Tuesday, December 31, 2013

a full house

As the clock creeps towards midnight, and its slow pace reminds me just how old I am, we are watching over another change tonight. Primo has invited over his closest high school friends to ring in their last year together. Male only, because I am that old, much to my son's disappointment.

The living room;
does not include all the muddy clothes and shoes
on the front porch.

So instead of our usual celebration with old family friends, we are watching over their their celebration instead. It is not a hard job. They are good kids, and currently occupied with a hotly-contested card game after tiring themselves out playing football in the cold and mud. Hey, it wouldn't have been my choice, but it seemed to make them happy and I was fine with it once they showered and changed.

A wise friend advised me to reframe all the changes happening around here, to see them as new beginnings instead of endings. I will go one further and remind myself to pay attention to the many blessings that they incorporate as well. Tonight, we have a house full of them.

Monday, December 30, 2013

airing the stash

That Advent discipline was useful but tiring. Thanks to all who hung in through the whole exercise, and especially those who sent me encouraging words. By the end, the combination of impending holiday plus early celebrations plus lack of inspiration left me scraping the bottom of my creative barrel. It has taken a bit of time for the words to come back.

Add to that, the last couple of days have been an emotional tug-of-war with my eldest son, in a dance that we have engaged in for far too many years. You would think that one or the other of us would have learned by now how to defuse such a situation before it escalates to def-con one status but we are too much alike, including a shared aversion to backing down.

By this morning, the odds of someone in this house (and not necessarily the guilty party) losing their head as a result of me biting it off was a very real possibility. I went for a run to try and work out the emotional kinks and calm myself down, but that worked only partially and I was soon spitting nails again.

Drastic action was called for. Forget my extensive to-do list. The only possible course of action was an airing of the stash.

This concept is thanks to Brenda Dayne, host of the Cast On podcast, my favorite podcast of all time. At some point every year, and I think it is around the first of the year though I can't remember exactly, Brenda pulls out all her yarn to remember and reorganize and reprioritize it. Any hobbyist can appreciate the need to pause and take stock (literally!) every so often of what you have and what you intended to do with it.

So that's what I did. I cleaned out and organized and sorted. I found all sorts of projects I had abandoned, and I either recommitted to finishing them or decided on a different course of action. I discovered notions and needles that had been missing for months, and restored them to their rightful places. I shelved books and replaced patterns. I took pictures of yarn that had joined the stash since the last time so I could catalogue it on Ravelry.

Surrounded by all that yarn and inspiration, my focus gradually shifted to lighter and brighter and more hopeful places, and the funk that had surrounded me for days started to lift away. Yarn fumes seem to have that effect, but I think I will go for another run tomorrow morning just to make sure, and then spend the day knitting to seal the deal.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


A Christmas day done right. From morning's first light...

Through love and laughter, family and sharing and thoughtfulness.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Christmas Eve with children and friends and family. Is there anything more filled with joy, or that serves as a better reminder of all the blessings in life? I have always thought that Christmas Eve is the best day of the holiday. The work and stress is (more or less) over, and the air is scented with sweet anticipation.

Even our guest towels are echoing the refrain.

I was under the weather yesterday, and fretting about how I was going to get the last two hats done: one hat was out of yarn, and the other was out of time. This morning, the answer was crystal clear: I wasn't. I let go, and immediately felt better.

I picked out a label custom-made for the day, and packed up the half-done hats, on needles with yarn still attached. The recipients will understand, I think.

In the spirit of the season, and after a bit of a rocky day together, the boys found their own joy. For the first time in many, many years, they decided to share a room tonight. The joy of family, the joy of love, the joy of sharing anticipation and excitement together: it's all wrapped up in that one over-burdened bunk bed.

Monday, December 23, 2013


One of the best parts of Christmas is Christmas cards. Not necessarily sending them—I am embarrassed to admit that I am still not quite finished with that task—but getting them, from all our neighbors both near and far.

