Hats and Scarves and Critters, Oh My!

Hats and Scarves and Critters, Oh My!

All the holiday gifts have been given, so I’m at last free to share a bit about all the knitted things I created in the past several months.

IMG_4309My final count was 37 knitted gifts. Mostly I made hats. I didn’t intend to make so many gifts; it happened almost by accident. I made a hat for a hat loving friend. I showed it off a bit and the person who taught me to knit thought it turned out so well that I should make more of them. She proposed that I make the same hat in different colors for each of my sisters-in-law for Christmas. That sounded like a lovely idea, so I made a second one in a different color.

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My second first hat. It’s a slouchy style. Hard to get a good picture without a head beneath it.

After making two, I decided I was bored with the pattern and instead of all the same, each sister in law would get a different hat and different yarn. Then I ran into a bit of a mistake. That bright pink hat in the picture? It turned out a bit small. I decided that would work better for a niece. So the nieces and nephew were added to the list. I also kept hearing how much the guys liked those silly bearded hats. So I added beards and guy hats to my list… and so on and so on until I had a pretty long list of knitted gifts to make.

I really had lots of fun making all these things and I learned so much. What follows are some of the ones that stick out as highlights of my knitting experience from the last year.

IMG_4314The Spock hat. I was really worried about the ears turning out right. My ears don’t have quite as defined a shape as the ones in the pattern picture, but they’re nice and pointy and I think they get the point across just fine.

IMG_4316The Feather and Fan hat. I just adore the scalloped bottom. Mine came out more pronounced than the one in the pattern picture, and as it first appeared beneath my needles I thought I’d made a mistake somewhere. I was delighted to discover I was wrong about that.

IMG_4312The King Charles Brocade hat. The pattern is very subtle, but oh so pretty, and continues nicely into the decreases.

IMG_4318The Tri-Peak. The directions for making the peaks almost scared me off from attempting this one. So glad I went ahead and tried it. It’s actually quite simple and so cute. One stitch at a time. That’s my motto when I get scared of a pattern.

IMG_4311Shilling. I did my first cables here.

IMG_4328Scarves. The one to the right is the mistake rib – the same pattern I used for my very first completed project. I changed it up and added a buttonhole. Confession: that wasn’t my plan. The scarf turned out a bit on the short side and I wasn’t able to get more in the same color. Adding the button seemed like a good solution because then you don’t have to have the length for wrapping. I think it turned out pretty nicely. The infinity scarf pattern is called Diagonality. It looks like traditional stockinette rows except they’re running on an angle. The pattern was really fun and just knit up beautifully.

IMG_4325Smokey the Bear…. er, Granger the Ranger Bear? This was the project I was most nervous about of all, but I think he turned out rather well. He was worked on size 2 needles, which was enough there to scare me just by making me think it would take an eternity to finish. I did a couple other little critter type projects also. I’m glad Smokey was worked flat; I found I greatly prefer that to doing teeny tiny things in the round. I did run into a few errors in the pattern. There were a handful of places where the instructions and stitch count did not match. I made the decision to match the stitch count rather than the instructions and that seemed to work out well.

IMG_4322And some beards. Just because. These were a quick, but slightly challenging project. I found that it needed to be a single sitting project. If I walked away from it in the middle, I pretty much had to start over.

And I’m already making out my yarn list for next year’s projects…

On the Elf…

On the Elf…

Advent has finally arrived and we’ve allowed Christmas to fully infiltrate our house! Thank goodness! That waiting was awfully hard for me after such an early Thanksgiving.

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IMG_4280IMG_4282I’m feeling good about my new Advent “calendar” tradition I’ve begun; the kids are very excited to see what’s in tomorrow’s envelope. There’s one Christmas tradition I have very mixed feelings about, however. The Elf on the Shelf. If somehow you’ve missed this phenomenon, the idea is this elf hides in your house in a different place each day. Each night, he flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa if you’ve been good or naughty.

I like the idea because it extends the magic and the mystery of Christmas, and I thought the hide-and-seek game of it would be fun. About two years ago, we adopted an elf and named him Stewart. (Confession: Savannah named him after Stuart Little, but she couldn’t spell well yet so I took the liberty of changing the spelling of his name to name him after Jon Stewart, so I guess our little elf is named after two famous short guys…)

IMG_4275The reality of the elf concept falls a little flat.

The biggest problem: you can’t touch the elf. The book stipulates that you must not touch the elf or you might make him loose his Christmas magic and he won’t be able to return to the North Pole anymore. Makes perfect sense. If the kids are playing with it as a toy, it really will loose its “magic.” However, you simply can’t trust a Sammy to resist the urge to touch the elf if it’s possible. So Stewart always has to hide in really high places. The kids know this, and frankly, there are only so many spots up near my ceilings, so it never takes them too long to find the him. There goes the hide-and-seek fun.

It also negates the possibility of doing the vast majority of all those clever ideas on the internet of the elf doing mischievous deeds during the night. Stewart can’t have a date with Barbie or be caught wrapping various household objects in wrapping paper or set up a Thomas the train ride for himself. All these things would require putting him on a fairly large flat surface to have room to set up the scene. I don’t have any large flat surfaces handy near my ceiling.

