Tiny the T. Rex: Santa’s Not-So-Little Helper

When Aunt Rexie asked Tiny what she wanted for Christmas, Tiny said, “I want to be an elf and help Santa make toys.” Being a loving aunt, Rexie got out the yarn and needles and knit Tiny her very own Christmas elf outfit.

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While she’s much better at sleeves than she used to be, it still takes Aunt Rexie several tries to get them right. At least she’s learned to adapt on the fly. When she made a legging that was too short, she turned it into a hat.

tRexElfRight_web

tRexElf_web

Tiny wishes you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and the gift of an aunt who knits.

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My favorite story about this project: I was at Jo-Anns buying some yarn and bells and the clerk asked me what I was going to make. I said “An elf outfit for a T. rex” and she gaped at me. She said, “That’s the cutest thing I’ve heard all day,” which made my day.

For those interested in the technical details: I used some acrylic and some wool yarns on size 2 needles. I keep thinking I’m going to be able to knit new designs first try, but this outfit took several attempts for nearly every part. Leggings and sleeves required multiple experiments before I got something that looked the way I wanted and also fit. The presents were particularly fiddly: I covered square wooden beads with scrap-booking paper, then tied them with metallic embroidery thread.

My New Favorite Holiday Decoration

Thanks to a smart and thoughtful friend, I have a new favorite holiday decoration. Kelleen knows I struggle getting into the spirit of things come December, and likes to send me a pre-Christmas present so I can get excited about the coming holidays. This year’s really did the trick.

Saturday, I found a big box on the porch. Inside was a present with the best tag a present could have: “Open Me Now!”

Under the wrapping, I found a holiday-themed Lego set: Santa’s Workshop.

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Look what I got!

It includes the sleigh and reindeer, busy elves, and both Santa and Mrs. Claus. I was so excited I postponed all the chores I had intended to do, put a Christmas video on the TV, and got to work. The results were fantastic. Not only is the workshop with trimmings absolutely adorable (I love teeny stuff!), but it made me smile and laugh. Now it’s gracing my mantelpiece and making me happy whenever I think of it.

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Santa, sleigh, and reindeer.
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Santa’s Workshop (You can get to the rooms from the back side)
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An elf hard at work!

Thanks to Kelleen, I’ve shaken my holiday blues. The Grinch is history and I am really excited about the coming holidays. All it took was some cute combined with fun and frivolous.

What is your favorite holiday decoration and why?

Ditching the Grinch, But Must I Decorate?

I’m having a hard time with Christmas this year. I spent most of the fall being grumpy about all the people who were focused on Christmas when we still had Halloween and Thanksgiving to celebrate. All that early hype is a frenzy fed by pure commercialism, so I get to feel superior for not giving in. I growl at all the people who genuinely love the holiday and get excited in October.

My superior position has its down side. I got so good at being grumpy about Christmas, that I was even cranky when I saw my neighbors hanging their outdoor lights after Thanksgiving. Here was someone taking the holidays in their proper order, and I growled at them. WTF?

This brought home to me how easily an attitude can become a habit. After three months of practice, December arrived, and I was a full-fledged Grinch.

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I love the story of the Grinch, but the whole point is that Christmas wins him over in the end. He learns to enjoy the holiday and gives up his grumpy ways.

I don’t want it to be a fight. I want to be won over now. So I determined to give up being grouchy about other people’s excitement. Whenever I see decorations in my neighbors’ yards, I make a point of thinking “Look at those beautiful lights. I’m so glad they put those up.”

It seemed like the perfect way to “ditch the Grinch” and embrace the coming holiday. Only it’s not working. I’m still feeling grumpy about Christmas. And that’s got me thinking: Do I need to decorate, too?

While I’m pretty sure putting ups some lights of my own will make me happier about the coming holiday, I’m conflicted. We won’t actually be home this Christmas, and that always makes me think there isn’t any reason to bother. No party, no company, no need for a tree to stick the presents under.

