Thursday, December 21, 2006

Candy Canes and Pine Boughs

I've had a lot of jobs in my working life. I've been a cook, a record store clerk, and a marketing assistant. I've flipped burgers, juggled numbers on prune sales forecasts, and spent a few months entering data into a national breast implant registry. I'm currently a programmer, having mistakenly been hired by my company nine years ago for what I thought was an administrative assistant position. The human resources lady thought that was the job as well, and my boss was so happy that they'd actually let him hire someone, anyone, that he didn't bother correcting either of us. He'd wanted a junior programmer, and eventually I turned into one. It was the least I could do.

A few months prior to that lucky incident, I did some time in the Santa House at Broadway Plaza. I wore the tunic. I talked the little kids into the house and onto Santa's lap. When they were too paralyzed with fear and indecision to make it past the doorway, I'd kneel next to them and listen to their whispered, tearful wishes. "A Thomas the Tank Engine? You want me to go tell him instead? O.K., I'll be right back." Those kids, I could tell they wanted to walk up to him more than anything in the world, but there was that fear. No power on Earth was going force them one step closer. We'd see some of them in the doorway three or four times during a shift, standing their with their parents, staring into the cozy little shack, wide-eyed with huge teardrops dripping onto their shoes. You just knew that they'd walked the cold sidewalks of the outdoor mall for the past hour to work up the courage to walk in, but in that last moment it had all drained away. I remembered feeling like that when I was little, afraid and sick with longing at the same time. I didn't want any of them to walk away with that. "Santa says it's O.K., he'll talk to you himself next year. He says you're going to have a merry Christmas."

The little kids always thanked me through their hiccupping sighs. Some of them would smile while their mother or father took their picture with me in the doorway instead of with Santa on the artistically festive armchair. I got a lot of tiny hugs, which I enjoyed more than I've ever admitted. Having a bunch of three-year-olds in their adorable holiday jackets throw their little arms around me made me happy. I don't have children, and I don't want children of my own, but in those moments I felt like I understood why people do.

Of course, these impromptu hugs and candid snapshots meant no money for the Santa House, which got me into trouble with the lead Helper. "If they don't want to sit on Santa's lap, you don't have time to chitchat with them. You need to keep the line moving," she'd hiss in my ear. Sometimes I'd throw the three dollars into the register myself in an attempt to shut her up. This didn't please the hard old biddie, either. I don't know what drove her take the seasonal job at the Santa House, as she didn't seem to like Christmas or children, and she exuded no warmth whatsoever. She was happiest when she was arranging the bills in the register so that they all faced the same direction. She was like a reptile in a belted velvet tunic, a sleestack in a red Santa hat.

I didn't last the whole season in the House. I played the "my real job doesn't want me to moonlight" card and quit a few days before Christmas. Clearly, I was not cut out for fast-paced culture of ruthlessness and greed and that was the Santa House enterprise. Don't get me wrong. I understood that we weren't there entirely out of the goodness of our hearts, that Broadway Plaza Santa needs his cash, yo. Even so, I couldn't reconcile the business side with the human side. "Next year I'll find some charity that does the same thing and I'll volunteer!" And of course I never have.

But I still might do it someday, just to feel that spirit, that joy again. Who knows? Maybe I'd get to be in another Christmas parade. When that reindeer broke free and bolted for the crowd in front of Macy*s? That was holiday excitement, baby.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lucy Greyface

I love her great big face. That's all. Nothing bad, don't worry. She's fine. I just wanted to say it.

When I arrive home every evening after my ridiculous commute, I'm greeted by primal howl from the back yard, the sound I imagine a dog would make if it were being eviscerated by a puma, and that's my Lucy. The rough, ragged cry sounds as though it it being torn from her lungs. It's a horrible sound, and we don't know where she picked it up, but it seems to be an expression of her unbearable joy at being only seconds away from reuniting with us. I should record it. It's really something special.

When I open the patio door and that dense, wriggling mass of dog collides with my knees and starts licking the hem of my pants, I'm happy. It doesn't matter what mood I was in before. I can't tell you how many times I've walked in the house, muttering angrily to myself, really worked up about whatever it was, and had it melt away when I looked out the door and saw that big, goofy face staring up at me.

