Posts tagged ‘Christmas’

Christmas Crafts, Part II

I started making presents for my family as a kid.  My mom wanted my sister and I to give back to all of our cousins, aunts, and grandparents, so she started the tradition.  Once I got to college, I kept making presents for everyone, basically because I was poor.  At this point, it has become a tradition and a challenge for me to make something different every year.

I try to make something that is either functional or consumable.  This year, I came up with a great craft idea: making magnets using those glass pebbles they put in vases to hold flower arrangements.  I had seen homemade ones with family photos in them in a cubicle at the county planning office in Ogden.  The glass magnifies the photo glued to the backside, and it seemed like a simple and useful gift.

I have a variety of magazines, including several old National Geographics, that I thought I would use for the pictures.  I also saved my AAA magazines and any catalog that came into the house in December, just in case (which turned out to be a good thing).  The biggest problem I had was finding clear glass pebbles, and I thought that was going to be the easy part.  I could only find them in the small size, and even then, when I went to work with them, I discovered that most of them had iridescent paint on the backs, that got in the way of viewing the picture.   I decided on a set of 5 magnets for each person, and needed a total of 11 sets. I sorted through the pebbes I had bought and managed to find just enough that were either clear or had very little paint.

So I had tiny glass pebbles, about the size of my thumbnail, and now I needed tiny pictures.  The National Geographics weren’t of much use, but there were enough small images in the catalogs and the AAA magazines that I managed to find enough pictures that fit. I used a single pebble as a template, to see if the image was likely to fit, and then snipped out small squares from the catalogues to give me some wiggle-room.  I wanted to make each set themed, and had a few themes in mind, so as I went I looked for some kinds of images in particular.  I also realized that simple patterns made nice images too, and collected several of them.  Once I had a wide selection of squares snipped, I went through them all and chose the individual sets that I wanted.  I decided on additional themes at this point, and in some cases I had to go back through the magazines to try and find enough images or patterns of that type to complete the set.

some of the sets

Because there was variation in the exact size and shape of the pebbles, once I had my sets of images chosen, I would grab a pebble, trace the outline onto the paper, and then cut each one out individually.  That also helped me frame the image as well as possible, since several of the pebbles were more oval-shaped and some images fit better either vertically or horizontally.  Once each piece was cut from the paper, I used a little paintbrush to spread Modge Podge on the flat back of the pebble.  I pressed the paper to the Modge Podge, with the image I wanted visible facing down, then immediately brushed a second layer of glue onto the back on the paper.  This helped seal the paper from both sides, and also saturated the paper, keeping it from curling back from the pebble.  Once the glue was on, I would press the paper onto the pebble, making sure all of the edges were smoothed down.  It meant that my fingers got sticky and messy from the glue, but did a good job of getting the paper flat.  I just had to be sure to put on enough glue to begin with, and to work quickly, otherwise the glue would get tacky and start to pull the back of the paper off and onto my hands.

I let all of the pebbles dry thoroughly, paper-side up.  Then I took small round magnets and attached them to the backs of the pebbles, on top of the paper, with glue dots.  It turned out the dots were exactly the same size as the magnets, and I hoped they would be strong enough to hold the pebbles on securely.  When I was done, it was easy to scrape any dried glue off the front of the glass pebbles with a fingernail.  Then I wrapped each set in tissue paper and tied it with some raffia.

I didn’t get pictures of every set, but here are a few examples.


I popped most of the wrapped packages into a box with the rest of my presents going to RI.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to put much packing material in the box.  As it turned out, during shipping the magnets all tore out of their tissue paper wrappings and stuck to one another, and some of the magnets did come loose from their pebbles.  My mom had to re-group and re-wrap all of the magnets.  I described the sets for her in an email, so I hope that people were actually given the sets I had designed, but if a few magnets were off, it’s not that big of a deal.  From what I heard, everyone enjoyed figuring out what was on their set and showing their magnets to each other, so the gifts were a success!

I wanted to make some for myself, but as I said, there weren’t enough clear pebbles to have any left over.  So I guess I’ll just have to do this another time if I want a set of my own!

Christmas Crafts, Part I

Now that the holidays are over, I finally get to post pictures of my homemade Christmas presents!

To start, there are the knitted gifts.  I got requests for three different knitted gifts this year.  My mom wanted a small gift, and my cousin M had requests for her daughter, A, and her brand-new granddaughter, L.  I guess the knitting I did for Christmas last year, and L’s knitted baby gifts, have let the cat out of the bag when it comes to my knitting abilities, but I don’t mind.

