Onward! To the Ravelry 2019 Challenge

Last year I participated in the Ravelry 2018 Challenge. I set out to complete 20 projects over the course of 2018. I figured that would be a manageable number, knowing my knitting habits and my busy schedule. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I ended up finishing 33 projects. I wasn’t purposely trying to pack a lot of projects in; I feel good about that result. Good enough that I signed up for the 2019 Challenge too. At this point, based on last year’s results, I’ve conservatively set a goal of 30 projects.

During 2018 I completed the following:

  • 1 blanket
  • 1 cowl
  • 5 shawls
  • 1 adult cardigan
  • 2 toddler cardigans
  • 4 doll cardigans
  • 19 pairs of socks

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I have a couple of projects that were started that I didn’t complete yet. Notably “Alecia Beth”, a contiguous cardigan in 4 ply yarn. I hope to finish that in time for late spring when my winter sweaters and coat are too warm for the weather.

I’ve been thinking about what new things I’d like to try and knit this year. I definitely want to make a steeked, stranded colour-work cardigan. I have been looking at designs. I like the way that the colour-work wraps around those yoked sweaters that Tin Can Knits are known for.

Steeking is a construction method used to make cardigans. It’s typical of Fair-Isle and Norwegian sweater knitting. The idea is that you knit the sweater in the round like a pullover. Easy peasy! You allow extra rows of stitches in the areas where you want to cut it apart. Some people simply make a tube for the body with some extra steek rows where the sleeves will go, and down the centre front. They knit it to the full desired length. Then they knit the two sleeves separately. To put it into a nutshell, you reinforce the stitches on either side of where you plan to cut it open so your knitting doesn’t simply disintegrate. Then you cut it open. YIKES! Then you add button panels in the front (or a zipper) and insert the sleeves. Some people finish it off with a band of ribbon or a knitted band to cover up the edges where it was cut. If you use wool that isn’t super wash it is expected to felt enough along those edges so you don’t have to fuss with a binding. Some people knit the sleeves with the body so they are connected without having to steek them. I’m thinking that’s what I’d prefer.

What I don’t love about the yoked style of sweater is the neckline. To me, it always looks like it barely hangs onto the shoulder. I am not crazy about necklines that sit right at my neck either. So I’m hoping to find something that will be along these lines but with either a V-neck or a scoop neck. I could probably use short rows to shape the neckline more the way I like it. I suppose I could be brave and knit it using a pattern like the one above, but then do a steek around the neckline so I can shape the neck however I want it. That would be an option. Hmmm… for the first steeking project, that might be a little bit scary. But I figure that if I start with a child sized cardigan it should be less intimidating. Then, if I mess around with changing the neckline, it won’t be as big of a time investment (or yarn investment for that matter). Yeah, I definitely want to try my hand at steeking this year.

When thinking about what else I’d like to knit, I realized that I don’t have much in the way of toques or cowls. I’ve got some patterns in mind that I would love to knit. This time I will choose the yarn colours so that they actually look good with my coat though! There will definitely have to be some hats in my challenge list.

Obviously, I will knit socks. In particular, I have had a pattern in my queue for some time that I really want to do this year. These dirndl socks play all the right notes to thrill the German ancestry running through my veins.

Then there are these beauties:

Dornröschen schlafe hundert Jahr

I also want to get the next size up in my contiguous child’s cardigan designed and tested. I want to get the pattern cleaned up and ready to publish and I need to have at least 2 sizes to feel like it’s worth finalizing it. I may go for three but it’s such a tedious process that I might just be dreaming on that count.

I want to make a mohair shawl for one of my sisters, and a sapphire blue lace shawl for another one of my sisters. (She’s got a significant birthday coming up in 2020 and the shawl I have in mind is a huge project. I need to start it this year if I want to complete it for her birthday in May.)

I plan to participate in Tour-de-sock again this summer. That’s always a fun challenge that nets me six to eight pairs of amazing socks. I love my fancy socks. Even if no one else sees them inside my shoes. They make me feel good.

I have bits of leftover sock yarn that I might make into a net shopping bag to see how that goes. Every time I dig in my leftovers bag I’m frustrated that there isn’t enough of any of the yarns in there to make a pair of socks. This might be a good way to use some of that up. I think that will be a good mindless knit to do in front of the television in the evenings.

