Thursday, December 31, 2009
...and every mother's child is going to spy,
to see if reindeer really know how to fly....
("The Christmas Song")* My family is known for their big Christmas celebrations and this year was no exception. We spent it at my sister's in Dallas and there were so many presents that they spilled out from the under-the-Christmas-tree-area and had to be strategically placed all over the living room. We also had the pleasure on Christmas Morning of waking up to a white Christmas, which is a rare treat, because none of us can remember the last time Dallas actually had a white Christmas!
On that wonderful Christmas morning we all opened up the umpteen presents--- and even my niece's cat seemed to take delight in all the discarded wrappings and bows!
Speaking of my darling niece, there is nothing quite as as delightful as a college student's delerious happiness over opening a 32" flat screen TV. (Hey....how come I never got a 32" flat screen TV when I was her age?)
Later on my niece was a good girl and set the table for our Christmas dinner. My sister had decided that she was going to cook an "English Christmas Dinner" , the main course consisting of a prime rib roast and Yorkshire Puddings---the prime rib part which would prove to have several pitfalls. You see, several days before Christmas my naive sister had hurriedly instructed her butcher that she wanted to order an "Eight pound Prime Rib". Upon noticing the incredulous expression on the butcher's face, my sister had indignantly stated: "I know that's a big one, but I want there to be enough for leftovers". So the hapless butcher simply shrugged and took her order. On Christmas Eve my sister cheerily went to pick up the prime rib.... and promptly had a near-cardiac arrest when told the price of the behemoth size of meat. It cost $150.00. Yes, one hundred and fifty damn dollars...... But, not the type of person to be daunted by the mere price of good beef, she simply paid for the roast and brought the dang thing home. Sometime later her more down-to-earth boyfriend came crashing into the kitchen, frantically looking for the roast, declaring loudly: "This I gotta see! A damn piece of meat which costs $150!" "Yep," I replied from my perch on a nearby counter, having already experienced my own conniption fit when I'd viewed the roast's price, "And by my math, I figure each bite costs about $11.50..."
Anyhoo, never one to flip out over unexpected issues like the price of eight pound roasts, my sister continued on with her English-style dinner and squealed with delight over the Yorkshire Puddings when they emerged from the oven. She had fretted and labored all day long over the little puddings, wondering aloud worriedly if the fact that we had not been able to find a proper popover pan anywhere in Dallas would affect their quality. So she had finally settled for cooking the puddings in a deep muffin tin. It didn't matter to me---for I have never seen nor tasted Yorkshire Puddings in my entire life and thought the ones my sister had cooked were wonderfully delicious no matter which type of pan they had been cooked in.
(And, as we all crowded around to watch them cook through the oven window, they certainly did seem to rise into a proper "pop"--- and then "fall" around a middle indentation properly---just like in the pictures of them in the English cookbook. In fact, I'll wager that nary a batch of English Yorkshire Puddings has ever been watched so closely as this one....)
(But what pan do they use in Great Britain? Do they have actual Yorkshire Pudding pans rather than popover or muffin tins? And I wonder where you could buy them in Dallas?)
Then, after eating the huge banquet, we had to honor a Christmas tradition and go drive through the neighborhoods which compete for prizes by how fabulously they decorate their homes for the holiday. Some of the houses were quite dazzling. Below is the house which won the prize for the "Most Traditional", as you can see from the award banner on their front lawn. (Most traditional? I would have thought it would have won the "Most Similar to National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation House", but that's just my opinion....)
Finally, it was time to make the trek to my uncle's house in the swamps of Louisiana, where we were going to celebrate another Christmas. On the way to Louisiana I made the acquaintance of a very nice horse.
Soon we approached the Ouachita River, the water level of which (in my uncle's area) has gone way down since its previous flood level, where it had been when my mother and I had gone there by boat to celebrate Thanksgiving. My uncle's place is now approachable by 4-wheel drive vehicles over dank, puddled and mud-ditched dirt roads, many of which have been fortified by straw and sand bags. But this situation is going to change soon, as the local officials have predicted that the river will again rise to flood stage soon, due to the recent heavy rains in Texas and Arkansas.