Even better than that is looking through them again the following year, so I can remind myself of everyone's news from last year (because of course I have forgotten) and enjoy the pictures all over again. Amnesiac tendencies have their small joys. I put the cards in a basket as they come in, and the basket, cards and all, is packed away for next year. Some special cards stay in the basket year after year.

After I am done reading them again, I go to my next favorite task—making my own Christmas labels! I know this sounds completely crazypants but it is really quite fun and takes about 30 minutes and a pair of scissors. I used to get more help with the task but the boys are over it and leave me to my own devices.

I don't just cut off the front of the card for one giant label. Boring! I try to see if I can get at least two or three out of each card, by divvying up the picture into various randomly shaped pieces.

Don't forget the pictures on the inside and the back...

Seven labels out of a single card may be an all-time record.

I end up with a pretty good selection, even with the recent proliferation of photo cards that don't work for these purposes. The boys enjoy sorting through to see if there are ones with dogs on them for Dusty's gift, sledders or skaters for their brothers. Or I should say they used to enjoy sorting through them for some sort of meaning. Now they just slap any old thing on and call it good enough.

But I still love picking through them and matching style, shape, colors, etc. to the packages and recipients. At the very least, I know that no one else will have labels like ours!

Sunday, December 22, 2013


So many signs in church today. Roses blooming, one of my favorite hymns, and the angel Gabriel arriving. One clearly a bit more subtle than the other, though perhaps angels appear to us all over the place and we fail to recognize them. Entirely possible.

Our deacon's sermon was particularly on point. While coming to the church, she had noticed a sign on the highway that said "Distracted Driving Kills." She started to ponder the fact that distracted living is an equal killer, but of the spirit instead. When we become so focused on the hectic hustle-bustle of our lives, it is so easy to miss the signs all around us, of faith and love and mercy.

What sign are we watching and waiting for? May we be granted the grace, and the gift of attention and mindfulness, to recognize it when it arrives.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


What a word! No hymns came to mind. No deep thoughts came to mind. Just the persistant thought that I got nothing.

Then I saw this on facebook, the source of all wisdom these days.

For the record, I have no idea who this person is
or whether he even said these words.

I am not saying that this particular guy is a prophet, but in this day and age, anyone who is truly arguing these points or trying to do something about them is most likely someone on the prophet-like margins of society. Funny (or not) how little has changed in 2,000+-odd years.

Friday, December 20, 2013

good news

So much good news to celebrate this week!

Primo got into the college of his dreams! We have all just about recovered from the shock, because it was quite unexpected. This means I need to knit another hat before Christmas, but he is so ecstatically happy, this is no reason for complaint. I am especially thrilled because the college is very close to us, and though he will live there, he will be near enough to come home when and if he wants.

I got a job to help pay for said college! It will be a drop in the bucket, and it will mean some changes around here, but I am very grateful for it. I thought it was going to take me much longer to find something that would work around my limited schedule, but this seems to be tailor-made for my situation.

I finished one hat! Not sure if the rest are going to make it. They are all cast on and in various stages of progress, but at the point where I have to be very careful where I work on them because it is pretty obvious what they are and who they are for. Plus I am running out of yarn for one of them, and I have no idea when I will be able to get to the yarn store to get more. So this is more along the lines of limited good news.

Best of all: Christmas is five really closer to four days away! And I can't wait. I haven't felt this way in years, and it is flat-out wonderful. What needs to get done is pretty much done (except those hats), or doesn't need to be done to begin with. The rest will take care of itself, I have no doubt.

 We're almost there! He is almost here!

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Patience is a virtue,
Possess it if you can.
Seldom found in woman,
Never found in man.

That verse has been running through my head today, as I tried to finish up my shopping. I let people cut ahead of me in line and in parking spaces. I dealt with post office madness with aplomb. I didn't even freak out (that much) when I was rear-ended in traffic—the fact that there was no damage helped significantly.

I was doing my best to be that rare woman with patience. The virtue of patience fits the season in so many, many ways.