Oh my, I think that’s a year’s worth of knitting summed up in a 1000 words! Whee! I hope I haven’t bored you with my ramblings today. I must say that taking the time to think about what I want to make has me feeling inspired.

Happy Knitting!

 

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No Resolutions Here!

Last year I confessed myself to be a bit of a New Year’s Resolution Scrooge. That hasn’t changed. So you won’t find any resolutions or lists of major life-changing goals here; I’m not gonna do it. Lately, I’ve noticed a number of articles about other people’s frustration with this particular New Year’s tradition. Just because I don’t subscribe to the tradition doesn’t mean that I’m not looking for ways to grow or be happier in my life. Over many years, I have found ways to make growing a regular part of my every day life… not just a “Hey, it’s January. I guess I should make a list of what’s wrong with me and my life so I can pretend that it’s a manageable task to fix all that stuff this year.” Ugh. Yeah, that’s really healthy and helpful… NOT! What a horrible and degrading way to think. Sheesh! Life is challenging enough without that kind of self-abuse.

Recently a friend and I were talking about what a mixed bag life can be.

On the one hand, it can be a bit of a meat grinder. On the other hand it can be beautiful and blissful and wondrous… and it can be a whole lot of in-between stuff too.

To deny the “meat grinder” aspect of life, to me is to live in an illusion. But just because life can throw a lot of really tough, horrible stuff in our path doesn’t mean we have to be sucked into a permanent vortex of negativity over it. And I think we all know that it’s really easy to get sucked into a vortex of negativity when things are rough. It feels terrible being in that place. It can be really difficult to pull ourselves out of it when we land there. The longer we wallow in it, the harder it feels to get up and out of it.

As we talked, we reflected on how important it is to be able to find ways to stay steady when challenges are threatening to pull us under. Each of us has our little tricks to help us remember what really matters in our lives. And the strong thread that wove its way through the entire conversation was that when you get down to it the only thing that really matters is Love.

What matters is the capital “L” Love that allows us to have meaningful relations and to see the foot of snow that fell overnight, and feel the wonder of nature’s indescribable beauty as we pick up the shovel and make a path to the car… and let it be okay that we don’t particularly like shoveling a foot of heavy snow. Let it be okay that in that moment we feel what we feel. There’s no need to judge that the thought of shoveling all of that might make me feel frustrated or angry. It’s even okay if some of that shoveling includes some serious grumpiness. The thing about is that once the initial feelings have their say, it becomes a choice about whether to dive into the vortex, or to take a breath and switch it up for something that feels better.

My friend and I are both small business owners.

Both businesses combine services and retail. So a lot of our conversation centered around the challenges and stresses of running a business. Winter is our busy season here so we are in the thick of it now. It’s so easy to be in a highly stressed state all the time, if we aren’t careful. The jobs have deadlines that need to be met; the work has to meet an appropriate standard. As much as most customers are lovely and recognize the value of the services we provide, there will always be some who want something, right now, for nothing and/or insist on being rude. There will always be those who don’t comprehend the costs of running a business (mental, emotional, physical and financial). Bills need to be paid, payroll has to be met. If staff members make mistakes, the business has to absorb the cost of those mistakes. It’s easy to get run ragged and it’s easy to live in a constant state of high stress.

So what to do?

Meh, life can be messy. In my experience all you can do is feel what you feel, remember to breathe and do your best to take a step back any time you start to feel off balance… And let being human be okay. It’s okay that we get angry or frustrated. It’s okay that some days are a circus of stress. I think that being able to catch myself when I start judging my reactions makes a big difference. When I can notice what I’m feeling and know that it’s okay to feel that, it helps to be able to get my sights back into a healthy perspective. I can take a breath, close my eyes and remember how good it feels to fill myself up with Love. The thing is to be deliberate. You can’t really be deliberate if you are running on auto-pilot. It means I can choose to reset my day. The less I get caught up in judging myself and those around me or the situation rather than simply assessing and adjusting my course accordingly, the smoother things tend to be. The more relaxed I can be, the better things flow and the happier I am.

The journey continues. No resolutions are necessary to keep placing one foot in front of the other. My philosophy is: when in doubt, infuse a little Love and do your best to be kind to yourself first. When you do that, it’s easy to be kind to others, whether or not they are returning that kindness.

Happy New Year!

I sincerely wish you all the very best that being human has to offer as we embark into 2019.

