Poncho’s Done

There’s actually not that much to tell, really, but for those who asked, I will try and describe my process. I won’t be able to specify any numbers, for I honestly did not count even once! I began with a chain of as many as I needed to be able to comfortably slip over my head once joined, in light heather grey; I wanted that to be the primary color.

Then I went on to increase at a rate that resembled my comfortable greige sweater in width. In the beginning, this meant increasing every round. I alternated the granny pattern (3 DC in one stitch, two stitched not worked, then again 3 DC in one stitch) and rounds of HDC, increasing (i.e. 2 HDC every 3 or 5 stitches) all the while. As you can see, the piece is not all that flowy or loose – I know that some like that, but I wanted it sort of snug but still comfortable, a bit as if it were a sweater, or cowl – and that took some trial and error.

Once I had reached the chest I stopped with the constant increasing and the rest of the poncho was done in Granny rounds, with occasional HDC rounds in navy blue to sort of reign in the color sequence. I found that the width was perfect when I alternated 2 regular Granny stitches with 3 DC and one that consisted of 2 DC. The HDC rounds did all the increasing needed.

The length was easy to do because I simply stopped when I’d reached my waistband, knowing it would get a little longer when washed.

The border was a mix of input by the hive mind of my besties. M, la chefesse de la mode, suggested a wide stripe of one solid color, and I went with the turquoise because I love that yarn so much. The question of the pompoms was decided after I’d done picots and pompoms side by side, to see which I liked better; I was worried the pompoms would look too playful for my ancient self. But after giving it a go, I found that it looked nice when I made them in the same color, and not too many.

This I can actually tell you in numbers because I needed to space them out evenly: *9 SC, and then a two-faced bobble stitch*, all the way around.

The pattern for the bobbles works like this: chain 3, 3 DC in base stitch, holding back the last stitch, so you have 4 loops on your hook, YO and pull through all 4 in one go. Then chain 3 and work 3 DC in the stitch in which you crocheted all 4 loops together, again holding back the last stitch so you have 4 loops on your hook. YO and pull through all four, then slip stitch into the base – bobble made. Important point if you attempt this: Since they look so much better from the back, turn your crochet project inside out (or crochet from the back if it’s a flat one like a blanket) and work from the ‚wrong‘ side. I swear, it’s prettier that way.

So that was the Poncho Story. It was a fun process, and I enjoyed working with the pastels that are actually not really my color palette. I’m not even sure I can pull off the look – maybe a little better once my melanin deprivation starts to fade with the sunshine. But I’ve worn that thing every day since having washed it on Friday, and I’m really pleased with the way it looks.

My next project is a knit hat, despite the sudden heat (we’re at almost 29 °C which confuses the heck out of my system, resulting in a stupid headache). My daughter wants a strawberry hat, much like the one I made for a little boy for Christmas last year:

Nothing about this project really sits right with me at this point in time – the colors are not what I’d want to use in the spring, she wants two pompoms instead of one, and I honestly find the 5 sock needles very cumbersome because I have like 38 stitches on each, so I have to pay attention not to drop any, all the damn time. Also the green stitches may look strewn in but are anything but! – it’s a nightmare in terms of watching what you’re doing compared to crochet … But it’s a labor of love. And it is going to be pretty. Also I totally enjoy it when she asks for specific things. We all love giving our kids what they ask for, don’t we?

So, yesterday was Mother’s Day. I hope you had a good one and spent it with your loved ones. My two kids were really sweet and tried to make my day a lovely day, made breakfast in the morning, gave me a heart shaped macaroon, played cards and went for a walk with me … they were cute. Check out my gift:

It’s my wooden handled hairbrush, adorned with a pretty wood burned design; I had been wondering where that brush had got to and had to use my daughter’s all week ;-)). Turns out the kids weren’t playing Mario Kart but were doing crafts every night in my son’s room behind closed doors.

So that was my post of today. No recipes this time, but a series of blurry shots I took when we changed sheets and had some, um, help:

Hope that gave you a giggle. Have a good week, and thank you for reading!

Place of Rest

Last weekend was a good one, that held all the things I like about our country cottage. There were long walks, there was baking, there was fresh asparagus because it’s almost May, there were friends – and also, very cool, all the four of us went out together – a thing not to be taken for granted. As my brilliant friend N said: When we were young, we fled from our parents. And our kids choose to spend their vacations and free time with us. What a blessing, right?