M’s first request was a hat for her granddaughter, L.  The original pattern she found was a purchaseable  pattern on Etsy.  It was made from a chunky yarn, and absolutely adorable.

the inspiration

But M wanted a hat that was multicolored, and specifically asked for all different colors so that it would go with anything.  I looked around a little bit, and found a very similar free pattern for the POOF baby hat by Julie Armin online.  Her pattern had a smaller gauge, as it wasn’t written for a chunky yarn.  I figured, in order to get the multicolored hat, I would find a nice variegated yarn.

Well, I’m not sure that the yarn I chose would be described as “nice.”  In fact, blindingly bright would be a better description, I think.  But it was the only yarn I could find that wasn’t variegated in a single color scheme.  I hoped that M and A would like it, since I knew L wasn’t going to have much of an opinion.  But honestly, I was so worried about the color, I almost made L a second hat in a different yarn just in case.  The only thing that really stopped me was the fact that I ran out of time!  I wanted it to be a little chunkier, so I actually knit this up with double yarn, finding the same point in the variegation so that the colors of the two yarns would remain consistent, even though differences in tension made the colors creep a little bit relative to one another.  The only thing working for me was the fact that the variegation lined up in a way that it looked tie-dyed, and not just a jumbled mess.

is it tie-dyed?

The next request was from my mom, for some little pumpkin decorations she also saw on Etsy.  They were super cute, tiny fall decorations, in an interesting color palette. 

tiny pumpkins

But they were actually made from solid wool felt, and weren’t knitted.  I know how to make felt from raw wool, but I had no idea where to find raw wool.  So I decided to knit them.  I tried to duplicate the colors, but my options in 100% wool were rather limited.  I found a more saturated pink and a much brighter green than the mossy green shown here.  I also now realize that I completely forgot to put stems on them!  But I knitted up completely round balls in garter stitch, stuffed them with fiberfill, pulled the tails through the centers to help flatten them a bit, and then felted them in the wash, with each one tucked inside the toe of a sock.  I then used the tension of some brown embroidery floss to really flatten them and to make the ribs, and made hanging loops from the floss as well.  They have a very different texture than the originals because of the knitting.  I think they came out pretty cute, but I now realize, I never got a finished picture of them!  Tragic.  Here are the first two steps at least.



The next request was from my cousin M again, a pair of long cabled mittens for her daughter, A.  I recognized them immediately as  Twilight-inspired knitting, and had little difficulty finding a free pattern online at Subliminal Rabbit’s blog.  I haven’t done a whole lot of cabling, but this looked like a fairly easy cable to work.

the original

M specified that the gloves should be either black or gray, so I decided to go with a nice, soft silvery-gray washable nylon yarn, to make sure that they would hold up to some washing without a lot of special treatment.  The pattern knit up quite easily, as I suspected the cable pattern was fairly simple, and the only problem I had was with holes appearing around the added stitches around the thumb gusset.  But I always seem to have that problem, so I simply used a long tail on the end of each thumb to help fill them in.  The silvery yarn didn’t photograph very well, so this is the best I could do.

finished mitten

Once I had these three project finished, I realized that there was one more cousin I needed a gift for, my 15-year old cousin C.  It seemed like it might be nice to knit him something too.  I asked his mom what he might like or use, and she said he liked to go snowboarding, and tended to wear earflap hats.  She also said that he had a hat with a mohawk on it, so I decided that the wilder this hat was, the better.

I had tried to knit earflap hats before, but had always added the flaps onto a completed hat.  This time, I decided to find a pattern and do it properly.  I surfed around and found a basic pattern by Leef Bloomenstiel that seemed to be clearly written.

the inspiration

I wanted to do a completely different design from hers, however.  I had a skein of thick, black wool yarn, which I realized wouldn’t be really easy-care for a teenaged boy, but it should do a good job of keeping his head warm.  I decided to include some of that rainbow yarn that I had used on the baby hat, to add interest.  The hat pattern starts with the earflaps, then you cast on the remainder of the circumference and knit the rest of the hat.  I settled on black and rainbow stripes that start on the earflaps, and then stop a short ways up the hat.  Instead of the rounded top, I took the final stitches and knit them as an I-cord for a little less than an inch, to put a little point on the top.  I finished it off with braided black-and-rainbow ties on each flap.  I finished it very early the morning before I had to mail everything out to RI, so the pictures I took are before I finished weaving in all the ends, but I think it came out pretty good.  Just ridiculous enough for a teenaged boy to think it was cool, I hoped.  I also included a slip of paper warming C’s mom that the hat needed to be hand washed, unless they wanted it to shrink to a third of its original size.