I tried, the first day he came back this year, to borrow one of those cute ideas. Here’s how this went in my house. Stewart wrote “I’m Back!” in red and green M&Ms on the kitchen table before perching on the light fixture above it. Felix, our cat, thought the M&Ms made lovely toys, so he had a jolly good time batting them around the house, leaving everyone perplexed where the huge mess came from in the morning. Later in the day, Felicity was the first to notice Stewart. This was adorable, and the most redeeming moment the elf has had this year. She jumped with joy and told him she loved him and was so glad to have him back. Later when I was upstairs moving laundry she yelled for me that Stewart was in danger… because Sammy had taken a vacuum attachment and poked him. He would have fallen to his doom and the sure loss of his magic if he hadn’t been securely hugging one of the candles.

So Stewart stays up high, hides in the same reliable places in turn, and doesn’t try any of the cutesy stuff anymore. I’m just not feeling the magic. Remembering to move him and trying to find good places for him to hide is a real chore. And, inevitably I suppose, the kids use references to him to threaten each other if someone is being naughty or unkind. Stewart the enforcer; that’s no fun. Actually, they still seem to enjoy him. They surely were looking for him and anticipating his return well before I was ready to bring him back, so maybe it’s just me in an elf funk. I just hope that when they get older they’ll remember Stewart as something fun, not as a lame tool I tried to use to make them behave because that was never what I intended.

Preparing for Christmas in the home

Preparing for Christmas in the home

It’s November! This is generally when I declare it time to listen to Christmas music. I have a super duper love of everything Christmas, which usually leads to starting everything way too early: the planning, the shopping, the decorating, the listening to Christmas music… Yes, I’m totally one of THOSE people.

As a Catholic convert, I’ve grown to really appreciate the way the Church celebrates Advent as its own season, quietly waiting and preparing while the rest of the world is hurled headlong into Christmas celebration, largely tiring of it by the time the actual Christmas season arrives. This year, I’m going to make a point of slowing down and not rushing into the season before its time…. we will at least wait until it’s properly Advent to begin decorating and listening to the Christmas tunes. (Gifts hopefully WILL be taken care of before Advent, however, especially non-homemade gifts. It’s so much nicer if Advent is a season of preparing, not shopping. Having a few handmade gifts to finish seems more than appropriate, however.) It won’t be easy for me, but that’s what it’s all about, right? Learning to be present in the season you’re in, not always reaching for the next. (Actually, bit of a loophole discovered here after first drafting this: we will need to listen to the music for the church Christmas pageant so the girls can learn it. This does not upset me.)

Inspired by ideas gleaned from Pinterest such as this Advent calendar and this Christmas bucket, I’ve come up with a plan for an Advent calendar for our house. I’m thinking we’ll just have a box with a stack of blank-inside Christmas cards in the kitchen. I’ll make one for each day of Advent, and write a little activity for the day inside. Honestly, even after much searching for idea help, I had a whole lot of trouble coming up with activities that I thought I could for-sure follow through on. How sad is that? I work retail, which unfortunately amounts to some late nights during Christmas shopping season. I came up with a list, though, and with a little planning ahead of time, I think this will be fun for all of us. My list is here; it’s very much based on our personal schedule – the days Alan will be working and the nights I expect to be working late, but you could certainly borrow from it if you wish.

Reading will definitely be a big part of our Advent and Christmas season. We love Christmas books in this house. We love them so much that it seemed we read them all the time. With a bit of sadness I quietly packed them away after Christmas last year, lest they begin to loose some of that special feeling from being read all year long. I’ve actually had to get a couple of them out already through the year because someone was desperately searching for a specific one. I am sure when I dig the rest them out with our decorations on that first Sunday of Advent, everyone will be delighted. Although we have a lovely collection, I still like to add one or two special Christmas books each season. This post is a wonderful resource that I’ve used to choose some contenders for this year’s additions.

Preparing for Christmas in the Store

Preparing for Christmas in the Store

This will be my first Christmas as the owner of a fledgling online business. This past spring I began selling used books on Amazon as Hartlove Books. I have learned so much from this process and really have had a lot of fun. Used book stores are some of my favorite places in the world, so creating one in my home was very exciting. I rather quickly ran into a rather big problem, however. I had no time to go to book sales to purchase new inventory. Well, very little time, anyhow.

I adapted. Hartlove Books remains on Amazon, although I feel that I neglect it a bit because I truly don’t have time to replenish stock nearly as much as I’d like to. However, Hartlove Books and Gifts was born as an eBay Store, offering nautical gift and decor merchandise. Finding quality wholesalers selling the sort of things I’m looking for has been a challenge as someone totally new to this market. But I can honestly say I’m proud of what I’ve put together so far. They’re products that I think are good quality, things that I would like to have in my own home. Actually we have used SailorBags products on our boat and we really do love them. Savannah especially loved her sailcloth book cover; she’s still using that for her most special reads – the Harry Potter books.

I don’t know what to expect from this first Christmas season. Will I get more business  because it’s a shopping season or will it really die down because we’re so far removed from boating and beach season for most of the country? I’m trying to prepare for what I hope will be a busy time. A couple of the exciting things we’ve gotten in recently are sailcloth Christmas stockings and iPad cases. (Sorry I slip into a “business we” – my own version of the “royal we” – almost without knowing it. Truthfully the business consists of me, myself, and I, but it feels weird to refer it in the singular first person.)

A few more special additions are on the way, including a driftwood wreath that I adore. It would be cute for a beach house anytime of the year, but could even be used to bring a little beach flare into the Christmas decoration even for those of us that live away from the shore.

I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a busy season and, if not, learning how to adapt for next time.