Good girl, Lou. Good dog.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

It's Christmas...It's Christmas Time. Yeah.

Knitty Blogstalk Christmas Questionnaire - all the cool kids are doin' it

NAME: Suzanne
1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot Chocolate, especially if it's Nestle's Rich Chocolate from the foil packet.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? He wraps them, oddly enough using the same paper my mom uses.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? It's a combination. Accountant Boy calls the house lights "Charlie Brown" lights, because they're the big ones, just like we had in my youth.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? No.

5. When do you put your decorations up? We're in the middle of it this week. Some years it's early December, some years we don't do anything.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Brown-and-serve wheat rolls, the kind you get by the dozen at the supermarket. You can get them year-round, but I don't eat them before Thanksgiving or after Christmas.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: The Engineer and I snuck into my dad's closet and found our presents, and my parents caught us because we weren't sly. They said they were taking the gifts back, but 'Santa' ended up giving them to us anyway. It's a funny story. I'll tell it later, if I remember.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I think I always knew, and remember trying to pretend that I believed so my parents would still give me the gifts. I 'fessed up to knowing the truth when I was about five. That's what made the incident from item 7 even funnier. 'Santa' gave the gifts to us? Who did they think they were fooling?

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? We used to be a Christmas morning family, but we're changing it up this year. We're opening gifts this Christmas Eve.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? Cheesily, like a Vegas show.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Hate snow. The only thing worse than being cold is being cold and wet. Skiers, please don't tell me it's neither if you're dressed properly, because I know snow is frozen water, and your snow pants aren't going to change the laws of physics.

12. Can you ice skate? I've never tried.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? It's hard to pick a favorite, so no.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Family being together.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Persimmon cookies. My grandma used to make them, and now my mom does.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? I dunno...we're pushing the magic Reset button on holiday traditions this year, because most of our old traditions involved weeping, drinking and stony silence. We're trying for something different this year, so we don't have any favorites at the moment.

17. What tops your tree? A velvet bow.

18. Which do you prefer giving or Receiving? Giving, definitely.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? You asked for it. Go there and click on 'Christmas Song'. It's probably work-appropriate, but I wouldn't risk it. If I can only pick one, this is my favorite. 'Gabriel's Message' by Sting comes in a close second because it sounds so beautiful, but Gunther still edges him out. "Ding dong! It's a Christmas Song!"

20. Candy Canes... Yuck or Yum? Yum, but only during the season. I never think, "Hey, you know what'd be good? A candy cane!" in July.


Ever have one of those days where you're thinking about a thousand things at once, but not one of those things has anything to do with what you're supposed to be doing? That's my today. I feel so amped up that I can't focus on any one thought. Even if I were somewhere else, I'm not sure I'd get anything done that I want to do.

I feel like Lucy must feel when she first runs in to the house. "Yay, water! Wait, there's my bone! Oh, look! There's Suzanne! Buddy's food smells like DELICIOUS! Hey, look! There's the water dish again! I'd better run upstairs! What was I doing?! Running downstairs! Hi, Suzanne! Where'd my bone go? Yay! Water!"

The velvety beauty pictured above is the Taboo rose, another member of the Concord Umbrella Club. It shares the shady spot under the market umbrella with the Japanese maple. Unfortunately, it doesn't bloom in the shade. Even more unfortunately, when I give it enough sun to bloom, the blasting solar rays bounce up from the concrete and burn the flowers. Therefore, it's only able to bloom like this in November. That's O.K., though. If I get to see flowers like this one month out of twelve, it's worth it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Why Adela's Yarns is My Kryptonite

Adela's Yarns isn't my favorite store in which to linger and shop. It's too bright and open for my taste, without cozy aisles to wander up and down, and there aren't walls of bins with balls of yarn to juggle in your arms as you browse. It's tucked into this awkward shopping center, where parking is treacherous. It's not even my most local yarn store. (That's Fashion Knit in Walnut Creek, a fine establishment, worthy of any business you want to throw at it. We'll get to them in a couple of weeks.)

