Archive for December, 2007

The plot thickens…

Phase 2 of the Great Sock Plan for 2008 has been completed!  I went to the yarn store today…

…and it was missing.  Yes, the whole yarn store.  Either they packed up and left unannounced, or I invented a yarn store in that particular area of town.  Unfortunately, the odds are that I invented it.  But one way or another, there is no specialty yarn store in my town.

Sock Phase 2Not to be discouraged, I went to JoAnn’s, and this is what I came up with.  Everything for knitting was on sale at the store, so I felt perfectly justified in purchasing an appropriate skein of wool yarn for making bulky socks, three sets of aluminum (ick – note to self: buy more bamboo dpns at the earliest opportunity) double-pointed knitting needles, and two “intro to socks” books.

 I found two books that I thought would be useful.  The first is aptly titled Learn to Knit Socks, and the straightforward sock book 1title of the book inspired me to confidently proclaim, “Yes! I can learn to knit socks!”  Frankly, you’d be surprised how much cheerleading takes place in the aisles of craft stores….

The second book is more artfully titled, Pull Your Socks Up! and is published by the good folks who make Patons yarns.  I’m going to knit a pattern or two out of the first book before moving on to the second one.

So, now I’ve assembled most of the elements of the Sock-it-to-Me-in-2008.  All that I lack is time….and thankfully, one of my very favorite knitting opportunities is going to arise tomorrow: college football! 

Go Dawgs! Sic ’em! Woofwoofwoofwoofwoof! 

The Georgia Bulldogs are in the Sugar Bowl tomorrow, so I’ll have about 4 straight hours to knit. 

Isn’t it wonderful when all the elements of nature align just so?

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Please send knitting needles…

After a frantic period of knitting projects for others this year, and the realization that I haven’t knitted anything for myself in about two years, I have decided to dedicate this year of knitting to me.  [Now I’m sure you’re all convinced that I’m on a narcissistic freefall into Egoville…] 

It all started with my sock drawer.  Or maybe it was my washing machine.  Perhaps it was the dog…Regardless, I seem to have fewer socks than I used to have.  I definitely have fewer pairs of socks, with some of my favorite fluffy socks so sad and mateless in the sock drawer, pining away for the unlikely return of their sole mate.  

Now, fluffy socks, with thick yarn, are my very favorite type of sock.  Some people call them boot socks, but for me there are no other socks, so I just call them socks.  When I say “socks” I mean thick, wooly, slouchy, warm saaaw-haaawkssss.  White, generic hosiery that comes six-to-a-bag for $5 at WalMart need not apply, and will be given no consideration.  Fie on you, feckless footwear!  You are a disgrace to knitted toe-warmers everywhere.

Ahem.  Sorry about that rant.

Anyway, the boo-hooing of the mateless socks in my sock drawer has started to keep me up at night.  I’m almost afraid to go in there each morning….which pair of brown Fair Isle socks will have recieved the dreaded “Dear Lefty” letter in the last wash? While I was out Christmas shopping this year, I searched for socks that would meet my requirements, but found surprisingly few.  I asked my family to give me socks as a gift, but they just laughed at me, as if I had said something comical.  What crazy person, afterall, would request socks for Christmas? Socks are traditionally the “I don’t know you well enough to get you something meaningful” gift, not the object of Christmas desire.  It was just too unlikely a request for my family to take seriously.

No socks in drawer. 

No socks in store. 

No socks under tree. 

No socks for me!

And suddenly, two days after Christmas, a stroke of genius occurs to me!  Let’s do the math together: 

Knitting knowledge + yarn + needles + pattern = socks!

Okay, it’s not really an original thought, and if I’d really been a genius, I would have embarked on sock knitting long before now, but I’ve done most of my knitting for other people that it honestly had never occured to me to look to my own knitwear deficiencies as a source of inspiration. 

So here’s the plan:  This year, I will learn how to knit socks.  I will knit socks for myself out of decadent yarns that will make my feet feel like royalty. I will buy funky colors as well as traditional colors. 

It feels good to have a plan.  It will feel even better to have new socks! 

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Prayer request for Evan

I’ve been sitting here, catching up on all the blog news, reading about the Christmas experiences of all my friends, and, of course, I read my dear friend Evan’s blog.  Evan’s blog is a private blog, so I can’t share the details with you here, but I will say that Evan is in need of all our prayers.

Please remember Evan and his health concerns at this time.  Please pray that his doctors have wisdom, and that he keeps his spirits up.  And most of all, please pray that he always knows he’s loved and cherished, now and always.