With our upcoming trip and all the things I need to do before we leave, it’s easy to feel like I can’t spare the time to decorate right now. It takes me about four hours to put out everything, including the tree, but I can get a lot of other stuff done in four hours.

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Slushie the Snowman. Best beanie baby ever!

I sense that my best bet is to go ahead and put out some decorations. Candles and lights make me smile so much, I leave them out right through January. A change in the house, a red towel or stuffed snowman, can remind me that December is here and I have some fun times ahead. So I’ll get out Slushie the Snowman and some strings of colored lights and see if I can’t lift my mood by decorating for the holidays. With luck, I can smile the grinchiness out of my system before I see my family.

Do you decorate for the holidays, even when you won’t be home on the actual day? Why or why not?

Keeping Stores Closed On Holidays: What I Learned in Germany

There’s been a lot of stuff floating around on the internet about stores being open or closed on Thanksgiving Day. Having stores open on a holiday is a bad idea, and living in Germany for two years taught me why.

The palace in downtown Stuttgart. We walked past it every weekend.
The palace in downtown Stuttgart. We walked past it every weekend.

When I lived in Germany in the early 90s, the hours for shopping of any kind were limited. Stores were open on the weekdays during regular business hours (8 AM – 5 PM). There was no shopping in the evening and the only weekend hours were in the morning on Saturday, with all the stores closing at noon. Once a month, we had “long Saturday,” when the stores were open until an incredible 2 PM. After that, you couldn’t buy anything until Monday morning. This meant that Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday were free from the sort of errands that are considered common in America.

A typical Sunday afternoon in the Stuttgart park: time to play chess, or just watch.
A typical Sunday afternoon in the Stuttgart park: time to play chess, or just watch.

Coming from the land of the 24-hour super store, I was initially perplexed. Working full-time in the U.S. meant I did my shopping on weekends to keep my weekdays from seeming unmanageable. Fortunately, my job teaching English to Germans left me with some weekday hours free, and I could get to the grocery store then. Saturday morning was the only time my husband could shop, but that didn’t cause any problem. As long as we made lists and planned our shopping trips, we were fine.

With time, I didn’t just adjust to the limitations the Germans put on my shopping opportunities, I grew to love it.
Weekends were not for shopping. We couldn’t buy groceries for the week or the lightbulbs we needed. We couldn’t look for new coats or shoes. We couldn’t even shop for the entertainment value, unless we were willing to stick to window-shopping only.

Me taking a break from playing frisbee. (Odds are, it was a Sunday.)
Me taking a break from playing frisbee. (Odds are, it was a Sunday.)

As someone who doesn’t really like to shop, it surprised me that this limitation still had an effect on me. Our Sundays were holidays whether we wanted them to be or not. The wisdom of taking a day off, of letting everything wait in order to relax, became apparent to me. Every week, there was at least one day I could count on taking a break, and it made my work days easier to get through. The pace of life, with its clear boundaries between work and play, became my favorite thing about living in Germany.

I told myself when I came back to the U.S., I could keep the tradition going. I could treat Sunday as a day off, a day to rest, no work to be done. You can guess what happened. A Sunday came when I needed something for a recipe and I was back in the U.S., where the stores are open all weekend. I could go shopping even though it was Sunday and I did. That dividing line that made Sunday a holiday was gone.

A swan in the Stuttgart city park.
A swan in the Stuttgart city park.

And that’s why I’m so distressed about the stores that want to be open on Thanksgiving Day. There are very few days in the U.S. where stores are actually closed, where we stop the commerce and focus instead on time spent with family and friends, on rest and relaxation. We need to set aside more days like this instead of working and shopping ourselves to death.

Even though there will be some stores open this Thanksgiving, I won’t be doing any shopping. How about you?