snowboarding hat

The biggest news in all of this was the fact that I finally, for the first time, “fixed” the way that I knit.  Ordinarily, I purl correctly, but I knit into the backs of my stitches.  This puts a twist into those stitches, but if I am working on a two-sided project, my purl rows undo the twists.  If I am working in the round, however, like you do when you knit hats, socks, and mittens, my twisted stitches never untwist.  This tends to make the tops of my hats spiral, and also makes my socks and other projects spiral.  In hats, it’s not a big deal, but with other projects it is a problem.  The one pair of socks I have knit for myself almost never get worn, because the heels are always trying to make their way to the top of my foot.  Since I didn’t want this to happen with A’s mittens, I taught myself to knit “properly,” knitting into the front of the stitch.  No twisted mittens!

I also made a bunch of non-knitted gifts for my family, like I do every year, but that will be the next post.  Stay tuned!

How I Ruined Our First Married Christmas

I jinxed us with the Christmas letter I wrote.  I should have known better.

I was being all positive, counting our blessings, claiming we were both happy and healthy, but I went that one step too far by stating flat out that the “only bad news of the year” was Cara’s recent injuries.  I should have waited until January 1st before I wrote something like that.  I was tempting fate, Murphy’s Law, and the Evil Eye with that one.

Christmas morning, I woke to a husband who had been dealing with abdominal pain and vomiting all night.  He hadn’t slept a wink since 2:45 am, when his gut suddenly started hurting.  But he insisted the pain would go away soon, and I should go ahead with my family’s traditional Christmas conference call.  He thought soaking in a hot tub might help, so I got a bath drawn with him resting in it, and then headed downstairs to take turns opening packages over the phone with my parents (in Massachussets) and my sister (in North Carolina).  A crazy tradition of ours that started in the last few years, but adorable too.

By the end of our call, T was lying on the couch next to me with his eyes closed, but definitely not sleeping.  He agreed that it was time to head for the hospital, but he needed time for the nausea caused by coming downstairs to settle down before he could move.  While we waited for that, he drifted off and slept for about 15 minutes, but the pain woke him up again.  So we headed for the nearest ER.

Fortunately, not many people want to go to the ER on Christmas, so there was no wait.  They got him into a bed, and doctors and nurses were taking his personal and family medical history, blood pressure, temperature, and blood for lab tests within a few minutes.  He had pain that started at the sternum and radiated down his right side, just under the edge of his rib cage.  By the time we got to the ER, it was starting to radiate down his left side as well.  The doctor thought it was either gallstones, since he was showing the classic symptoms, or possibly an ulcer.  T was betting on an ulcer.

To make the diagnosis, they used a few techniques.  First, the ER doc used a small bedside ultrasound to look for gallstones.  He also gave T what he called a “GI cocktail,” basically Maalox and a numbing agent, which if it provided temporary relief might point to an ulcer.  But the mini-ultrasound seemed to show gallstones, so they shipped T off for a full-scale ultrasound.

I went with him, and got to see parts of my husband I’d never seen before.  Like his kidneys, spleen, lungs and gallbladder, both lengthwise and in cross-section.  (The tech was captioning her images as she went, otherwise I’d have thought we were having a boy.)  When the tech was finished and stepped out for a minute, T swore it was an ulcer, since his stomach was feeling much better with the GI cocktail.  But as she wheeled him back to the ER, she let us know she’d definitely seen gallstones.

While we waited on the doc, T was given some anti-nausea medication and a touch of morphine.  He was buzzing a little, but still quite coherent when the doc came back and said he needed his gallbladder removed.  He said he’d called the surgeon in on Christmas, against his will, but it was necessary.  When the surgeon finally came in a little while later to talk to us, he said people can have their gallbladder removed in the morning and be home the same afternoon.  T asked if we could put off the surgery until the next morning, since he didn’t want to ruin a whole surgical team’s Christmas day.  The surgeon thought that was very generous of him, and didn’t think there was any risk at all from putting the surgery off, so they scheduled him for first thing the next morning, at 8 am.

