Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Getting ready for the holidays

We have our Christmas tree up. We put up all of the "nice" ornaments, the collection of Hallmark ornaments that the kids have picked out each year, the hand me down ornaments from our parents, and all of the needlework ornaments. In the picture you can see some cross stitch ornaments, some ornaments made with plastic beads, a flying pig, a wooden rocking horse, a carved cat, a glass basketball, and an oldfashioned radio that can be tuned to a North Pole station. The rest of our ornament collection is equally eclectic.
I gave up on the large shoe box of kid-made ornaments. Some of them were made by my children and some of them were made by me and my brother when we were little. With an 8 ft high tree (with a chunk taken out of the back when my husband forgot it was on top of the van and drove into the garage anyway) there just wasn't enough room for styrofoam balls with colored pins stuck in them, pieces of cardboard with macaroni glued on them, or colored foam core creations. They will have to stay in the box and wait and see if we get a larger tree next year.
As it is, about half of our ornaments are hand made. They reflect memories of the people and places they came from as well as my children's passions as they grow up. Each year we have each of them pick out their own ornament to purchase. We have gone from Thomas the Tank Engine, to the Incredible Hulk, to a snowboarding polar bear with my son. Now he thinks he is too old and cool to pick an ornament. My daughter's choices have included a multicolored bird, an American Girl doll, three dalmation puppies, and this year a basketball.
I have been stitching and finished Scary Scraps. My son reminds me that it is Christmas now, not Halloween but it is not too early to start getting ready for next year. Mosey n' Me's story about Scary Scraps is that he was too poor for white linen so he is wrapped in scraps. Considering that his scraps are made up of needle necessities floss and Rainbow Gallery metallics as well as DMC, I don't think that he is really that poor. He was fun to stitch on 28 count over two threads. The different segments of pattern and color were bite sized segments that were easy to work on in the evening and I can't look at him without smiling.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Slow Craft

Sharon B has a post on her blog today about slow craft. She refers to a new blog called Red Thread Studio that talks about slow craft and sustainable clothing markets. Both started me thinking. I don't make my own clothes anymore because it is cheaper to buy them and my sewing machine is not very portable. This is despite the fact that I do own a sewing machine, am an accomplished seamstress and at one time I made most of my wardrobe. Some of the clothes that I wear the most are things that I made even though I completed my last garment at least 6 years ago.

Instead, I make more things by hand. I like the slow process of knitting my own socks, doing hand embroidery, beading bracelets, or hand appliqueing a quilt top. I have the luxury of not needing to sell my handcrafted items to make a living so I can take all the time I want on them. I love the fact that at the end of the time I spend on embroidery or knitting, I have a finished product. The transformation of a hank of yarn, a collection of fabric scraps, a box of threads, or a jar of beads into something beautiful and perhaps useful is magical in the same way that the transformation of flour, water, salt, and yeast into bread is magical.

I do find that I have to adapt my projects to my lifestyle. Right now, I am better at completing portable projects than ones that require a lot of space, materials, or equipment. I find it easier to follow someone else's pattern or design than to make up my own. I like the challenge of modifying designs and creating my own works but it is comforting after a long day at work and taking children from one place to another to sit down with a pattern someone else developed and reproduce their design. These projects improve my technical skills and often teach me new things about fibers and color giving me tools to use when I have the time to sit down and work on my own designs. I like eating bread that I baked myself and wearing socks that I knit myself.

Note: The two Christmas Stand Ups pictures are Better Not Pout from Shepherd's Bush and Yule Stack by the Trilogy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Snow (Ice) Day

With ice storms last night and more predicted this afternoon, there is no school and my office is closed. The ice on the trees is very pretty but it is not so pretty on the roads, or on the dogs when they mix it with mud and bring it into the house.

At my house, we celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas throughout the month of December. We fit in traditional family holiday rituals with basketball games, karate tests, chorus concerts and work related trips out of town. Many of the holiday traditions that have been handed down for generations involve food. Hanukkah is not complete without Neil's Potato Latkes, although in my house we may eat them while we decorate the Christmas tree.

Peel 4 large potatoes. Grate potatoes and onion, if desired, in food processor. Put grated potatoes in cheesecloth and squeeze out liquid in sink. Put grated, dry potatoes back in food processor. Add 2 eggs, 1/2 cup flour, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix into a smooth batter. Drop batter by serving spoon (1/4 - 1/3 cup) size spoonfuls into pan with very hot oil. Cast iron pan and peanut oil work well. Fry over moderate to high heat until brown on underside. Turn to brown on top. Lift out of oil and drain off excess fat on paper towels. Serve with sour cream and applesauce.

Another essential part of the holiday season is Christmas cookies. I made some snickerdoodles and chewy gingerbread which have already disappeared. If I get ambitious this afternoon, I will get out the cookie cutters and rolling pin and make one of Grammy Baugh's cookie recipes. The simplest one is Grammy Baugh's Cinnamon Crackers:

Cream together 3/4 lb butter and 1 lb sugar (2 cups). Add 3 eggs and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon. Mix in 1 lb of flour (4 cups). Using more flour, roll out dough and cut out cookies. Bake at 350 F for 10 to 12 minutes or until brown. Thinner cookies may bake faster.

If you are an ambitious cookie decorator, you can make royal icing and decorate these in very fanciful ways. If you are not an ambitious cookie decorator, you can sprinkle colored sugar on top of the cookies before putting them in the oven to bake. Even better, you can have a small child sprinkle the sugar on the cookies.