Learn how to crawl: the New York City Yarn Crawl is on through Sunday, September 25.

Gearing Up

Dear Kay,
Clif and I had a fine time decorating the Christmas tree last night. At 11, he is past one sort of Christmas and on to another. We were talking about a small cousin and what we should get for her, and I told him that her aunt and uncle wanted to keep it down to a few things, because she’s kind of wanty right now. Clif said, “Oh. Right. She’s at the toy stage. Just wait until she figures out electronics. Gets a lot easier.”
On Hillsboro Road here, there’s a tree stand that’s been there forever, but this year I noticed a new sign: “We will put lights on for you.” My first thought was along the lines of HELLYEAH that’s for ME. Here’s forty million dollars–have at it! There’s nobody in this household who will string a tree up except for me. It’s like this group allergy to Frasier fir kicks in every year on December 5.
I contemplated what it would mean for some guy to show up, take my lights, and put them on my tree. I realized that he would probably do it all wrong. HIS lights would all operate perfectly. He wouldn’t somehow dislodge the fundamental steadiness of the tree to the point that it would lean in a dreadful and scary way for the next three weeks. He would probably do it in some way that the wires don’t show. He wouldn’t run out of lights or start cursing at Mahalia Jackson for singing “O Holy Night” for the eighth time.
I did the lights myself, as ever, with the sort of results that really make Christmas Christmas for me:
Problem Area: The Last String.
What holiday traditions do you have that you loathe and adore all at the same time?
The Baby Sweater Up There
Is giving me a pain in the side. In my hubris, I just worked the fronts and back all together, the net result being that one of the fronts is four stitches wider than the other one, which when you’re working a sweater in pieces is no big deal. But when you’ve decided to whizz through a baby sweater and do it all at once, it’s kind of a disaster. Four stitches width in a baby sweater is practically half a baby. Very discouraged by this. Don’t want to inflict such misshapen alpaca on a guileless newborn. He doesn’t need this sort of thing, this soon. I’m thinking of punting to organic cotton and trying again.
Musical Interlude
SPEAKING of music, I’m so glad you had a good time at the Punch Brothers concert. I am crazy for music right now, in a way I haven’t been for a long time. I guess it’s having the fellas playing guitar around the house a lot. And the sudden appearance of all this vinyl they’re bringing home. So huge, these LPs. And cool. Vinyl these days is a lot more fun than our vinyl. It’s all superspecial, hyperaware vinyl.
Punch Brothers in particular make me think about texture in music, the way all the players are contributing their particular texture to the song. In bluegrass, this is especially obvious because each instrument is so distinct.
For some reason, this reminded me of a project Hubbo told me about a while back, an attempt to create the most annoying music ever. These guys (who obviously were taking a minute off from some PhD program) did some polling, with the following result:

Komar & Melamid and David Soldier’s list of undesirable elements included holiday music, bagpipes, pipe organ, a children’s chorus and the concept of children in general (really?), Wal-Mart, cowboys, political jingoism, George Stephanopoulos, Coca Cola, bossanova synths, banjo ferocity, harp glissandos, oompah-ing tubas and much, much more. It’s actually a fascinating listen, worthwhile for the opera rapping alone. (We didn’t think that was possible either.)

When you’ve heard “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer” once too often, here’s a little something to put it all in perspective.
The roof guys are here, taking off the old roof at the moment. Dead shingles fly by my window, a lot of scraping and thumping up there. They swear they’re going to put on a new one, but what if they’re a bunch of jokesters?




  1. Dear Sweetie-Pie,

  2. I’m playing the most unwanted music right now and Olive has her ears backer than they’ve ever been.
    Tree is awesome.

  3. A hopeful note about the baby sweater: babies can’t count to four. And even if this is a particularly precocious baby who can, babies also have no sense of style. Aren’t you just a little tempted to give the sweater anyway and act like the asymmetry is a design element?

  4. Definitely asymmetry for babies. It’s all the rage.
    Roofing is generally not done at this time of year around where I live, except in dire emergency, like there’s a big hole… Good luck with that!

  5. Hi Ann,
    I just wondered if you could put a fake seam in the side that the stitch count is right and a real seam to take in the extra stitches on the other side?

  6. Very cool. I love your tree even with the lack of lights in the upper story. We have a fake tree, which is kind of awesome and sad at the same time.

  7. My mother always told me that a good knitter was a goo ripper! so, go for it! sure would love to have the pattern for that baby sweater.

  8. Great tree! Could you use the extra width on the larger side for the button band?

  9. Sew on snaps, with decorative buttons or embroidery on the outside and it becomes intentional.

  10. Ditto all the ideas on the baby sweater. Also, the bad music story was on an episode of This American Life, I think. I seem to remember that the intentionally bad music was maybe not as bad as they’d hoped it would be. Strange, eh?

  11. Tradition I loathe and adore: the Advent calendar. When we were kids we had a cloth one with a picture of St. Nickolaus, and it was covered in 24 rings. My mother would attach little bags (made from napkins) filled with candy, number them, and we’d have to find the appropriate number each day. I acquired the calendar for my kids, and goodness, putting it together was a lot of work. On top of that, everyone wants something different (gone are the days when you were happy with a Hershey kiss). I love the concept of the countdown to Christmas, but I wonder if the whole Advent calendar is worth the effort.

  12. This may sound silly, but can you make the baby jacket double breasted or a kimono to hide the extra stitches?
    Your tree looks lovely!
    Happy Holidays!