Halloween Costume for a T-Rex: Elsa from Frozen

When Tiny told her Aunt Rexie she wanted to be Elsa from Frozen for Halloween, Aunt Rexie was stumped. She doesn’t know how to sew, only how to knit, and she’s still a beginner. But she promised Tiny she’d make her Halloween costume this year, so she looked at pictures of Elsa and got to work.

Knitting this outfit was no easy task, but Aunt Rexie went for it.
Elsa from Frozen. Knitting this outfit was no easy task, but Aunt Rexie went for it.

The slim cut dress wouldn’t fit over T-Rex hips, so Rexie put slits up the side. She knew if she just made the skirt wide enough to wear, Tiny would look more like Cinderella than Elsa. She also knit a lacy cover for the cape with sleeves, hoping it would be enough like the translucent layer Elsa wore in the movie to satisfy her niece.

Tiny in her Elsa outfit. She loves it!
Tiny in her Elsa outfit. She loves it!
Rather than knit snowflakes into the gown, Rexie used glittery sequins.
Rather than knit snowflakes into the gown, Rexie used glittery sequins.
You can't be Elsa without the braid.
You can’t be Elsa without the braid.

Rexie also had to make a wig*. What a great excuse to buy more yarn!

While she found knitting the lace part challenging, she still got it done before Halloween. Best of all, Tiny loves it. She’s been wearing it around the house every day this week.

Halloween, here she comes!
Halloween, here she comes!

*My husband says it’s demeaning to put a wig on a dinosaur, especially a T-Rex. All I can say in my defense is: Tiny insisted.

Technical details for the curious: I used size 00 needles and a smooth, slightly shiny cotton yarn to knit the dress. The cape is knit from single strands of a sparkly embroidery floss on size 3 (cape) and size 2 (sleeves) needles. I do not recommend using the sparkly floss for knitting. The stuff was stiff and slippery and not knitting friendly. I nearly gave up on it.

Halloween Costume Ideas Seen at the Tour de Fat

New Belgium Brewing’s Tour de Fat was started to promote cycling. While I loved the wide variety of bikes and the ways people decorated them, the real fun was in seeing everyone, young and old, playing dress up. It was the perfect place to be to get ideas for what to wear this Halloween. Here is a tiny sample of the amazing costumes at the parade.

Superheroes came in all sizes, big and small.

Superheroes were everywhere. Here is just one of the Incredibles.
One of the Incredibles.
You don't have to be big to be super. An amazing ironman, with batman right behind him.
Ironman and Batman (mini versions)

Other movie heroes, from Braveheart to Austin Powers, were there, too.

Braveheart, lighting a fire under the crowd.
Braveheart, lighting a fire under the crowd.
Austin Powers, Man of Mystery
Austin Powers, Man of Mystery

Costumes I thought of as “generic traditional” were everywhere. I saw construction crews, fairies, nuns, clowns, hippies, and, of course, pirates.

Jack Sparrow, in Crocs

The costumes most in tune with the darker side of Halloween were Day of the Dead skeletons in big sombreros.

More in tune with the dark side of Halloween were the Day of the Dead skeletons.
Day of the Dead skeleton

Group costumes ranged from couples to armies of people. My favorite was the characters from Despicable Me 2.

My favorite group costume: Gru and Lucy with minions.
Gru and Lucy with minions.

Children’s books were also a source of ideas. I saw George’s friend The Man in the Yellow Hat, the Cat in the Hat, and of course, Thing 1 and Thing 2 (which I thought was a great idea for a couple).

A cute couple's idea for Dr. Seuss fans: Thing 1 and Thing 2.
For Dr. Seuss fans: Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Everyone has seen renditions of the characters from the Wizard of Oz, but this was the first time I ever saw one of the living trees.

The Wizard of Oz has inspired many group costumes, but I never saw anyone dress up as a tree. (
I’d turn back if I were you!

If you need something fast and easy, consider getting some purple balloons and being a bunch of grapes. Or get yourself a mask and you can be anyone, even Elmo from the Muppets.

