Archive for the 'gifts' Category


A forgotten box

p5240946weddingflowers.jpgTwo weekends ago Jan and I did some spring cleaning. We carted off a few hundred books to our local library (no, they were not overdue—we were donating them!) and worked on decluttering our basement. Jan unearthed a box of my social theory books (Environmentalism and Cultural Theory, anyone?), and I quickly discovered that underneath the top layer of books was a plastic storage bin. Even though I haven’t thought about it in a few years, I instantly recognized it.

Jan and I were married in a small town in Vermont where all of the various event-service people know each other. Our flowers were done by a woman named Nancy Murray at A Schoolhouse Garden, and we liked and trusted her so much that we didn’t bother working out a detailed list of each and every type of flower that would make its way into the arrangements. Rather, we settled on the number and type of arrangements, as well as a general sense of the flowers: in our case, we wanted something autumnal, though of tapestry (reds, blues, purples) rather than harvest (reds, oranges, golds) hues.

Nancy did not disappoint and created beautiful arrangements of white roses, fresh herbs, freesia, snapdragons, and wildflowers. Jan and I liked everything so much that, even though we hadn’t originally planned to do this, on the morning after our wedding, when Nancy arrived to retrieve the pots, we asked if she could dry and preserve my bouquet. “Sure!” she said, and took it away with her, telling us we’d get it in about two months.

Four months later, it hadn’t arrived, so I wrote her a note asking about it. She replied that she had indeed sent it out several week after our wedding, but thought that perhaps USPS delays caused by post-September 11th scares might be the culprit. She suggested waiting a bit longer to see if it might show up, so we did. Two months after that, I wrote to her that it still hadn’t arrived and was clearly lost for good, and asked her how much it would cost to recreate and (re)preserve the bouquet. I never heard back from her.

Near the end of the summer, a box arrived in the mail. It contained a plastic storage bin, and through its translucent walls I could see a small bundle amid bubble wrap and packing peanuts. There was also a note from Nancy. She had redone (and dried) the bouquet and mailed it to me. At no additional charge.

Yes, there are still very kind people in the world. The next time someone cuts me off in traffic or some politician utters another lie or I encounter unpleasant behavior, I’ll just remember Nancy’s gift to me, and that will go a long way toward making me feel better about humanity.



A gift for Frank

p5150502frankgift.jpgOne of Jan’s coworkers is a guy named Frank. He’s always very friendly whenever Sylvia and I stop by the office to meet Jan for lunch, and never takes it personally when Sylvia gets a case of the toddler “shies” and refuses to talk to or look at him.

He’s a hardcore Mac user and an amateur photographer, so when he learned about my own interest in photography, he started sending digital photography books home with Jan. For me to keep. What a nice guy.

I wanted to repay his kindness, so with Sylvia’s help (she chose the projects: “Frank needs mittens and a hat!”) I did some knitting for him. After verifying that he can wear wool and loves blue, I used Patons SWS in Natural Indigo, with some stripes in Natural Wood. (I should mention that I am forever in debt to Lynnette, my upstream SP9 partner, for introducing me to this fabulous yarn.)

The mittens and the hat are both straight out of Ann Budd’s Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns. I knit the largest size in each pattern (making Jan try them on from time to time), and I think that worked out pretty well.

Sylvia and I went to Jan’s office last Friday, and she eagerly presented the box to Frank. I’d wrapped it in some white packing paper saved from IKEA, and she’d decorated the box with ink stamps, stickers, and crayon markings—including an S for Sylvia and an F for Frank. He seemed pretty pleased, so I think this is one knitted gift that will definitely be worn!


Special delivery

As I’ve mentioned before, Jan and I aren’t big on getting gifts for each for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. This is especially true of Valentine’s Day. Now, I appreciate having an occasion to tell people that you love them (but really, shouldn’t we do this every day?). But the gift aspect of this holiday drives me nuts. Especially the woman-focused gift aspect. Especially the idea that a man should read a woman’s mind and get her the “perfect” gift on this day. And especially the idea that the “perfect” gift is defined by roses, chocolate, and diamonds. (I really hate that sexist crap.)

p2139218roses1.jpgSo I was a little surprised when a FedEx driver left a rather large box on my doorstep yesterday afternoon. As soon as I saw it, I thought, “Hmmmm. I wonder what’s going on.”

