So the other day I was all, “Bah! Humbug! Let’s not start celebrating Christmas too soon!”
Well, today my house is all decked out in Christmas decorations.
It turns out, I have small children.
Christmas Is Irresistible to Small Children
The lights! The decorations! The colors! The traditions!
It was all I could do to keep our kids from writing their letters to Santa and los Reyes Magos before Thanksgiving.
(Quick aside: in Spain–and many other countries–the Three Kings bring gifts on January the 6th. Since our Bug’s birthday is January the 8th, we put in a special request to their majesties to come on New Year’s Day. They’re very obliging.)
And so, we pulled out the box of Christmas decorations. We took one look at it and decided it was too meager.
Thankfully, Trader Joe’s had pretty table wreaths. And Target had adorable decorations. And the Bear needed his own Christmas stocking! (Shockingly, I haven’t made him one until now…)
What About the Humbug??
Believe me, there’s still plenty of humbug in me!
But it is true that the kids’ excitement for Christmas is infectious. As we put up our mix of sentimental old decorations and new mass-produced ones, I felt a bit of that humbug melt away.
I was reminded of my favorite Christmas decorations growing up. The beautiful glockenspiel. The brass angel candle holders. My parents’ modern wooden nativity scene.
I remember how magical they seemed to me. How taking them out and polishing them each year sparked the magic of the Christmas season.
So I let a bit of the humbug go.
But not enough…
To put up the tree yet! DARN IT, I WILL NOT YIELD!
Okay, I knew it was early here, but WOW! That is VERY early, indeed!
The boys were surprised (and delighted) to find Christmas decorations in the stores practically the day after Halloween.
I, however, was dismayed.
First of all, I LOVE Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.
I love how it’s all about food (something I can get behind), getting together as a family, and being thankful together. There’s very little commercialization.
It seems to me to be the only unadulterated (read: un-merchandized) holiday left.
So what do companies and retailers do?? Why, SKIP OVER IT ENTIRELY, OF COURSE! The only money-making part of Thanksgiving is Black Friday!
Bring Back the Twelve Days!
I think, even in a year as crappy as 2020, it’s such a shame to rush so early into Christmas, at the expense of Thanksgiving.
People still celebrate it, of course, but with their Christmas trees up!
And I can totally understand that lots of people need it this year. But here’s what I propose:
Yes! That’s right! Christmas celebrations used to begin on the evening of December the 24th and lasted until January the 6th (Epiphany). That’s twelve days of partying! Merry-making! FUN!
WHO DOESN’T WANT THAT??
If you go to church, you know there’s the “Advent season” (the four Sundays before Christmas), and there’s the Christmas season.
There is some debate as to whether or not the “Christmas season” lasts this long, but in some church calendars, the Christmas season actually lasts until Candlemas! (That’s the 2nd of February, in case you didn’t know.)
But at the very least, Christians can all agree that the Christmas season lasts through January 5th and ends with the celebration of the Epiphany on January the 6th.
(As an aside, Epiphany is the celebration of when the three wise men came and presented gifts to the baby Jesus. In Spain and in many other Latin cultures, presents are actually given on Epiphany, not on Christmas–all the more reason to KEEP PARTYING UNTIL EPIPHANY!)
There’s a little history for you! This is where the carol “The 12 Days of Christmas” comes from.
Historically, since this was a dark and rather unproductive time of the year (nothing’s growing, not much doing…), it was a time when people made merry.
Christmas trees (introduced to English culture by Queen Victoria’s German husband, Albert, in the 19th century) weren’t traditionally “trimmed” or lit until December the 24th.
In our house, we never put up the tree before Christmas Eve. But we kept it up through Twelfth Night (not just a Shakespeare play! Also, the 12th night after Christmas).
But fun and games were had during these 12 dark, cold winter days. And the tradition of lighting things up continues, as we try to dispel the cold, dark and gloom of winter with artificial lights.