 

 

Merry Christmas… and my Favourite Cookies!

As promised, I am sharing another one of my traditional German Christmas recipes that has been adapted to be gluten and nightshade free. Most people with either a German or Dutch background will be familiar with Spekulatius. These cookies are immediately recognizable by the relief images baked right in them. They are crisp, light and spiced with the three “C’s” of Christmas: Cardamom, Cloves and Cinnamon. If you have tried to make them at home and found that the texture was different than (and not as nice as) the commercially made ones, you’ll love this recipe.

The secret to crisp, light Spekulatius is lard. When you use butter or margarine, they come out like any other spiced cookie, but with lard, this little Christmas gem is elevated to “Singing Choirs of Angels” cookie status. (IMHO) I am probably biased. Nope, I’m definitely biased! (As mentioned in the recipe, you can use a mixture of butter and lard, but don’t use more butter than what is recommended. You do need the lard to get the texture right.)

This Christmas cookie will always be my favourite. They take some attention to make, but only because the rolling pins and blocks that are carved out to make pictures on the cookies have to be kept well floured, yet not so well floured that you lose the picture in the process. It takes a little practice to find the sweet spot for this process. But they are so worth the effort! Any good kitchen store will have one of these rolling pins and if not in stock, they can certainly order them in for you. Well, not in time for this Christmas, but there’s always next year.

There are a couple things you’ll want to know before you get started on these. First of all, don’t substitute the lard, and don’t use artificial extracts. These are a once a year cookie and they just aren’t wonderful if you don’t trust the recipe. Also, the nuts absolutely must be ground really fine. If they aren’t, you’ll have a lot of trouble forming the cookies with the blocks or rolling pin. Don’t rush chilling the dough. It needs to be cold, especially in this Gluten Free version. Have a pastry brush (a real one, not a silicone one) on hand so you can gently brush away any extra flour from the surface of the cookies before you bake them. In the grand scheme of things, it’s easier to use the rolling pin than the individual blocks. You want the dough to be relatively thin, but there has to be enough thickness so it can fill the recesses in the blocks and rolling pin and give you that lovely relief picture that these cookies are famous for. Every oven is a little different, so watch the first batch and notice how long it takes for them to bake. Use that as your guide. The time will vary depending on how thin they are.

 

Gluten Free Spekulatius

500g Gluten Free Flour Mix (as given in last week’s blog)

1Tbsp Gluten Free Baking Powder

1 tsp Xantham Gum

250g Sugar

1 Tbsp Vanilla Sugar (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)

1/4 tsp Pure Almond Extract

1/4 tsp Cardamom

1/4 tsp Cloves

1 tsp Cinnamon

2 Eggs

200g Lard (do not substitute; though it is okay to use 150g lard and 50g butter)

100g Finely Ground Hazelnuts (Almonds are okay)

Instructions

1. Combine all dry ingredients together and mix thoroughly with a whisk.

2. On a clean counter, make a pile with the dry ingredients.

3. Make a well in the dry ingredients; put eggs in the well and mix with a fork, just enough that they won’t run all over the place.

4. Cut up the lard into small pieces and dump it, as well as the ground nuts onto the messy pile on the counter. Mix the dough, with your hands, and work it until it is smooth and uniform. Chill the dough for at least one hour.

5. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment and preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

6. Roll out the dough with a regular rolling pin to about 1/4″ thick. Using either a well-floured rolling pin that has relief images carved into it, or wooden blocks with relief images carved in them, press images into the dough. If using blocks, take your time and use a small, sharp knife (like a paring knife) to coax the dough out of the carved portion of the block, if it gets stuck.

7. Use a knife to cut the individual images into separate cookies and arrange them on the prepared cookie sheet. Gently brush away any excess flour from the surface of the cookies.

8. Bake for about 4 minutes or until lightly golden (compared to when they started). Allow them to cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

And there you have it!

I sincerely wish you a Merry Christmas. I hope that however you celebrate this season of the year, that your celebration is filled with Love and Kindness; yes capital “L” Love and capital “K” Kindness. Because really, that is all that matters.

Happy Baking and when those cookies are all done…

Happy knitting… and good luck keeping the cookie crumbs off your project!

 

 

What? Recipes? From the Yarn Shop?