(Note the toys under the piano. The collection includes sit-and-push-with-your-feet vehicles [car, tricycle, and bike] as well as two toy lawnmowers. We call that space “the garage.” The front hall, kitchen, dining room, and living room are all connected to each other, so Sylvia can ride/push one of those toys in a circle around most of our first floor. When her friends are over, there are enough wheeled items for everyone to get one, and it’s like a parade.)

p2139220roses2.jpgI opened the box to discover a dozen beautiful roses in different colors.

(These flowers were sent direct from the grower in California. Each stem is stuck into a water-filled plastic test-tube with a rubber stopper at the top, and there’s one of the refreezable ice packs in the box. The arrived in perfect condition.)

p2139227roses3.jpgDon’t they look lovely?

The card (handwritten!) was the best part: “For the three of us…because we rock!”

(After dinner last night, Sylvia got to choose any rose she wanted—she zeroed in on the one that looked most purple, of course—to have her own little vase.)


Gift knitting

p2039174tam.jpgAfter the holidays, I was on a gift-knitting roll, so i just kept going. This tam is my first finished object of 2008. It’s a gift for my brother-in-law, for whom I knit mittens in the same yarn (Patons SWS) for Christmas. His Christmas gift to me was Ann Budd’s Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns. As I flipped through it, he mentioned that he really liked the tam. “If I knit one for you, would you wear it?” I asked. He assured me he would, so a few days later I picked up the yarn for it and cast on. This was a very fast knit and a lot of fun, too. I intended this as a birthday gift for him, but since his birthday is in March and he may be heading to Nigeria to shoot a film any day now, I should probably get this in the mail to him pronto. (By the way, I don’t have a photo of him wearing the mittens yet. But if you’d like to see what he’s done with other handknits I’ve given him, look here.)

p2039183banket1.jpgMy next project was a baby blanket for a neighbor whose second child was due in mid-January. I had some Bernat Cottontots yarn in a neutral color (light cream) and figured its machine-washability would make it a good candidate for baby gear. I’d always been sort of interested in the log cabin blankets in Mason-Dixon Knitting but really put off by the garish color combinations the book’s authors seem to favor. So I decided to give log cabining a try—in monochrome.

p2039186blanketclose.jpgI really, really like how this turned out, even with a few mistakes here and there (which weren’t discovered until well after I’d turned the next corner). The next time I do this, i think I’ll try a “smoother” yarn (the Cottontots has a twist to it that makes it appear a little textured), and I’ll be more careful when picking up stitches at the corners—something I didn’t figure out how to do properly until the blanket was halfway finished. Even though this blanket consists of miles and miles of garter stitch, the fact that every eighteen rows I’d bind off a section and pick up stitches to start another kept the knitting interesting.

p2039178babyhat.jpgI had five skeins of the Cottontots yarn when I started, and when I was near the end of the last one I called it quits on the blanket. It wasn’t quite 30″ on each side, but it did have symmetry (each side had six blocks), and it seemed a good size already. And I was ready to be finished with it. I used the rest of the Cottontots (plus a little bit of green dishcloth cotton when the Cottontots ran out) to whip up this little hat from Baby Knits for Beginners, by Debbie Bliss. I really love this pattern—it’s one I’ve knit many times before.

(Sylvia was napping when I took these photos, so I had to find a different model. And no, the stuffed emperor penguin chick did not sign a release form.)


A disaster

For Christmas last year, my friends Gina and Todd gave me some yarn and a pattern book from Green Mountain Spinnery. After much thought, I decided to make the Artisan Vest in that book, using the Double Twist yarn called for.

The smallest size in the book is for a 36″ chest. That’s a bit larger than what I wanted, so I did some math and modified the pattern to make it fit me better. So instead of casting on 180 stitches, I cast on 160. And I counted them three times before starting to knit.

p2039172vest.jpgOr so I thought. After a week and a half of merrily knitting along (this vest is worked in one piece from the bottom up), Saturday afternoon I found that I’d reached 10″ and was ready to divide the piece. I knit the right front and put those stitches on a holder. I bound off for the right armhole. I knit across the back. I put the left front stitches on a holder. Then I bound off for the left armhole. And then I thought, “Gosh, there’s an awful lot of stitches left on my needles for the back.”