Anyway. What also happened was that I was able to put to rest a piece of my late parents‘ headstone. I’ve talked about the strange German regulations regarding cemetery use before. If you don’t feel like re-reading my rant, don’t. I was angry and depressed, lashing out because I felt helpless. Anyway, the gist is that in this country you (usually) rent the tomb from the city for a duration of (usually) 20 years. In some cases, you can renew the lease, in others you can’t. This was the case with my parents‘ grave, their time was up and I was asked to have removed the tomb and remains. I contacted a local stonemason to take care of it, and I asked him if he would cut off a piece of the headstone for me, and have it shipped to Berlin. This happened end of last year, and the stone sat in our shed, neatly wrapped up in bubble wrap, waiting for the right moment to find it a new (and hopefully permanent) resting place in our garden. Last Sunday, my husband and son helped me position it next to our old linden tree in front of the house.

I feel relieved and like I’ve found a closure I wasn’t even really aware I needed. (You’d think burying your parents would grant you that, but hey. We live and learn.) So thank you everyone who commiserated with me, and listened to me complain about the stupid law, also you people who helped me come up with this very good solution for a sad problem.

On to something a little less dark. I said I baked over the weekend, and despite this being a stolen recipe, I feel I should share it. The original was this one, and I was very happy to have found it when I was browsing. My version looked less perfect than the blogger’s, and I think I also know why. Cooling the dough balls dipped in powdered sugar _again_ before baking is key (you need space for 2 baking sheets in your fridge for that), as the blogger points out – unfortunately without specifying how long exactly. Next time I make them I’ll go with an hour and not 30 minutes. But they were very good, despite the less than perfect optics. The kids wolfed down the last four today :-).

If you don’t read German, no problem – just google Lemon Crinkle Cookies, and you’ll find lots of inspiration. It seems to be a popular variety. I can guess why!

And in case you’re too lazy to do either? Here’s what you do:

Lemon Crinkle Cookies

300 g flour (I used spelt)

1/2 TSP salt

1 TSP baking powder

peel of 1 lemon

115 g butter (not chilled but room temperature)

150 g sugar (I used less, about 120 g, but added 1 p vanilla sugar)

juice of 1 lemon

2 eggs

powdered sugar

First, beat butter, sugar and lemon peel until fluffy. Beat in 1 egg at a time, then add lemon juice. Then flour, salt and baking powder. The dough should be smooth and sticky. Chill for at least 45 minutes. It should be firm enough to roll little balls between your palms. Dip the balls into powdered sugar and set on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment. It should yield two sheets of cookie dough balls. Find room for those in your refrigerator, walk away and do something else. I’m serious. The cookies‘ looks will benefit from a thorough chilling.

Then preheat the oven to 175 °C, and bake for 15-20 minutes. Enjoy with a cup of tea, glass of milk, or espresso – these are good with any.

In crafts news, I ripped the crochet poncho up yet again, because I had messed it up in one place, and it didn’t really even out as I had hoped; to the contrary, the irregularity became more obvious as I went. So with a big sigh I frogged like twenty-five rows, again. I was a bit angry with myself and wished (not for the first time) to be able to follow a damn pattern like a normal person.

My friend A. whom I complained to said: But then you wouldn’t be you! She seems to think creative potential and following a pattern are mutually exclusive. Not sure if that’s true – what do you think?

Anyway, I doggedly started again, adding some rounds over the weekend, and will continue to pay careful attention as I go now. This was Sunday morning, and to me it does not get much better than this, crochet in bed, tea at my elbow, and my two li’l dudes sleeping at my feet while the sunshine streams through the window.

Have a productive week, everybody!

Finishing Lines

I probably mentioned my impatience with finishing before, and with sewing in particular. It’s not a thing I enjoy – I’m probably what experts call a process crafter, i.e. it’s the knitting and the crochet that comes easily to me, not the finishing part. I blame my crafts teacher in elementary school, who never had anything good to say about my pieces, no matter how hard I tried. There was no pleasing her, and eventually I gave up trying. I remember crocheting the potholder from hell, and I remember we did embroidery. Since then, I’ve never touched a sewing needle again if it could be avoided.

With the crochet I had no choice but exorcise those demons when asked to translate Margaret Hubert’s crochet bible in 2011. I dove right in and found that I could do it so that it looked good now (yay!) and that I enjoyed it, too. That job was a gift, and I’m so grateful.

As you know, I like to knit socks, and I’ve made sweaters for the kids, one for my husband, and a few for myself, too, over the years.

My usual MO is to crochet the seams together, which works really well if you have reasonably clean, tight edges. Since I mostly use smaller needles than required, that is usually the case in my projects. In case of the sweater for my daughter, the pink one you can see at the top of the post, however, it was not. I used a size 3 needle for the very fine 4-ply sock yarn – and had it been socks, I’d have used a 2,5. So, the edges were a little loose, and when I tried to crochet them together it looked awfully hole-y, and absolutely not what I’d imagined. This was back in October. Frustrated, I stashed the almost finished piece away and went and did other things instead.

