Monday, December 27, 2010

an unexpected gift

Yesterday was Boxing Day. Its origins are British, and based around the tradition of giving gifts to servants and others less fortunate.

We managed to celebrate the day appropriately. Instead of a family gathering -– the fourth in three days –- we were stuck at home instead, compliments of an epic blizzard. In stark contrast to our usually over-scheduled and over-managed lives, we were unable to do a darn thing about it, either.

Don’t get me wrong. We are blessed to overflowing with family and friends, wonderful people all. But what a gift to be able to sit and relax and just enjoy a day with meandering nothingness. A day to play recently-presented board games, and wonder lazily at the falling snow while using the gale-force winds as an excuse not to shovel – why bother?

As with any enjoyable thing this time of year though, the price tag was a heavy one, right up there with inflated credit card bills, expanded waistlines and overwrought children. The approximately two feet of snow that met our gaze this morning was devilishly difficult to deal with. It stuck to our shovels and front loader bucket. It blew in our faces and across the already-cleared patches. It iced up as soon as we uncovered that last little layer.

And the wind. Oh my, that wind. It had its own strong convictions about where it wanted the snow. It sculpted moonscapes and desertscapes with peaked hills and valleys, and bare patches just as a reminder. We put the snow over here, it decided it wanted the snow over there, and rearranged accordingly.

We had already cleared this part of the driveway!

The two older boys volunteered early in the morning for the heroic – there is no other word for it – task of feeding animals and livestock. They battled their way to the barn and the back pastures through drifts of snow that were over three feet deep. The feed buckets could not be found, so they improvised solutions to make sure everyone got fed. They filled hay bunkers, and trod passages to the water buckets so thirsty animals could get a drink. When I went out six hours later to check on the sheep, none of their hard work could be seen and the stock tanks were lost to view. I broke a path again, but the sheep did not seem inclined to try. I can’t say I blame them. They have food, they have shelter and they can eat the snow if they get desperate.

I don’t think we have ever, in our almost nine years in this house, dealt with a more terrible storm. My muscles ache, my toes still haven't quite warmed up, the floor is littered with damp outdoor gear and puddles of melted snow but still... it was worth it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

my mother told me never to swear

I realized that I left you all hanging after the last post, with visions dancing in your heads of me in the top of a pine tree somewhere, chucking gingerbread at random passersby and muttering under my breath about all the Who's down in Whoville.

In fact, this season has been relatively stress-free. The bulk of the shopping was done the first weekend in December, the Christmas photo/letters were finished the following weekend, the house is more or less decorated, gifts are wrapped, so on and so forth, and it's all thanks to this particular Christmas elf:

... who no doubt read my last post with fear and trembling in his heart. Who said blogging was a waste of time?

This of course left me with only one option: create stress entirely of my own making.

Now, I had sworn this Christmas season: No Christmas Crafting. Not one stitch. I was taking a year off from the stress and strain of trying to meet deadlines with my fingers sprained from the effort.

But then my littlest one, whom we all know I am powerless to resist, asked me to knit him an elf hat, to cement his new position in the household as chief elf. How could I say no to a specific knitted-item request? And such an easy one, too! It's not as if he asked me to knit a fair isle sweater. A few days later, I managed to churn out this:

Meathead Hat in Universal Yarns Classic Chunky

And it was so easy and so quick that we were off to the races. How could I leave his brothers out? They might think I no longer loved them, what with no hand-crafted gift under the tree. After searching for just the right items and discretely inquiring as to whether a certain 12-year-old boy would wear a hat that looked like a dead fish (he says he will; he'd better...), the current count is as follows:

One pair of fingerless gloves, the better to text people with (from a WWII-era booklet, Knitted Comforts for Soldiers adapted here);

Another Meathead Hat for my little nephew. How could I not make two more of them, with pop-top mittens to match, because the hat was so easy and quick?  Still to be done is a complementary, slightly smaller set in red for his little brother (although the mittens are already finished);

Said dead fish hat -- no picture, because it is drying out from it's first bath as I type; and

Gulp. This will be a pair of fingerless mitts by Thursday morning, for a certain first-grade teacher (again, nothing I would not do for that boy, plus this is a really special teacher).