But from time to time, perhaps more often than we would like to admit, patience fails. That's where my friend M's sure-fire patience remedy might come in handy. She sent me this e-mail after a particularly trying day with her husband and a new (to him) snow plow. As you can see, I am not waiting until next summer to pass along the recipe. Some other deserving person might need it right about this point in the holiday season.

So...what does your friend do [after her husband tears up landscaping with his new plow because he didn't listen to her]?  I walk inside and make myself a Blueberry Martini at 1pm from my own homemade blueberry syrup.  Next summer, pass on this secret recipe.
Blueberry Syrup: Boil about 1 cup of sugar and 3/4 to 1 c of sugar to make a simple syrup (lighter on the sweetness if you don't like it too sweet); add about a 1/2 tsp of salt and a drop or 2 of vanilla; once boiling add in frozen blueberries (I usually add in about 8 cups of frozen blueberries); bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for about 30 mins;  use a stick blender right in the pot to blend together.  Cool and store in mason jars in fridge.  To use, I fill up recycled squirt bottles (ex. honey or similar plastic squirt bottles) and keep them in the fridge with the maple syrup. Delicious on pancakes, waffles or martinis (see below).
My Perfect Cure for the Inexplicable Stubbornness of the Male Species (OR JUST ABOUT ANYTHING)
2 shots of vodka
1 shot of triple sec
2-3 drops of Blue Curacao
2-3 drops of Rose's Lime Juice
1 shot of homemade blueberry syrup 
Directions:  Add all ingredients to shaker with ice;  shake for a few moments while you count to ten;  pour into a martini glass;  sit at a window with a nice view;  sip martini until it all feels better.  Repeat as necessary.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Feeding the birds on a cold winter's morn, while still in jammies.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


"I'm free... to do what I want... any old time..."

For the moment, anyway. Perhaps the very short moment, because I am looking for a job to help pay, in a "drop in the proverbial bucket" sort of way, for that college that Primo got into yesterday. A job outside the home is going to make a serious dent in available knitting time, that's for sure.

I have also been thinking about the chains I tend to put around myself at the holidays. I have been trying to be very mindful this year. It's so easy to drag myself down into the pits of despair just because I think I must bake all the cookies and put ribbon on all the presents and hand make all of the gifts. And in reality, those chains are completely unnoticed by anyone else, whether they are there or not.

Of course, if these things make the holiday meaningful and wonderful and joyful for you, then by all means, you should definitely do them. But if they elevate themselves into a chore which sucks all the joy out of the season and replaces it with stress and despair, then it may be time to reconsider.

So for this year: I am trying to stay free of as many chains as possible.

Except for maybe the hand made gifts. But that is a choice, not a chain, and I will try to keep reminding myself of this fact come December 24 at 2 am.

Icicles on the chicken coop roof, until I opened the door and they broke free.

Monday, December 16, 2013


I am completely off the rails with the hymns. Today's song was "Stronger" by Britney Spears and I am not even going to link to the video, it is so far afield from the season.

But there you go. Sometimes our brains take us in unexpected directions, and mine was like a hamster on speed today. I spent the whole day anxiously awaiting a college decision for Primo that was due to be announced at 3 pm. In stark contrast to the calm, mindful, waiting and watching attitude to be cultivated at Advent, this was more of a "try not to think about it and maybe the time will go faster" type of nerve-wracking wait. Not even knitting took the edge off.

A few hours after we heard the decision (and yes, he got in) I stepped outside to this timeless picture of the full moon rising behind bare trees in the early twilight.

Through all our petty human worries, it cycles calmly on. Rise, set. Wax, wane.

Sunday, December 15, 2013


This evening, we did just what I had recommended in my previous post. My parents had some stuff for me, I had some stuff for them, we decided to exchange stuff over a quick dinner at our house.