A few weeks ago, I started to research a more professional approach. I found a blog entry that stated boldly that a good neckline could make or break a knit sweater. Ugh. Not very encouraging … but last Friday, after submitting a good chunk of work ahead of time, I gave myself an afternoon off, and sat myself down, determined to learn more. I found an amazing tutorial on YouTube (sorry, English readers, this is in German). And when I put my mind to it, as well as more to the point, my fingers, it actually worked like a charm. The sweater looks really good now, and I’m pleased to have learned a new skill: the wonder that is the mattress stitch.

So I guess I proved my elementary school teacher Mrs E wrong, some 40 years later. Also, I consoled my younger self a little. I wish somebody would have bothered to do that back then. My mom just said that you can’t be good at everything, and moved on. Understandable from her point of view, she saw crafts as something old-fashioned, and boring. But for a child, I feel that is the completely wrong approach. I think the truth is that you actually can be good at anything you really want to learn, if taught the right way. Even my dyslexic son learned how to read and write. Even though they’re both left handed, both my kids learned how to knit and crochet. Even though she finds it a bit dull, my daughter can do math. Both my kids were really lucky with their teachers. It’s so cool to see them grow, learn and try out stuff. Also, by working from home, I bought myself a bit more time for them than many other parents can or do. In the end, I feel it’s so worth it.

The rest of the weekend was spent away from the computer doing stuff I love. I cooked, I baked, I walked the pup and worked on my crochet poncho.

I’m almost done with that now, just another 10 cm or so, and I need to see what I’ll do about a border. I’m considering the pompom edge I’ve made before:

Or I might do something else. Simpler, and less playful, seeing that I’m neither a little girl nor a lampshade. Picots, maybe. We’ll see.

In other news, my daughter went to school this morning for the first time in 4 (four!) months. It was really strange, setting an early alarm yesterday night, and we both felt properly zonked this morning. I’ve been making sandwiches for school for so many years (13, right?) that I could literally do it half asleep (case in point this morning), but we’re all a bit apprehensive as to how long this will actually work (also, why tempt fate like this, but that is another can of worms entirely). Infection numbers are still increasing, and vaccines are not yet available for all age groups, so we’ll have to wait and hang tight until that changes…

And, you need to keep your fingers crossed for the upcoming Big Exams, please. Wednesday and Friday this week, in particular.

Signing off today with a sunny picture to make up for the cold and grey day we’re having. Have a good week, and thank you for reading!

A Happy Easter

Those bunnies up there were an edible thank you to my daughter’s sister friends L & L, who were kind enough to help out with firewood stacking: they came through like two true champs. I made them a big batch of this lemony shortbread-y goodness to show my gratitude, and they were devoured within a day. I’m proud of that because one of the Ls is a really picky eater ;-).

The dough is based on whatever short crust recipe you like; I added an egg yolk to mine even though it’s not actually in the recipe, as I wanted the dough a bit more smooth and easy to work with. Also a fair amount of carefully grated lemon peel, on a fine grater and not using a zester (simply because I don’t have one out here in the country, but it’s also better for the cookies, I found.) Vanilla and salt. Didn’t have powdered sugar so I couldn’t make lemon icing. I used egg wash instead.

Lemony Bunny Cookies

Short crust (300-200-100 g ratio flour-butter-sugar)

1 egg yolk

grated peel of 1 large lemon or more to taste

pinch of salt

1 p vanilla sugar

Chop butter into small cubes and in a bowl make a smooth ball of dough from all ingredients, carefully adding drops of very cold water if necessary. Cover and let rest for about 45 minutes.

Roll out on a flour sprinkled surface, about 4 mm thick, cut out desired shape with cookie cutters. Set on a baking sheet, brush with egg and bake for a few minutes at 160 °C.

Let cool on a rack, and enjoy with a good cup of tea :-).

These cookies were the kick-off to a whole cooking spree that began on Holy Thursday, and lasted until Easter Sunday when I handed over the chef’s hat to my husband who made the most amazing leg of lamb, after my gourmet friend M’s French recipe. We felt we needed to treat our son who has been hard at work studying for his final exams, and turned up here for Easter, starved. So we fed him well, and plenty.

Oh, and I was asked about quiche (pic on the right). The dough is a simple pâte brisée, flour, salt, olive oil and water, to which I like to add 1 TSP dried thyme. It gives the quiche a little extra flavor that goes well with most vegetable toppings. In this case, they were spinach and mushrooms, as well as 3 beaten eggs, mixed with 75 ml heavy cream, salt and pepper, and sprinkled with a little Parmesan cheese.

If you follow this blog, chances are you know him, and care about him enough to keep your fingers crossed starting next week, all through April and early May, please.