Later, T asked if I was okay with the delay.  I said I’d rather have it out and know he was ok and on the mend sooner, but if the surgeon didn’t mind, then I could wait too.  T then divulged his real motivation, and proved once again that he’s smarter than me: he really didn’t want the team rushing through the surgery to get back to their families, and wanted to wait so that all of their attention could be on him the next day.  With this rationale, I was more okay with the wait.

So they admitted him that evening, gave him a liquid dinner, which was better than nothing, and kept him comfortable on morphine during the night.  I went home, fed the dogs and myself, called my folks with the news, watched Avatar to keep my mind off things (probably not the very best choice, given the ending), and then took a Benadryl so that I could actually get some sleep that night.  It kinda worked.

T told me not to worry about getting to the hospital before his surgery, just to be there when he woke up.  He sent me a text around 7:45, just before they took him into surgery.  I got to the hospital around 10 am, and he wasn’t out of recovery yet, so I waited in his room.  When they finally wheeled him in, he was holding something kinda bloody in a little plastic specimen jar.  I was afraid it was his gallbladder, but no, instead it was “the largest gallstone the doctor had ever seen.”  (This piece of information was repeated several times during the course of the day, with pride, but since he was looped up on drugs I forgave him the repetition.  I also promised to tell all my girlfriends he had the largest one the doctor had ever seen.)  He was still pretty woozy from the anaesthesia, but he was definitely feeling much better than he had been before the surgery.

The rest of the day was just a waiting game.  T slept, ate some solid food, and did a lap up and down the hallway to prove he was recovering well.  I sat in the chair by his bed and watched him, watched TV (Airplane! and Cliffhanger), played Piccross on my brand-new Nintendo DSi (thanks Mom and Dad!), and read my latest copy of Mental Floss (a great magazine that everyone should go check out).  T kept trying to get me to go home, but I wasn’t budging.  Finally, around 5 pm, he convinced me to go back to the house, get some dinner (the hospital cafeteria was worse than most, I’d discovered at lunch), feed the dogs, and he’d give me a call as soon as he knew he was good to go.  I got home and only got halfway through dinner before he called and said I could come pick him up.  We got him into the car, stopped at a pharmacy for some prescription pain meds on the way home, and he was at the house by 8 pm.  Only 12 hours after having a whole organ removed.  He was even feeling well enough to open his Christmas presents that night!

He mostly slept on the couch that night, and I got to re-dress his incisions the next morning.  Since the surgery is done laproscopically these days, he has four small incisions: one vertically just below his belly-button, one in the center of his chest, and two high on his right side.  None of them had stitches in them, and in fact, all they had used to close the wounds were little X-es of skinny surgical tape!  I was able to dress each of them with just a square Band-Aid apiece.  Talk about the marvels of modern medicine.  He needs to stay home for a week, and then he can only be on light duty (no heavy lifting or scaffold climbing) for a second week, and then he should be healed up and good to go.  The surgeon even confirmed that he should be completely unconcerned about scuba diving in March on our honeymoon.

Lakeview Hospital, Bountiful, UT

All the staff at the hospital were great, and if you ever find yourself in need of care in Bountiful, Utah, don’t hesitate to go to Lakeview Hospital.  (Just don’t eat the food if you can avoid it.)

And even though I jinxed us, I can definitely say this is a Christmas we’ll never forget.  And of all the things I got for Christmas this year, a healthy husband was by far the best one of all.  *grin*

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

WARNING: For those of you who are sensitive about this topic, I am going to be discussing the true nature of Santa Claus.  So read further at your own peril.


As I mentioned in a previous post, I celebrated every Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house.  This meant that my family and I were in Rhode Island on Christmas Day every year, while our house, our tree, and — most importantly — our chimney were all in upstate New York, 365 miles away.  So I didn’t grow up with the experience of waking my parents before dawn on December 25th to see what Santa had left under our tree.  We had to wait until we got home.  We would usually stay in Rhode Island through the New Year, and then drive the 8 hours home along I-90.  When we got home, no matter what time of day or night it was, the Christmas tree lights would be lit, the stockings would be full, and presents would fill the space beneath our tree.  It was an extra layer of Christmas magic that could not be easily explained, since our parents were in the car with us the whole way home.