To be clear—my stuff for them consisted of:
  1. A box of fresh Asian pears, grown by the farm next to our church. A rare delicacy!
  2. A box of candles that they had ordered through a 4-H fundraiser. New! Chosen by them!
  3. A bag of fresh citrus acquired by me through various local fundraisers. Fresh, I note!
  4. Part of a gift for a fellow family member. A gift for someone else!
And this is what I got in return:

Three boxes of crap from my childhood that were recently dragged down from their attic by my brothers, who are now also on my list. For some reason these items required urgent attention from me right before Christmas. My husband helpfully noted that no word of the day regimen was strong enough to withstand this challenge. 

In the end, we laughed until we cried about what I had chosen to save for three decades. Such as this doll, that allowed you to change the color of her hair by swivelling the top of her head. Eerily prescient of present-day hair color fashion.

I will never regret saving this box of Barbie clothes. In fact, I have been wondering where they were for some time. My great-aunt, who had no girls of her own, made me an extensive Barbie wardrobe, from sweaters to ballgowns to pantsuits to wedding dresses. This picture is only the tip of the iceberg.

It is a treasure trove of lovingly recreated seventies fashion, in miniature. I am in awe all over again, and wish she were still around so I could call and tell her how much I still appreciate her effort. As every crafter always hopes when gifting a hand-made item: her love for me still shines through, all these years later.

My flute, a stained glass project from 9th grade, several dolls handmade by my mother... Quite a few photos were squirrelled away in old pencil box. Upon being shown this photo, Terzo asked which one was me.

He now understands that he will never live that question down.

But the mother lode of discoveries was this beauty:

Undoubtedly lovingly made, but the name of its maker has been lost in the sands of time. My mom wasn't quite sure if she was handmade but these stitches do not lie. Nor do the pink pom-poms.

As a fellow crafter, I love the net bow to cover up the stitches in the wrong color thread, because that is some classic crafter misdirection.

I have not exactly gotten behind the elf-on-the-shelf trend (again: super lazy, not a great play actor) but now I am changing my tune.

I have dubbed her Elfina, and she shall haunt my children's dreams.

And what does this all have to do with the word of the day? My prodigal crap has come home, and I have chosen to rejoice despite the poor timing. Though I may postpone my staged "killing of the fatted calf" with Elfina until tomorrow. I wasn't kidding about the haunting.

Saturday, December 14, 2013


I say "Shall we gather?" You say "At the river."

I say, "Of course. I'd love to. See you there."

Stating the bleeding obvious: a major focus of the holidays is people gathering, from office parties to church potlucks to family get-togethers. Don't worry, I am not going to go off on the number of lonely people who have no place to go. But not to say that we shouldn't be thinking about them as well, and by all means, if you know if someone, make them an offer of a place at the table!

No, my point is that I need to be more to open to gathering together with those I enjoy whenever possible, most especially this special time of year. I need to worry less about having our house perfectly decorated, with the latest place settings and hallway decorations and mantle trimmings, as dictated by magazines and pinterest and big box stores, and think more about the sheer joy to be found when I am surrounded by people important to my heart. I have to stop worrying about the decorating "not being done" (because when is it ever?) or the floors not being clean (thanks to the recent snowstorms) or a gourmet meal not prepared (because it's me). I need to order out pizza and let go. Let go, and let it happen, and I am pretty sure no one will notice my dirty floors or less-than-perfect decorations.

Getting ready for a game of Ticket to Ride, in front of the fire.
If you love board games, and you don't already have it,
get this game.
Everything about it, from design to strategy to play, is perfection.

It's not large get-togethers I need to think about either. Just simple family gatherings, drawing together to play board games or even (gasp!) watch a TV show, require minimal planning, but they may require some asking with teenagers in the house. And they are no less sweet for the asking—actually, probably more so, if they do take place.

And of course, it goes without saying that we really need to concentrate on this one year round, too.

Friday, December 13, 2013


A friend shared this thought-provoking post on facebook a few days ago, and I have been chewing it over especially today in light of the assigned word.

I must confess that I have never been a huge Santa fan. Spit on me if you must. As soon as my kids were ready to toss in the towel, I was right there with them, probably because I am super lazy and a really bad play-actor and the pretense was just so much work. For what?  Life is already full of magic just as it is, in the beauty of nature and love and human spirit.

