01 December 2009

December - dedicated to the memory of C.

C was my hairdresser for more than ten years, and if you're a regular reader here, then you know he passed away this year and the loss still stabs at me at unexpected times. All the traditional cliches - he was larger than life, he was one of a kind, blah, blah - don't help me much in describing him to you. He was certainly one of a kind! And he was far more to me than just some dude who cut my hair. He was part of my family.

He joked each year as the holiday season rolled around that he was nice to people only in December; the rest of the year he felt free to be a bastard, but he made an effort to be nice during December. (It was a joke, people, "bastard" was never a word I'd use to describe him.) He'd trot out that line when he didn't charge me for trimming my hair, or when offering a beer (yep, there was beer in his salon's fridge - most of the year, but always in December!) or offering to share the "confectionery crack" his mother sent up every Christmas, her own home-made divinity. (Indeed, confectionery crack was an accurate description.) I always brought cookies, which sometimes stayed at the salon and sometimes went home with him. His wife sent me a very sweet thank-you card in January of this year for the cookies of last year; I don't know if I kept it, but it said something along the lines of We didn't have much to be cheerful about this year, (as he was very ill over the holidays, although his death happened in March or April) but your cookies were a bright spot and we really enjoyed them.

I've written before (extensively) about why an Atheist bakes Christmas cookies, and there's no need to re-hash that here. (again!) But I will say that the cookies I bring to various people in holiday-decorated tins certainly fit into the definition of a Mitzvah.

Scrapping the religious part (620 rules were handed down from on high, and humanity should follow these rules. All good deeds come from these commandments.) leaves me with a very secular definition of the word; an act of human kindness.

The challenge from NaBloPoMo is to be "giving" for a month, and to write about those acts of giving. As I choose to define it, this can mean anything from actually giving someone a wrapped present to giving someone the gift of a smile on a difficult day, to doing something unexpected for someone - making a second pot of coffee on a cold day in my office (and there are many) might fall in to this definition too.

So for the first one, even though the task is not 100% complete yet, I'm going to write about a project/social experiment I joined on Ravelry.

Rav is more than a site with patterns and descriptions of yarn and nutcase knitters & spinners. There is a community there; I've tried explaining the site as "facebook for knitters" but from the blank looks I get when I use that description, it ain't gettin' through. Ravelry is part organizational tool, part social networking site, part online community like any fandom, part advertising opportunity, and part forum. I spend a lot of my online time on Ravelry. I belong to 19 groups (which function just like the FB groups, although the boards of those groups are much more active than any board of any FB group I've ever seen). They're pretty diverse groups, among them are; an Agnostic/Atheist group, a group of people who don't have and are not planning to have children, an NPR fangroup, a fangroup for the BBC TV show Top Gear, a Swedish group, a Supernatural group, a group that discusses yarnie culture in the wider world (oh, we're SUCH geeks), a group of naughty girls, and finally, a group called P.S., I knit. PSIK is a group of people who wanted grown-up pen pals, to exchange real snail-mail letters. This is incredible fun, much better than the mail I usually get; junk mail and bills!

The board for PSIK had a little announcement right before Halloween that the moderators were interested in setting up a Christmas Swap. Swaps are a big part of the Ravelry culture. Hilariously, one of the mottoes or guiding principals of Ravelry is "Be excellent to each other," which any child of the 80s will tell you is a line from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Swaps tie in to that 'be excellent' idea because they're essentially gifts, although there isn't always a monetary value involved. Most swaps on Rav involve yarn; I have something you want, you have something I want, they're of roughly equal value, and so with the help of FedEx, we trade. Swaps can be 'de-stashing,' which help a knitter to decrease her surplus stockpile of yarn; they can be Random Acts of Kindness, they can be around a theme of color or television show or day of the week or type of fiber. Anything, really. A day when you receive a swap package is like a little joyous ray of sunshine.

The PSIK swap had some rules; almost every swap does have at least guidelines. But since PSIK is all about the letter writing, they set out some rules related specifically to that. You must include a letter in the box you send. Something handmade. Something holiday-related. Stationery. An item from your country/geographical region. Something yarn-related. Any other goodies you'd like to add in. Not to exceed a dollar value of $25 (pre-shipping). Everyone who signed up answered a short questionnaire about allergies and likes/dislikes, so you did have a little bit of a clue to start for your person. (Do I need to explain that no one in this group has actually met in real life? I think it goes without saying, but it might have been a wee bit unclear until now.)

