A Very Merry Candlenights to You…and You…and You

I am in love with the McElroy Brothers.

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Yes, all three of them. At the same time.

Not romantic love, no. But a deeper, truer love. The love that you feel for the kind of people that make you explode with laughter while you are trying to keep your shit together and look cool on the elliptical machine, simply struggling to breathe in general and now having to deal with hilarious antics at the same time.

Please tell me that you guys have listened to at least one of their amazing podcasts. If you haven’t, please do so. Right now. I’ll wait. Just pick one at random, you won’t be disappointed.

Done? Good.

I have been listening to My Brother, My Brother, and Me for the longest (Since 2012, I think? The days just run together now in my sad weird night-shift life.), and I highly recommend it as a way to introduce the McElroys into your world. You will soon be unable to resist adding more podcasts to your rotation — I myself have now listened to every single episode of Sawbones (which makes my little nursing brain so happy), The Adventure Zone (which makes me pine for the long ago days when I played D&D like a goddamn boss, even sometimes across the country), and ‘Til Death Do Us Blart (of which there are only two so far, but if you listened as well…you would know that this is an accomplishment to be celebrated).

Justin, Travis, and Griffin are, quite possibly, the most charming set of three brothers alive. They are insanely quick and clever. They are ridiculously vulgar. They play D&D with their adorably curmudgeonly father. They love horses. And haunted dolls. And Jimmy Buffett. They talk about ASMR in a non-insulting manner, which is quite a thing and warms my heart.

So, as most of you know, if there are people in the world that I admire and feel the need to let them know about how much they make my life better, and, let’s be for real here, remotely tolerable in this towering garbage fire of a year, I have to knit something for them. In this case, both Travis and Griffin, the middlest and babiest brothers respectively, have recently become fathers to some ridiculously beautiful babies, who will be celebrating their first Candlenights this year, along with Justin’s wonderful two-year-old. (And can I take a moment to mention the fabulous wives of these guys? Sydnee, Teresa, and Rachel are also hilarious, wonderful people, and…I don’t mean to single anyone out specifically, but I kind of want to be Sydnee when I grow up. I guess my going back to school to get my DNP starting in January is a first step towards that. [Yeah, I’m going to put myself through the torture of school again. More on that later.])

What’s Candlenights, you say? Well, in the McElroys’ own words, it’s “a pan-religious, pan-sexual, personal pan winter holiday…Candlenights starts and ends for each person at different times, is about different things for each person, and is celebrated differently by each person. People from all countries of all religions and those without religion alike can celebrate their own Candlenights in their own way.”

It sounds lovely, right? So, as my Candlenights gift to them, I decided to knit the first ever (probably?) Candlenights stockings to shower upon the three babies McElroy, to hang wherever and fill with whatever to celebrate their first winter together.

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These stockings are super heavily-modified versions of the Keepsake Baby Stocking from Interweave’s Christmas Stockings, which is the greatest Christmas stocking book of all time, and sadly, out of print. Just try to pry it out of my cold dead hands.

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They’ve got super-sexy Latvian braid, always a favorite.

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They’ve got my very silly duplicate stitching and tiny stars embroidery, just to add to the Candlenights spirit.

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They unintentionally look a lot like the Amnesty International logo, now that I’m looking at them. Whoops.

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They are also completely coincidentally the colors of the Chipmunks’ shirts, as I am now realizing. That’s what happens when you decide that the perfect yarn is from the leftovers from LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow scarf, I guess.

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Oh, and Justin, Travis, and Griffin, if you’re reading this…yes, that was totally a shameless name-drop. I made a scarf for LeVar Burton and handed it to him! Seriously! And I made an owl for David Sedaris! This is just how awesome I think you guys are! I think I can quit it with the exclamation points now!

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Anyway, these lovelies are headed over to your respective P.O. boxes soon, so please keep an eye out for them so that all of your wonderful babies can share something silly and fun and handmade this year, made with love and hugs from down here in New Orleans.

You guys are great. And you help keep me sane in trying times. And also make me look like a deranged person at the gym. Keep up the good work.

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I Am Jack’s Decorative Throw Pillow

Can we talk for a second about Chuck Palahniuk?

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My infatuation with his work started sort of atypically for me, but not for the rest of the world, with the fact that the first inkling I ever had of him was the movie Fight Club. For once, I didn’t read the book before the movie. I didn’t even know there was a book before the movie. I was 17 and not yet shaped into the devour-er of bizarre dystopian fiction that blogs before you.

That movie blew my damn mind.

Initially, the only reason I wanted to see it was because I had a massive crush on Edward Norton and wanted to see every single thing he was in. (The crush is still sort of there, especially Primal Fear-era Norton. Oh man.) I left the theatre feeling like I had just seen something that I shouldn’t have, and my consequential deep-dive into all things Palahniuk only reinforced that.

I made my mom buy me (in addition to being the awkward person next to me in that movie theatre, poor Mom…actually, to her credit, she’s a surprising fan of this type of stuff and subsequently made it through awkward viewings of Pi and Trainspotting as well during this formative period in my life…) the novel of Fight Club, which I read in one day on my way to NYU for college interviews. Then came Invisible Monsters, and I was completely hooked. Then Survivor. Then Choke, which is still and will always be my favorite. Then he couldn’t even write books fast enough for me to read them.

You could say I was a fan.

I have still maintained my fandom over the years, faithfully reading each new work as it comes out and adding most of them to my permanent collection. I still reread Choke and Diary every couple of years just for fun and to cleanse my palate between the Jodi Picoult guilty-pleasure novels I find myself into now. (Seriously, can there be two authors more different from each other? I have no idea why my brain works this way.) When I saw that Mr. Palahniuk was going to be coming to New Orleans for a book-signing this month, I realized that I had to add him to the increasingly-long list of admired people, especially authors, who receive a handknit gift from me.