So I counted them. And I counted them again. And I undid all of the bound-off stitches and worked back to right before I started to divide the piece…and I counted again.

Somehow, instead of 160 stitches, I had 194. How this happened, I have no idea. Like I said, I triple-checked the number of my cast-on stitches. The number 194 doesn’t appear anywhere in the pattern, so it’s not like I accidentally followed the wrong line. And I haven’t added stitches anywhere—my rows are beautifully tidy all the way up.

The only solution, I’m afraid, is to rip out the whole thing and start over. Yes, it’s a fair amount of knitting on size 6 needles. But it’s “mindless” knitting—the kind I can easily do while chatting with friends or watching a movie. So I’m sure I’ll be back to this point in no time—and this time around, I’ll have the correct number of cast-on stitches. I plan to quadruple check them this time. And I’ll make Jan count ’em for me, too.


All wound up

Two of the gifts I received for Christmas last month were a ball winder and swift, thanks for my friend Gina and her husband, Todd. Gina has very kindly let me wind many skeins of yarn on her setup, and now I’m delighted not to have to bug her to borrow them any more. Owning my own winder and swift makes me feel like a real knitter—like I’m now allowed to sit at the grown-up table at Thanksgiving or something.

p1068945windingyarn.jpgI tried them out for the first time a couple of days ago, with help from Sylvia. As soon as I started clamping things on the dining table, Sylvia observed that the ball winder crank “looks like a tricycle.” (The pedal, that is.) I let her turn the crank for a few minutes while I set the skein on the swift, and then she helped wind it up. Apart from a couple of time when she started turning the crank in the opposite direction after pausing, she actually did a great job!

And why did I need to wind this yarn? Believe it or not, I’m actually finishing the green sweater I started for myself three years ago. When I last reported on it (two years ago), I had just one more sleeve to knit and seaming to do. Thanks to the winder and swift, I was able to start the second sleeve the other day, and I’m nearly finished with it! (I’m certain to finish this sweater before the end of the month, so it will be my entry for Ali’s contest.)


My new favorite yarn

As with our anniversary, Jan and I generally don’t buy each other birthday or Christmas gifts, either. When Sylvia turned two last May and really “got” the idea of getting (and opening!) presents, we decided it was time to modify this practice a bit in order to teach her about gift giving, too. So for my birthday (also in May), Jan took Sylvia out shopping for a gift for me, and for his birthday (later in May—yes, we are all three born in May) I took her out to find something for him. In both cases, we asked for specific gifts, and Sylvia helped purchase them at the store and wrap them.

For Christmas this year, we decided to expand her participation in this process and let her choose the gifts herself (within some parameters, of course), both for us and a few other people. This was an interesting experience, because she often gravitated toward stuff that she liked, which offered opportunities to discuss how gift giving is all about choosing something that the recipient might like. She’s not an expert at this yet, but after a while she definitely got a sense of how it all works. Some of her choices were quite charming, such as a carved, blue, wood tree ornament for her grandmother, “because Nana likes blue!”

I suggested to Jan that he take Sylvia to the yarn aisle at Michael’s and let her choose a skein or two or yarn for me. She’s well accustomed to my knitting and knows that I like it. I told Jan, “If you can, try to gently steer her away from the Fun Fur…but you know, if she really wants to get that for me, that’s fine.”

So late last week, the two of them went out to the store in great secrecy. In this case, “great secrecy” is defined as Sylvia loudly promising, as she and Jan are putting on their coats and I’m in the next room, that “We’re going to get Mommy a present, and it’s a surprise.” They came back with a puffy-looking bag, and Sylvia was fairly bursting with the news. But she didn’t tell me! Well, not quite…

As we opened our gifts on Christmas morning, Sylvia chose her two gifts for me to open first. I picked one up and said, “I wonder what this is!” She replied, “It’s yarn!” then looked at Jan and said, “Is it okay if I tell her?”

pc258918yarn.jpgAnd here is the yarn she chose for me. Jan tells me that when they got to the yarn aisle, Sylvia quickly picked out the Wool-Ease, announcing, “Mommy likes brown.” (Brown does indeed happen to be my favorite color.) Then she saw the Jiffy Thick-and-Quick, and its bright colors (including purple, which happens to be Sylvia’s favorite color) instantly captivated her. She declared that I would like that yarn, too, and so they bought both.