Of course, this wasn't the simplest task. I can not claim to have followed the value rule, but I went over, and IMNSHO, that's far more desirable than under. I biffed it with the handmade item. I knitted a scarf from a skein of handspun I got from a fiber club. I don't remember how much the monthly dues are for the fiber club...25? 35? Something like that. The first month, the spinner shipped everything late, and she felt bad about it, so she gave everyone an extra skein of handspun. (Believe me, that more than makes up for the tardy package!) That means that I got 2 skeins for the price of one, and cheaper than her retail off-the-rack rate, but the price on the skein wrapper says $26. I'm over at that point without even casting on a stitch. So I decided that the dollar value of the yarn was exempt from the dollar amount limit of the package. It was, after all, just sitting in my stash. Admittedly, sitting in my stash does not equal free, but....yeah, well, I justified it in my own mind. :p

For the 'from your region' item, I choose something from a local company that makes pewter and brass decorative items; they run the gamut from coasters for drinks to serving trays to light switch covers. I choose a bookmark in an art-deco pattern that I'd really like to keep. (>_<)

I found a Christmas-y mug at the grocery store for a dollar, and some lemon-flavored hard candies from the same grocery store run will add little sunny spots in the package. My swap partner's questionnaire mentioned liking lemon-flavored stuff.

Then there's the scarf from the fiber club yarn, and some stitch markers from Hide & Sheep for the yarn-related and hand-made items. (They make the cutest little stitch markers, and they come packaged in these adorable little tins. Plus, the company name is Hide & Sheep. How can you not love that??)

I found the stationery at Pier One on clearance, and so now all that remains is to write the letter, wrap the scarf, bookmark, stitch markers, coffee mug and writing paper, box the whole shebang, and mail it off to my swap partner. Oh, plus I plan to add in some vanilla sandalwood hand-made soap that is sitting in my "gift drawer". {The gift drawer is a small drawer full of little but tasteful things that can be whipped out at a moment's notice and wrapped for a forgotten birthday present. Right now the gift drawer has a lot of hand made soap, but there's also a few delicate silvery book marks, some jewelry I got on Etsy, something my handbag designer friend sent me along with a piece I commissioned from her (a little extra that I've chosen not to keep for myself), and a Swiss Army knife bought as a gift for a guy friend a few years ago that has dropped off the face of the planet. (The friend, not the knife.)}

So that's Mitzvah #1. It's taken me a few weeks to gather all the bits and bobs and knit the scarf, and the deadline to get the box sent away is December 10; I want to have it in the mail by Saturday of this week and am excited to hear what my swap partner has to say about what I've chosen. It isn't a one-to-one exchange, it is a round-robin style, so the person I am sending a gift to is not the same person I will receive a gift from. But the point of the swap is not to get presents; it is about the thrill of the hunt and the fun of knowing you're making someone's day.

This was my first swap, but it won't be my last. I've enjoyed trying to find things that fit into each category. I wanted, desperately, to send Buckeyes as a symbol of Ohio, but alas! My partner is allergic to nuts. So that knocked both buckeyes and most chocolate that is processed in a factory right out of the water. Go ahead, you find chocolate that doesn't have a little disclaimer on the wrapper that says something like "processed on machinery that also processes nuts". Good luck with that one!

I've spent a little bit of time post-stalking my partner, reading her forum posts and checking out her projects and 'about me' on Rav to get a sense of the person. I got a message from the person who has me as a partner asking for my address, and thus far, I haven't looked her up (other than her 'about me' page, which is very limited on the deets) because I want to be surprised by her letter and package; I don't want to know anything about her until I get the box.

The mailbox for our house is down the street a bit from the house, and is a pain to get to, but I'll be checking it daily until that box gets here! I'm also waiting for a letter from my pen-pal person (a totally separate person) and that makes the trek to the mailbox a bit more fun.

1 comment:

Lora said...

Atheists bake Christmas cookies because we are loving, caring people who like to fill our loved ones bellies with homemade goodness.

And what better time to do it than when all the Christians are killing one another at Walmart to buy a Chinese-made piece of crap for their kid so all the other Christians get jealous?