But what to make? The answer came almost instantly. A throw pillow, emblazoned with an anti-capitalist message, of course!

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Say hello to I Am Jack’s Decorative Throw Pillow. (Easily downloadable and printable PDF pattern¬†right here, plus the chart you’ll need to embroider Tyler Durden’s anti-establishment message on your pillow. And your heart.)

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Some notes on the making of this here pillow, so it’s easier to make your own:

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The knitting here is ridiculously easy.

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The duplicate stitching is a beast.

If you’ve never tried duplicate stitching before (or you’re not as obsessed with it as I am), it might be good to practice a little on a swatch (maybe your gauge swatch that you’ve diligently knitted, right?) before you move on to the finished project. Here’s a great tutorial from Purl Soho to review if you’ve never tried it before (be sure to follow the “V” stitch portion for our particular pattern).

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To perform a duplicate stitch, you insert a yarn needle threaded with your desired yarn into the base of the stitch you’d like to embroider over, from back to front. Then, you thread the needle underneath the “V” of the stitch above the one you’re working on, pull the yarn snugly, and then bring the needle back down into the base of the stitch where you came up. You’re basically following the yarn through the stitch as it loops up and down, but only doing it one stitch at a time.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to keep your tension consistent. You don’t want your embroidered stitches to be too loose and floppy because then you’ll be able to see the knitted fabric underneath, and everything will just be a mess. If your stitches are too tight, there will be all kinds of puckering and strangeness, which will be near-impossible to block out. Just practice for a bit on some no-stakes stockinette swatches, and you’ll be good to go.

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You don’t want to make your working yarn too long, or you’ll end up tangled all the time. Make sure, as you’re moving from area to area, that you leave enough slack on the back of your work that the fabric doesn’t pucker, but not enough that you’re getting tangled up and catching on loops back there all the time. The way that I do this is to put 2-3 fingers against the back of the fabric and under the slack as I’m pulling the yarn across and making my first stitch, keeping things loose, but not sloppy. Plus, who doesn’t want an excuse to look at the back of crazy embroidery? All knitters love that stuff.

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You’re going to wet-block your pillow before sewing it up, just to give those letters a chance to even and flatten out, plus to get your edges straight, which makes things so much easier.

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Mattress stitch everything up almost all the way, leaving the stuffing until the very end. Afterwards, I gave mine another good hit with the steam iron, just to make sure that everything was fluffed and puffed and perfect.

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I feel like someone was watching me.

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—–

One other important moment before we get to the main event.

I went to get all of my Chuck Palahniuk books, just to make a super-cute picture (and it worked, right?), and I decided to look up the page in Fight Club where our famous quote resides.

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Hmmmm. Turns out that the internet steered me oh-so-wrong. I, like probably 99% of the people on the planet, had completely forgotten that the bar scene in which Tyler states, “The things you own end up owning you,” is completely invented for the movie. In the book, the narrator, musing to himself before he has any idea that his apartment is no more, states, “Then you’re trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.”

As much as I love the phrase “lovely nest,” that sentence is a little too long to put on a throw pillow. I was mortified that I remembered it wrong, but then Chuck ended up agreeing with me, saying that it didn’t matter and he thought that it was great. Yeah, that was awesome.

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I’m getting ahead of myself. ¬†When I got to the book-signing, I patiently waited my turn, sitting almost entirely in a plant with pillow in tow, chatting with some lovely people who traveled 900 miles to see him. That’s some dedication.

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The book-signing was to celebrate the release of Fight Club 2, the graphic novel continuation of the original novel, which is stunningly gorgeous to me already, and I was only flipping through the first few pages. From what I gather, there’s some 4th-wall-crossing mind-bending author-acknowledgment stuff going on, a la Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park, and I am always on board for that. I am so excited to dig in.

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The moment to present my gift was nearly here, and the wonderful people at the Garden District Book Shop caught me looking very coy, wearing my Hamilton shirt in honor of the 212th anniversary of his duel with Burr. Yes, I can’t just geek out about one thing at a time, apparently.

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Can we talk about this man? What a gem.

Not only was he doing the entire event in his bare feet, but he proclaimed the pillow beautiful and asked me all kinds of questions, for which I had extremely short and insufficient answers. Maybe because my brain was overloading with awe.

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He posed me with the pillow so that he could take a picture of it! How freaking cute is that?

He asked me how long I had been knitting (16 years!), and what made me start knitting in the first place. I was honest with my ridiculously lame answer and stated that I saw a friend knitting during a lecture my first semester in college and decided that that was something I needed to learn how to do. No awesome family-heritage-based or raw talent story. Just boredom. If only I knew how much it would come to define me as a person today…

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He personalized our books with the most wonderful messages!

And then…

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…oh yeah.

I had to go with choking, of course, being that Choke is my favorite of his novels, but all I can see when I look at this picture is how genuinely happy Dan looks to be abused by a famous author. I don’t even know how he managed this winning smile because my facial expression is only 30% pretend here. I don’t know if it was the height difference or what (or the fact that he was standing on a cooler behind us), but Chuck Palahniuk actually managed to take my breath away a little bit. More than a little bit. That man’s got some arms.

We strode out of there on top of the world. I’m still smiling, sitting here the next day. I can’t wait to read my book and dive once again into Mr. Palahniuk’s twisted world, knowing that he now knows how much he’s shaped mine.

Seriously, Chuck, thank you. You’re one of the good ones, and you deserve all of the decorative throw pillows life can give you.