You might be surprised at the number of people who come to my yarn shop looking for a pattern, and then can’t think of the word pattern, in the moment. What do they call it? They call it a recipe. And of course, that is exactly what it is. Well that got me thinking. What with Christmas coming up, I thought I’d break from blog tradition and share some of my Family Christmas Recipes.

Many of you will know that I am a celiac but in addition to not being able to eat gluten, I am also allergic to the nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant). Before you ask, I rarely eat out because it is simply too risky and too stressful… and quite frankly in the time it takes to explain everything and figure out what is safe for me to eat I could cook something at home.

I took my traditional German family holiday baking recipes from my Grandmother and reworked them so that they can be gluten/nightshade free. If you are unfamiliar with gluten-free baking, potato flour is frequently used in the flour mixes as it gives a nicer quality of crumb in baked goods. Most commercially made gluten free baked goods contain potato.

Growing up in a German immigrant family, Christmas baking was a big deal. Stollen  is a traditional German Christmas cake. It is nothing like the heavy fruitcake that we typically see at this time of year. It contains raisins, currents, nuts and some candied fruit (Zitronat) as well as almond paste. This was always the first thing to be baked. Mom would soak the nuts, raisins, currants and candied fruit in rum for the better part of a week, stirring them daily to make sure the flavour permeated all of it.

Today, I want to share my recipe for Gluten Free Stollen.

To begin with, you have to make up the flour mix. Weigh out 925g of brown rice flour and 400g of Tapioca starch. Combine these well. I have a good sized Tupperware container that I keep this mix in. I usually weigh it into the container (remember to reset the tare on your kitchen scale when you begin adding each ingredient) close the lid and shake it well before mixing it well with a whisk. This is the flour mix used in all the recipes I’ll be sharing with you over the next couple blogs.

Judy’s Gluten Free Christmas Stollen

125g Dried Currants (they look like tiny raisins; do NOT substitute!)

125g Black Raisins

125g Yellow Raisins

150g chopped Almonds

150g chopped Hazelnuts

100g Zitronat*

1/4 tsp Almond extract

1/2 cup Dark Rum (or more if you like)

1/2 tsp Pure Lemon Extract

1/8 tsp Cardamom

1/8 tsp Mace (Nutmeg blossoms)

500g Gluten Free Flour mix (above)

1 – 1/2 tsp Xantham Gum

1 Tbsp gluten free baking powder

200g sugar

1 Tbsp Vanilla Sugar (you can use 1 tsp of pure vanilla extract instead)

pinch of salt

2 eggs

       250g Quark**

175g Butter (at room temperature)

250g Almond Paste (at room temperature)

       Butter and Icing Sugar to decorate

Instructions

  1. Combine the currants, raisins, nuts, almond and lemon extracts, rum, spices and Zitronat in a large metal or glass bowl (not plastic). Stir them well. Cover tightly and refrigerate. Stir this mixture at least three times a day for a minimum of 2 days. 4 days is ideal, you can go as long as 5 days provided the bowl is covered tightly the entire time and refrigerated.
  2. Prepare a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Using a mixer, combine the butter and Almond paste.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine flour, xantham gum and baking powder and whisk together thoroughly.
  6. In a separate bowl, weigh out sugar and add vanilla sugar (or vanilla) and salt
  7. Pour the flour mixture onto your clean kitchen counter. Make a well in the centre of it. Place the sugar, quark and eggs in the well and using a fork, mix them just enough so the eggs won’t run all over the place. It’s okay that it is only mixed with a portion of the flour at this time.
  8. Add the butter/almond paste mixture to the great messy pile on the counter. (Don’t mix it in yet.)
  9. Add the nuts and fruits mixture to make the pile even bigger and messier.
  10. Mix this big pile of delicious-smelling stuff until you have a beautiful smooth dough. It should mix quite quickly. It may be a wee bit sticky. This isn’t like bread dough, you don’t have to knead it extensively. Just get it mixed to a nice smooth texture.
  11. Form the dough into two equal loaves and position them to fit on the large baking sheet. I find that I have to place them diagonally-ish to make them both fit happily.
  12. Bake for around 40 minutes.
  13. Once it comes out of the oven and while it’s still hot, brush the top with butter (not margarine!) and sprinkle profusely with icing sugar. The butter will absorb a bunch of icing sugar. Don’t skimp on the icing sugar, it should look like a good layer of snow on a rolling hill.
  14. Allow it to cool before cutting.
  15. If it doesn’t immediately get devoured by everyone who has been staring in the oven window, salivating while it was baking, store it in a sealed container.