Poor Blaine's eyes were all agog as we drove through the endless swamps by the groves of cypress trees under water. And then, after arriving at my uncle's place, he turned a little pale when my uncle mentioned that he had recently spied another alligator in his yard, a 3-4 foot one--- and also that one of his friends had seen a ten footer in his own yard last Tuesday. I warned Blaine that he should stay in the house most of the time. And I also told him that if by chance he ever noticed something on the ground which looked like a "stick", that he should avoid it like the plague since it was most likely a snake.
(After my uncle's and my warnings, Blaine had whispered to me furiously: "Maybe we shouldn't have said we'd stay till Wednesday--- maybe we should leave on Tuesday instead?")
The below is the recipient of my hellacious aran sweater effort---and he loved it to death! He wore it to work the next morning and said everybody loved it on him. That made me feel pretty good.
And then all too soon it was time for Blaine and me to go home to Kansas. And so, reluctantly, Blaine and I took to the road again. And let me tell you, the whole way home the weather was awful, getting more snowy and cold with each passing mile. Even the cliff faces were frozen.
Along the way, we decided that we were too dog-tired to do the whole ride in one day, and so we pulled our snow-covered car into a snow-covered Holiday Inn. All I wanted to do was to get into a warm bed, but I did notice the giant, life-sized Santa Clause in the inn's lobby.
(As I passed Santa, I whispered: "Hey, thanks for the gifts, man....")
The next day was still bitterly cold, and the weather alternated between drizzly greyness and snow flurries for miles on end--- but onwards we trudged, plotting our course with the help of Blaine's new toy, a Garmin GPS doo-dad which irks me no end. In fact, I hate that thing. It actually talks to you.
For example, whenever we took a wrong turn, it went to great lengths to verbally tell us how to get back on the right track. It says things like: "Recalculating..... now please turn around at next intersection." There was one time when Blaine had accidentally turned onto a dead end road and the damn Garmin thing told us so---and I am not proud to admit that I promptly exclaimed: "No shit, Sherlock!"
Anyhoo, onwards we drove through Indian Territory in Arkansas and Oklahoma. I love all things Indian and wanted to stop at a souvenir shop but I knew better than to ask. My mother had given me two cunningly beautiful, soft leather pairs of beaded Minnetonka Thunderbird moccasins for Christmas and I knew Blaine would have given me a stop-dead, "you've got to be kidding me", withering look if I'd so much as MENTIONED wanting to look at anything else Indian....
I knew we were getting close to Kansas when I saw the cows, who ignored my friendly wavings.
And then....finally....we were home... whereupon Blaine suddenly launched into his yearly cuss-fest about how the snow plows never quite seem to take our street seriously.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
We just got back home from our holiday in Texas and Louisiana, only to find Kansas under a couple feet of snow. Anyway, I have TONS of pictures of Christmas in Texas and our side-trip to the swamp of Lousiana, and I'll get a blog post up in the next day or so---after I unpack, aaargh!!!
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!
Thank you to all my wonderful friends who share my life on this blog--- thank you so much for being there for me, through thick and thin. And thank you for your support and all the kind and nice things you've said on my comments page. Please know that I love each and every one of you and that I hope you all have a fabulous holiday!
Blaine and I are at my sister's house in Dallas. Today's Christmas Eve and, sure enough, Blaine and I are having to brave the drizzly rainy, cold weather to go out yet again for that last minute gift. The weather says we might even get a little snow later this day, and we would be so excited if that happens!
Anyway, I'll catch back up with you guys after Christmas. And I will include all of you in my Christmas Tree Wish tonight because, remember, you're entitled to one wish on the Christmas Tree on Christmas Eve! I'm using mine to wish for the very best for all of us in the coming New Year!