Why The Twelves Days Matter in 2020
This has been such an epically awful year. I can understand that people are especially anxious to get into the Christmas spirit ahead of time.
But it’s such a shame for it to come and go in one day on December the 25th.
I say we should go back to some of the old traditions: feasting, pranking, singing, dancing, exchanging gifts and (yes) drinking over the course of 12 days.
We’ve waited so long for Christmas, and for 2020 to be over. It only feels right that we should see it off with a bang.
Yesterday I finished reading The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz.
This book isn’t new. It was published in 2014, and boy! Did it make a splash when it came out.
Basically the conclusion is this: nearly everything we think we know about healthy eating is wrong.
Saturated fat is not bad for you.
Cholesterol is not a reliable indicator of risk of heart disease.
Dietary fat found in butter, red meat, eggs and cheese is good for us. In fact, it’s necessary for healthy body functioning.
A Complete Upheaval
For decades, we have been told that the best possible diet involves cutting back on fat, especially saturated fat, and that if we are not getting healthier or thinner it must be because we are not trying hard enough.
But what if the low-fat diet is itself the problem? What if the very foods we’ve been denying ourselves—the creamy cheeses, the sizzling steaks—are themselves the key to reversing the epidemics of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease?
In this thoroughly researched analysis, Teicholz meticulously combs through all the data that is the basis of the low-fat diet recommendation.
It turns out that the low-fat diet is based on a hypothesis. It was a hypothesis that there is a connection between dietary fat and heart disease.
That hypothesis has never been proved. And in fact, Teicholz finds in her analysis that study after study showed either no connection, or a very tenuous one.
But because of forceful personalities in the early nutrition science world who were pushing this hypothesis as truth, every time a study came up with unsatisfactory results, they were either manipulated or ignored.
To learn this is truly shocking.
This startling history demonstrates how nutrition science has gotten it so wrong.
How overzealous researchers, though perhaps beginning with the best intentions, through a combination of ego, bias, and premature institutional consensus, have allowed dangerous misrepresentations to become dietary dogma.
And despite adhering to the USDA and NIH’s recommendations to reduce meat, egg and dairy consumption and to increase grain, vegetable and fruit consumption, as a nation we have never suffered more from chronic weight and diet-related diseases.
In seems unbelievable that nutrition experts for the last 60 years could have been so incredibly wrong. That what we know to be fundamentally true (namely: vegetables & fruit are the healthiest foods, animal fats are the unhealthiest) can be so completely wrong.
Yet it’s true.
In fact, in the six years since her book was published, the scientific evidence backing Teicholz’s research has grown, and the studies have become even more robust.
More and more evidence is now pointing to sugar and carbohydrates as the main culprits in these diet-related diseases. And while more research is needed, it is not clear that whole grains in large quantities are that much better for us than refined white flour.
This book was a dense read, and I didn’t get through it quickly. In my Goodreads review I gave it 4 out of 5 stars for that reason.
But the takeaway from this book, for me, was huge.
Though I had heard about the Atkins diet, and at one point it seemed that everyone I knew was cutting carbs, I had dismissed it as a fad (I even remember repeating the misinformation that Dr. Atkins died of a heart attack!).
But this year, when I started to increase my exercise and get really serious about tracking my food to trying to lose weight, I was feeling so incredibly frustrated that I felt hungry all the time.
That’s when my aunt recommended Atkins and The Big Fat Surprise. She said, “Just read the books and then decide what you want to do.”
I have read them. I’ve read them and I have given myself permission to eat more butter, more cheese, more eggs and more meat.
And by God do I feel good! And OH MAN DOES IT TASTE AMAZING. After an initial feeling of withdrawal, I eventually realized that I wasn’t obsessing over food anymore. That I was feeling satisfied after every meal and that feeling was lasting longer.
I’ve lost nine pounds. I feel more energetic. I feel less guilty about enjoying bacon at breakfast, or cheese for a snack.
It is, I think, very important to note that eating a high-protein, high-fat diet is EXPENSIVE.
