Jólabókaflóð

Jolabokaflod, a.k.a Christmas Book Flood, is an Icelandic tradition where books are giving on Christmas Eve and the rest of the evening is spent reading. This sounds like heaven to me.

We had a tradition in our family where mom would use the Christmas money sent by our paternal grandparents for books. Every Christmas, we were guaranteed at least a book or two under the tree. At the time, I don’t think that I properly appreciated it, as I was slow to settle into being a reader. But, now that I am older, wiser (?), and very comfortable with my love for a good book, I really appreciate that tradition.

And, I miss it! Mom would go to Woozles, the independent children’s book store (and store of all things awesome) to find great books for us. The only thing that compared, was the excitement of getting a new colouring book in our stocking each year (Santa was good to us!).

Mom wasn’t the only avid reader and book lover in the family. Dad was the one who introduced me to The Handmaid’s Tale and the one who found a used, but utterly pristine, copy of a childhood favourite the year that I decided to start collecting a few books.

Now, I’m helping my bother pass on a love for good books by buying my niblings books for any and every occasion. One of my favourite things to do is heading over to Audreys Books at lunch to spend a half hour reading kids pictures books (yes, it is awesome having kids to buy books for!).

Whether you like complex themes or quick reads, long novels or pictures, I hope you all get at least one book for Christmas this year.

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On gift giving and other Christmas expectations

I’ve been working on this blog post about Christmas expectations for the past few days, but I’ve had a hard time getting the thoughts down and the words right. Essentially, I’m paring down my Christmas: I’m sending less cards, giving fewer gifts, and not baking for anyone (not even myself).

Maybe someone will be hurt by being excluded or maybe someone will feel like I should have reciprocated their generosity, but I want to get away from the expectations of reciprocation, commercialization, anxiety inducing shopping, holiday debt, etc. And, frankly, we’re all adults and I refuse to be responsible for someone else’s Christmas expectations.

I’m not entirely sure where this all came from:

  • my continued interest in the idea of a minimalist lifestyle?
  • my continued efforts to take better care of myself (reducing stress, etc.)?
  • my frustration with the commercialization of everything?
  • maybe just that, as I’m getting older, I’m less and less interested in the gift-giving aspect, but more and more interested in just being able to spend a relaxing holiday with the people I love

Over the years, the holidays had become something that I was starting to dread. Last year, while I should have been spending all my time being thrilled at spending a rare Christmas with wee my niece-phew niblings (thanks for the term, Bridgeen), I spent a significant amount of time feeling stressed and guilty about not sending anything to the friends and family that I usually visit at Christmas. Which is silly because they’re all grown-ass adults and I’m sure they all know that I love them to bits! So, instead of finding another way to celebrate with them (such as picking up the phone!), I just let myself feel bad.

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

This year, I’m doing things a bit differently and testing out a few new ideas:

  1. The kids in my life will still be getting presents. And, so are my two adult cousins, who will forever be stuck at the “kids” table with me because I refuse to acknowledge the fact that they’re not teenagers anymore.
  2. I did significantly fewer Christmas cards this year. I’m not giving any to people that I will see, because I’d rather express my gratitude for them through my presence and not a piece of paper. I carefully selected the people who I sent cards to, focusing on far away friends and elderly relatives. Because I had so few to send, I was able to take the time to add personal notes to each card, expressing my love and/or gratitude for them. I even sent them on time, for once.
  3. I didn’t bake. Not one cookie, not even for myself. I started not baking last year, because, frankly, I just don’t enjoy baking that much. Especially not on the scale needed for Christmas treats.
  4. I’ve adjusted what I give as gifts. I’ve been sending a gift card to a friends’ kids for the past couple of years, allowing them to pick what they want (in theory, books) and decided to do the same sort of thing for everyone, so that they can get what they want/need. My niece-phew niblings will be getting a museum membership, because museums are awesome!**

Pairing things down has meant that today, just a few days from Christmas, my only stress left to deal with is packing for my longer than normal time away for the holidays. It also means that I was able to put a little more thought and care into the gifts and cards that I did share. Yeah, gift cards aren’t glamorous, but I made sure to pick ones that would be useful and still a little fun (not toys, but not socks, either).

I know that I will still have moments of anxiety and guilt over not bringing cards and treats for everyone I’ll see over the holidays, but I think that this is the right way to do things. It’s better to give as much of me as possible to the people who matter most than to spread myself out too thin to show any real gratitude for their friendship.

**Some would argue that this is unfair to wee kids and that I should be sending books and toys, but I can send them books and toys any day. A museum membership allows the whole family to to have fun together without worrying about things like staying long enough to justify the admission. Also, I’m hoping they’ll take me next time I visit :)

Winter grrs

I haven’t been very committed to this blog for the past few weeks because I’ve been hit with a dose of the winter blues or winter blahs or winter grrs. I’m quite fond of winter, but I’m always a bit bummed after the time change and this year it coincided with 2 weeks of overcast weather quickly followed by winter chills. Plus, I re-injured my knee, so I struggled with getting any for my normal outdoor time (I actually took the bus to work for a few days, despite living less than 2km away). I think it all just made me really grumpy and uninterested.