Thank you, friends.

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My home is my own again

My time is my own, my husband is my own, my bedroom is my own, and I am my own again!  Lest you think I’ve fallen into some kind of narcissistic orgy of proprietary declarations, let me just explain briefly: my MIL has gone home to Florida.  It was a good visit and many good things were accomplished during her time here, but now I get to enjoy the luxury of a clean home and dine off the leftovers of several good meals.  And here I sit, catching up with my friends and my thoughts while the coffeepot gurgles behind me comfortingly.  Life is good.

All in all, this Christmas, although very hectic, was a gratifying experience on many levels.  Tony got to spend time doting on his mother, we both got to get to know our nephew better (and what a fine young man he has grown to be!), I got to spend time with my best friend at her daughter’s Christening, and also got to spend time shopping and wrapping gifts with my mother, and I baked many cakes. 

Grandpa in HatAnd yes, I got to give my grandfather the Grandpa Hat!  It was a precious memory I’ll always treasure.  He opened the box and carefully picked it up and held it close to his face in order to see it.  “It’s a hat,” he said simply. And then he turned and smiled at me, almost conspiratorily, and said, “Did you make this with your very own hands?  It’s beautiful.  And oooooooooh will it keep my head warm when I walk those dogs of mine.”  He put the hat on, and repeated again, “It’s a waaaaa-aaaarrm hat!” (He’s from Georgia, afterall, where we add an extra syllable or two to every word…), and then he grabbed me by the arm and pulled me into a hug, and whispered in my ear, “I love you, girl.”  And he said it so quietly, and without his usual sense of self-conscious humor, that I truly believe it was one of the most sincere expressions of affection we’ve shared. 

And now I must go get coffee….and blow my nose…

[Time passes…..]

Whew! I’m back.  I hope you took that opportunity to get some coffee, as well!  To wrap up the Christmas Day report, I’ll conclude with two of my favorite quotes from the day.

The Queen of ChristmasHere’s my mom, the Queen of Christmas, and boy howdy does she love Christmas!  We can always count on Mom breaking all the Christmas gift-giving guidelines! For instance, in our large extended family, we have been trying to implement a “children-only” gift policy, in which the adults don’t exchange gifts and only give gifts to the children.  Ha! That never works! We all break the rules, but Mom breaks the rules spectacularly.  She just loves giving gifts!  So this picture was taken right after my mom said, “A gift for me?  You weren’t supposed to get me a gift!” Crazy woman! You think you’re the only member of the Carter family who knows how to break the gift-giving rules?  You come by it honestly, Mom.  Embrace your gift-giving weakness…

A book that reads itselfAnd here’s Grandpa again, still proudly wearing his hat.  Remember, my grandfather is mostly blind due to a severe case of macular degeneration, so he can’t read anymore.  He was opening a gift from my brother, an audio book of Neal Boortz’s “Somebody’s Gotta Say It”.  Upon investigating it, Grandpa said, “I do believe this is one of those books that reads itself!”  LOL!  What’s so endearing about this is the fact that my grandfather is no simple bumpkin, but a mechanical engineer, who used to read engineering books and plant pathology texts in his spare time.  And this is the man who, prior to losing his sight, had fully discovered the splendors of the Library of Alexandria right in his own office – the internet.  He routinely uses phrases like, “You should google it…”, and “There’s a problem with the wireless network.”  So don’t be fooled.  He was just playing quaint.

And that kind of sums up Christmas day:  Mom pretended that the rules didn’t apply to her, and her only, Grandpa pretended to be a simple country man, and I pretended that I was fully participating in the day, and not trying to engrave every moment in my memory as a mental record of my family.  The most important part of the day, though, was not pretended – that we are a family full of love, and joy, and wonderful, warm and wacky characters.

Christmas kidsBeloved neices and nephew, you’ll just have to learn how to go with it!

I hope everyone had a blessed and beautiful Christmas Day, and that you find peace and rest and renewal as we enter the New Year! 

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Shhh…It’s Christmas Day

Well, just barely.  It’s about 1:15 am, and all is calm, all is bright. 

The cake baking has concluded, with today’s tally being a record four cakes in one day.  I started with a banana and sour cream bundt cake, then proceded to the sugar-free applesauce cake (for the diabetics in the family, of which we have manhy), then experimented with a chocolate pumpkin cake, and finally concluded with my favorite – the fresh fig cake.

