Sunday, December 31, 2006


This year we got our very first Christmas tree. We've always spent a lot of time around the holiday visiting family so it never made sense to decorate at all before. It was very special to experience the excitement with Sparky and Max as we watched Mr. Flashbang wrestle the 15-foot tree out of the van and up the stairs to set it up in our sun-room.
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Christmas tree photos courtesy of the Mr. (take photo at slow speed while camera is set up on a tripod, to recreate the light effects seen here.)
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These ornaments were purchased at a Christmas market in Trier that we shopped at a few weeks ago:
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The bells, balls and drops are handpainted and glittery, cream and burgundy. We loved them as soon as we saw them.

This set was bought around the corner, and as soon as I saw the colors I knew that they belonged on our tree:
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See if you can spot the Mr. in this ornament.
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No? Here, look a little closer:
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This month, I've worked a lot on making this holiday really meaningful for our little family. I discovered just how important that was when our attempt to celebrate Thanksgiving on our own in November ended feeling a bit hollow. From December 1st, I had the boys open a chocolate advent calendar, one day at a time, and told them the story that makes Christmas meaningful to our family; Jesus' birth, etc. We printed out coloring pages that I found online, and stopped often at the large nativity scene displayed in the store window across the street. I also told them about who St. Nicholas/Santa was (I related one of the many stories surrounding his life, where he anonymously gives gifts to an orphanage), since Sparky was asking "what's that guy doing?" about every Santa statue and picture we saw set up in town.

Here in Germany, they celebrate Christmas for three days, and we did the same. On Christmas Eve we ate a light breakfast and the boys opened some gifts.
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My sister and I then threw ourselves into preparation for one hell of a brunch: fried or scrambled eggs, home-fries (chunks of potatoes fried in butter and a few spices until crispy and cooked through), Schenkin Spek (might be spelling this wrong -- I probably am, but it's sort of the German answer to American bacon, which you can't find here. Very very salty, almost no fat, kind of similar to prosciutto. Pretty much just super thinly sliced cured ham), and cinnamon rolls. Very tasty. Dinner was a light, spicy shrimp stew over basmati (Gourmet recipe).

The next morning, Mr. Fiberflash went to pick up my brother Jonathan (Jom) at the airport, and they were back here towards lunchtime. Hannah and I once again cooked like mad, this time all day. Our Thanksgiving meal in November had flopped in several ways, mostly due to the fact that we didn't take into account some German ingredients, and also the size of my oven (for some reason we chose to make a whole lot of baked dishes, and my oven is tiny and has only one rack). For the big Christmas dinner, we decided that we would plan things out as carefully as was humanly possible.

We started by choosing dishes based on the ingredients available to us locally, as well as things that would remind us of home enough to feel traditional. We sourced our family cookbook as well as the Christmas issue of Gourmet for this. Our menu ended up looking like this:
Flank Steak (Grandma's recipe, which is broiled and fantastic)
Braised red onions (from Gourmet, and uses fresh Thyme sprigs and apple juice -- ends up coated in this syrupy glaze)
Smashed potatoes (the Mr.'s recipe with dried oregano, tons of sour cream and butter, plenty of salt, and some potato skin throughout)
Cracked Wheat Rolls (Moosewood Celebrates: buttery, slightly sweet, and crunchy with Bulgar -- always a huge hit, no matter who I make them for)
Sweet potato souffle (from our family cookbook -- we have no idea why this is called a souffle when it's actually a casserole of mashed up sweet potatoes with a sugar/pecan crust on top. Hannah made it better than ever by oven roasting the sweet potatoes instead of using canned, and holding back on some of the sugar, which brought out the tuber's earthy flavor.)
Caesar Salad (Our family recipe, modified slightly because we didn't have enough cheese to make it the "right" way, but it ended up tasting even better with all of the rich food we'd been eating)

For dessert I made cranberry cupcakes with Dulce DeLeche frosting (Gourmet recipe), and Hannah made an apple pie. We also had countless dozens of cookies, which we had made for neighbors and friends, but somehow still had too many of.
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(Colorful Rice Crispy Treats, Molasses Crinkles, Fig Swirls, Shortbread-Dolce DeLeche-Chocolate Bars, Chocolate-Hazlenut Crinkles)

We planned out to the minute what time each thing would hit the stove or oven, and shockingly enough, even with all of those different dishes and mostly just the two of us responsible for it all, we pulled it off without a hitch. It was the most fantastic dinner that Hannah and I have ever made, I think, and we got it on the table before 6pm. We were terribly proud of ourselves. (In our family, holiday dinners are usually served rather late, because there's always *something* that needs to be done, or the person responsible for a particular dish isn't being...well, responsible.)
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(Max, eating the frosting and pecans off of the cupcake)

After dinner we still had time to eat dessert with the boys, sing some Christmas carols around the piano, watch Sparky and Max open the rest of their gifts, and have them call family back home to say "thank-you" and "Merry Christmas".

