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December 28, 2005: Monkey wrenched

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On Saturday my knitting mom gave me a call. She had to make a baby sweater by Friday and she knew I had the knitting machine - which I still hadn't really learned how to use - and was wondering if we could figure it out together so she could try to whip out the sweater in time. Monday we ran into her and her grandkids at one of the stores while doing the after-Christmas shopping and it turns out she went out and took advantage of a 40% off coupon, so bought her own knitting machine, but she wasn't getting any further than I did. So we made plans to meet today, both of us with our machines, rightly figuring that if the two of us were fighting with them together, maybe we'd be able to make heads or tails of the whole process and also get a baby sweater out of the whole ordeal.

So this morning I packed up all the pieces and parts of my knitting machine and I headed off to her house, and we set both the machines up and got started. There was a lot of grumbling under our breath and not a small amount of swearing, and each of us managed to produce a decent sized swatch. So then we decided that if we could do that much we might as well tackle the sweater because, it being for a baby, it is made of small pieces and maybe we could handle them. She cast on for the back and her machine started giving her a lot of trouble, but I cast on for a sleeve and miracle of miracles, it worked. There was a small kitten zipping around the house while we did all of this, and I think this was actually a good thing because there were a few times when we were very much in need of a kitten's rattley purr and comic relief.

By this time we had been at it a few hours, so we took a break for lunch and I got to try all the traditional Swedish Christmas foods, like pickled herring and creamed herring, and headcheese (which is sort of like a gray lumpy liverwurst kind of thing) and some kind of beans which were surprisingly sweet, and cardamom rolls and pickled beets, and a strangely pale and gray potato sausage that was quite delicious, and then paper thin spice cookies with slivers of almonds in them. And then fresh from lunch and starting to get excited about finally figuring out this darn contraption I whipped out the second sleeve in about fifteen minutes and while her machine still wasn't playing nicely I also did the two front sections. And by the time I was finished with those she had finally wrestled her machine into submission and even though she ran into one more snag, the back piece was pretty close to done by the time we finished with our afternoon. So it was all very exciting, especially in that we were able to crank out all the pieces for a baby sweater in one day. It amused us because a knitting machine is actually hard work and we can see that if one used it a lot one would build up some impressive upper arm muscles. There is still finishing and seaming to do so no matter what, there will always be some work that has to be done by hand. But for the boring long stretches, this machine is marvelous.

Following our success, we bundled up all the pieces and headed off to visit her daughter to show them all off. But I didn't end up staying there very long because there was a series of phone calls on my cell phone from my mom and Richard and my older sister, so I headed home to be ready for the sisters to call because they were on their way down to our area with spouses and kids, and I was to go meet them at the bowling alley on the UC Davis campus so we could all go bowling.

None of us are good bowlers by any stretch of the imagination, but it was still pretty funny that all three of the kids got far higher scores than any of us adults. Granted, this is because for kids their age, they put up the bumpers, and the two younger kids were using a bowling ramp to get the ball started. The kids seemed to have fun, although there were a few times when we thought we might have to send a second ball down the lane because the ball rolled by the kids was in serious danger of coming to a complete stop.

After bowling one game (where we all learned to stay far away from my little sister because she managed to drop her ball *behind* her three times) we all headed back to my house. I called Richard to order pizza and called my mom to let her know that we were heading home, eventually everyone showed up - sisters and their families, my mom, and the pizza. We put the extra leaf back into the dining room table and got all ten of us around the table for dinner, and managed to polish off two large pizzas without a single slice remaining.

After dinner, the two oldest kids wanted to play a game. We have tried to make sure to have kid-appropriate toys in the house for when friends or our niece and nephews come over, like Silly Putty and Tinker Toys and Legos and K'nex and such, but we don't really have any kid-appropriate games. So I frantically poked around in the rather huge pile of games that we own, that are all too complicated for small fry, and stumbled across a card game I got in my stocking from Richard's family this year that said for ages six and up. The oldest nephew is seven and the niece is five but she's very smart, and I figured one of the adults could help the youngest nephew, since he is four - although it turned out he'd rather play with Richard's antique cast iron train cars instead, so it all worked out well. My little sister and I puzzled out the rules and decided to ignore all the variations and make things as simple as possible, and we played the game, which is called Rat-a-Tat-Cat and involved a little bit of memory and a little bit of math and has cards with very goofy pictures of cats and rats on them, and it was a lot of fun. So much so that the kids wanted to play it again. And when the two boys headed upstairs to take their baths (because our big green garden tub in the master bathroom is still the coolest place to take a bath) my niece wanted to play another game, and when the boys were done and it was her turn for the bath, the oldest nephew wanted to play another game, and when all three kids were bathed and in their pajamas and ready for the ride back to my older sister's house, there was such clamor for one more game that we all said why not. So for a goofy little stocking stuffer present it was an instant hit and I am very grateful to whichever member of Richard's family who gave it to me because the kids thought it was a blast.

Now for the not-so-fun part of the evening. While standing there in the living room I twisted ever so slightly and felt a sharp pain across my lower back, the likes of which I have not felt in years but recognized immediately. I had the presence of mind to not say out loud the various curse words I was thinking in my head, and instead asked Richard to bring me a small pile of ibuprofen, since I knew that the first thing I needed to do was to relax the muscles around it to allow me to do more than just stand in one awkward position because moving hurt like hell. Eventually the ibuprofen kicked in, but I still cannot straighten my back entirely and I had to sort of shuffle around the house in a bit of a hunched over squat. My sisters and the kids were talking about going to the Jelly Belly Factory tomorrow for the tour but I suspect that I will not be joining them because from what I remember of the last time I did this, I have several days of high doses of painkillers and the hunched over squat walk to look forward to before everything goes back to normal, and taking an entire tour is not going to work well amid all that.

So tonight was the last time I will see my little sister and her husband and my very adorable niece for a very long time and I am feeling a bit melancholy about it. It has been lovely to have them in the area for this long, and as always I find myself wishing that somehow we could figure out a way to twist geography and weather so that we could all live closer to one another - my sisters and my parents and I - so that it does not take major holidays or business trips or carefully planned weekend flights to see one another again.

Happy Holidailies

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