From what I could tell, I was at least one hand short, maybe two.
Gripping the slender, aluminum crochet hook in my right hand, I wrapped a line of yarn around, but that was wrong.
Sarah Radow, the owner of Kanawha City Yarn Company, gently told me to undo it and try again.
“You want to go clockwise,” she said.
For half a second, I tried to remember which way the hands of a clock run. The well-used Timex Iron Man digital watch on my wrist was no help, though it could time how long it was going to take me to form a proper “chain.”
The easy answer was to just wrap the hook in the opposite direction, but the whole process felt awkward in between my clunky fingers.
Still uncomfortable with my grip on the rod, I changed hands and the loop I’d made unraveled.
“It’s all right,” Sarah told me. “Just try again.”
I did, but my eyes strained. I should have brought my reading glasses. I was tired, felt a headache coming on and had only been at this for maybe 45 minutes.
Sarah told me to do what I wanted would probably take 15 hours.
“Maybe a little longer since this is your first time. It gets faster and easier with practice,” she encouraged me cheerfully.
I had my doubts. My temples felt like I was cultivating a brain tumor.
Another Christmas sequel
Over the past couple Christmases with “One Month at a Time,” I’ve been an elf at the mall, spent time at a Christmas tree farm, helped with Secret Santa and danced in Charleston Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” (I’m doing that again, if anybody is interested).
Most of these holiday-themed plans came together near December. This year, I started thinking about what I wanted to do at Christmas early — in July, just after I put up my Christmas tree.
I would have hung the stockings, too, but couldn’t find them, and the attic was like an oven.
In July, my personal life suffered one of those regularly scheduled setbacks. I got dumped.
My hard, fast way in dealing with the grief and betrayal was to swallow a heaping helping of Christmas cheer.
While my little dog, Penny, stared, I dug out my plastic Christmas tree from the attic. I strung lights, decorated the fake tree’s wiry branches and sang along to Christmas tunes.
To me, the holidays — or at least the idea of Christmas — have always signified safety. Several times, when I’ve gotten a bit down or overwhelmed, I’ve mailed out Christmas cards, watched holiday movies on TV or baked a pumpkin pie.
The calendar date doesn’t matter to me. I’ve sent Christmas cards in June and decorated Christmas cookies just after Valentine’s Day.
Friends roll their eyes about the cards, but more than a few of them get a kick out of getting an unseasonal season’s greetings — and I usually throw in a sticker or a temporary tattoo.
And why not celebrate the spirit of the holiday when you want?
At its best, Christmastime is a season of comfort and joy. Why not just embrace that when you need it, instead of waiting for the holiday ads in October?
Decorating the tree helped me find my equilibrium. It gave me something to focus on.
A plan emerges
While I was watching Christmas movies and debating whether I really wanted to drink eggnog after I cut the grass, I thought about the Christmases I’d had as a kid.
I remembered the homemade Christmases of my mother.
Mom was a Christmas fan. When I was a kid, she seemingly baked nonstop and kept multiple Christmas trees, which were at least partially decorated with things she’d made.
My very first memory, in fact, is of my mother painting wooden ornaments, but I remembered the Christmas stockings she crocheted on fall and winter evenings when my youngest sister was waiting to be born.
The stockings and the ornaments have become family heirlooms, though I don’t think Mom ever really intended that. She was just quietly crafty and loved Christmas.
I’d like to think that making ornaments was a way for her to enjoy the season a little more and maybe feel a little more invested in it.
I wanted to feel that, to see what I could do to create my own handmade Christmas with baked goods and handcrafted gifts.
The problem is, I’m not especially crafty.
Through a lot of practice (and with occasional guidance from Sarah Plumley at Sarah’s Bakery on Bridge Road), I’ve become a so-so baker, though I still swear like a sailor when I roll out pie crust.
But my Christmas cookies come from a tube and I’ve never made gingerbread men, let alone built anything with gingerbread — though how hard can that really be?
We’re going to find out.
About a month ago, my friend Kristi Wheeler, the resource development director at the United Way of Central West Virginia, mentioned the “More Than a Home for the Holidays” gingerbread house competition Dec. 11 and 12.
United Way and the Kanawha Valley Collective are doing it to raise money to help fund the winter warming stations the homeless (or just the cold) can use when the temperatures drop to 15 degrees.
Not only was it an opportunity to do good, but there were prizes!
Really, I think Kristi was just looking for me to write a few words about the contest in hopes that a few people (maybe very creative people) would jump on board and put together some crazy, elaborate gingerbread palaces.
And maybe that’s what will happen.
In the meantime, they’ve got me. I signed up to bring a gingerbread house and began asking local bakers for tips and guidance.
That didn’t go so great.
“No thanks,” one of them wrote in a Facebook message. “I have no patience for those.”
Then I went looking through cookie cookbooks at the main branch of the Kanawha County Public Library. There weren’t as many recipes as I expected. One cookbook author devoted an entire page to explaining why she didn’t include anything about gingerbread houses in her book.
Apparently, gingerbread is a hassle.
With a little persistence, I did find a basic recipe with pictures and some ideas on how to make things like candy glass, shingles and icing. I also got a note from Rock City Cake Company saying they’d be willing to give me a few pointers.
I am hopeful this will work out.
Meanwhile, I reached out to Sarah at Kanawha City Yarn Company, told her about the Christmas stockings my mother made and how I kind of wanted to give crocheting a try.
“That’s a nice memory,” she told me and then asked what I had in mind.
I explained that I wanted to make a couple of stockings. Maybe I could give them as gifts.
“You could make stockings,” she said. “It’s not hard, but it will take time.”
Fifteen hours per stocking was her estimate — slightly longer than your average Netflix season.
If I wanted to move along a little faster, she told me I could instead work on mini stocking ornaments. With a little practice, I could probably knock out one an hour.
It was a tough call, but I settled on the full-sized stocking.
“It will give me something to do while I’m watching TV,” I said.
Looking doubtful or appalled at the amount of TV I was committing to, Sarah nodded and said, “Well, OK.”
A slow, painful start
We got started. First, she had me drape yarn over my left hand and with my right, create a loop that became a slip knot.
After three tries, I got that.
In the center of the slip knot, I inserted the crochet hook. It was all downhill after that. Before the end of the hour, I was questioning my life choices and was ready to crawl in a hole.
Instead, Sarah handed me a ball of thick yarn and a magic marker-sized crochet hook to take with me. She told me I could come back around after Thanksgiving. I could come back as much as I needed. They had chairs and a table. People hung out in her shop, made things and helped each other out.
The main thing was to get started.
“Just practice,” she said. “You did pretty good for your first try.”