Let me tell you about the fresh fig cake for a minute.  In our backyard, we have a wonderful fig tree.  I’m not sure what variety of figs they are, but if I had to name the cultivar, it would be the called the Omigosh-Those-Figs-are-Heavenly cultivar.  And plentiful. Last year I discovered that my jam-making speed could not compete with the tree’s fig-ripening ability.  In a moment of inspiration, I seized upon washing and slicing the figs, then freezing them in gallon bags.  Genius!  Now, instead of the delightfulness of fresh figs lasting for only three weeks in the heat of summer, I can enjoy “fresh” figs throughout the year.  Which led to more leisurely discovery of an old Southern recipe for Fresh Fig cake. 

If you have never had a fresh fig cake, I’m ever so sorry to have to tell you that you have perhaps missed the most…delightful…cake that ever there was.  I know I’ve used delightful twice in the last four sentences; I just can’t stop myself!  When I compared all the possible adjectives for fig cake – scrumptious, yummy, rich, delicious, flavorful, etc, etc – they just seemed inadequate to describe it.  It’s like sugared summer.  It’s like….twirling in circles on the green grass.  It’s just delightful

When the baking was completed, Tony and I and our nephew attended a late Christmas Eve service, and that’s when the most peaceful moments of the evening were encounted.  After all the activity of gearing up for the guests and the festivities of the season, I bowed my head in prayer, raised my voice in song, and turned my heart to the birth of my Savior. 

And like the figs, I need to find a way to preserve this seasonal fruit throughout the year.

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I thought I’d pop up for a little rarified air for a moment and let anyone out there who reads this know that I’m still alive.  My MIL has arrived, the shopping is done, the wrapping is done, the knitting is mostly done, the baking is…well, it will be a full day of baking tomorrow, but at least everything else is done.  I’m ready to cruise on into Christmas Day. 

And now that most of the knitted gifts have been distributed, I can show you what I’ve been working on!   Of course, you’ve already seen the Grandpa Hat, but I’ve been keeping the under wraps until Emilie opened her gifts.   

headbandsUsing this pattern from Craftgrrl, I made these headbands for my coworkers in the department.   They were great fun to do, and I have definitely added it to my repertoire of small handmade gifts.    The only thing I would recommend if you make these is that you are careful with the temperature of the iron when you block them.  I think I was a bit overeager and when I steamed one of them, it seemed to lose some of its elasticity.   I’m guessing it was a property of the yarn, probably the acryilic content.

Emilie’s giftSo, next I made additional headband for Emilie, in her favorite color of orange, with a matching pair of wristlets made from this pattern by Delia at wineandneedles.blogspot.com  They turned out really cute, and she looked splendid in them! So chic and characteristically Emilie!  I had actually latched onto this pattern initially for my grandmother’s gift, a set of these wristlets in pink.  She’s always cold, even in the house, and I thought these were the ideal solution to keep her hands warm while still allowing her to use her fingers.

I started a hat for my brother with this pattern, but it’s still on the needles.  In a fit of desperation, I drove out to Old Navy and bought him a shirt.  I guess he will be first on my knitted gift list next year!

 So, that’s what the Knitting elves produced this year, when they could get around the housecleaning elves and the baking elves.  Ooooh, wouldn’t that be lovely…a whole staff of house elves to help me get through the holidays!  Honestly, I’d be really good to them, Dobby!

If I don’t get a chance to post again before tomorrow, Merry Christmas to everyone! I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you through your blogs and your comments, and I’m sure the New Year will bring many warm exchanges and new (albeit online) friendships. 

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Sorry I haven’t posted anything in awhile!  I’ve been more than a little preoccupied this week.  Besides knitting until all hours of the morning, trying to set a world record for the most knitted gifts produced in a week, and baking cookies, I’ve also been steeling myself for…

…Mother-in-Law Visit 2007.   Coming to a small house this Friday.

Okay, coming to my house this Friday.   Between you and me, I’m a nervous wreck.  I don’t dare let her know how we really live day-to-day; I don’t think she’d appreciate just how much personal time school takes up in the evening, leaving little time for domesticity and the labor that accompanies it.

And really, why can’t three ring binders, notebook computers, photocopied articles,  and textbooks be considered just as classy and decorative as, say, faux antique china figurines?  All the best interior designers work around an established theme, afterall.  Let’s just say that my theme is “Absentminded Professor” and leave it at that.   When we look at it in that regard, I’m like a DIY genious!

