Monday, December 31, 2012

Handmade Holiday--Knits, Flannels and Sweets

Beginning with the mitts for E and Z, fingerless gloves seems to have been the theme for this year's knitting. For my sister, E, I had planned to make a pair of lacy cuffs, knit on size 2 needles in slippery lace weight merino and every row different with variations on YO, K2Tog, SSK, blah, blah, blah. Suffice it to say, after ten very frustrating rows, I had knit a lot more curse words than love into those cuffs, so I bought a new skein of yarn, in yummy shades of red, and knit up a pair of Maine Morning Mitts (in less time than the aforementioned ten rows took, and with nary a swear word):

E experienced a knitting renaissance this fall, and worked up a pair of fingerless mitts for his cousin, M (with a bit of help from the knitting fairies). They're done in yummy soft baby alpaca chunky that looks purple, but on closer inspection reveals all kinds of rainbowey color. They're basically rectangles, sewed up one side with openings left for the thumbs. I misjudged the gauge, so we ended up sewing them up width-wise, rather than lengthwise, but I think they'll be snuggly warm for Cousin M's first winter in Boston.

And for my ex-step-mother-in-law (I really need to find a better way to describe her), a pair of 1/2-finished to-be-felted mittens. I usually go x-country skiing with her once each winter, and while she's twice my age, she's in twice as good of shape, and usually leaves me sweating and peeling off layers in her wake, while meanwhile she has cold hands. I have been given until January 23 to finish them. (They're knit with two strands, one of each of two different shades of purple coarse yarn from a nearby farm).

The only sewing I did this year, other than a baker's dozen dala horses, were these two pairs of flannel pajama pants for C. It became clear that this is what his heart truly desired when he wrote it on the grocery list. I had actually bought the penguin material and given it to him, along with the pattern and thread, for Christmas two years ago, but never got around to making them. I decided I needed something more inspiring than penguins, and bought the gloriously soft paisley the weekend before Christmas. It must have worked, because I managed to complete both pairs while the boys were all at C's mother's house on the 23rd (only two-and-a-half hours, which makes me feel kinda sheepish about not getting the other pair done sooner!)

I kept my candy-making to a minimum this year, but wanted to make a variety of "truffles" using dried fruits and nuts as a healthier alternative to toffee and fudge. In addition to these sugarplums which I've been making for years, I put together various concoctions of date/orange/pistachio; date/cranberry; and peanut/peanut butter/coconut/chocolate (google "fruit-nut truffle" "sugar plum" or "healthy truffle" to find dozens of recipes).

Edited to add links to the recipes:

Sugarplums (I've made these for years and they're always a big hit)
Date-nut truffles (I used Cointreau instead of orange flower water, cause where on earth would one find that???) 
Orange-cranberry-pistachio truffles
And one more that had peanuts, peanut butter, coconut and honey in it and which I dipped in melted chocolate chips (I can't find the recipe anymore--because of course I don't keep track of these things!).
In just a few minutes of trying to re-trace my steps back to these original recipes, I found a whole lot more that look delicious and which I want to try next year!

What did you make this holiday season?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Week

Decorating the Solstice tree for the birds.

The Victorian Christmas at the WW&F Railway Museum.

Sunset on the Sunday before Christmas, just as I finished my last sewing project of the season.

Playing with the camera after our traditional wrapping/It's a Wonderful Life party on Dec. 23.

Playing outside on Christmas Eve--Usually we sled out across that pond...

The loot.


Sick on the couch Dec. 26, working on a stitching project Santa put in my stocking.

Our White Christmas, two days late.

I came down with a flu-like/hacking cough sort of thing somewhere between taking the stollen out of the oven and putting the last batch of cookies in Christmas Eve morning, and spent most of the holiday observing from the couch, alternately shivering and feverish. Between illness and the snow, however, I gained two extra days at home, so all was not lost. Today I finally ventured outside and to work. I'm meeting C and M in a minute to go see The Hobbit, then this weekend will be all putting the house back in order and getting ready for residency, which starts next Friday. I'll be back next week with more holiday handmades. Happy weekend!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hung in the Stairway With Care...

Happy Holidays to you and yours. I'll be back next week with the wind-down.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Handmade Holiday Countdown, Week 3: Gifts for the Grands

They boys have many sets of grandparents, step-grandparents and grandparent-like characters in their lives. I like to have them make gifts for these special people. In the past they've made pillows, twig frames, silk scarves, freezer-paper stencil shirts, balsam pillows, key hooks and bookmarks.  

For the woodburning grandpas, we made pinecone firestarters, by tying twine to the tip of a pinecone and dipping it alternately into melted wax and cold water. The wax stuck better as it cooled in the pan, so some are more thickly coated than others. We haven't tested any yet; I hope they work!

My dad, doesn't burn wood (and lives too far away to make shipping a box of pinecones practical), so we turned this bit of beaver-chewed wood into a card-holder. E ad Z took turns sawing the notch (I like to include a woodworking project in our holiday makings, even though I'm not the woodworking expert in the house), we rubbed a bit of beeswax polish over it and the boys sketched pictures on blank postcards.

For the grandmas, we made birchbark votive holders, from this season's Rhythm of the Home. I found this set of Chevrolet logo glasses at goodwill that I thought would be perfect (while there, I wondered who on earth would want to own Chevy glasses; when I got home I found out: boys between the ages of seven and eleven).