One of the simpler costumes seen: a bunch of grapes.
A bunch of grapes.
Elmo from the Muppets.
Elmo from the Muppets.

A few more props and you can be Elvis, Jesus, or Groucho Marx.

Groucho Marx.
Groucho Marx.

For those interested in putting in a little more effort, there were elaborate options on display, like this Tiki totem outfit.

A Tiki totem pole
A Tiki totem pole

Feeling even more ambitious? How about going as the Hindu goddess Durga, riding her tiger?

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Durga on her tiger (and carrying her camera; she knew it was going to be a photo-op kind of day).

If you’re up for a costume that includes a bike, but want to do something simpler, you can always put ET in your basket.

I thought this ET costume was particularly clever for a bicycle parade.
I thought this E.T. costume was particularly clever for a bicycle parade.

You can tell it’s not a Halloween parade. Except for some skeletons and one Mad Max gang, there weren’t many scary costumes to be seen. If you’re in the market for costume ideas that aren’t monsters and witches, the Tour de Fat is the place to be.

Halloween is almost here. Who will you be this year?

Just When Is Take Down Your Christmas Tree Day?

I am at a loss. Since we stayed home for the holidays this year, I decorated for Christmas. Now I am wondering when I should take the tree down. Most of the time, you can count on the Unwritten Rules to guide you in a situation like this. You know the ones I mean. Look both ways before crossing the street. Chew with your mouth closed. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom. Never wear white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. Don’t stick metal things in electrical outlets. Those handy rules our parents drilled into us as children that help us make important decisions and otherwise navigate our way through life.

I searched my mental data bank for the rule of thumb regarding the Christmas tree and was stumped. I don’t have one. I was going to blame this on my not being raised Christian, but after doing some highly scientific research on the internet (i.e., skimming the first five links that came up), I’ve realized there is no handy rule — just a bunch of differing opinions.

Festive in December, but looking a little odd by February.
Festive in December, but looking a little odd by February.

Traditional Christians talk about Twelfth Night and Epiphany, like the rest of us know the heck that’s all about. Despite what the retailers want us to believe, the twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and run until Twelfth Night which by my calendar is January 5th, although apparently not everyone agrees on that. Epiphany is January 6th-ish. In some Christian circles, the tree is supposed to come down some time between the two, which gives you a when, although I think un-decorating a Christmas tree in the middle of the night is a little weird.

Families who put their trees up at Thanksgiving or early in December are of course fed up with having the thing in the house. Tired of yelling at tree-climbing cats and sweeping up pine needles, they are ready to take down the tree as soon as the presents are unwrapped. Couples without children, feeling in general a little more relaxed about things, take their trees down on New Year’s Day, if they bothered to put one up at all.

Which leaves me out here in the middle of January looking at my Christmas tree and thinking: I missed it! It doesn’t matter whose standards I use. I am late again. I missed Take Down Your Christmas Tree Day.

Now what do I do?

While I love Kristen Lamb’s solution of just leaving it up and decorating it for other holidays, I’m not sure I can do it justice. I’m not interested in decorating for the popular holidays, so I would be unable to take advantage of all the decorations sold for Valentine’s Day, Easter, and the 4th of July. I’d want to decorate for the neglected and misunderstood holidays, like Groundhog Day, Earth Day, and Columbus Day, and that would mean making my own trimmings for the tree. Of course, I could be efficient about it. I could paint Christmas balls to look like the Earth and use them for all three holidays. That would reduce the decorating time, but I’d probably have to dust. Like that is going to happen.

We need a national Take Down Your Christmas Tree Day. A firm deadline, that is the same year after year after year. Something that sticks in the brain and gives those of us with a slight tendency to procrastinate to get off the sofa and fight yet again with our strings of Christmas Tree lights. Otherwise, my tree will be there until next Christmas.

When do you take down your Christmas tree? When should national Take Down Your Christmas Tree Day be?