The post above, though, got me thinking about what an injustice Santa must be for many, many kids. Here you are, with everyone around getting a pile of presents, and you get nothing. What, this guy likes everyone else but you? Have you really been that bad?

Giant pile of presents, just for me!

Our church adopts a couple of families every year, and people are always a little miffed when the kids' wish list comes in with items like "Playstation 3" or "iPad" listed on it. But what are they supposed to ask for? Underwear and socks, like that poor sap on WestJet? No, they want their fair share. Everything around them has told them to dream. They don't understand the difference between "Santa, the magical guy who lives at the North Pole and visits all the other kids in school except me" (because, while they are surely not alone, the other kids are not piping up about their lack of Santa) and "Santa, the spirit of whom is being helped along by people who are also providing Christmas for their own families."

May we all channel the spirit of St. Nicholas this holiday season, and help the season (and even beyond) be a little more just for those in need.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Somewhat holiday-related but all knitting. And no song today. I was too busy seaming. The blasted yellow cotton sweater is done, and I love it. It has changed names and is now the favorite cotton sweater. I had to do quite a few modifications—body smaller in circumference but longer in length, and longer sleeves with smaller circumference at the wrists—but everything worked out perfectly, and I had about 20 yards of yarn to spare.

You can see I wasn't lying about the one million little cables.

End result: it fits perfectly. Hard to tell, because I don't have buttons yet. So yes, technically, it is not 100% done, but when has a knitter ever let such a minor detail get in the way? I will be getting buttons tomorrow. Unfortunately the vintage ones picked up in September are way too large.

Yep, that's a post-it stuck to the back of my iphone.
It's my daily to-do list.
I know I can do a to-do list on my phone, 
but it is nowhere near as satisfying as crossing things off on a piece of paper.
Plus the paper is so awkward that I remember to check it more often.

I wore the sweater to a Christmas get-together tonight because yellow cotton! So in season! But it was over a red pullover and I wore little Christmas wreath earrings so maybe that made it OK.

Speaking of hope... I have decided that everyone in my family needs a knit hat for Christmas, for various reasons. Yes, Christmas is only 12 days away, as of tomorrow. But one of them is getting a voucher for a hat in his college colors, once he actually picks a college, so technically I only need to knit three hats. It's do-able, now that this sweater is done. I am off to the yarn store tomorrow morning.

Hope springs eternal in the knitter's breast right before Christmas.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Completely secular post today. Even holiday free, in case you are looking for a respite.

The song that came to mind for this word was "Telephone Hour" from the musical Bye Bye Birdie. Sorry. I spent the whole day singing "Hello Mr Henkel, this is Harvey Johnson. Can I speak to Penelope Ann?" Luckily (for them) no one else was home today.

I also spent the day trying to finish this blasted yellow cotton sweater. The yarn was purchased on close out, because the pattern book was $1. As I have discovered, neither reason is a great basis for a project. I started it last July on vacation, and then put it down for quite a while. When I picked it back up again, I remembered the reason for abandonment: I knit the body too short (per the pattern, but not a good length for me). I should know by now that if a project is in hibernation, it's because I encountered a problem that I was too lazy to solve at the time. This makes picking it back up again doubly difficult, because (1) I have to figure out the problem all over again (never do I write it down) and then (2) actually solve the problem. Needless to say, this double-barreled issue is responsible for a lot of unfinished projects around here.

Since I re-picked it up, and frogged back to the point to restart knitting, I have tried to go steady with this project by knitting a little each day. I even put things like "knit one inch of sleeves" onto my to-do list so I would have the satisfaction of crossing it off, a bit at a time. I kept at it when I had other knitting projects demanding my time. I endured the sweat of nearly running out of this long-discontinued yarn, after knitting approximately one million little cables. Through it all, I tried to keep steadily plodding along.

I thought for sure today would be the day. All the pieces were dried and blocked. All of the ends from changing between skeins were knit in. The shoulders were seamed. The front band was picked up and I was at the point of putting in the buttonholes. I planned this post to be a inspirational message upon the value of working steadily so that you can finally achieve your goals.