One year, I distinctly remember Santa coming early so that we could have Christmas before we drove to my grandparents’.  My mom, sister and I had gone out to buy some last-minute gifts, and when we got home, the tree that we had left off was lit in the middle of the day.  My mom first noticed this and pointed it out when we were in the driveway.  When we got inside, Santa had come early, just for us!  I immediately ran back outside, thinking that I would be able to see the reindeer’s tracks in the fresh snow on our roof — and they were there.  A single line of tracks, to be sure, and roughly squirrel-sized, but the poem says tiny reindeer, right?  It was proof enough for me.


So every year, my sister and I went through the toy section of the thick department store catalogues that were sent to the house (anyone else old enough to remember this?), made out our Christmas lists, and then sent them off to Santa.  As my sister and I got older, belief in most of the pantheon of magical beings went by the wayside.  (I actually remember going to the principal of my elementary school with a few other kids in 2nd or 3rd grade to complain about a book in our classroom that debunked the Tooth Fairy myth.  We were trying to be morally outraged.  He was surprisingly unsympathetic.)  But we could never quite explain away Santa.

We took a crack at it one year.  My mom promised to tell the truth, if we guessed right.  Did my parents put the gifts under the tree while we were waiting for them in the car?  No, there clearly wasn’t enough time for that.  Did they hide the gifts with our neighbor Elaine, who always took care of our cats while we were gone, and have her put them under the tree?  No, they didn’t do that either.  Several minutes of questioning left us stumped.  There was no other explanation: Santa was real.


I remember walking home from school with my best friend Stacey at age 12, with the two of us comparing all of the evidence we had for the existence of Santa.  We compared traditions, told stories of the year we got a letter, or an ornament direct from Santa, complete with our names on them.  We were proving to ourselves that he could be real, willingly suspending a belief that most kids have grown out of by the time they get to that age.

So that year, or maybe even the next, my family came home from Rhode Island, and walked into a house that was cold and dark.  The stockings were empty.  The floor under the tree was bare.  I was shocked to see the house looking so desolate.  I turned to my mother and burst into tears.  She was surprised, and hugged me with a somewhat bewildered look on her face.  And then she reminded us that, years ago, she had told us Santa would stop coming to our house when we stopped believing in him.  I’m pretty sure I wailed something along the lines of, “I do believe in him!”  But she pointed out the simple fact that I had missed: this was the first year that neither my sister or I had made out a list for Santa.  And I realized that she was right, I deserved nothing under the tree, because for the first time I had forgotten about Santa.


We went upstairs, gathered up all the wrapped presents, brought them downstairs, and filled the stockings.  It was a fine Christmas, once I got over the initial shock.  And I got used to walking into a dark house every year, and then bringing down the presents one at a time to put under the tree.  But I think there was a grain of truth hidden in what my mother said.  Santa only stops coming if you stop believing.  And I decided at a young age to believe. 

Because now, every year, I am excited to make and give gifts from my heart to the people I love, and to see the surprise and excitement on their faces when I manage to find exactly the right gift.  That’s my inner Santa at work.  And as long as you learn how to go from waiting for Santa, to being Santa, you know that he will be there every year, bringing the magic and the surprise of Christmas into your home.  At least, that’s what I believe.

The Kid’s Table

As I mentioned in my last post (if you bothered to read the whole thing — I know it was long), we have a very large family gathering every year on Christmas Eve.  My extended family is fairly large (for non-Mormons), and due to a significant age difference between my mom and her two sisters, the generations are kind of staggered.  Add in my cousins’ spouses and then children over the years, and now those children’s significant others, and we’re talking almost 20 people.  There are never enough seats at the main table.

I distinctly remember being pretty small and getting to eat at the coffe table in my grandmother’s parlor with my little sister and two or three of our older cousins.  I was thrilled at the specialness of the occasion, because it meant 1) eating in the parlor, which was usually off limits, and 2) no adult supervision during dinner, which was a big deal for me at the time.  But I am sure those cousins were in their mid- to late-teens, and were probably sick and tired of being stuck at the kids table.  I think I even remember grumblings along those lines as we ate dinner.

Right now, the youngest of my cousins’ children are in high school, and there is even going to be a cousin’s brand-new grandchild at the table this year, but I am sure that, depite the fact that no one is a little kid anymore, there will have to be a kids table.  Even with my sister and I unable to make it home for Christmas this year.  I’m sure there are people in your family, too who have complained about being “stuck” at the kids’ table year after year, well past the point when they were truly kids.