It was a good four days, and today I find it hard to jump right back into work mode, so I thought I’d pop over here and chat for a bit. When we came out before Easter, I still had a fair amount of work I wanted to get done; I managed to finish it all, pack up our stuff, and see the hair stylist who agrees with the children’s opinion that I need to keep growing out my shaggy pepper and salt curls. The result you can see above. When we arrived, there was unpacking, heating the house, getting supplies for Easter and do a teeny little decorating.

All good things. My husband’s recent hip replacement didn’t let him do a lot of heavy lifting, and only brief walks, but he did what he could, and all in all we tried to keep expectations down and spirits up – and I’d say it worked out okay. There were other neighbors who were happy to walk Charlie with me, and we spent a lot of time outdoors, which is always a plus. Early spring sunshine, birdsong and fresh air was just what I needed, and I feel very lucky indeed, to be able to look after myself.

Also, I did some crochet; I’ve talked about the poncho WIP before, and it’s turning out to be one of those projects where I wish I weren’t too dumb or impatient to follow a damn pattern. I was making such good progress, but then I realized I was making it tighter than I wanted it to be (pic on the right); it wasn’t supposed to be all flowy like some ponchos are either, and that’s where I went wrong the second time around. I went overboard with the increasing, and then had to unravel _again_. But now I’m finally on the right track, I think (pic on the left).

Finally, my Icelandic Sweater came :-), by crafts Artist Særun Osk. It’s a bit bigger than I thought it would be, but both my son and my husband do not mind AT ALL, which seems fair considering I constantly borrow their sweaters. It’s a family affair, and it’s exactly the right thing to wear in this unstable April weather.

Hope you have something pretty to snuggle into yourself. Here’s to a nice and rainy spring – it makes the mushrooms grow come summer and fall. And now it’s back to work for me, duty calls.

Snowed Under

In my last post, I lamented the absence of light, and then and then and then… how’s this for more lux? Thank you Weather Gods, or Universe, or Random Luck – whatever force is responsible for this: Great job, we all feel so much better for it.

This is the lake we swim in over the summer, and now it’s pretending to be solid ground. At first, it made me very anxious, but after some coaxing I braved the elements and walked on it for a while. Not all across because I was freaking out when being too far off shore, but walk I did, despite feeling like I was tempting Fate.

As you can see, my City Dog overcame his initial reservations regarding the snow, and has been having fun with it also.

A month has passed, and things have been busy. My time is divided between two book projects now, and I just accepted yet another assignment, so I’ll be nice and busy until September. Not sure how much time I will have to drop in here, and I try not to think about how I’ll manage all the things I will need to. Sometimes it’s best to just power through, one day after the other!

Life out here in the winter is largely determined by feeding the woodburner in regular intervals, to keep the house reasonably warm. This has to be the longest stretch of time we’ve spent here at this time of year, because usually we have the school schedule to obey. Home schooling definitely has its perks, and it has been quite the experience, we’ve had nightly temperatures of minus 16 Celsius!

I’ve noticed that we were all craving simple comfort foods, filling dishes, nothing fancy. Lots of pasta, soups and grilled cheese, with an occasional stew or casserole.

There is one thing I made that I remember from my childhood: rice pudding topped with meringue. My dad used to cook lunch for me (millenials: no school cafeterias in those days!), and he’d often make these meals that consisted of a simple soup, and a big and nutritious dessert like this. I pepped ours up a little with slices of apple, lemon zest and vanilla. It was a wonderful blast from the past, and a great morale booster.

I did do some crafts too, mostly I speed knit socks: For my young friend Th, as a birthday gift, and for my son, same.

And since I was feeling a little down in January, because it was such a dark, dark month, I felt I needed a little bit of pastels. So I remembered that I’d already done a poncho for a friend, and another for my daughter, and figured I’d make one for myself, using these colors:

We’ll see how it turns out. For now, there’s a lot of increasing going on, but I’ve understood the system of that now (it’s basically alternating the granny stripe rows and HDC rows, in which you work every stitch of the granny stripe rows. I’m winging it, as I always do, but it will work out, I think. The soft colors and feel of the yarns give me great happiness. The design is a simple slip over your head affair, no sleeves or elaborate anything. Like a very long cowl, down to my waist, I’m thinking. It’s made from the top down, in rounds, in case you were wondering ;-). The yarns are merino blends, some are sock yarn, others baby merino yarns. Soft and cozy. Just what I need :-).

I hope all of you had some fun with the wintery goodness that was bestowed on us, and I hope everyone is staying warm, and, as ever, healthy. It’s not over, even though it’s been a year almost now. Hang in there – and thank you for reading!

Light, please!

