Monday, January 28, 2008

Homemade Christmas Gifts From My Family

I realize this post is belated, over a month past Christmas, but I still think it's worthwhile to share the homemade gifts from my family. Some members embraced 'Homemade Christmas' at the outset, others struggled coming up with ideas, but it was so much fun as I anticipated how everyone would get involved.

I'll start with the presents that arrived at my doorstep which will encourage me to be creative. My maternal grandparents gave us gift subscriptions to Better Homes and Gardens and Smithsonian. Two months' worth have been delivered, and I have really appreciated them. This is the sort of gift that keeps on giving. Each time I see one in the mail, the first thought that crosses my mind is, "Yay! A magazine from my grandparents!" They allow me to indulge in some relaxing reading (and the former gives me decorating and recipe ideas, while the latter makes me feel smarter!).

Continuing with my grandparents, I will move to another gift from them. It was a beautiful bracelet made by a local artist.

And then my grandmother had all the grandchildren select a photograph that she had enlarged, matted, and framed. Each had special significance and many were taken on their travels. The one I chose was from a recent Canadian trip.

Heather made necklaces for us, showing that she is talented in so many ways.

Admittedly, I had requested the following sewing project from Hope when she asked for ideas.

When it unrolls, it reveals my stash of double-pointed needles for socks, as well as some crochet hooks.

Since apparently that project was too simple and quick for her, she felt she needed to make something else. First, a simple striped table runner...

...followed by a solid table runner.

Charity knit me some fingerless gloves, Fetching (or as we like to call them, Fisticuffs).

Chad undertook Christmas dinner for all of us, everything from the turkey to the mashed potatoes. Quite delectable.

Even Eric got in on the homemade action. He used his Latin background to choose quotes tailored to each family member and printed both the Latin and the English together and framed the result.

Finally, while I don't have pictures of them yet, my dad made us two matching bedside tables. Take a look at the plans if you'd like. They're spectacular, but there was some more staining and polyurethane that needed to be done, and since we were going to be in Iowa for a February wedding, we didn't make him rush.

I'm not sure how everyone else felt, but I really enjoyed Christmas this year. There was no stress about needing to get a gift as the date neared, compounded with the uncertainty of what that gift would be. And I'm surrounded by special things that will always draw my mind to loved ones. I confess that after several months or years have passed, I sometimes forget who gave me a certain gift, but there's no chance for that this year.

One couple we know had another creative family exchange this year. The adults drew names, and the task was to spend $15 at Goodwill. There were books, games, and furniture discovered (although she admitted that the Indiana stores she checked out seemed pretty picked over). Some were gag gifts, but she admitted she felt like she ended up with some of the better things. This is an amusing idea, especially for adults who don't need anything, and it lends itself to a scavenger hunt.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

How Ravelry Saved the Day

Heretofore, I have remained silent on my blog about Ravelry. I didn't want to get all nerdy talking about yarn and web communities centered on yarn, but I have to do a little bragging. Sure, I can be a little sheepish admitting that I'm a part of a knitting and crocheting community, a la Facebook or MySpace. For non-crafters, it sounds unnecessary. But it's useful for someone like me: I learn about all kinds of new patterns, search by yarn to see what others have made with what's on my shelf, check for addendums when patterns were found to contain mistakes, organize future projects in my queue instead of bookmarking them haphazardly, and see that all my needles and hooks are cataloged in a simple chart. Convinced, yet?

But my favorite part occurred over the Christmas season. There I am, working hard on some Jaywalker socks earmarked for myself. I've finished the first, almost halfway through the second. Then I realize it. I am going to run out of yarn. I'm not actually sure how it happened, but it was a new pattern, and apparently the technique was more of a yarn hog than I anticipated. O cruel world! I'm not sure I can appropriately convey the devastation of that moment for you non-crafters. I was in denial, trying to delay the inevitable realization, counting how many color repeats of my yarn remained, comparing that to the finished sock to see how close I could get. Not close enough. And then I shoved it in my luggage for the duration of the trip, trying to put it out of mind. The hours that I spent on knitting, possibly wasted. It deserved the dark time-out.

So there I was, trying to decide what my next move was ... only undertaken when I happened upon those chance moments where I was actually strong enough to face my options. Buy another skein? The yarn is no longer being sold. Rip out the first one, shorten the foot and try to salvage enough yarn to finish the second? Yikes, I've never had to rip back once I've bound off, and I wasn't convinced that I'd gain enough; I'd hate to go through this experience twice. When my self-striping yarn ends, should I just use a solid? That last one especially would be a bitter pill for this perfectionist to swallow and would show the world that I messed up somewhere along the way. The socks would probably never see the light of day, given that last solution.

But in the midst of my low spirits, I somehow remembered there is Ravelry. On Ravelry, you can catalog your stash (or 'excess yarn'). When you upload your stash, you can mark it as 'will trade or sell' if you're wanting to unload it. So in my brilliance, I did a little yarn search.

Lo and behold, there it was. Hundreds of unused skeins in my color, several marked to be sold. Imagine my excitement when I contacted the first one who had specified a price, quite reasonable. She still had the yarn, and at one point even offered to send it to me for only the cost of shipping. Admittedly, I couldn't let her do that, since she was saving my project here. And even with shipping, I was still ahead than if I had found it being sold in a store. Information was exchanged, money switched hands. And I distracted myself with a new project.

Friday afternoon, when I returned home from work, it had arrived.

Yes, Ravelry did indeed save the day.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

New Year's Eve and Snow

My sister Hope called yesterday to share a story. One of her daughters was found crawling around the room, and when Hope asked her what on earth she was doing, she replied, "I'm being a turtle, like the one Faithy gave me." Rumor is that Sheldon and her new doll accompany her to bed every night, as well as tag along during the day. I'm glad to hear it.

The weather here, true to Midwest form, has fluctuated greatly. When we left for the New Year's Eve party last week, there was plenty of grass visible. We played games and at the stroke of midnight, we pulled Christmas crackers (a contribution of a British friend in the group). Here are Eric and I in our hats:

For those unfamiliar with Christmas crackers, as I was, they are little novelties common in England. Two people each grab an end and pull wishbone-style, revealing the inside contents. They generally have the above hats, as well as a little trinket and a less-than-funny joke. Traditionally they are opened at Christmas dinner, and some families will wear the hats throughout the meal, even making a contest of whose flimsy hat remains intact the longest.

Shortly after midnight, we were astonished to look outside and see several inches of snow deposited, and still heavily falling. It was beautiful, and I was glad that it was New Year's, so that I was awake to enjoy it.

It's not that the snow has stopped falling in this one below, but I used the flash in the above one to give you an idea of the size and intensity of the flakes. All of the snow on the vehicles is new. (The birdfeeder picture at the beginning of this post is from a day or so later, when another couple inches were added.)

It was perfect snow for a snowman (and snowball fights, but I was 'Switzerland' and just focused on Frosty).

Alas, he's gone, I'm sure, what with the temperatures in the fifties today. Apparently, tomorrow could hit 61 degrees, which boggles the mind in early January.