What other decorating themes apply?  Well, when I’m not in school, I like to decorate liberally with yarn, pulling out different cones and skeins of yarn and arranging them in colorways to find my next inspiration.  And textile arts tools are ever so rustic and decorative.  Oh, what’s really charming is the way that  I leave pattern books open to pattern drafts all over the house.  It really gives the whole house a “frozen in textile art consideration” theme.  Let’s call it “Indecisive Erstwhile Artist”.

But fortunately, I don’t have to rely on my interior artist talents to keep my home unique and individual; my pets are all talented decorators in their own right! Abby works in an eclectic Jackson Pollack technique called “Squeaky Toys Everywhere”, in which she flings colorful toys on the canvas of our happy home, while Alys has a particular penchant for a style she calls “Hey, I Was Laying on That.”  [Like most cats, her themes tend to border on the meglomaniacal.]  Our only male child, Oliver Cat, has a surprisingly effective hairball decoupage technique, while our oldest child, Lia Lou Kitty, takes after her mom as an accomplished fiber artist, leaving felted cat hair products on all surfaces.

So you see, it’s not that my house doesn’t have any style; we’re long on style as long as that is either “Preoccupied Grad Student” or “Pet-tacular”.   But I’m afraid my MIL will be looking for something a bit more…..conventional.

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In my morning cruise around blogland, I stopped by Hallie’s site and she introduced me to a beautiful young lady named Laura.  

Laura is keeping a blog on her efforts to make a difference each day leading to Christmas, and honestly, I can’t think of a better Advent calendar than that.  [Although Abby wanted me to say that, while Laura’s Advent calendar is more in keeping with the season, her puppy Advent calendar is tastier.]

Please go check out Laura’s site and leave her an encouraging comment, not just to recognize her efforts, but to encourage yourself to look for ways you can make a difference each day.

Good work, Laura.  Good work.

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Time speeds up in December

Are there actually fewer hours in the month of December, or am I the only one who suspects that…?  I mean, come on, already! I’ve got ten thousand things to do and nine more days to get them done!

Here’s the quick recap of the weekend: Friday, I celebrated my anniversary with Tony (17 years!) by meeting him for dinner, doing some shopping together, and baking cookies.  Oh, and I decorated my house.  Here’s a bit of friendly advice to any young lovers out there in blogland:  Don’t expect to have quiet, intimate anniversaries if you get married ten days before Christmas!  But there are advantages, as I’ll get to later. 

Anniversary pupsOh, and here’s what Tony brought home for our anniversary!

Yeah, sure, it ain’t DeBeers, but I can see a lot of our relationship reflected in those magnetic-nosed kissing pups, and I loved it!  We don’t need expensive gifts to express our love….and a good thing that is, too.

Saturday, we celebrated my mother’s birthday, and I continued to decorate the house and bake cookies.  The ironic thing is that Saturday was our anniversary, and Friday was my mother’s birthday!  But since we just couldn’t manage to get our schedules worked out, we just rearranged the calendar a bit. 

So, if you’ve been feeling a bit like your Friday was really a Saturday, and that Saturday felt like Friday all over again, you can blame us. 

Because I had baked some cookies, done a little shopping, and decorated the house, my seasonal to-list was down to a more manageable 9, 997 things to get done in nine days!  I was making real progress!  In fact, I felt so accomplished, I put down my decorating/knitting/baking and went to spend the day with my grandparents.

Today, winter arrived in North Georgia!  Brrrrr.  The high was 37 degrees, but with the blustery wind it seemed much more like 27, and temperatures tonight are expected to be around 25.  Since there’s nothing in the garden right now but greens, lettuces, radishes, and turnips, there also isn’t a lot of work to be done.  Grandpa and I drained the water from the irrigation hoses, and ran the tractors for a few minutes to warm them up.  Then, we decided that the very best way to spend the day would be to look at seed catalogs and think of spring.

I think I learned more in those four hours about gardening in the South than I did in the whole summer.  Together we went through the catalogs page by page, while I read him the descriptions and he told me about his experiences with this cultivar or that variety.  Which tomatos do best early, which will set more fruit in the heat, which cataloupes will last the longest after picking, how to plant asparagus…the only thing that would have made that shared time better would have been a tape recorder.  How will I ever remember the collected wisdom of 85 years? 

And the best part of all was that, because I put down my extensive task list in favor of spending time with my grandfather, he gave me a wonderous gift that never gets old. 