A time capsule from two years ago, this picture still perfectly represents what can be so beautiful about the winter: steel blue skies, a hazy sunshine, the light reflecting on snow, and instantly lifted spirits. Sadly, we’ve had very little of this over the last few weeks.

This post is an attempt to remind myself (as well as you, kind readers) of the things that can help with low spirits when things are weighing heavily on us. All of us are fighting our own demons in the crazy times we live in, right? Struggling through the second lockdown, it’s more important than ever to try and be kind, to ourselves as well as to each other. Not an easy task when you feel so down you feel you have no fucks to give. But it is my true belief that the thing that will get all of us back on track again eventually is the qualities that make us human. Compassion, patience, sense of humor, appreciation of beauty.

Personally, I really like a clean apartment. It is truly uplifting to me to sit down at a free of dust desk, sleep in fresh sheets, and see the wood of my kitchen counters shine. Last Saturday was a day for deep cleaning, and it left me exhausted but very, very satisfied. I’d show you if everything still was the way my cleaning crew and I made it look, but you can probably guess that life got in the way of that! Anyway, it’s one thing that helps me, if only temporarily, to feel better.

Making something pretty is also a good thing. I had some time over the weekend, and finished another pair of knit socks for myself:

It’s no fancy quality yarn, just a ball of sock yarn I found at the supermarket, but I like the shades of green play, and they make me happy, and keep my feet warm.

On Sunday, we met an old friend for a walk. It was her birthday, we brought a thermos, and she brought cake (very good, but for later, because it needed to be eaten in a civilized manner, using plates and forks), and we spent a good hour walking and catching up. Sadly, our dogs don’t get along all that well – as you know, Charlie is small, and he has a hard time trusting larger dogs – and hers is a beautiful, statuesque Lab and Hovawart mix. She’s a sweetheart, as is her Dog Mom. We need to do more of that in the future, before all of this Covid business makes me forget I have real life friends!

Another source of happiness is food, of course. The newest addition to our repertoire is home made Vietnamese summer rolls – a thing I would probably not have attempted if not for my daughter’s sweet friend V. whose family apparently makes them at home on the regular. She told us about it, and we tried, and it wasn’t hard at all. You need a few ingredients from the Asian grocery store, but then you’re good to go – as you may be well aware but I was not, so you get to read all about it ;-).

You need rice paper sheets (which you dip in water very briefly at the table, lay flat on your plate and fill to your liking, wrapping them as you would a burrito), as well as any ingredient you’d like to have in there (the traditional at my favorite Vietnamese place being mint leaves, cilantro, lettuce, chives or green onions, cucumber, sprouts, and glass noodles, with a choice of chicken, prawns or tofu). We added peppers, avocado and extra lemon.

For the Satay sauce, you can be lazy and buy a mix, but it’s pretty easy to make at home. You need fresh lemon grass, ginger and garlic, which you chop, coconut milk, a good scoop of your favorite peanut butter, salt and pepper, some chili, if you like, a pinch of sugar and a dash of fish sauce, maybe some lemon to taste. Heat these ingredients slowly in a pan and cook for a few minutes. Then let sit for a while so the flavors can steep. For eating, you can reheat it, or serve it as it is. (Caveat: This is the way I make it – there may be other, better, more traditional recipes. I just go by my palate, and try to copy the best satay sauces I’ve had.)

The good thing about this dish is that everyone gets to make their own food at the table, and you can put ingredients in there to your personal preference … a laid-back, fun and healthy way to eat. Also, even my pickiest customer enjoys making her own special roll (always a plus), which contains carrot, cucumber and glass noodles, as well as, astonishingly, pan-fried tofu with ginger and garlic! If you prefer your dip more on the lean side, you can substitute the satay with the typical lime, fish sauce and chili pepper concoction served at Vietnamese restaurants.

Next, and very importantly, hot drinks. There are people in the world who don’t like tea. I know and love some of them, but to say I understand it would be a lie. My love for tea began as a kid in the Eighties, when flavored Chinese teas and green teas became popular. My parents were coffee drinkers and didn’t care much for tea, but at my friend B’s house, I fell in love with the magic of tea leaves, learned about steeping, and enjoyed many many different varieties. Her mom had this carefully curated mail order catalog she’d buy her tea from (Millenials: There was no Internet, then! Companies would send out printed brochures and you’d order by filling in what you wanted on a card, and send that in, and then your order would come in the mail. Quaint, right?) Anyway, we were always excited when the deliveries came. Over many steaming cups of black and green, flavored and plain, we became educated, adventurous, and also, in my case, hooked for life ;-).