Meat, eggs and cheese are not cheap, especially if you’re trying to buy organic or free-range. A low-income mother could not afford to feed this kind of diet to her kids. A person struggling to make ends meet doesn’t have the money to eat a high-protein diet.
I am fortunate that I can afford to eat either meat, fish or eggs daily. Not everyone in this country has that chance.
And it’s heartbreaking that those who need health food the most are the ones who are suffering the most from diet-related diseases.
It’s amazing what getting out of the house can do–even for a brief period.
Yesterday morning, I volunteered on the COVID-19 information hotline at the Loudoun County Health department.
It was my first volunteering stint in a while, and just the fact of being out of the house and doing something other than childcare from 8:30am to 1pm was amazingly restorative.
A Mad Rush
Luckily I woke up to pee at about 3:30am, because that’s when I realized that I had entirely neglected to set my alarm for the morning. Bad habit I’ve slipped into the last few months…
I set the alarm, and went back to sleep, only to have weird dreams about odd deadlines.
I woke in a cold sweat at 6:00am, and my first thought was: I have to make the boys’ lunch before I leave!
Before I knew it, I was dressed, had put on some make-up (it HAD been a while!), dressed a child, and was in the kitchen with three pots on the stove. Between feeding the boys and getting their pasta salad lunch ready (why couldn’t I just give them PB&J? What’s WRONG with me??), I nearly forgot to feed myself.
Thankfully, I remembered to eat AND have a much-needed cup of tea before stuffing a hunk of cheese in my bag and rushing out the door.
Once I arrived at the call center (this was my first shift there), it was all business.
The stress of the morning melted away, and my focus shifted entirely. I read through the FAQ materials, made a note of some important information I was likely to need, and met my fellow volunteers.
By the time the phone lines opened, I was ready.
For the next four hours, I was in the zone. My focus was entirely on the callers, on answering their questions, figuring out where they could find the information they needed.
By the time the shift ended, I felt like I’d been productive and helpful, like my energies had been expended usefully.
I came home with a spring in my step, renewed energy and recharged batteries. When I opened the door and heard, “Mama!!” and was walloped in the abdomen with a hug from an enthusiastic 5.5-year-old, I smiled down into his face and felt excited to spend the afternoon together.
For the rest of the day, when the Bear woke up from his nap, I was game. I felt like I could take anything they threw at me.
Instead of feeling like I needed to get some alone time ASAP, I felt like I had more of myself to give. We played, we laughed, and it felt really good.
Unlike the Previous Day…
The contrast with the previous day was too marked to pass unnoticed.
On a typical, socially-isolated, distance-learning day, by the time 4pm comes along, I keep glancing at the clock. I’m exhausted, spent and ready for a break.
At 5pm I start to make dinner, and that’s when the boys are allowed to watch TV. I always feel a stab of guilt about it, especially because the Bug spends so much time on the computer for school. But it doesn’t stop me from letting them.
I pop something on PBS Kids, Amazon Prime or Disney+ and retreat to the kitchen, quietly closing the door at the top of the basement stairs behind me.
There in the kitchen, I can listen to my audiobook or some podcasts, or even sneak over to practice on the piano a bit before I get dinner going. It’s a little time to do something for me.
More Days Like Yesterday
I want more days like yesterday. Whether it’s volunteering or working, I want to have something that takes me out of the home context for at least part of the day.
Using my brainpower, energy and focus for something else gives me more of all of those for my kids.
It makes coming home to my little princes so much sweeter.
Okay, to be fair, it’s not a question of right or wrong. It’s a question of ergonomics, and balancing productivity, efficiency and safety.
A Balancing Act
In his book, Demers makes it very clear that there is no incorrect way to knit: no one method that is superior to any other (though there is one he pooh-poohs).
How we knit is a balancing act, and he uses the image of the 3-legged stool to demonstrate. Ergonomics (or comfort) is the seat, and the three legs are what I mentioned above: productivity, efficiency and safety.