  13. Second the comment on calling the extra width the button band and moving on.
    In addition to the music-by-the-poll, there is art-by-the-poll (same guys). Seems like we all like blue landscapes. Except the Dutch, I think, who like abstract art. You can see them here: http://awp.diaart.org/km/index.html

  14. Haven’t you created a built-in button band? Or placket? Or…flying buttress?
    I love your tree.

  15. Tradition I love–getting our tree the day after Thanksgiving to get out-of-town guests in on the decorating.
    Tradition I loathe–packing up the ornaments…I swear we don’t add a single thing to the tree for a whole month, yet those sneaky ornaments grow & grow & grow to the point of not being close to the same size as the one single box that held them in the basement for the whole previous year. Grrr.

  16. the tradition i hate
    what do you want for christmas
    music the sound of washboards
    hundreads of washboards and all
    those big feet keeping time
    oh knit the new baby toys lovley soft
    pooh bears and eleplumts and eyeores

  17. At the risk of sounding unoriginal, cast on four more stitches on the other side and form a button band, maybe a double breasted one if the baby is really tiny. That way they can keep wearing it as they grow wider.
    I made sweaters for my nieces and my son when they were all around 3-4 from my handspun, and the necklines on those sweaters were so wide they couldn’t even pass as cowl necks. I ended up snatching the sweaters off the children on Christmas Day and redoing the necks.

  18. I think the tree looks great. Someone brought one into our building last week and practically tore off the walls in the hallway! As for the sweater, I agree with the others, the baby will never know!!!!!

  19. We heard the annoying song on NPR, and my son goes around singing, “Ramadan, Ramadan, lots of praying, with no breakfast!” In fact, since I just mentioned it out loud, both kids are singing it. You’ve got to admit, it’s catchy.

  20. Listen, a baby is better equipped to deal with four odd stitches than 99.37% of adults. Babies look at sweaters and say, “wow, ain’t this toasty!” “what happens when I erp?” “oh, la-T-da, whatever. Life is sure grand.” If you don’t tell that baby his sweater is goofy, he won’t know. We are not born knowing that. Button band or asymetry it and move on.
    Don’t tell the hubby but really, I don’t like decorating the tree either!

  21. Ah, lighting the tree. That’s always been my job. Here’s my tip: I start at the top, and when I get about half way down, I stop worrying about how well I’m covering the backside of the tree, since it’s going to get shoved up against a wall anyway (ugly ornaments go there, too.) That way, I usually make it to the bottom without having to run out and buy more lights. Yes, there have been years where the bottom couple rows of branches didn’t have lights. Whatever. Less fire hazard that way?
    Then, once they are on and it’s dark, I like to lay with my head under the tree, looking up at the branches and the lights, the fir scent wafting down. Mmmmm.

  22. That was way harsh. Let those dudes think children are a bad idea. We don’t want them to reproduce.

  23. Your tree is beautiful. We have so much trouble with the lights. If you come over and put lights on our tree, I will knit your sweater…

  24. Christmas tradition I love and loathe at the same time? Lefse. I love the butter and sugar and eating part of it. I kind of enjoy the rolling it out with all the flour and flipping it with a big flat stick. But the peeling pounds and pounds of potatoes and then having to rice them all…really? Who needs it? And for those of you who are about to recommend potato flakes in a box…don’t. I just can’t go there.

  25. I help a florist pal put up Christmas décor in homes and churches…and when we do the homes, I always think the people are giving up a big part of the holiday tradition by hiring folks to do the trees and stuff. (Don’t get me wrong, I think lights are a big ol’ pain in the butt, too! But you do what you have to do to get that holiday spirit, right??)
    Not complaining…cuz it’s nice to make a few extra bucks during the holidays…just sayin’!

  26. Dave Barry wrote a book called “Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs” in which he lists the pop songs his readers loathe the most. It’s great. It’s hilarious. You might get some really bad songs stuck in your head.
    We recently added a new tradition (is that an oxymoron?): watching the Julbok in the town square of Gemle, Sweden. There’s a webcam. The Julbok is a giant straw Christmas goat. Every year miscreants try to burn it down, and we watch the security cams so we can yell at the guard and wake them up if we see somebody suspicious lingering near the fence. We even learned how to yell ‘The goat is on fire!’ in Swedish, just in case.
    Tradition I dislike the most: coming up with an inexpensive but appropriate gift for every single person who has anything to do with my child’s education.

  27. Oops, the Julbock is in Gavle, not Gemle.

  28. ha, ha, ha!!! that music is hysterical. It’s far too interesting to listen to (just to see what’s next) to be the most annoying music ever.

  29. The tradition that I love and loathe at the same time is making the family Christmas bread. My mother-in-law made it every year and when she died right before Christmas in 1999 (the night that she had made the bread she had a stroke)I found her recipe and started making it in 2000. My brother-in-law and husband are thrilled that it is there, so that is the part that I love. I also love eating it. However, I loathe making it. It takes me all day and then costs me a small fortune, on top of the small fortune that the ingredients cost, to ship the stuff overnight to Michigan. I have to do overnight, because they are in an area that overnight is guaranteed for two to three days.

  30. Thanks for the link in the Snippets to Knitorious’s blanket! Ooh la la, that is fantastic!

  31. Put the extra 4 stitch front as the under part with the buttons on it. That way there is no “Gaposis” on the front when the baby gets a bit chubbier.
    Button bands the same size don’t always allow for the extra tummy of a growing baby.


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