We put the little people to bed, ladled out mugs of Glu-Wine (spiced, sweet mulled wine, pronounced "vine") which had been warming in a crock pot, and opened the rest of the gifts. The evening was lovely, and I feel like we were all able to enjoy the true spirit of Christmas, as believed by our family.
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(Hannah opens a tiny album I made for her out of a tic-tac tin, sort of similar to Grace's -- sorry, I forgot to get close-ups.)

The next day was relaxed, full of left-overs, new toys, and tons of good conversation. (If you know my siblings and I in "real" life, you will realize that the latter is never difficult toachieve.)

Two days after Christmas, the Mr. drove Jom and Hannah back to the airport for their flight to Italy, where they will spend the next few weeks before Hannah returns to school and Jom comes back here for another week or so.

The day after they left, with my husband back at work and siblings traveling, I was more aware than ever of my roll as "house-wife", "stay-at-home mommy of toddlers", and "pregnant person". This plunged me down the steep side of an emotional roller-coaster, where I wondered if I was even a real person, and was certain that my identity as "Faith" had been lost entirely. It's rather cool how pregnant hormones can let me feel things so starkly. Oi. Thankfully my husband is amazing, and a good listener. I wrote a bunch in my journal, and was over it in about a day. Now on to New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Smoker's stash

Christmas was wonderful. It really was. But yesterday I had a total "after the fact" downslide, so I don't really feel like writing about any of it just now. Maybe tomorrow. Today, I'll tell you about my favorite gift that I handmade this year.

Remember this?
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It started out looking like this.
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Back when I used to smoke, I saved one tin from each flavor. I never knew what I'd do with them, but a few months ago I was looking through a Creative Keepsakes magazine and noticed a lot of tiny album kits, some of them using small aluminum tins. It was truly a "light bulb" moment. I love repurposing things, especially when it means finding a use for really old stash! It makes me very happy.

When I saw this phrase printed on the side, I knew that the album just had to be made.
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First I hemmed some squares of Amy Butler fabric, and glued them down to the top and bottom sides of the tin with spray craft glue (don't have it in front of me right now, but I bought it at AC Moore a while ago and I know that it's acid free)
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Unfortunately I didn't realize that the "Camel" logo would show through a little. Oh well. (Next time I'll glue down some cardstock first to line it.)
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It was really hard to get the true colors; it was around midnight by the time that I took these picture and I was just about to giftwrap it so there wasn't time to wait until morning.

I created pages by making an accordion out of cardstock. Since all of the pictures I planned on using managed to fit on one side, I decided to glue down both ends to the inside of the tin.
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The layout itself needed to be quick and easy, since I was running out of time. Also, I generally make things way too complicated for myself, so I looked through my stash and found the perfect background accents. I cut out an entire set of coordinating patterned tags from a "tag book" (also from AC Moore), and used them simply for their designs, rather than confining myself to the idea that they "had" to be used as tags.
I was going to do some journaling throughout, but sometimes I feel like the pictures just say it best all on their own. Plus, the whole theme of this album was chronicling the way that Grace has helped out our little family since I started having kids, and so for most of the photos, she was there and knows the story. Ok, so maybe you'll think this is a cop-out, but remember, the idea was fast/fun/get in the mail by Christmas.
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So there you have it. Crafting on a budget, but still producing something that I'm really proud of. Grace liked it a lot, so I feel like it was a success all around.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Handspun hat

Hello my dears, the latest podcast should be up in about an hour.

Here's a hat that I worked on for two days and I'm about to rip out. Check the latest episode for the whole story...

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

What I've been doing...

If you're my sibling or parent, do not read the rest of this post.

Remember the Super Secret Crochet Project that you were all guessing at last week? MA was right, and I think that Laura (not Laura P, the other Laura) guessed correctly too. It was beanie bags.
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Brief project specs
Yarn: Peaches and Cream cotton (worsted weight yarn)
Hook: aluminum size F
Pattern: my own. Sew up a little pouch out of cotton. Fill with beads. Sew closed. Crochet a circle, increase as needed until it looks like the right size, then crochet in the round until almost to the top of the bag (for the 3x3 bags I worked 18 stitches, the 4x4 were 28 stitches). Decrease about the same rate you increased until the hole is closed up in the top. Weave in ends.
From start to finish: about 2 weeks, since I put off weaving in ends until I had to wrap them up to mail. =)

Ten, to be exact. There were supposed to be 20, but I ran out of beads. The one store I know of here that sells craft supplies tends to be a little expensive, and also the boys don't usually act very well inside (too much cool stuff to grab and throw for Max, and Sparky has a melt-down when we have to leave, because he could easily live in those aisles of the store). So. I only had enough for 10. They're for my little brothers. Last year, I crocheted them one Liger, which, surprisingly I have no pictures of (was going to make two, but the first turned out so desperately ugly that I couldn't bear to make another -- they loved the idea of it, but weren't crazy about the end product either, so it was just as well), and then 3 beanie bags on a whim. I figured that whatever they liked better, I'd make more of.