He then breaks down the elements that contribute to each of those three aspects of ergonomics and addresses them in relation to knitting.
My favorite part of this book is that Demers is himself a knitter, and truly understands how much knitters love their craft. He is just as passionate about yarn and patterns as the next knitter is!
He pairs his understanding of the knitter’s psyche with his expertise in ergonomics brilliantly, and the result is an engaging, clear and easy to understand (and apply!) book.
Applying the Concepts
You can start applying the concepts from the get-go. He begins with a discussion of posture, which (according to the physical therapist I saw back in early 2020) is the source of my problem.
What the physical therapist could not tell me (because she is not a knitter and didn’t even pay attention when I showed her how I knit), is exactly how my posture was causing me pain.
One chapter into this book, I already had significant changes I could apply. And since I had been on complete knitting rest for 10 days or so, I was starting with a clean slate and could gingerly experiment.
Here’s where the old dog factor comes in.
Old Dog; New Tricks
I learned to knit in 2012 or 2013. It’s not like I’ve been knitting forever. But once you get comfortable with it, it then becomes very hard to change how you knit.
I had already made an effort to change the way I tension my yarn (you can see my video in this post). However, that wasn’t enough to remove the pressure from my shoulder.
More drastic changes were clearly in order.
In addition to changing where I knit, I have to change how I hold my knitting. Up until now I’ve tended to hold my knitting up to look at it more easily, but doing so pulls my shoulder forward and puts pressure on both my shoulder and my elbow.
What I need to do is lower my knitting into my lap (or to a cushion on my lap) and try and keep my forearms parallel to the floor. It’s not easy to do this, as my arms have a tendency to creep up as I keep wanting to look down at my knitting.
But part of the exercise is to learn to trust that my hands know what they’re doing, and that unless I’m working a complicated stitch pattern, they can be left to their own devices, with only an occasional glace.
It needs practice, and I must constantly check in with myself to see how my shoulder is handling it. So far, so good.
Don’t Overdo It
Another change is a behavioral one: I mustn’t allow myself to sit and knit for long stretches of time. We’re always told that sitting for long periods is bad for us.
But that’s so easy to forget when we’re doing something as enjoyable as knitting!
I need to set a timer, or simply stand up to knit. I’ve got to remember to give myself plenty of breaks and ease back into it.
Not Just About Knitting
Demers’ observations and advice apply not only to knitting, but to any sedentary activity (think: using the computer, poking at your smartphone, or driving).
All of these activities involve neck strain (looking down), pressure on wrists, elbows and shoulders, and awkward postures.
So this information is not only valuable in the context of knitting, but also for computer and keyboard use, smartphone use and driving.
Don’t buy this book unless you’re a knitter. I don’t think it would even be that helpful for crocheters (though you could definitely get some useful information from it).
But if you ARE a knitter, no matter whether you’re experiencing discomfort or not, YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK.
Not only will it help you improve your knitting comfort immediately, it will open your eyes to some potentially unhealthy habits that can endanger your long-term knitting ability.
Don’t risk it. It’s not worth it. If you love your knitting as much as I do, you’ll want to make sure you can keep knitting comfortably for as long as possible.
Click here to visit Carson’s website and order your own copy. (I have not been paid to write this article, and clicking this link doesn’t give me–or Carson Demers–any money. Unless, of course, you buy his book, which would give him money. Not me. But if you want to send me money, I am on PayPal. Just saying.)
You started off strong. A bad night’s sleep and an early wake-up. Not a good sign.
Then I gained the upper hand with a good workout, a delicious breakfast and (crucially!) a cup of tea.
Despite rearing your ugly head from time to time throughout the day, I managed to keep you mostly at bay. We got some books from the library (though you tried to throw out my back with the weight of them!). We took a walk and threw random stuff off a bridge into a creek. We had an outdoor get-together with some friends this afternoon!