Thinking about my younger cousins’ plight, I remembered the first year that my sister and I both made it to the grown-up table.  We were both in high school, I think I was a junior and she was a freshman.  We were so shocked to fit everyone at a single table, my sister blurted out the question, “Who died?” without thinking first.

The answer was, my aunt J.  She had passed away the previous year from a brain tumor, on December 23rd, and she was on everyone’s minds that year.  My sister immediately felt awful for what she had said.  But my mom smoothed things over, pointing out that our cousin S was in Maine now with his wife and kids, and L and her husband were in Kansas, and our grandmother had also passed away a few years before (and my other aunt might not have been speaking to the rest of the family that year).  For all those reasons, it was a small Christmas, small enough that we all fit at the one table. 

So this year, thinking about how my sister and I made it to the adult table has really changed how I think about the whole idea of a kids table. Now I hope there’s a kids table every year.  It’s not a punishment to sit there, it’s a privilege.  Because it means that you are surrounded by family — even if they are all eating at the grownup table in the other room.

Christmas Funk

For some reason, I am not at all in the Christmas spirit this year.  Maybe it’s the lack of snow, since the foot of snow we got around Thanksgiving has long since melted away.  Maybe it’s the lack of sleep from dealing with Cara’s injuries.  Maybe it’s the monetary stress added by her vet bills.  Maybe it’s simply the fact that T and I will be celebrating by ourselves in our new home, instead of joining the Christmas hullabaloo that is generated by my family in Rhode Island.  All I know is, I am not feeling Christmassy this year.

We don’t have a tree yet.  I haven’t decorated the house in any way, shape, or form.  I couldn’t even come up with a good Christmas list this year.  And I just did all of my Christmas shopping online, today, during my lunch break.  It was quick and dirty, and I’m not very excited about the gifts I got for my family.

I am happy with the gift we got for my dad, relatively satisfied with what we got for my sister, feeling like I didn’t do enough for my mom, and still thinking about T’s present.  I have made gifts for my aunts and all my cousins, as is my tradition, but they are small and, I fear, unimpressive this year, even if they are useful.  I did knit a few gifts on request, and I hope that they will go over well.  But I won’t see anyone’s faces when they open my presents, and that is the best part, really.

I have one more gift to knit, and then I can pop everything homemade into prepaid shipping boxes and send them on their way.


I can tell you exactly what will happen to my gifts as Christmas Eve nears.  They will join the pile under and around the Christmas tree in the house that was my grandparents’, where my cousin D now lives.  It is an artificial tree, set on top of milk crates to make lots of room below, tied to the ceiling so it doesn’t tip over, with spotlights on it so that its glory can be seen by any and all passers-by through the front window.  The pile underneath it will start building on the 22nd or 23rd, eventually being topped off on the evening of 24th.

There’s a good chance, since everyone knows I make the same gift for the whole family, that my presents will actually end up on the shelf above the couch.  From there, they will have a good view of the long table in the center of the room, set for at least 12 people, and they might even be able to peek into the kitchen to see the extra 5-7 seats there, along with the buffet spread out around the perimeter of the room.  They will see my parents, my aunt, and all my cousins as they begin to gather for a feast of ham, pork pie, pasta with my grandmother’s meat sauce, and all the trimmings, including the requisite relish trays filled with pickles and olives that run down the center of the table.  They will see someone turn the heat down or off as so many bodies and voices fill and heat the room.  My gifts won’t be able to hear themselves think over the din, but they can sit back and listen to any of a half-dozen conversations criss-crossing over the tables.

After dinner is complete, the table will be pushed back so that the far end is against the kitchen wall, making more room in front of the tree.  Some people will have come for dinner in their pajamas, while some will change into them now.  Everyone will take their traditional seats on the couches to either side of the tree, at the table, on chairs, and on the floor.  My dad will go around the room and take bets on the total number of presents under the tree, just like my grandfather used to, and he will keep track on the very same blotter that has been used for almost 20 years, reminding everyone of last years’ total so they can gauge their guess this year.

One person, probably my cousin N, will play Santa, passing out gifts to everyone in turn, and calling out who it is to and from, along with the cry “One more, Uncle J-!” to my father each time.  Each gift will be opened and admired by the whole group before the next one is passed out.  Someone, usually a young male cousin, will be stuck with a trash bag for wrapping paper, which will be lobbed in crinkled balls at his head throughout the night.