In spite of these things, Adela's Yarns is my financial Kryptonite. It doesn't have a bin with random balls of yarn, because Toni keeps every yarn pretty much stocked up. There aren't too many odd balls rolling around to pick up, think twice about, then put back on the shelf. In fact, there aren't many balls at all. Most of the yarn in her store is hung in skeins from display racks. "Just because you only see the one skein, don't think there's not enough. I've got enough of (whatever you're holding) to make a sweater." I don't know how many times I've heard that, but she's never been wrong.

The "whatever you're holding" might be something from Schaefer Yarn. If you saw a color of Schaefer that you loved, but now you can't find it, you might be able to talk to Toni about it, and she'll call up the dyer at Schaefer and ask them to dye a special batch of it for you. She did that for me a couple of years ago. I bought the yarn for my knockoff Bourne Supremacy scarf there, too. When I figured out that I wanted a variegated yarn with those colors, I knew I'd find it at Adela's. She carries the largest stock of Schaefer in the United States.

Your yarn weakness might also be alpaca from Henry's Attic. I bought a skein of Tweedy Alpaca a couple of years ago, and then I thought, "Hey, what if that's not enough? I'd better buy more." I guess I must have thought that a few times, because now I have 2400 yards of the tweed and 660 yards of that chocolate brown. I'm trying to make something out of this batch, because I've sworn that I won't go back there and buy any of the other colors until I've made and worn a garment made from these two. She's got at least a couple of skeins of each colorway.

I was good. I hadn't been in there for more than a year. Then I discovered that Toni was selling Tilli Tomas, and it was my friend's birthday and she really wanted some, and I could go down there and get it that very day. When I walked in, I though, "That's cool. They put up mirrors to make the store look bigger. I wonder where that wall of Cascade 220 went...oh, wait. That's another room. The store's actually bigger now." I stepped past the big Colinette display and down into the new area, and, well, that was it. I was hooked back in.

Every color of Tilli silk and every variety of beaded yarn, hanging right in front of me. "We're a little low, because we just had a show. We're putting together a restocking order." The show might have been Stitches East. I know she packs up much of the store and hauls it down to San Jose for Stitches West every winter, so it wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination. I was too mesmerized to ask, though.

I went in to buy something for my friend, but now I'm the proud owner of enough of the yarn in the 'Ant' colorway to make another SKB. Dammit.

If you're in the area, stop on in and give Toni lots of your money. You won't be able to stop yourself.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Joy of Photography, Volume 2

This poor bastard. We bought this Japanese maple during our landscape extravaganza back in 2003. I don't know where we thought it would be planted, given that it regularly tops 100 degrees in Concord in the summer, with a UV index of 10. It's on the patio in a half barrel on wheels, so we can wheel it into the shade in the summer. For the first couple of years, none of the other trees in the yard were mature enough to cover it. We've had to put a market umbrella over it to shade it, and even that isn't enough on the hottest days. See the crispy little leaves near the bottom of the picture? Maybe next year we'll find a suitably shady place for it in the yard.

I like this picture's linear elements - the rigid umbrella frame behind the organic arches of the bark. I also really like the way the bright coral pops out from the cool tones of the canvas.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Simple Gets Complicated

You asked for it. Here's a modeled picture of the ol' SKB. I guess I was in a mood when I took this. What have I concluded after a couple of days of wearing it? I should have made it a good bit smaller, and I shoudn't have added that many rows between the neck shaping and the waist detail. And it's way too big at the armpits.You might not be able to tell from this shot, but the bottom of the waist detail sits just at the upper edge of the waist of my jeans. It gets caught there, and super-exaggerates my least favorite part of me, which I euphemistically call my protective kidney padding. You may know it by its common name, the 'spare tire'. The weight of the beads drags that section down a little more with every wear. If I were to do it again, I would have had the lace up higher, and I would start the hip shaping sooner. Overall, it's getting a little too slouchy. I might take the body apart and redo it, or experiment with creating seams by mattress stitching the sides.

I still like it, though. Don't get me wrong. I love the sleeves and the neckline, two elements that I was trying to show in this picture. Either that, or I was rebelling against Accountant Boy's repeated commands to drop my chin and look at him, look to the side, and look over his shoulder. "Look where? Well look at THESE, Avedon."

I'm a few inches into the the next version, which will be knit with all of these findings in mind. More on that later.