The beanie bags were better received than I could have hoped. They LOVED them and played with them all the time until some how all three got lost. It was ok, because the design was bad; beads kept escaping out of the crochet holes, even though I'd worked them up rather tightly.

I kept meaning to make them more, for Easter, for their birthdays, for Thanksgiving... Finally, I decided to make them a whole bunch for Christmas. So that's the story. My mom said that they'd still think they were cool, even though it's a year later. Christopher and Joel are 11 and 13.

Next up: a project worked up in three days, my new sock record.
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Project specs
Needles: size 5 DPN's
Pattern: Thuja
Yarn: Lorna's Laces Shepherd Worsted Solid (although it's actually semi-solid -- perfectly subtle and lovely)
Modifications: 3 inch cuff, and shortened overall length of foot to fit a woman's size 8.
Cast-on to cast-off: Dec 1st - Dec 3rd
Notes: Love this pattern. It's the second time I've knit them. Also, I adore the yarn. I need to buy more to knit mittens for me. It's squishy, soft, and tough. The colorways available are also amazing. I am completely in love with semi-solids now. (Multi-colors have been bothering me for some time, but I've been knitting with them anyway to deal with stash.)

These are a shorter version of Thuja. Thuja Footies, I guess. They started out as One Skein Cabled Footies, but I ran into some issues with the pattern (will cover them in my next podcast on Saturday). These have a 3 inch cuff, but I could have easily gotten 5 or 6 inches. I've got a lot of yarn left over -- Lorna's Laces Worsted has quite good yardage. A tiny bit pricy, but completely worth it.

I highly reccomend this pattern for new sock knitters. It's fast, simple, but has nice results.

I always like to include washing instructions and fiber content, so here's the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants "professional" looking label they got mailed in:
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They're for my mom, who can expect handknit socks for every occasion for the rest of her life, since she has proved appropriately appreciative of the beauty and comfort of them. (She's actually expressly asked to only receive these now, so how can I refuse?)

I've also been getting quite a bit of mail...that eBay, I tell you. It's all about shopping in your underwear.
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More on the contents at a later date. I'm not completely prepared to speak about my purchases.

This little guy deserves a post of it's own, but here's a peek at something really cool I did last week:
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And last night, while watching a supremely stupid movie (Talladaga Nights), I redeemed the time by finishing this:
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Sarah is right. Noro matches everything.

Project specs
Needles: Plastic (!) Susan Bates size 8
Yarn: Noro Silk Garden, 2 skeins
Pattern: One Row Handspun Scarf by Stephanie Pearl McPhee
Modifications: I made this a keyhole scarf by knitting 29 inches of the pattern as written, then knit back and forth on half the stitches only for 3 inches (10 garter-stitch ridges or 20 rows). I broke the yarn and joined where I'd left off on the other half of stitches, and worked those for 10 ridges. On the next row I knit all the way across, and continued the pattern as written until I ran out of yarn. It ended up being the Perfect Length -- almost the same length on both sides when I have it on, as you can see in the picture. It's the most practical scarf I have, because it can't blow off or be shifted around by a small person.

Currently ripping back 32 inches of Danica, and I've cast on for the Mr.'s Christmas gift. More details later.

I'm going to be working furiously on Christmas things and then my sister Hannah is coming on Saturday to stay until after Christmas, along with possibly some other siblings, so I'm not sure how much I'll be blogging. I really want to show you some Christmas decorating stuff, including our very first tree (!!!), so I'll try my best.

Look for my End Of The Year podcast coming out on Saturday! In the meantime, be sure to check The Knitting Cook podcast blog every day this week for yummy recipes that are perfect for Baked Goods Gifts.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Just a little something

Sorry, no real post from me today. Trying to get everything wrapped up to go in the mail (nope, haven't sent anything out yet) (!) However, I did produce a podcast on Monday, so be sure to check it out! I can't wait to show you the things we bought and stuff I have planned to make for Christmas decorations this year, but that'll have to wait a few more days. For now, if you haven't gotten the latest issue of Adorn, what are you waiting for? They're on the newstand in your local Barnes and Nobel or Borders, and probably a few other places. Lots of great crafty Christmas stuff in there!


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