Yeah, I hate pretty much all acrylic yarn. Loathe it. But this stuff? It’s my new favorite yarn.


This year’s holiday knitting

Now that the packages are on their way—and the recipients aren’t likely to read this post before opening their gifts—I can reveal what holiday knitting I’ve been up to.

pc098590washcloths.jpgFor my mom, I knit two ball-band washcloths, with the colors reversed in the second one. While I was visiting her in October, she admired one I was making, and I decided then and there to knit some up for her. The small sachet is made of a linen-cotton yarn and knit up in linen stitch on something like size 3 needles. I filled it with dried lavender—yum.

pc098596cupcozy.jpgMy dad has a Sunday-morning ritual of going to a bookstore and browsing the shelves (and usually coming home with a new book) while drinking a mocha latte. For him I knit up a (reusable!) wool sleeve for his coffee cups; I used the Noro Kureyon that was left over from Kevin’s hat. I cast on 32 stitches and did a simple k2p2 ribbing all the way up, which is just right to keep this snugly on the cup. This wool sleeve will surely keep a beverage warmer much better than a paper one!

pc098603mitts.jpgFor my brother I knit some fingerless mitts out of Cascade Pastaza, which is 50% llama and 50% wool. I liked working with the yarn (though the tips of my needles split it occasionally), and I knit everything except the thumb on a 12″ Addi turbo. (And let me just say this: I am never again using DPNs to knit in the round unless I absolutely have to.) My brother lives and works in Manhattan, so he does a lot of walking around outside. I figured full mittens would be too “dorky” for him, but these will keep his hands warm while preserving some of the manual dexterity necessary for key/coffee-cup/cellphone handling.

pc098592scarves.jpgI’ve been fortunate to stay in touch with four friends with whom I went to college. (We even have our own Google group.) Over the years the five of us have kept in touch through law school, graduate school, marriages, babies, cross-country moves, international travels, deaths of family members, career changes, and pretty much any life change you can think of. This year, I knit them all moebius scarves (these are short—more like cowls) out of KnitPicks Suri Dream. I asked my friends about their favorite colors at the beginning of the year (I bet they’ve completely forgotten this) and chose the yarns accordingly.

pc098598sariscarf.jpgThese last two items, a small pouch made of bamboo yarn and a drop-stitch scarf made of recycled silk sari yarn, were made for someone I’ve never met but who’s on my mind pretty much every day. Her name is Heather, and she’s one of my mother-in-law’s oldest friends. In our office at home we have a watercolor painting that Heather made of the Dutch irises that Jan’s dad took to her house when he had dinner with her one evening while Jan’s mom was in the hospital after giving birth to Jan. Heather very generously gave us our beloved All-Clad LTD cookware when we got married, and she gave us Sylvia’s super Britax car seat when she was born. She’s been so generous to us, and I really wanted to send her something in thanks. She lives in Santa Barbara, where the weather is pretty much perfect year-round—no need for woolen knits, but hopefully she’ll enjoy and be able to use these.


Holiday shopping

This is the time of year when many of us are faced with some or all of the following:

—A deluge of catalogs in our mailboxes. What’s up with that, anyway? I mean, just how many copies of Catalog X does a person need to receive within one month? Certainly not six. (Save some trees—and your mailbox—by registering at Catalog Choice, a free service that helps you get off those mailing lists.)

—Lots of sanctimonious talk (on blogs, in church, in editorials) about how shopping and spending are out of control at this time of year. First of all, Christmas-time consumerism has been happening for well over a century, so this is nothing new. And second, why focus on just Christmas? We have a huge problem with consumerism in general, so perhaps those “spend less money and spend more time being with people you love and helping others” messages ought to be shouted out year-round. (This reminds of those god-awful local news spots at food kitchens on Thanksgiving, with the reporter who says, “Volunteers are here giving up their Thanksgiving* in order to give something back** and show the down and out that someone cares for them”…to which I want to add “…until Thanksgiving is over and society decides to forget about you again until next year.”)

(*Start handing out the Nobel Peace Prizes, please!)
(**Is it just me, or does this phrase make you, too, want to retch?)