Of course, I didn't finish the sweater today. Once again, I underestimated the amount of time I had available and the amount of work remaining to be done. Ever the optimist. The buttonholes (thanks to this great techknitter tutorial; the result is well worth the time it took me to figure it out) and buttonband are complete. One sleeve is attached and sewn together, and many seaming ends are sewn in, the perfect task to be done during Terzo's piano lesson.

I must give a shout out to this technique of using binder clips to set the sleeve in place. Once I got them all situated to my liking, sewing it together was a snap. My finished sleeve is perfectly centered on the shoulder seam, and the seam at the bottom of the sleeve also lines up the pattern very well. With the way the increases were worked with the busy stitch pattern, imperfection would be easy to spot.

So, one more sleeve to put in and sew together. Tomorrow's word is "hope."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


My own personal recreation of the peaceable kingdom this morning:

Boys asleep in their beds, dog asleep at my feet, no need to pack lunches because school had been cancelled,  and too dark to go out and do chores. The only thing to do was sit and knit and meditate and hum to myself (even if it is a hymn more appropriate for Trinity Sunday).

Monday, December 9, 2013


'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 
  'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd, 
  To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight, 
  Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.
Not an Advent hymn, as its origins are as a Shaker song, but a profound meditation on the nature of delight itself. True delight is found by seeking simplicity and finding ourselves in "the place just right." Delight cannot be demanded, only discovered. The minute we start trying to manufacture delight, when we start planning and imagining and pushing and prodding it to bend to our will, is the death-knell for delight—a point that I would be well served to keep in mind every holiday. The more effort made to force her presence, the more likely delight is to duck out the side door and leave the misery of failed expectations in her place.

Take going to the beach on a sunny summer day. Preparation is the key, right? But by the time I pack sandwiches, dig out pails and shovels and special sandcastle making toys, haul out umbrellas and chairs and laying upon towels and drying off towels, pack coolers with assorted drinks and snacks and fruit selection, and then haul it all down to the waterfront along with everyone's expectations... Well, by that time, I'm pretty much done for. And any chance of anybody having any delight at that point is pretty slim.

One of our best beach days ever happened on the spur of the moment this past summer, when I threw towels, a bottle of sunscreen and the kids in the car, stopping just long enough for sandwiches and drinks. Delight abounded, even without the special sandcastle making toys and extensive snack selection. Probably because of the lack, as a matter of fact. Upon reflection, some of my most treasured delight-full memories are ones that happened with the least planning and forethought. They just... happened. The joy of unexpected pleasures walks hand in hand with delight, and love is usually right there too.

So for this holiday season especially, hopefully to become more of a routine, I'm opening up to the delight that already exists all around me. All I have to do is what the song says.
Be simple: don't clutter up the moment with nitpicky plans and elaborate expectations. 
Be free: let things happen as they will, without forcing them to abide by a preset script.
Come down where we ought to be—and pay attention enough to notice.
And above all, to remember: the grace of delight's presence helps us to come round 'right. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013


I was a little stumped on the tune for today, but church solved my problems (it often does). Specifically, the second verse of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel":
O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.
(As an aside, I am more than a little sorry that I missed out on "bound" due to starting this project three days late, because  this morning we belted out (well as much as we can, being Episcopalians and all) a rousing rendition of "On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand" aka "I am Bound for the Promised Land." That would have been a great one to hum all day. As an aside to my aside, this video is worth watching not only for the beautiful music but also the kitchen recording studio, complete with pots on the counter, and the kid on mandolin chewing gum (at least I hope it's gum) and staring off to the side wishing he were somewhere else in classic disaffected teenage boy fashion.)

I thought about how I have been questioning the wisdom of embarking on this advent word-a-day blogging project, though I received some encouraging words this morning to keep me going for the moment. 

I thought about the wisdom of not knitting any gifts this holiday season. I may yet recant. Then again, it may already be too late.