*Zitronat in this recipe is candied fruit made from citrus. Look for the container in which the fruit is all and only shades of yellow. It is important to use the right one. Don’t use the mixed candied fruit, it will ruin your Stollen!

**Quark is a soft cheese, ask for it in the deli. If you can’t get it, you can approximate it by squeezing cottage cheese through a metal sieve and mixing it with a little bit of yogurt to give it a smooth and creamy texture.

Happy Baking… and then happy eating the baked goods while knitting!

Let’s Get Worsted, in Kettle Valley!

This year, I finally felt ready to hunt for local hand-dyed yarns and patterns to sell in my store. I believe strongly in supporting local small business whenever possible. Now that I have built up my inventory of staple yarns I really wanted to offer something a bit more luxurious. I had a small selection of hand-dyed yarns in solid colours, but I wanted something with really interesting colourways. I found it.

Black Cat Custom Yarn is located in Chilliwack, BC (Canada).

I was excited to have the opportunity to meet the owners this fall and to see and feel their yarns in person. A customer told me about them and I was not disappointed. I brought in a modest selection of two weights of Black Cat yarn. It has been a hit.

I have already placed another order and they are dying it now. Once it arrives it will expand the selection to 17 colourways of “Let’s Get Worsted” and 15 colourways of “Everyday Sock”. The price point is typical of hand dyed yarn.

I recently made up a project using the “Damsel” colourway of  Black Cat’s “Let’s Get Worsted”. The pattern was the Kettle Valley Shawl from Knox Mountain Knit Company out of Kelowna, BC.

So first of all, I should have done a gauge check. I didn’t and my gauge was a bit soft. I ended up using three and a half skeins rather than the three that the pattern called for. That was definitely on me. I’m confident that it could be done with three if the gauge is matched.

The Pattern: Kettle Valley Shawl by Knox Mountain Knit Co.

knox-mountain-knit-coKnox Mountain Knit Co. patterns are inspired by landmarks of the Okanagan Valley in the interior of British Columbia, Canada. I love that each has a short write-up describing what inspired the pattern. They are beautifully printed on sturdy paper and priced reasonably. They all come with a Ravelry code that allows you to have both the hard copy and a Ravelry download to access on your devices. I now have hard copies of all their designs for sale in my store. (The patterns are displayed in two binders; if you’re in the store ask me where to find them. You can also view them on Ravelry.) The photographs are beautiful. They offer sets (hats, mittens and cowls) that are sold separately but made to coordinate. This is a wonderful option if you are making gifts… especially for those individuals whose birthdays land near Christmas.

The instructions were clear and easy to follow. I loved the twisted stitch method used. The first few times I did it, I had to check the instructions but once I comprehended what was happening and why it worked, I was off to the races. It’s a nice big shawl without being so large as to feel like a blanket. It was my first worsted weight shawl and I had my doubts because I like lace shawls and I love to knit with sock weight yarn. I think I may have been converted. Yes, by the final row I was knitting 357 stitches. However, I finished this, knitting leisurely in front of the TV in the evenings over the course of 10 days. I didn’t even knit every evening. It is made up of sections that when viewed as a whole mimic the trestles of the historic Kettle Valley Railway in the vicinity of Kelowna, British Columbia. I found that with each section, it took very little time to get a sense of the pattern so I could just knit away without checking the reference. That’s how I like it! I’m delighted with the outcome and so is the person who received it as a gift.

The Yarn: Black Cat Custom Yarn; Damsel; weight “Let’s Get Worsted”

This yarn was an absolute pleasure to knit. It was soft and smooth. The stitch definition is fantastic. All the effort I put into creating those trestles stood out and made the pattern proud. It reminds me of Malabrigo yarn. Sometimes when I make a larger project I get a little bored of looking at the yarn by the end of the project. Not with this yarn! There is just no getting bored of this yarn. The colourways are so fun and the names are nerdy and sometimes a bit cheeky. It definitely has personality. I washed it with Eucalan and blocked it. I thought it was soft before I washed it. Washing it softened it even more. I sat there squishing it between my hands and against my face for ages! I guess you figured out that I highly recommend this yarn.

Because it is dyed to order, it takes some time from when I order it until it arrives. That’s probably the only real drawback to this yarn. Once I get a sense of how much and how frequently I need to reorder, that will be less of an issue.