—Stressing out about what gifts we do want to give. Jan and I keep our gift-giving pretty simple. We shop for just a few people, and we really try to find something that we think the recipient will enjoy (which is why, much as I like the idea in theory, we never give gifts of charitable donations in someone else’s name). We also don’t go crazy with the spending (unlike someone I used to ride the commuter train with who told me that the adults in his family now usually spend $1,000 per person on gifts each year).

This year, I think I’ve found the perfect gift for everyone on my list. It’s something that people aren’t likely to have bought for themselves already. Look how small it is—it won’t contribute to anyone’s clutter, and shipping will be super cheap! And really, who doesn’t need their own chunk of uranium ore?


Hats for Tina and Kevin

I first met my friend Tina in 1996, when the National Science Foundation decided to give me money to do some predoctoral research in Oregon. I needed a place to stay for the summer, so I looked up the University of Oregon student newspaper’s classified ads online and found an ad for a sublet. The person who placed the ad, Jeff, was himself going to be doing predoctoral research that summer, but in the South.* He said, “I think you’re fine, but my housemate, Tina, is the one who’s going to have to live with you, so you’ll need to talk with her, too.” I did, and we hit it off just fine.

When I drove out there by myself a few months later and arrived at her house, a yellow house with pink trim (next door to a pink house with yellow trim) in the Whiteaker neighborhood in Eugene, the first thing I saw as I walked through the wide-open front door were two kids jumping on the sofa in the front room. One looked about five years old, and the other looked to be around three.

“Um, hi,” I said. “Is Tina here?” “Tina!” the older one yelled, “your new housemate is here!”

She came downstairs, introduced the kids (who lived next door)**, showed me around, and then was off on her bike to her West African dance troupe practice. She was a fabulous roommate, and we had a great summer together. We kept in touch, and a few years later–when I was back in Oregon for a year-long stay to do my doctoral fieldwork–I visited her in Portland (where she’d move to pursue a graduate degree in social work), and she visited me in southern Oregon (where we hiked to the summit of Humbug Mountain and created huge sculptures on Lighthouse Beach with driftwood, seaweed, and other stuff washed up by the sea).

Since I left Oregon, we’ve still kept in touch through lots of changes: my cross-country moves, her four-mouth solo backpacking trip through Latin America, my marriage and the birth of Sylvia. A couple of years ago, she fell madly in love with an Irishman named Kevin, and last year they got engaged. In August, they were married at an organic farm in Hood River, and though I very much wanted to be there, time and money just wouldn’t permit it.

I wanted to give them something handmade as a wedding gift, and my first thought was to knit something lacey–perhaps a table runner or picture-frame mat (like the ones in Melanie Falick’s Handknit Holidays. I tried it a few times but found that the tiny needles and wispy yarn were just not my cup of tea. I have no inner lace knitter (at least not now–maybe one day, though…). So I gave the lace yarn to a friend who is a lace knitter and starting thinking about other possibilities.

pb118244hats.jpgAfter much deliberation I finally settled on matching-but-not hats: a duo knit in the same pattern but of different yarns. (It seemed a fitting comment on marriage as the union of two distinct individuals.) For hers I used Loran’s Laces Revelation, and his was made of Noro Kureyon–both lovely yarns to work with, made of wool that will keep their heads warm during cold-weather excursions into the Oregon wilderness. I used the Valerye pattern in Cathy Carron’s Hip Knit Hats; if you click the link, you can see the original hat in brown and black on the cover. The yarns I chose knit up tighter, though, so the resulting hats are a bit shorter and less droopy than the original.

Shortly after this photo shoot in my living room, the hats were packed up and sent on their way to Portland. I hope Tina and Kevin like them. (And I hope the hats fit!)


*I asked Jeff what his research was on, he said, “Environmental history in the South.”

“Oh,” I said, “I have a friend here in Illinois who’s also working in history in the South, but he’s interested in race relations and politics.”

“Really? What’s his name?”

I told him.

“You’re kidding! Tina and I went to college with him in Florida! We’re all best friends!”

It’s a small world, indeed.


** Those kids were pretty sweet. I saw a lot of them that summer, as they loved to play in my garden. I also saw a lot of them in that they often liked to run around naked.

« Prev - Next »