Take care.... :)
Sunday, December 20, 2009
* After much wailing, gnashing of teeth, and whining to anybody who would listen, I finally ripped out the neck on the aran pullover and knitted it this way. I extended the honeycomb cabling up to the bound off edge, surrounded by 1 x 1 ribbing. (To see all the other handcrafted items I made in my mother's studio for Christmas gifts, see the post below.) * *
* Tah-dah!!! I finally finished all the handcrafted Christmas gifts for certain people. I am also giving them some "bought" gifts, but I also wanted to give some handcrafted things---especially since my mother's art studios are so fantastically packed with hundreds of things for whichever craft you want to do! The above is a picture of a "shell box", the back side. This gift is for my niece, who is an artist and loves unusual, unique things. The "shell box" is made with sea shells from all over the world. My mother brought many of them home from Kuwait during the years when she was still working for the United States Foreign Service as a diplomat and was traveling in the Middle East. (The below is the front side.) The top of the shell box is removable. Both the top lid of the box and the bottom portion are kind of heavy with all those shells on them...
The above picture is some mosaiced frames I made for the people in the pictures. And the below picture is a pencil/pen box,another gift for my niece, who is a college student.
The above and below pictures are the God Box that I'm going to give to my sister. (For a definition of a God Box, see my previous post.)
The below are necklaces I beaded for my sister and my niece. (I hope they like them...)
The below is my favorite gift for my sister. I bought the kind of pillowcases that she uses on her bed (350 count, cotton) and then my mother sewed onto them some yardage of my late grandmother's crocheted lace. (I am an appallingly bad sewer...) My sister wasn't there when my uncle told me that I could have anything of my grandmother's needlework that I wanted, and so I had grabbed a bunch of wonderful stuff--- but I want to share some of it with my sister so that she, too, can have a memento of my grandmother. (And I have even more of my grandmother's crocheted things that I'm going to do something with for my sister's upcoming birthday.)
Okay, below is the almost-finished, dadgum, durn, aggravating Last-Minute Christmas Aran Pullover that I am still fighting with. That irksome collar has got to go. I've already ripped it and am trying to do it better....sigh....
(Whodathunkit that the biggest problem I'd face would be the dang collar?)
And last, but not least, is the latest of my mother's work on her current piece, the grave marker for her handyman's late dog, Shelby. Believe me when I say that when my mother gets through with it, it will be totally dazzling.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Oh, you better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I'm tellin' you why,
Santa Claus is coming to town!* Okay, as the above picture shows, I have put on my Official Santa's Elf Socks, better known as my old, worn-out Noro Kureyon socks. Things here at Santa's Texas Workshop have reached a fevered pace. But....the beauty of having an artist for a mother is.....the art studios! My mother's art studios contain literally thousands of wondrous supplies and items in them to assist one in making all sorts of interesting things. My mother's main medium these days is mosaicing. And believe it or not, she actually cuts each and every tiny tile for her mosaics herself, with special saws, from tiles, ceramics, glass, mirrors, rocks, and metal. She also does cement work to make garden towers, fountains, and planters. She also oil paints. She also upholsters with gorgeous, lush fabrics. Hell, she can do anything.... And she actually lets me into her studios to make things!!!! See all the pretty beads, tiles, and other stuff? It's amazing---you can find ANYTHING in there! And as you can see below, she even mosaiced the walls in her studios! The below is my "area"---and I'm currently working on a be-jewelled God Box for my sister. (A God Box is a box you have for problems in your life that you want God to help you with. You write the specific problem on a piece of paper, fold it up, and then put it into the God Box. And then you stop worrying about it because God will take care of it. As one of my ex-husbands used to say rather bluntly: "If you're going to pray about something, don't worry about it. But if you're going to worry about it, why pray?" ) And... er...um...I got involved with some other art projects and kind of took