Like a few sweaters.

5. It will be fine.

6.  I’ve thought this through and the only way to get back on schedule is to clone myself.  I’m sure the first one would be hard, but once I got it down I could create an army of Stephanies.  One could knit all day (I vote for me) and the other Stephanies could do all those things I’ve always wanted to get done, like polish the silver – or do something with the Martha Stewart cleaning checklists that isn’t just looking at them online and laughing and laughing and laughing.   

Gifts for knitters 11

When it comes to jewelry, I’m discriminating, I only like a little of it, and what I do like? It tends to be both knitty and useful.  Have a look here, and see if your knitter might like some of this. Try to remember too, that if your knitter hates earings? She or he is not going to be down with it just because you put a ball of yarn on it. Get me?

The Elegant Knitter has some beautiful things. Sheep and alpaca earrings for starters. (If I wore earrings, I would consider those.)
HomeStudio has really, really great pendants that aren’t at all blingy and would totally suit a guy knitter or… well. Me.
I quite like this ring, kitted out with polymer clay stockinette.
I own a needle gauge necklace like this one that I wear fairly often. (Mine’s not silver though, but I love the idea of a necklace that looks like abstract art to non-knitters, and is instantly recognizable as a gauge amongst us.) 
There’s the Ablet. (Very clever row counting braclet.)
Shawl pins? If your knitter wears shawls or lace scarves, look no further than these beautiful ones from Romi.
This beautiful collection of jewelry made from polymer clay? I think it’s actually quite elegant.
Schoolhouse press has a sterling silver ball of yarn
And finally, Akerworks makes these really, really great magnetic pendants for needleworkers. If you wear it while knitting, you can stick a whack of pins there for blocking, your darning needle while sewing up… I’ve got one, and it’s actually both beautiful and handy. My favourite combination.

If your knitter is more the do it yourself type? Consider one of these nifty kits from Laura Nelkin. Even if your knitter isn’t the type to wear one? They might have a ton of fun making one to give away. 
If you think they really might like to give it a go? How about a book.
Elements of Style: Knit & Crochet Jewelry with Wire, Fiber, Felt & Beads

Good hunting.