I encourage you to take the time to check out Black Cat Custom Yarn and Knox Mountain Knit Co. Both of these small BC businesses offer a high quality product for a reasonable price. If you want to make a special gift for someone you care about, I recommend combining the two for something truly memorable.

Happy Knitting!

Advent: The Season of Anticipation

Most people are familiar with Advent Calendars that count down the days from December 1st to Christmas. The colourful cardboard calendars that hide a wee piece of chocolate behind each of 24 tiny doors have been a staple for holiday seasons for at least as long as I’ve been alive.  Advent wreaths and Advent Calendars build up anticipation over the holiday season.

Many people don’t actually know what Advent is. To give a little bit of context: In the Christian tradition, Advent is the season preceding Christmas. It is a time of preparation and anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ. It was the time when the wise men followed the signs in the stars and traveled to where they would find the infant that embodied hope, new beginnings, light and love for humanity. It begins 4 Sundays before Christmas.

Each of those four Sundays has a theme: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

When you see Advent wreaths with four candles, this is what those candles signify.

I grew up in a German immigrant family and the Advent wreath was a part of our Christmas tradition. My parents didn’t actually talk about the significance of those candles… or if they did, I was definitely not listening. All I knew was that each week on Sunday morning, the candle for that week was lit along with the ones from previous weeks until they were all alight. I may not have really understood the symbolism or spiritual significance of it, but it definitely built up my anticipation for Christmas. My father expressed his artistry and creativity through a variety of Advent “wreaths”. Anticipating what new design he would come up with was part of the fun of the season for me.

Over the past few years, thanks to social media, I have seen many different incarnations of the Advent Wreath and Calendar. Each one has had a theme and the themes have been vastly varied. Not only are the calendars themselves varied but what people put in them is as well. From fine hand-made chocolates to trinkets to craft beers or local wines, every time I see a new one it makes me smile.

Every year when I see what people have done with this tradition it makes me want to make one too. Of course, by the time it’s on my radar, I don’t have time to actually pull it off without way more stress than I want associated with it. So much for planning! LOL! And every time I see a blog post where someone shows off their hand made Advent wreath or calendar, I find myself cheering for them. Cheering on their design, their creativity and their determination and perseverance. I have lost count of the number of times I have thought about making one and then decided not to.

And once you make the calendar… well… you have to fill it with something. Oh MY! That has the potential to become outrageously expensive!

And my point with all of this? Advent is about anticipation. You don’t have to break the bank to build anticipation. Hey, if you want to spend a whole bunch of money, I won’t stand in your way. All the power to you! There is absolutely no shame in spending money for the holiday season. That having been said, I most definitely advocate staying within your financial means. Heaven knows it’s easy to get carried away at this time of year.

I find that I really want to deliberately mark the Advent season in some way every year.

Perhaps it’s because it was a tradition in my childhood. Hope is the first theme of Advent. Hope is a profoundly amazing thing. No matter how tough things might get, the tiniest bit of hope is all we need to keep us going, keep us fighting and working our way out of whatever darkness we may find ourselves in. Let’s face it, I don’t care who you are, we all experience hardship in one way or another.

Not one of us is immune to suffering!

Hope is that light at the end of the tunnel that keeps us placing one foot in front of the other despite the despair that may fill us at times. That hope may come from the simplest of things, like having someone look directly into our eyes and smile at us from their heart. There is no way to know what another person is going through. What does it take to make eye contact with another person and smile? It takes nothing… and it feels good. I guess what I’m saying is I want to be a vehicle for hope. I want to notice when someone seems down. I don’t want or need to “fix” anyone. But I can notice them and recognize their humanity, recognize that they are suffering in some way.

I can offer them a smile from my heart.

Not out of pity, but out of solidarity: human to human! I can acknowledge their existence and my own. Goodness knows there have been times in my life when one smile gave me the hope I needed to not give up.

I want Christmas to heighten those things that I find most meaningful in my life. I know that like all those years before, I am not going to pull off a fancy Advent calendar this year. I really love the Advent season. I love everything about it. There is a part of me, a wide-eyed, wonder-filled little girl, deep inside me, that wants that sparkling anticipation every year. And often, I must admit, I leave her wanting. This year, I am starting off my Advent season by decorating my store. And there will be knitting… lots of knitting!

Happy Knitting!