over the below snack table, too.... The below are all the Christmas presents going to Dallas, where we'll be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.....and the little table-top tree seeems to be running out of space under it.... Remember I told you that my uncle gave me my late grandmother, Mamo's, needlework? Well I found the below crocheted lace among her things, and I'm currently blocking, pressing, and starching some of it for another gift for my sister.... (I'll show you the finished project later....if I don't ruin it, that is....) And guess what? I found all kinds of stuff in my mother's studios that were just right for my ever-progressing decorated jean jacket! Yee-Hah! And HEH! I'm gonna wear the damn thing to Dallas and shock everybody. I'm also working on a huge project---what I call a "Galveston Box" ---for my niece. It's huge. I call it a Galveston box because my favorite beach in the whole wide world is Galveston Beach, Texas. And all those lovely sea shells, beads, and tiles came out of my mother's studios. (I'll show you the whole thing later.) Below is a "patch pocket" sweater I knitted from Opal 6-ply yarn, all nicely blocked out---except I forgot about it and it's been there a week... And I'm still working on the Ultimate Last Minute Christmas Present---the aran sweater for my uncle's brother-in-law! Also on that couch are some freshly pressed linens for inclusion in another gift to someone....(like I said---I'll show you the finished objects later if I don't ruin them...) My mother has finished all her Christmas presents and shopping. And so she returned to working on her latest art piece, a memorial grave marker for her handyman's late pet, a nice little dog named Shelby. Her handyman personally asked her to make this memorial for Shelby since he adores my mother's art. So my mother crafted the cement grave marker and is now proceeding to mosaic it. The below is her progress on the marker up to today. Isn't it gorgeous? And who would have thought of making the cross out of dogbone shapes? I don't think I've ever seen a more beautiful and unique memorial marker in my life. My mother brought those lovely tiles you see on it back from one of her annual trips to Puerta Vallarta, Mexico. She is also using other items from her studios, like bottle caps, gun bee-bees, penny tiles, the glass bottoms of bottles, and glass pieces---like I said, she can do anything! Anyhoo, I'm madly and frantically working away on all my in-progress Christmas gifts, and I'm totally wearing out my good ole Elf Kureyon Socks. Also on the horizon--- my Blaine is going to drive down from Kansas this Saturday. And then we'll all be together for three Christmases---one celebrated in Dallas, one celebrated here in Texas, and one celebrated at my uncle's place in the swamps of Louisiana!! Think Santa will find us all on the right days????? *
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Why, I ask you....WHY? Every year I procrastinate myself into having several aggravating last-minute knitted Christmas gifts that I greatly fret over. Usually it's assorted socks and scarves--- small projects which are fairly easy to finish by a Christmas Eve deadline. But this year I accidentally took on a.... larger project... a sweater for a man. And I couldn't have chosen a normal, easy, stockinette stitch sweater, noooooooooo! Idgity me had to pick an aran, "fisherman knit", sweater, the ultimate in painstaking, mathematically inclined, monstrosity knitting!!
What happened is that when my mother and I were spending Thanksgiving with my uncle in the swamp, his widower brother-in-law saw me knitting on the Kauni sweater. I worked on it every day and he saw it grow. And then one day he commented: "You know, many years ago a girlfriend knitted me a sweater with a bunch of cable thingies and interesting stuff in it. And it was a cream color. It was my favorite sweater I've ever had."
I then absentmindedly remarked something to the effect of: "Yeah, I know what kind of sweater you're talking about---it's called an aran sweater---or a fisherman knit."
"Yeah," he replied, "It was a fantastic sweater. It had a turtleneck. It was my favorite sweater I've ever had. And, unfortunately, I lost it...."
To which I replied, a little more firmly: "Yeah, I know they're great sweaters. And they're EXTREMELY difficult to knit."
To which he replied: "It was my favorite sweater of all time...and I lost it."
To which I replied: "Yeah, those sweaters are TOTALLY difficult to make alright, totally difficult....."
To which he sighed, longingly, with a faraway look in his eye.....
So what do you think I did?