To paraphrase the immortal words of the Blues Brothers... It's 72 hours to Christmas, I've got a full set of double pointed needles, half a pot of coffee, multiple items still left to finish, and I'm grossly underestimating the time I have available.

Knit it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

the tyranny of christmas

I'll be the first to admit: I don't deal too well with this season. But truly, does anyone, really? It is custom-made to drive us collectively around the bend. The pressure to produce the perfect: tree, gifts, decorations (inside and out), wrapping, cookies, parties, phototastic events, cards... the list goes on and on.

And over and under it all: the non-stop drumbeat of buy, buy, buy, buy, buy.

No wonder my family spends the entire four weeks of Advent eyeing me as if I am a pressure cooker with my little steamvalve rattling away, just wondering when I am going to blow in spectacular and messy fashion. I think it's all about the entertainment value once I eventually erupt. The other option is enduring the Christmas marathon of house to family to church to family to house with one mother of a backache, probably due to holding on tight to all that pressure.

I know I'm not alone in this, despite everything that every possible source leads me to believe about the absolute fulfillment inherent in putting together the "perfect" holiday extravaganza, guaranteed to put stars in my kids' eyes and everlasting memories in their hearts. I have to keep reminding myself that I am not a bad mother because I don't buy 100% into the B.S. illusion.

This is not to say that I don't enjoy Christmas. I do. I just need to vent about it every so often to keep it in perspective. I try to do it out of the hearing of my family, but I don't always succeed.

However, last Sunday in church, we sang a hymn that gave me my Charlie Brown Christmas moment for this year:

People look east, the time is near
of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People look east, and sing today --
Love, the Guest, is on the way.

That's what this is all about! Preparing our houses, our gifts, ourselves, as a manifestation of love. (Well, in the case of the garbagemen and newspaper carrier, maybe more along the lines of my heartfelt appreciation, but you get the drift.) Your own religious views may be vary, but no matter what they are, if you celebrate the holiday, I humbly submit that this pretty well sums up what it should be all about.

So I am trying to do just that, remind myself that Love, the Guest, is on the way. Not get too torqued about having the decorations just so. In fact, so far, they have been pretty much single-handedly put up by this Christmas elf:

who accomplished most of it by himself, on his own initiative, while I was ferrying his brother to an orthodontist appointment. (Geez, no wonder my Christmas cheer is lacking -- it is direct proportion to the amount of time I have.) He did a great job so far and is somewhat disappointed by my lack of followup, but I will be working on that this weekend...

All to show how much I love him.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

steeped in history

One of the many, many reasons for the lack of regular blog posts of late is my almost complete and total immersion in all things 19th century. I have been reading books such as this:


And watching movies like this:

And otherwise casting myself backwards in time. Turns out my middle son has been doing the same, in preparation for a trip to see Dicken's A Christmas Carol at a local theater. We had a chat about our findings today. Any time spent reading up on the day-to-day details of life in those times serves to show you, right quick, that we have it a heck of a lot easier. The lack of child labor laws alone put the fear of history into him.

Our furnace went on the fritz today. Luckily it was a very minor issue, and soon rectified. But while we waited for the repairman to show up, and the temp in the house kept dropping, it reminded me what a big deal central heating is. When it hit 60 degrees I felt like I should be able to see my breath. We keep it at a steady 65 degrees in here in the winter during the day, so it should not have felt like THAT big of a difference, but clearly I am very firmly ensconced in the lap of mod cons.

In other words -- I am a wimp.

I started to think about what it would mean to be dependent on a fire or two -- if you were lucky -- to keep you warm in a house that was ill-insulated to begin with. Suddenly, articles of attire such as knee warmers (fitted from thigh to calf), caps meant to be worn indoors, voluminous shawls and arm gauntlets (worn under sleeves, from palm to elbow) made a heck of a lot more sense. Even with all those layers, it must have been difficult to keep your fingers moving to knit up even more woolen comfort in an ongoing, nonstop attempt to keep the cold at bay.

I might have to make myself a pair of knee warmers, though they were apparently only worn by old people. Well, if the knee warmer fits... I am already past the average Victorian life span, though I can't imagine that I could easily put my knee warmers on under my jeans -- much more room under those huge dresses for such things.

That's another thing, those huge dresses... perfectly lovely, but what a chore it must have been to drag those around everywhere you had to go!