But, we had a lovely big snow just as my knee decided to be (mostly) healed. I haven’t been able to make it out for a long walk, which is something I *love* to do when Edmonton is a winter wonderland, but I’ve been out and about enough to cheer up quite a bit. I’ve been stopping to watch the chickadees and chipmunks as much as possible because they make me happy.

Pre-snow birds
Birds at the feeder

The morning after the snow
This morning's snowy walk.

Chipmunk
Got any spare seeds?

Chipmunk and magpies (if the embedded version doesn’t work, see here)

Magpies trying to steal the chipmunk’s food. Chipmunk being cute, but having none of that nonsense.

A video posted by Anne Gregory (@beachedlibrarian) on Nov 25, 2015 at 5:32pm PST

And, I got most of my Christmas decorating done, including a string of lights that turn on automagically before I get home. I like coming home to a bit of cheer in my otherwise dark and gloomy apartment (the sun has set by the time I get home).

This is the top of my Christmas card tree I'm making a twinge Christmas tree to hand a few ornaments and cards. This is my star 🌟

Christmas decorations

This year, I finally hit that magic point where I could no longer deny that my artificial Christmas tree was too big. I had no where to put it without doing some major furniture re-arrangement, which I’m not OK with. So, I got rid of it (thank you, Freecycle). Then I tried to just live without any Christmas decorations.

Less than I week later, I put up a wee string of lights. Next thing I knew, I had all kinds of odds and ends of ornaments around the room. It’s not much, but I haven’t had time to decide exactly what I want to do and I think I may wait until the post-Christmas sales before I buy too much (though, I did buy some red silk flowers and a pretty golden bird ornament this weekend).

This is the only time I ever put up with red in my apartment (I stick with pinky colours), so I want to eventually collect a whole bunch of red ornaments, decent faux greenery, and odds and ends of gold accents. But, in the meantime, I’ve at least got a few things out.

It's not much, but at least there's a bit of Christmas in my apartment
Not technically a tree, but close enough 🎄
Christmas decorations
No tree? No problem!
Christmas candle
Christmas decorations
Christmas stars

Christmas tree 2013

I love my Christmas tree. It’s fake, and I miss real ones, but it’s nice to have a worry free and relatively easy way to decorate for Christmas. And, even after doing a major sort and “purge”, I have a lot of really fantastic ornaments: ones from my childhood and newer ones I’ve purchased myself (I didn’t really get rid of them, I just put them away to be passed on to my niece and her soon-to-be sibling).

I tend to put up my tree pretty early (December 1st, if possible, though it was late getting decorated this year as I had a terrible cold) and leave it up until shortly after my birthday (early January). I don’t do many other decorations, though I want to find a few more things and put up some lights around my apartment next year, I just haven’t figured out exactly what I want, yet. All I know if that my Calgary friends put me to shame and inspire me with all their lovely decorating ideas.

This year, I continued my new-ish tradition of buying myself a cool new ornament, except that, like usual, I bought more than one thing.

I found this gorgeous glittery owl at the Royal Alberta Museum.

Owl

I also found this beautiful votive holder at the museum. It’s supposed to be a Christmas decoration, but I’m considering leaving it out year round. Except that maybe it might be nice keeping it for Christmas only. I’m undecided.

Bought this at the #RoyalAlbertaMuseum last week. I keep doing to admire it because it's so gorgeous.

Back in October, I bought this sweet ornament from a small store full of German imports in Kimberly, BC (during the “girl’s weekend” we had).

Christmas tree

Of course, I still don’t have a tree topper, but maybe I might actually get around to doing something about that this year by making something. Or, maybe not: I keep claiming I’m going to, but then get distracted!

Maybe I should finally get around to making a tree topper and tree skirt this year :/  #christmas

And, here are a few more pictures:

Definitely need a tree shirt and tree topper! #christmas
Finally decorated my tree with my very eclectic collection of ornaments #christmas
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WIP: Christmas Stitch Along

As mentioned the other day, I’m participating in Carina’s Christmas Stitch Along.

As of this weekend, I’m all caught up!

I’m really enjoying playing with different stitches. For each pattern, I try to stick with just 2-3 colours and at least one “fancy” stitch. My definition of “fancy” is pretty broad and really just means at least one stitch that *isn’t* my usual back stitch. For some, that meant nothing more then adding a bit of stem stitching, but I also did french knots, the easy version of chain stitch (which I hadn’t tried until now) and I played a lot with the blanket stitch (my favourite is with the dots on the mushrooms – see below). I can’t wait to see what this week’s patterns are!