I never start my day without drinking tea, which I always have long before I even think about food. It wakes up my soul, caresses my flavor buds, and makes me happy, every single day. My choice of morning tea is a very light Darjeeling first flush, delightfully flowery but not too playful – a serious and delicious tea. With breakfast, I have coffee to kick-start me off into my work day, but later in the day, it’s back to tea for me. We have many different flavors because everyone has their favorites (Husband: citrusy ginger mixes, Me: black tea, sometimes with fruity flavors, jasmine blossoms and chamomile, Son: Not picky except for his morning mint tea with orange peel, Daughter: sweet chai, with chocolate or cinnamon flavor). The herbal mixes we have come in assorted colorful boxes with poetic names. We also have a decent Earl Grey for when we feel traditional in the afternoons. I like it with a slice of fresh lemon rather than milk. For after dinner, I’ve gotten used to a boxed variety containing chamomile, verveine and lavender, appropriately named ‚Sweet dreams‘. It doesn’t actually make me sleepy, but it gives me comfort.

I’m not very big on eating chocolate, usually, but I do enjoy an occasional cup of hot chocolate – as a warming, sweet, comforting drink after a walk in the cold, or when working late. I’m sure it’s just as bad for me as a bar of chocolate would be, but sometimes, it’s just what I need, and I enjoy it with no regrets.

As I do fresh fruit. These global days, everything is readily available at all times, even in countries like ours, very far away from the equator where produce grow all year round. We try and stay within reasonable seasonal limits (for our neck of the woods). I never buy strawberries during the winter, for instance, just as I’d never get asparagus before March. But oranges, mango, cantaloupes and such I do buy on the regular during the dark months, and they brighten many breakfast plates, desserts and salads at our house.

All of that just because we don’t get enough sunshine? Well, I suppose it could be worse. In Nordic countries, the suicide rate is quite high over the winter, as is periodic drinking. With a bit too much sugar, we’re way better off, all in all, I think. Depression has spiked over Corona, and only recently, I read that it was even more so over the winter months. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, most appropriately acronymed SAD, and apparently, 6 out of 100 people suffer from it. Symptoms vary from depression to trouble sleeping, feeling unworthy and listless, and in extreme cases, even suicidal. It’s certainly a dangerous condition to have during lockdown, because the system-inherent isolation will affect SAD patients even more than it would everybody else. So, if you haven’t heard from a friend in a while, try and get in touch, because now is the time it really counts, and a phone call, email or text can go a long way with a depressed person.

Checking out today with an uplifting song from the past. I’m aware the artists had issues with the song being so successful, as it wasn’t really their usual jam. Nevertheless, I as a fan feel entitled to still love it now, just as I loved it when we were kids dancing to it at the club when it was Indie night. Enjoy, and let us all hope for some much needed lux in the near future!

January 2021 Post

Welcome to the first installment of this year, here in my little corner of the Internet. I hope you guys are well, and got to enjoy a bit of time off with your families and loved ones.

In the picture above, we were supposed to experience a rare astronomical phenomenon, the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, which was happening on December 21st. We hiked up the only significant hill we have in the city, to have a vantage point as well as less light pollution. Unfortunately, as you can see, the only discernible celestial body was the good old moon, as it was a really cloudy night. Nevertheless, the city lights always look so pretty from up there, and that night, it was a truly magical atmosphere up there on the hilltop. There were at least 5 small bonfires. Some people played music, others just hugged their thermoses (us included) and stared up into the murky night skies, trying to see something exciting, and probably failing. Or not – who knows what they had in their thermoses! I still count the excursion as a success, because we went as a family, which is not a frequent occurrence anymore in this house, therefore these moments deserve to be appreciated. And they are.

The Christmas break began early for the kids, and I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t nice to skip the alarm in the morning! Over the holidays, we were quite lazy – lots of lounging around in PJs, listening to Christmas music, watching movies and playing with my daughter’s new Switch console. Who knew I’d get into Super Mario Kart at my ripe old age? But it’s nice to still be able to surprise my kids, teehee ;-).

I also made progress on the Waffle Stitch Blanket, and knit a pair of socks for a sweet 18-year old.

My own Christmas present this year is still on its way. It’s an Icelandic sweater, much like the one my husband owns and that I keep stealing:

I found the knitter artist on Etsy, and fell in love with this pattern she used in a cardigan. Isn’t it pretty?

I wrote to her and asked whether she’d make me a sweater with the exact same pattern, and she said she would. I’ll show you when it arrives. Fingers crossed the measurements worked out, and I won’t look like a sausage wearing it! And if you think that sausages are shaped by the contents rather than the skin, shush. I didn’t eat _that_ much over the holidays.

Anyway, after almost a week and a half of not working, I feel ready to tackle the next projects. Tomorrow will see us getting back to work, and both kids will be home schooling. Right now, nobody really believes schools will open again on the 10th. It seems a lot smarter for everyone to stay put a bit longer, and we all hope the ministry of education will decide for safety, much as they did last spring.