The most prevalent thought was: I don't have nearly enough wisdom. If anything, the past four months have served to hammer home to me that I have very little indeed. Maybe that's an inevitable result of growing older? You progress from thinking you have all the answers to knowing that you have very few.

Sometimes I think that wisdom might mostly be a healthy dose of kindness. Look out for others and try to put their needs before your own. There's something to that golden rule thing, after all.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Only one Christmas hymn would suit for today's word. "People Look East" (one of the most beautiful renditions I have ever heard, with its accompanying instrumentalists), because today encompassed a lot of making things fair as we are able.
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.
Getting ready works best when I try and let go of my expectations of how things should be, or what others may think is required. I just need to make things as fair as I am able, and that is not limited to putting up decorations and Christmas tchotchkes around the house. The far bigger task is readying my heart for the guest on the way.

Friday, December 6, 2013


Today's word put me in mind of Bach, and made me spend most of the day humming "Sleepers Wake," and its fabulous hymn counterpart "Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying", which is a really nice way to spend the day. Puts you in the right sort of mood almost all by itself. I highly recommend it.

It also put me in mind of this photo I recently snapped of my eldest and youngest, on our way to a dinner engagement after a long run-around day.

Another reminder today to be attentive... and I took it especially meant to remind me as a parent to be particularly attentive (and appreciative) this advent season. This is the last one that we will enjoy together as a family. Next year, my eldest will be away at college. I am not sure how his absence will play out in our family, though I can guarantee that it will change the dynamics in ways that we can only guess at, and that my youngest will feel it the most keenly.

We are so focused on the myriad responsibilities and pressures related to the college application process that I fear we are often failing to take the time to appreciate the here and now of his remaining time with us. I need to be more awake.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


A tough advent word today, "flood," a warning to be on our guard to not get distracted and caught up with the minutia of life lest we miss something really important.

Unfortunately, the holiday season is exactly when I am most prone to get caught up in the minutia of life and become so harried and frazzled that I completely miss the point. Some people get a charge out of "creating the magic" but the sense that I will never be able to measure up to such a weighty obligation has the exact opposite effect on me, especially because it is so far from my normal mode of operation (in which I am happy just to have clean socks for the day). In my distress, I usually manage to sweep my nearest and dearest down along with me.

This is not the point of the season. It should never be the point of the season. And I really need to start focusing on this, along with the fact that it is not up to me to create the magic. My only job, really, is to be still enough to observe and appreciate what already exists.

I am committed this season, if anyone asks me if I am "ready for the holidays" to answer with a cheerful "nope." That question has only one meaning: have you finished all your shopping yet? And I am determined to bear in mind that the season should be one of mindful watchfulness, and I intend to keep working on it a day at a time. As soon as I start seeing it instead as a never-ending series of tasks to be crossed off a list, I am sunk, and the spirit of the season right along with me.

I am taking this season one day at a time. I am determined not to be caught up in the flood.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


I am taking a break from my regularly-scheduled advent word-of-the-day to announce: I have another pattern in Knitty!

Most exciting of all, it features my handspun, from our own flock. The design is intended to showcase the handspun. The base layer can be made of a softer blend, or even an acrylic, and then the handspun is layered on top in a lace pattern.

You don't have to spin to make this hat. You can use any yarn combination you want. The hat on the left is knit with commercial yarns for both layers. I wanted to experiment with how a handpainted yarn would look under a natural-colored lace.

The entire cap is knit in one piece, starting at the top of the base layer and ending at the top of the lace. You'll have to trust me on this. I got the idea from a letter published in the May 1843 issue of The Magazine of Domestic Economy and Family Review. The anonymous writer was responding to a plea in the April 1843 edition of the magazine from correspondent "Eliza," who was in search of a pattern for a gentleman's nightcap. The pattern started at the top of the nightcap with a few stitches, which were then increased to the diameter of the cap. The cap was to be knit until it was "a sufficient length, say 24 to 28 inches" then decreased to match the other end and folded inside itself to produce a toasty double thickness. Duplice is constructed slightly differently, but with the same basic idea of knitting two layers in one long tube.