It really seemed like I had taken the field and Monday wasn’t going to be a thing this week.
Then Came Monday Evening
When you have a picky eater, mealtimes are always fraught. Rather than enjoying your own meal, you’re having to negotiate each bite into a 3-year-old’s mouth.
We have a “one bite of everything” rule, and you’d think that would be doable, right?
Noooooooo… There’s a lot of whining involved.
Then, said 3-year-old decides he needs to use the toilet. He complains about needing help (he doesn’t need help). He goes into the bathroom and closes the door.
Soon, a little squeaky voice says, “Oh Mama! There’s peepee on the floor!”
Turns out, because it’s Monday, he decided to pee standing up. With the toilet seat down. And his toilet seat insert on.
Of course there’s peepee on the floor! The hole is now so small, not even the most experienced peer could pee into that without at least sprinkling!
So now there’s pee on the toilet. On his clothes. On his slippers. On the floor. On the rug.
As we’re negotiating getting the (naked) boys upstairs, we hear a mysterious crash from the laundry room. “It’s probably the mop that’s fallen–I just stuck it back in there quickly after mopping up the bathroom.” No further thought given.
Bath. Bed. Stories. Only one brief meltdown.
Back downstairs. Open the laundry room…
HUSBAND NEARLY KILLS HIMSELF SLIPPING IN VISCOUS GOO!
The vibrations from the laundry machine sent the new, full, ENORMOUS vat of laundry detergent crashing to the floor. First it ricocheted off the top of the washer, knocking the cap off and cracking it.
So while we were putting the boys to bed, its contents were slowly leaking out onto the laundry room floor.
(Pro tip: use a dustpan to scoop up the bulk of the goo and then wipe the rest up with towels before mopping the floor.)
That’s it. I was about to surrender. Monday, it seemed, had won.
But then I remembered!
I remembered the West Cork Irish Whiskey in the fake liquor cabinet! I remembered the lemon in the crisper drawer! I found the honey pot! And I made…
Take THAT, Monday! You thought you could beat me?! Not when I have the ingredients for hot toddies!
(And one of those nice microwavable warming cushions to drape around my neck.)
A Friday dance party is a way to shake off the stress of the week and kick-start your weekend. No matter if your dance moves are shockingly bad! Just GET MOVING!
The weather turned this week here in Virginia. We were having warm, sunny days until the temperature dropped and it started to pour rain. Today, the sun came out again, and we were grateful to get outside this afternoon.
But even an afternoon of running (aaaaaand accidentally rolling in dog poop–LOOOOOVELY) couldn’t get out all the pent-up energy from a rainy week in lockdown.
All that Election Day (and Election Week!) stress knitting took its toll.
I was already starting to feel some twinges when I finished the Bear’s Flax Lite sweater (it’s now blocked and BEAUTIFUL!), but the flurry of knitting I started on Election Day seems to have been too much.
I don’t feel the pain while I’m knitting. That’s the problem. It’s once I stop that I feel an ache in my shoulder and pain just above my elbow.
It gets to the point where my shoulder and the spot above my elbow become sensitive to the touch, and the whole area is generally achey and uncomfortable.
Before the pandemic hit, I did consult a physical therapist at a practice that is supposed to specialize in hand, arm and shoulder care. However, I was disappointed that the therapists didn’t ask to watch me knit, to see what movement I was doing, or observe my posture while I knitted. As a result, they weren’t able to pinpoint the source or cause of my pain.
I went frequently and did the exercises they gave me, but with very limited success in managing my discomfort. When the pandemic hit, I dropped my visits altogether.
More Knitting = More Pain
In periods of less knitting activity, when I’m picking something up and only working on it occasionally, this isn’t really a problem.
But when I’m working on a project I really like, or am trying to finish something by a certain date, I tend to knit more. That’s when the pain and discomfort flare up.
Everything I’ve read says that one of the biggest mental health benefits of crafting is the sense of purpose, the objective you have to work towards. Whether it’s a hat, a sweater or some baby booties, you have delayed gratification while you work towards the final product, and the anticipation of enjoyment once it’s done.