See that tree? I must have walked past it a hundred times without really looking at it. On our traditional January 1st walk, I consciously noticed it for the first time, and to be honest, wondered for a minute if it was dead. Realizing it wasn’t gave me pause, and I felt humbled by how nature always finds ways to prevail. To me, this strangely shaped tree seems like a good symbol for my hope for this coming year, and that’s all I’m going to say about it.

I’d like to leave you with a little frozen leaf appreciation, because beauty can be found in strange places.

Have a good start into 2021, everyone, and thank you for checking in.

Time of Reflection

Talking to anybody at the end of the year, you usually hear the terms stress, hectic, overwhelm, exhaustion … so I’ve decided to do the opposite. Today, I want to talk about what the past year was like, reflect on the good and the bad that it brought, and maybe think about what I’ve learned. You good with that? Then read on.

Not to be obnoxious, but I have to keep repeating (to myself, as well as to people around me) how lucky we were. The pandemic has not hit our country all that hard. We are now in the second lockdown of the year, and for good reason. I don’t even know what it will do to small businesses to have to close shop like this shortly before the holidays, hopefully they were smart and set up a web shop wherever possible. One of my favorite stores in the neighborhood is a lovely Italian lady who sells Polish pottery. She has a small, very tastefully set up establishment on a quiet street in walking distance from our house. Her (brand) name is Athéna Panni – go check out her online shop if you still need a cool gift :-). I know that many of our local restaurants have been starting to sell takeout food, which we try and get every once in a while. It’s not much, but we feel we should at least try and support them.

I was thinking of doing a month-by-month recap of 2020, starting with January. It was a horrible month, work-wise. I raced through a wonderful cookbook, instead of enjoying it like I usually do, to make time for a complete rewrite of a novel translation. The client was impossible to please, and I was actually worried she wasn’t going to honor our contract, for a while. Maybe one learning would be to steer clear of authors altogether in the future, and leave it to a publishing house to deal with these aspects of the business. Trying to find the most positive image for that month, I found this: It was one of my favorite projects this year, the baby blanket for young J, my friend M’s third daughter.

February brought my beautiful boy’s 18th birthday, and a new (nice and highly professional) client. For me, it was a month of recuperating, shaking off the awful past month, and putting myself back together. Also, it was the last time we traveled, when we went to see our new baby cousin-nephew, K.

March memorably brought the pandemic, the first lockdown, and home schooling. Also, we learned about social distancing.

And our dear old cat finally succumbed to kidney insufficiency, after a few months of hanging by a thread. It was heartbreaking to let her go.

April and May were two months spent away from the city. We lived at our small cottage, kids homeschooled up in the attic, my husband worked at the kitchen table, and I established a workspace in my small bedroom. Also, mid May, we brought home from the shelter my son’s much beloved, beautiful new old lady of a cat, Elfie.

June was the last month of school. My son graduated from the Waldorf school – with less fanfare than would have been customary and, sadly, no class trip to Rome due to travel banishment :-/. My daughter transitioned from elementary school to the Waldorf, after two frantic weeks of making up her mind. We had our first Covid scare, which luckily turned out to be only laryngitis.

July was a summer month in the country, spent at the leisurely pace nature dictates. I remember canoeing, hiking, rafting, mushroom picking and swimming. Lazy hours in the hammock or deckchair, crochet in the shade, and enjoying starry night skies, which I can’t show here because my lens is not cut out to hack that kind of visual. A lovely young photographer from Boston who does that kind of pictures is Abdul Dremali – check out his awesome website to have your mind blown here.

August was mostly notable for me breaking my damn elbow. Unprecedented, inconvenient and annoying, it slowed me down like whoa. I managed to heal in record time, surprising even my doctor. I tried to eat well, get enough sleep, and stress as little as possible. Typing with only my right hand became a new skill, and deadlines were kept, even though I was slow AF.

September was a busy month for everyone, kids settling in their new schools, working and me finally ditching the cast. Man, was it nice to be able to put up my hair, and to do crafts again. Also: mushroom season!

In October, my son got his license, and has been driving us around with enthusiasm and skill ever since. There was an anniversary (19 years, incredible!), a birthday (12 years, mind boggling) and a notable trip to the Baltic Sea, where our dog encountered salt water for the first time (wildly unimpressed with the ocean after tasting it, but graciously and generously digging holes in the sand).

In November, my daughter cashed in her birthday present and chose her cat. There was also a crafts extravaganza, that had to do with school, but mostly with my love for all things Christmas! Oh, and good call America, for voting the way you did.