It's supposed to be mince pie, but I prefer something like raspberry pie, so I did it in red. #xmasstitchalong #embroidery

For the presents, I started by doing one present in yellow, but decided that I didn’t like it, so I took it out and did both in red and green.
I did this with one green and one yellow present (top right), but decided that I needed to stick with just green with red ribbon. Used blanket stitch for a bit of detail. #xmasstitchalong #embroidery

I didn’t do the carrot nose because I didn’t want to add another colour.
Snow dude. I didn't do the carrot noise because I didn't feel like adding a fourth colour to the mix. #xmasstitchalong #embroidery

Christmas bauble #xmasstitchalong #embroidery

Mushroom. And, with this, I'm all caught up with the #xmasstitchalong and ready for new patterns. #embroidery

WIP: Christmas Stitch Along

As mentioned the other day, I’m participating in Carina’s Christmas Stitch Along.

I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped yesterday, but part of that was because I was trying a new stitch that I had some difficulty with. The stitch, called Twisted stitch, wasn’t hard, but I was tired and not very focused, so it took me a long time to do it. I picked it because it looks a bit like feathers, which seemed like an appropriate thing for outlining angel wings.

Tried the Twisted stitch for the winds because it looks a bit like feathers. #xmasstitchalong #embroidery

I also did the halo with a specialty stitch. I have no idea what it’s called, but you start with simple back stitching, and when loop the thread around the stitching. I used variegated yellow, in hopes of getting a bit of colour variation, but there wasn’t enough variation for my taste, so I went around a second time, with the weaving spread out a bit so that the halo sort of looks striped. I didn’t do a very neat job, but I still like how it looks.

The halo is a little rough. I went around twice, spacing the looping out a bit the second time, to add a bit of colour variation. #xmasstitchalong #embroidery

In the end, I didn’t get very much done, but I’m hoping to be completely caught up by the end of the weekend (I have 5 to go, but I might skip one, as it’s a motif that isn’t something I associate with Christmas). .

Not much progress last night, but the rest of the angel will be simple backstitching

WIP: Christmas Stitch Along

I decided to join Carina’s Christmas Stitch Along this year. I’m a bit behind, but I’m trying to catch up this week. This is what I’ve done so far:

Mistletoe

Finally completed my first #xmasstitchalong pattern. The stitching for the berries isn't very neat, but it still looks pretty cool. #embroidery

A paper star, like this one (made from a kit Carina sent me)

Done the second! #xmasstitchalong

It’s hard to tell from the picture, but I alternated the greens (dark mixed with light and light – this picture shows the pattern of the outside, and I followed the same basic idea for the bits on the inside).

A snow angel

Snow angel #xmasstitchalong

And, tonight I hope to get this angel done

The same blues I used for the snow angel, with variegated yellow for the halo. Can't wait to get home to work on this #xmasstitchalong

It’s the same two blues as I used for the snow angel, but I’ve added a variegated yellow for the halo (I thought the variegated colour might look cool.

Gift for a friend

As mentioned in a previous post, I made a second Gingermelon Man ornament for a friend. I’ve been a bit of a slacker when it comes to exchanging cards with her this past year, so I decided to make up for it by doing something handmade for Christmas, and who can resist these guys?!

Made another gingerbread man #ornament (pattern by Gingermelon @ etsy) #Christmas

I then made a gift bag with this awesome Christmas sweater ribbon (purchased form The Crafty Room):

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And, a mini bag for a cheesy little magnet I bought for her when I visited the Muttart Conservatory a couple of weeks ago (yeah, I went all the way to the Muttart, and all I got her was a crappy fridge magnet … that’s the kind of jokester friend I am, ha ha!). Here’s a shot of just the gift bags:

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Here’s the cheesy magnet and all the confetti I included (confetti that she’d put in with my gifts):

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And, because I’d been a slacker with exchanging cards this year, I sent her 2 Christmas cards in the mail, and them made her a bonus dollar store / office supplies card to include with the gift. Here’s the front:

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Here’s the inside:

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I think one of the things I like most about this friend is that she’ll appreciate the humour of the gift. I like people who enjoy cheesy things. It makes gift giving so much more fun.

My next gift for her is a pillow cover (which she requested). I’m going to make a second Linked Pillow, but in solids (a berry purple, a dark lavender, and ivory or off white – to match her bedroom).

Cross stitch pear tree ornament

I made a cross stitch pear tree ornament as a gift this year. I started it last winter (in February?), when I was still learning, so some of it is a bit rough, but it’s pretty. It’s based on the Little House Needleworks Pear Tree ornament from 2010 (I just took out all the extra stuff, because I thought the pear tree was prettier without the alphabet all around it).

This is the front:

Pear tree #cross #stitch based on a Little House Needlework pattern called All Dolled Up

Then, I did this on the back:

#cross #stitch #hearts

And, this is what it looked like when I finished it:

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On a related note, Little House Needleworks has a sheep (virtues) series coming out this year. It looks like it might be really cute and I think Liz, of Dragonfly Lotus Handspun Threads, is planning to do them with her wonderful threads. I can’t wait to see the finished pieces. I was considering doing them, too, but I have a few other projects I want to do before adding anything new to my very long list (including 2 very awesome projects with Liz’s threads).