You still have plenty of time to make this as a Christmas gift! It is a very quick knit, because the stockinette base goes very quickly in the round and only two plus repeats of the lace are required.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


I saw this idea for observing advent on facebook yesterday.

I had to drive the cleaned and salted skins up to the tannery in Quakertown today. As an aside: we ended up getting six skins done last Wednesday morning, which only left four for Thanksgiving Day. A blessing, but still a unpleasantly memorable way to spend a holiday morning, and one I'd sooner forget. Hafiz asked why we didn't ship them frozen to the tannery; there are a few reasons:

  1. Unless you can afford a freezer truck (we can't), they will defrost, and that's one heck of a mess for the postman to deal with, not to mention the potential for a postal investigation.
  2. The skins are not ready to be tanned as is; certain parts must be trimmed off, and the tannery will not do this for you, nor does the butcher (quite honestly, I am thrilled if he listens to my pleas to take off the legs).
  3. Most importantly, the skins must be very well salted as soon as they defrost, to stop the decaying process as much as possible; again, the tannery won't do this, and if the skins aren't salted in time, you risk losing them.

So my long-winded point is: the necessary drive gave me plenty of time to reflect on the word of the day, "peace." I was hoping to find a representative photo with all those miles of road but I ended up zoning out and thinking about what it meant to be at peace with yourself, and those around you, and the world at large. I also spent quite a bit of time humming "I Got Peace Like a River," but just the first verse.

Being at peace with yourself is a rare gift, because it is not easily achieved. How much time do we spend berating ourselves for this shortcoming or that failing? The temptation to measure ourselves against others (or even worse, our perception of others) is never-ending, and never satisfying either, unless you have the self-confidence of a teenage boy scented to the back teeth with the latest Axe product.

Driving an old pickup truck down backroads selected seemingly at random by a fickle GPS... with a Sunday School song running in my mind and cleaned and salted sheepskins in the bed... with enough gas to get me there and back, and no particular reason for me to rush... For today, that was peace. And for today, it was enough.

Monday, December 2, 2013

turkey tetrazzini

After many years I have finally come to terms with the fact that I am not a natural cook. To this day, I have no idea how to prepare a lobster, nor do I care to figure it out. Heck, for that matter, the same is true for a turkey, the preparation of which I have completely managed to avoid to this point in my life. The thought of it gives me the vapors. Even the sweet potato dish I was asked to bring for Thanksgiving almost reduced me to tears, and required significant input, in the form of multiple phone calls, from my parents.

But there is one thing I am really, really good at: using up leftovers. Give me a cup of this and a bit of that and I will turn out a pretty decent, and upon occasion extremely delicious, dinner in about 45 minutes flat. These dinners are usually in the form of casseroles, which lend themselves quite well to the use of such varied ingredients. I am beast at making casseroles. My family is pretty much resigned to eating them.

Tonight's dinner fell into the realm of extremely delicious, if I do say so myself. It is leftover turkey season, and I had a hankering for turkey tetrazzini, though I didn't have any fresh or canned mushrooms on hand, which most tetrazzini recipes seem to require. Here's what I came up with instead.

16 oz linguine (or some other sort of pasta)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1¼ C milk
¼ C white wine
1 T chicken bouillon (or 1 cube)
1 T dried chopped onion
salt and pepper to taste
1 box frozen peas
2 C or so chopped cooked turkey
3 T melted butter
½ C flavored breadcrumbs

1. Cook linguine in salted water.

2. Prepare sauce: put soup in bowl, then whisk in milk, then white wine, then bouillon, then onion, salt and pepper.

3. Slightly defrost frozen peas in microwave (about 1 minute), and stir into sauce mixture along with turkey.

4. Drain cooked pasta, reserving ½ C of liquid. Stir sauce and liquid with cooked pasta, then put into casserole dish.

5. Mix melted butter and breadcrumbs, then spread over top of casserole.

6. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 30 minutes.