Between the plant knowledge and the weather lore, Grandpa managed to fill the gaps with glimpses at his past, my family’s past…my past.  Every time I talk to him, I see our lives revealed like the restoration of a ancient church frieze.  You can already see that it’s a rich canvas of rare beauty, but the smoke and oil of time have besmirched it and darkened the colors.  But slowly, in small increments, the soot is cleaned away to expose the bold and vivid brushstrokes of the Master Artist. 

And on a frosty winter day in 2007, while reading professional grower’s catalogs, my Grandfather told me the story of how, because of a frosty winter night in 1950, he got out of the professional grower’s business and went to work for the railroad in the job that later severely injured him, allowing him to retire early on a reliable railroad pension.  So he could return to the business of growing things, and teach his granddaughter to cultivate the land, and rest on the frosty winter days.

Look, Grandpa –  the Master Artist painted a cyclorama, and called it life.

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My Christmas Progress

One of the disadvantages of living in the country and working in the city is a 45-minute commute twice a day.

One of the advantages of living in the country and working in the city is a 45-minute commute twice a day. 

For me, this time is a time of reflection for me, one of the few quiet moments in the day that is not measurable by it’s production value, the expertise in getting the right technology/pedagogy mix, the ability to juggle multiple, competing tasks while still being supportive of my students and responsive to the faculty.  For 90 minutes each day, I can follow a familiar earthly road and let my mind traverse through a diverse landscape of thoughts.

As we draw ever closer to Christmas (and yet, mysteriously, not any closer to being finished with my knitting projects….) I find that, naturally, many of my thoughts turn to the holiday and what it means for me. 

As I draw ever closer to the age of 40 (and yet, mysteriously, not any closer to figuring out what the answers to life are…) I find that my views on many subjects, Christmas included, have become more panoramic.  I can see how my observation of this holiday has changed over the years, through my life experiences, and through my relationships.

So, driving along the road this morning, sipping on my coffee, I replayed some of my past Christmases and my progress through the years.  

Of course, when I was a child, Christmas was all about gifts, but specifically, gifts to me.  A good Christmas was measured by the quantity, and quality, of the gifts I received, and believe me, my mom and dad made sure that all my Christmases were good.

When I met Tony, that changed.  I wish I could say it changed before I married Tony, but even up to the age of 21, Christmas was still about the gifts to me.  When I found myself head over heels in love with the man who was to become my husband, Christmas for me became all about gifts to him.  I lavished gifts both large and small on him, showing him my love in the best way I had been taught by my parents:  more gifts equals more love.  [That’s unfair to my parents.  They tried to teach me better ways, but that’s the one I latched onto.]  I spent a lot of energy and a lot of money in my efforts to show him that he was everything to my young life.  During those first years together, our love was enough for me, and I celebrated our love, and our December 15th anniversary, through gifting.

Then we started to plan a family, and suddenly other visions of Christmas started to creep into my imagination.  Views of children, and Santa Claus, and, well…..you know the rest….the children never joined our Christmas celebrations.  Within a couple of Christmases, everything about my view of Christmas changed.  Tony’s love wasn’t enough, and giving him gifts didn’t bring me the same joy.  It wasn’t him I only wanted to give gifts to, anymore, and while I still gave gifts, they couldn’t give me the joy that I felt I was being denied at Christmastime.  Christmas wasn’t about me, anymore, and it wasn’t about Tony, anymore.  It had become about my pain.

I lost a lot of Christmases drowning in that feeling.  I gave gifts, but not joyfully.  I received gifts, but they didn’t make me happy.

As I started to emerge from my darkness, Christmas started to become less about gifts, and more about spending time with my family, particularly as my brother’s family brought new lives around our tree, and as I’ve grown closer to my aunts and grandparents.

So, as I look at myself today, and how I’m moving towards this Christmas, I have to ask myself, what is this Christmas going to be about?  How will I judge the holiday: by my gifts received, by my gifts given, or by the contents of my heart?  My viewpoint has shifted from me, to my husband, to me again, and then out to my loved ones.  It sounds like a triumph of personal growth, doesn’t it?  I’ve come a long way in my progress towards the meaning of Christmas.

But if I’m honest with myself, I’m still missing the point.  Until I can honestly say that my gaze has come to rest, not on these people, but on the child in the manger and the man He became, I’m still missing out on the greatest Christmas gift of all – the gift of a Savior, the gift of adoption into God’s family, and the gift of moving beyond myself and towards eternity.

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