Yep, you guessed it. Immediately after my mother and I returned to Texas, I obtained the yarn, got an aran knitting stitch book, grabbed my pencil and ever-present tablet of graph paper---and I began designing the damn thing. And I found out, to my eternal mortification, that figuring out how knitting gauge and adult male sizing relates to a dizzying combination of various aran stitches is akin to having to write a thesis on advanced calculus and/or physics. But after around 20 swatches and 3 total "rip outs" (which means starting the sweater over completely--- not ripping my hair out, although that came later), I had my basic design down and the sizing correct (hopefully). And then came the difficult part....
The hard part, of course, is finishing the dang thing in time for the day after Christmas, when we will return to my uncle's house after spending Christmas Day with my sister in Dallas. And I'm knitting it in between breaks of other gifts I am making for certain family members.
I designed it gansey style, which means knitting it circularly up to the armpits, and then knitting the front and back separately, 'back-n-forth' style. I made it an easy drop-sleeve pullover style. And hopefully I'll get the turtleneck right.
I finally finished the front of the sweater. The upper back portion (as shown above) is waiting for me, the gazillion stitches sitting merrily upon several stitch holders, all sections separated by umptee-leven stitch markers. My graph paper, with its checklist and row counts, is smudged and wrinkled. At least three of my fingers are cracked and blistered.... and Mother keeps saying things like: "I think you should put those fish-scale cable thingies on the sleeves" even though I was going to try and get away with fat & easy C6F cables.....
I am not a speed knitter. I knit texture patterns rather laboriously. So I don't know if I'll get this dadblame thing finished by Christmas.....but I'm going to give it the old college try....
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
And a very good time was had by all during our Thanksgiving at my uncle's place in the swamps of Louisiana. Due to the lack of electricity and lights, we spent a lot of time on the house's porches. And due to the flood, my uncle and his brother-in-law had to don the heavy waders all too frequently in order to do some work down in the water, like tying down the butane tank-- or else to get into the boat in order to sail upriver for groceries. On Thanksgiving Day my uncle boated down the river to pick up a friend of his, a very nice Alabama boy who spent the day with us.
Knowing that these two bachelors (my uncle and his brother-in-law) don't make much fuss around the holiday season, Mother had brought with us a tabletop Christmas tree with lights---and so I put it up in the living room next to the canary cage. I decorated it with some old ornaments which had been found in Mamo's closet. Mom also found a lovely Mexican nativity scene in the back of another closet, where it had been lost for eons, and I reverently set it up at the foot of the Christmas tree. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the Baby Jesus figurine, which made for a terrible problem. I ended up making do by putting a little lamb figurine in Baby Jesus' place. (I figure Jesus won't mind because, afterall, Jesus is the Lamb of God.)
(Okay, okay, so the tree looks a little skinny and forlorn. But it was the best I could do considering the circumstances in the residence of two no-nonsense bachelors...)
As you can see, the deep-fried turkey was a total success. The boys were rightly proud of themselves-- and we all feasted like kings.
While I was there, my uncle told me to go through my late grandmother's (Mamo's) needlework to see if there was anything I wanted for a memento--- and what a joy that was! My mother squealed with delight when I pulled out several vintage lace doilies that she recognized as those which had been in her home during her childhood. As you can see, my late grandmother was an accomplished and artistic crocheter, and each of her works is a beauty to behold.
I especially liked the below piece, which Mother told me had been stiffly starched so that the ruffles would stand up and undulate beautifully around the center circle.
Don't know if the picture below is good enough, but the words "Staff of Life" are crocheted into the center of this doily, which is a term from the Bible referencing bread which sustains human life-- and is provided by God.
All too soon our bayou adventure was over, and so Mumsy and I got back into the boat to travel back up the river to town. This time my uncle's brother-in-law went with us. Here he is, pushing off with the oar.
I especially loved passing by this charming shack. Mother quipped: "That's where I want to retire."
The above family still proudly flies the colors of the good ole USA, exhibiting the tough and hardy spirit of never-say-die swamp dwellers, who never allow the flooding of the river to put a damper on their lives.