 

Reframing Gift-Giving

Ads, ads and more ads… do you get as tired of them as I do?

As a business owner providing both services and retail products, I recognize that advertising is a very important piece of finding and informing the people who may want your products or services. We all need to make a living, after all. And yet everywhere we turn these days, we are hit with a barrage of ads. And it seems to me that it ramps up even more once anticipation of the holiday season begins.

As we approach the holiday season, I find myself feeling quite irritated by all the junk being advertised as gifts. You know what I mean? The stuff that only sells because it’s weird and will get a laugh (before being tossed in the garbage along with its packaging), or the stuff that sells because people want to look cool or be on the cutting edge.

Okay, so here’s what I’ve been contemplating. When I’m asked what I would like for Christmas (or my birthday), I always feel at a bit of a loss to come up with anything because I have all the “stuff” I actually need.

What I really want is time and the opportunity to spend unrushed time with the people I love.

I want to laugh with them. I want to enjoy home-cooked meals with them or go for walks and enjoy the scenery in this amazing part of the world. I want to feel connected with them. I don’t need them to spend money on me. Don’t get me wrong, I love to receive gifts as much as anyone. And I love the way it feels to know that they have spent precious time and energy to make me something. It’s a very clear message that illuminates just how much they love me. How wonderful is that?

I was reminiscing about past holiday seasons and remembering how varied they have been for me. There were years when it was all I could do to pay the rent and still have enough money to feed myself. I remember feeling a tremendous degree of shame in those years when I simply couldn’t give material gifts. The commercialization of the holiday season persistently and insidiously plants and builds an unconscious (or subconscious) sense that we must purchase items to give as gifts… and not just to loved ones but to teachers and co-workers and bosses and the check-out lady at the grocery store.

No wonder I found myself feeling overwhelmed with shame in those years when I had no money to spare for gift giving.

It’s so easy to get carried away and overspend in a way that puts us behind the 8-ball when the new year settles in. I’ve definitely fallen into that trap and paid the price!

I still really wanted to give my loved ones gifts, so I made up coupon books and each coupon could be redeemed for some service that I could provide. For instance, “this coupon can be redeemed for a kitchen cleaning”. When that person called in the coupon, I would go to their house and clean their kitchen for them. I gifted “tea party” coupons and “walk in the country” coupons, “pedicure” coupons and “car wash” coupons. People didn’t always cash those coupons in, but when they did, I was delighted.

Years ago, after my mom passed away we were doing some organizing of her things. I needed a small pair of scissors and looked through the drawers of her sewing cabinet and found one of the coupon books I had given her.

She had saved it all those years.

It’s funny, at first I felt bad that she hadn’t redeemed any of them. Yet she had kept that coupon booklet, and she kept it with things that (before her dementia was too severe to allow it) she used every day. That left me feeling deeply touched. She didn’t need anything from me. She just wanted to be reminded that I loved her. I like to think that my little coupon book shouted, “I love you Mommy!” every time she opened that drawer to get her scissors out. (And yes, I called her “Mommy” right up until she passed away.)

In other lean years, I would go to the thrift shop on $1/bag sale days (that was a few years ago… LOL) and look for items made of really interesting fabric. I’d carefully choose things that I could transform into new and useful items. A dated leather coat could become a beautiful purse; a several decades old fur coat could become a teddy bear. I often found remnants of new fabric, bundles of lace and other trim. I always went primed to be creative and think outside the box. I always found interesting things that had the potential to be transformed.

One of the things I love about Revelstoke is that our community embraces earth-friendly practices. Re-pair, re-purpose, re-use, re-cycle… in Re-velstoke. My business couldn’t exist without people who want to avoid throwing things away just because they are slightly damaged. Repairing clothing and gear is a huge part of what my shop offers our community. I love to see people purchasing items at the thrift shop and cutting them up and transforming them into something completely different.

I love that. I love the creativity and ingenuity that goes into that process.

It’s fun when customers bring their projects in to show me. It’s inspiring.

Like most people, I want my holiday season to be meaningful. If I’m going to give gifts it’s going to be done within my financial means and it will be because I want to express my love for those people dearest to me. And hey, I’m happy for any excuse to bake and knit! I’m all for less stress during the holiday season. I’ll be in a lovely state of Zen, knitting under a blanket in my comfy chair as the snow falls outside.

Happy Knitting!