Right now, that feeling of having a goal to work towards is huge for me. With life in limbo due to the global pandemic and my career/job prospects on hold for the time being, knitting has been a beneficial creative outlet.
And now I cannot knit. As I wrote back in February, my productivity and motivation are low, and I feel very little sense of purpose.
That’s not to say that being able to knit solves all problems, but it certainly helps.
Fearful of My Needles
Also upsetting is the apprehension and worry I feel about picking up the needles again once my arm feels better. Will I just hurt myself again? Why am I doing this so wrong that it hurts?
I learned about him on the Fruity Knitting podcast, and I am hoping that his book will help me answer some of these questions. I’ve also reached out to contact him and ask if he knows any physical therapists in this area that he could recommend. It’s a long shot, but there’s no harm in asking.
Here’s hoping that with rest, icing, warming, massage and then with the help of this book, I can get back to knitting without worrying about injury.
He and his cronies have also refused to concede defeat, insisting alternately on victory and fraud.
What is most discouraging is how even those Republicans who are lukewarm at best on Trump are largely remaining silent on the matter, not echoing the president’s false claims, but also not congratulating Biden on his victory. (Mitt Romney is a notable exception.)
We Are Not Out of the Woods
Many people may think that we’re done, the insanity is over, and we can go back to living our normal lives.
Yesterday, it was nearly unbearable. I felt useless, sluggish and distracted all day. I couldn’t focus on anything.
So I knitted.
On Tuesday, I finished off the oats cowl I’d begun on Monday evening, completing it in under 24 hours.
Yesterday, I whipped up a swatch for my Santa pillow. This was tricky. I was swatching fair isle in the round, which is never easy, and my stitches went all wonky. Also, I had some long red floats which needed to be caught on the back but showed through the white beard. I’ll need to find a better solution for that on the actual pillow.
Next, as I waited for my Santa swatch to dry, I cast about for something else I could cast on.
At the foot of our bed is a painted and carved wooden trunk. In that trunk are two large and one small sealed storage bags. The largest contains all my worsted weight (heavier) yarn. The second contains all my DK weight (medium weight) yarn. And the smallest contains my fingering weight yarns.
In moments of stress and anxiety (like yesterday), I like to open it up and imagine the possibilities.
Yesterday, I stuck to the bag of fingering weight yarn.
Also in my stash is something I picked up at the Virginia Wool Festival last fall (sadly canceled this year). It’s a Shalimar Yarns fingering weight yarn called “Paulie.” The color is best described as a bright not-quite-pink but not-quite-red. It’s called “Tamarillo.” The yarn is a luxurious blend of merino wool, camel, cashmere and silk. It is SOOOOO squeezable!
I have two skeins of each of these yarns, and though they are slightly different weights, I am swatching up to see if I can use them together in a project.
This is a deliciously squishy shawl which I knit for my mother a few years ago. I still own the pattern but do not have a shawl of my own! I think it’s time. The midnight blue and the tamarillo (which looks a lot like the pink/red color pictured here) would look great together.
That should tide me over until the yarn arrives to make the Crazyheart sweater for the Bug!
(Don’t get me started on how ridiculous it is to have Christmas decorations up in EARLY NOVEMBER. What about Thanksgiving?! Do we just IGNORE that holiday??)
Looking at this in more detail, I decided it would be relatively easy for me to make one myself. All that worsted weight yarn I have in my stash is in mainly Christmas colors. I bought it last year at A.C. Moore when they were going out of business.
Easy! I have two different sized pompom makers, and have a great technique involving a fork for making smaller ones. Three sizes of pompoms should do it, and if I get started now I should have plenty by Christmas!
I’m going to be SO busy!
I’m off to check the election results for the umpteenth time today.
I had hoped that writing this article would kill more time. Sadly, it hasn’t taken me all that long.