Throughout it all, conversations will continue to flow.  At some point, as everyone’s attention starts to wane, my mother will come out of the kitchen with dessert.  There is always monkey bread, and cream sandwiches, made from puff pastry filled with homemade whipped cream and either chocolate pudding or raspberry jam.  After everyone has had the opportunity to eat and stretch, it’s back to your places to finish opening presents.

Throughout the night there will be phone calls, from cousins in Maine and Colorado, my sister in North Carolina and me in Utah, with the phone passed around to say Merry Christmas to everyone.  As the crates supporting the tree become visible and the presents start to run out, someone will reach up onto the shelf and N will pass all my gifts out at once, giving my father a total count to add to his tally.  I hope, for my gifts’ sake, there will be some oohs and aahs when they are opened.  The final few gifts are stashed in the tree itself, and my cousins’ youngest children get to hunt through the branches to find them.

Once the last gift has been passed out, the total number is announced, and the person whose guess came the closest without going over gets a crisp $5 bill.  Then there is more nibbling of cookies and desserts, chatting and laughing, the packing up of gifts into boxes and bags to be carried out to cars, accompanied by the grandfather clock striking 10 pm, 11, maybe even midnight.  And then our family Christmas is over, and the little ones go home to bed, knowing that Santa will come with even more gifts the next day.

That is the Christmas that I am missing this year.  I know that T and I will be making Christmas traditions of our own, and maybe that is what I need to focus on to get my Christmas groove back.  Family is what makes Christmas special, and the two of us are all the family we need for it to be magic.

Paper Snowflakes for Grownups

As soon as Halloween was over and the first white flake was floating in the air, my coworker C was making paper snowflakes.  She has a passion for them, and makes dozens every year.  Soon, not only did the windows of her office start to fill up, but snowflakes started appearing in other people’s offices too, all snipped by C.

flakes indoors and out

I’m pretty good with paper and a pair of scissors, and I always loved making snowflakes, even into my teens, but it had been a long time since I’d made one.  Then a lovely, delicate snowflake appeared on my office window:

C's flake

The gauntlet had been thrown.  I had to make a flake.

Because some of the curlicues in C’s flakes reminded me of the designs the Kyrgyz people use in their felt carpets, called shyrdaks, I decided to make a shyrdak-inspired snowflake.  My their nature, these designs are bi-laterally symmetrical, so I knew they would work well in this medium.  I also had practice drawing these designs, since I wrote my thesis on them, and often sketched a design in my field notes.  I folded my sheet of copier paper into eighths, took a long while to draw a complete design out, and then started snipping away.

Kyrgyz-inspired flake

the inspiration

(I was really quite proud of how this came out, and am trying to figure out how I can preserve it once the holidays are over.  But that’s another post.)

Meanwhile, C was still snipping away.  Turns out, she does all of her flakes freehand.  Since I used to make snowflakes that way, I decided to try one.  It came out looking like the Girl Scout symbol in tiger print.  I hated it, but C pretended that she liked it, so it went in with the growing collection on her office door.

find my flake?

 It was back to the drawing board, literally.  Once I realized that symmetry was the key, I started thinking about other possible themed designs.  Since I’m an archaeologist, I figured I needed to make one of these:

projectile point flake

And then for the historical archaeologists in the office, I of course had to make this one:

bottle flake

 I started looking up actual photographs of snowflakes for inspiration, and realized that ice crystals for in a six-spoke pattern, not an eight-spoke one.  So I folded a sheet of copier paper in half, then accordioned it into just three folds, and lined up the edges as best I could before creasing.  (I shared this technique with C, as you can tell from a few of the flakes on her office door.)  Looking at real snowflake outlines for inspiration, I drew and cut this flake:

ice flake

When I tried another one, attempting to somehow integrate all the great patterns created by ice crystals in the center of real flakes, I ended up with something that looked like Eastern European folk art, or a wood block print:

Polish flake

Meanwhile, I had mentioned colored snowflakes to C, who was having a great time experimenting with them in her office:

bright flakes

spiders, crabs, or frogs?

Finally, she gave me another inspiration for a snowflake design, something she does all the time freehand, but that I had to draw out before I could pull it off.  Can you figure out the basis for this design?

mystery design

In a year when budgets are tight, why not try making snowflakes for your office, home, or tree decorations?  You don’t need to be a little kid to like them!