This turned out to be one of those projects that seems like it would be a good idea for kids, and turns out, not so much. Partly they were just too bouncy and not in the mood for a project. Partly, the birch bark is very fussy. We had a bunch of thick pieces my sister and I found in the woods, and they had to be pulled apart into thin layers that were flexible enough to wrap around the jars, but then the thin layers were delicate and shredded easily. The bark was also full of spiders. (In the photo below, E is just pretending to be helping). The boys did help pick out the pieces of bark, squeeze the glue and put their fingers in place for tying the bow, but in general, this was a mom project.

I bought some yummy beeswax candles at a nearby farm store and tied them up with pretty twine and string and a bit of fir. We have an extra one for an emergency last-minute gift, but I kind of hope we don't need to give it away, because I want to see what the candle flame looks like through the birch bark.

Finally, and this had nothing to do with kids, I made a batch of cranberry jam. Despite all the jam I made this summer, I never managed to make a batch in mini jars for gifting (first I didn't have enough jars, then my second flat of blueberries never came). C bought seventy-five pounds of cranberries from the farm down the road, so we have crans to spare. (To make it, I brought 5 generous cups whole cranberries and the juice and zest of one orange to a boil, added four cups sugar and boiled until it reached the jammy stage, then processed in a hot water bath for five minutes).

Hope your holiday makings and bakings are going well!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Visit from My Sister

My sister, Auntie V, came to stay with us for a little more than a week.

We went to the beach (I've never been to the beach in December before!)

And hiking,

And I dragged her on all my Christmas shopping (but to fun stores in cute little towns; no malls or big boxes!).

E and Z used her as a yoga prop,

And something about her presence inspired them into endless handstands.

She gamely joined in all of our holiday celebrations and, during downtime, she crocheted urchins.

I do believe a good time was had by all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Winter is Short

You wake Saturday to learn that the unimaginable has happened—again—and you wonder what kind of world you live in. You imagine mothers and fathers opening closets and drawers and cupboards, seeing the gifts they had carefully selected and hidden away over the last weeks and months, now with no one to receive them, and you try to imagine what that vast emptiness feels like (your imagination fails) and, because you are a selfish creature, you wonder what you can do to make your children safe (you think moving to a country that does not worship firearms would be a good place to start).

And then you turn off NPR and put on Christmas records—John Denver, Willie Nelson, Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Nutcracker—and place freshly-baked saffron buns and fruit salad on the table, along with a makeshift Lucia crown of fir tips and four white candles.

Making occupies your day—knitting and gluing and tying and cooking—and you go out in search of a pie and come home empty-handed. You clear away the red and green and temporarily replace them with blue. You take a few moments outside, to check out the frozen pond and find the perfect stick for the Menorah Yule Log, and brag to anyone who will listen that Martha stole your idea in this month’s issue.

You gather your loved ones around the table and feast on golden latkes with warm applesauce, yogurt, pickled beets and spinach (because you’re trying to introduce more veggies into your meals) with doughnuts for dessert (alas the pie), plus red wine and grape kid wine. 

You put on the new Klezmatics CD you finally got to accompany the feast, then the dreidle spins and Hanukkah gelt changes hands and no one cries this year. Afterward, everyone marches around the living room, singing, “Light the candle…spin the dreidle…dance the Horah…Hanukkah is here! Hey!” with much banging of tambourines and shouting and hilarity.

Sunday morning, you find three children on the couch, all knitting, and it’s like a reverse-mastery class, with the youngest helping the middle one with his needle-knitting and the middle one showing the oldest how to finger-knit with four fingers. Of course, as soon as the camera comes out, they hide.

You feel the clock ticking, and hastily complete projects, while the boys attend a dog funeral at their grandfather’s house, and then everyone gets wedged into dress clothes (i.e., pants that don’t have holes in the knees, shirts that don’t have skateboards or spiders on them) and you go see the Nutcracker, this year watching from right behind the “orchestra” pit (although there is no orchestra) and though you can’t see the dancers’ feet, no one has to strain to see over the head of the person sitting in front of them. You go out for Mexican food that isn’t very good, but it is cheap and then read “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with everyone singing along, off-key and off-tempo, but with as much enthusiasm as it’s possible to muster on a Sunday night, and you kind of feel something squeeze inside your chest at the magic of these little beings (who often drive you crazy).

You don’t realize that you’re nervous about sending your kids to school, until you feel the relief that floods through you when the automated call comes at five in the morning that school is cancelled due to the snow. The boys pull their snowsuits on top of their pajamas and you watch them out the window, trying to sled down the hill on three inches of wet, sticky snow, and you realize they already know the lesson you learn anew every time something terrible happens—winter is short, sled when the snow falls.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Handmade Holiday Countdown, Week 2: Dala Horse Ornaments

Every year, one of my sisters, my mom and some of my aunts and I do an ornament exchange for Christmas. I usually end up making a bunch more for my other sisters, my mothers-in-law and other family and friends (if you fall into this category, move along; nothing to see here).

In the past I've made stacking trees, fabric birds, felted birds and acorns. I've been wanting to make something with felt for a while, but hadn't settled on what exactly until this year I got inspired.

My mom gave me a Dala horse for my birthday and I traced around it for a pattern, and cut a whole bunch out of wool-blend felt,

then decorated them with bits of trim and embroidered ribbon from the stash.

Using invisible thread, I sewed on the trip and sewed the front to the back wherever the ribbon met the edge (because I assumed it would be tough to hand-sew through so many layers); I also attached a bit of lace or rick-rack for the hanger at this point (after several, I learned that the hanger needed to be positioned a bit front of center to keep the horse from dipping toward its nose).

Starting at the back of the saddle, I blanket-stitched around the horse using contrasting embroidery floss, and leaving a bit of space, through which I stuffed some wool roving before finishing off the neck.

The finished horses, all in a herd and waiting to be gifted and hung on trees all over the country.

What are you making this season?

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