And now, in December, the year had to end with an injured pup (damn the dog owners who are careless with their dangerous pets). Immune system and antibiotics did their thing though, and I guess it all could have been worse.

Things are slowly winding down now. Jobs lined up for the next few months: check. Christmas mail packages wrapped: check. Christmas cards made: check. (Not written, yet, though). Plans for the holidays: check. Tree bought: check. Bills paid, invoices sent out: check. Since the stores are closed anyway, there’s not a lot more to do but deep clean the house, mail the parcels, put up the tree and decorate, and if I feel up for it, do a bit of baking.

All in all, I’m happy enough to see 2020 go. I had high hopes for it, right after New Year’s, but that really did not last. It feels like all year round, it was just one damn thing after another. What the pandemic will do to society remains to be seen. People died. Jobs and livelihoods were lost. So many businesses closed down. Social distancing makes people weird, and lonely. Some families couldn’t withstand the strain of closed quarters, and relationships broke under the pressure. Political change, extreme parties finding more and more followers, not to mention the crazies (pandemic deniers, anti-vaccinationists, conspiracy theorists) … Humanity has suffered a blow, in every respect. It’s up to us now to adapt, and to prevail. Be more thoughtful, kinder, and more patient. Take better care of one another. A coach friend of mine whose website I translated a few years back suggests that every crisis also provides a chance. It might be worth while to think about what that could be.

… And that is a wrap on the ruminations on the past 12 months.

On a lighter note, I’d really like to show you this year’s Christmas cards now. As you know, I’m usually a knit and crochet whiz rather than attempting any other crafts disciplines, so I’m really pleased. I like the simple design, inspired by a DIY project I saw online. The crafter was using a lint roller and shapes cut out from rubber foam, and I used – well, vegetables ;-)!

I had only ever used potatoes for this kind of thing before (did this a lot with the kids when they were younger). But today, I found a thick wedge of celeriac and a big carrot in the veggie drawer, so decided to give those a go. I let them dry for a while after carving, and went out to buy a few sheets of a lovely thick off-white cardboard. Then I did a test run on printer paper, tried out a few shades of green (from my daughter’s water colors), and cut my cards to size.

This is what the cards look like. Came out nicely, didn’t they?

The celeriac gave the print a lovely textured look, very different from what a potato would have done. Some of you (you know who you are) will probably receive one of these cards early next week ;-). Other readers, I encourage you to make your own, I promise it’s an easy and gratifying li’l project.

Is it too early to wish you guys happy holidays? Not sure. I might come back and post next week, or not. In case you don’t hear from me again before Christmas, merry merry to all of you, and thank you very much for reading this wall of text. Enjoy my favorite Christmas carol, sung by an angel with a huge voice.

December Already!

Making an advent wreath has become an annual ritual that tells my lizard brain to catch up and understand that the year is drawing to a close. Of course, there’s still the holidays to look forward to, and I always enjoy those. Christmas this year will be a quiet affair, as will New Year’s, seeing that we’re confined to our homes – not the worst place to be, when it’s cold and dark outside, and we’re warm, have food and our loved ones. These things are not to be taken for granted, and it bears remembering that every once in a while.

Like many others, I have a tendency to fall into the pre-Christmas trap, the mad rat race of consumerism. Buying things just because, and ultimately confusing the indisputable joy of unwrapping gifts with holiday cheer. Mind you, I do like presents, receiving them and giving them. Nevertheless, I’ve been trying to downscale material needs and stick to my mantra for this year: I have everything I need.

I am trying to give a few hand made presents this year. (Wherever practical. For transatlantic gifts, unwilling to pay ridiculous postage, we’re resorting to Jeff Bezos‘ enterprise, and creative as I may be, I am unable to crochet a functional Switch game ;-)). I have a mere 10 days left for finishing my projects, but I’ve done 1,5 of 3 knit hats already, and my daughter’s sweater only needs finishing – which requires a steady hand, decent morning light and peace and quiet. That will have to wait until the weekend.

So the Covid scare remained just that – thank you for asking. Thank goodness! It’s a mystery how my son managed to not get infected after he and his girlfriend spent a whole weekend wrapped up in each other. Some say it’s his blood type (he’s an 0). But at this point, I’m just grateful we were spared, again.

In other health news, my dog was bitten by a fellow canine two weeks ago. We’ve been in and out of the vet’s, there were shots, and antibiotics, and fevers, and swelling, and no doubt considerable pain. He’s been very clingy, and he’s been sleeping a lot, even more than his usual 17-18 hours a day. It was a horrible, traumatic experience altogether. Why people with dangerous dogs insist on walking them without a leash, I’ll never understand. Charlie’s still on antibiotics, and the vet says if these bites get infected, it’s sometimes necessary to have surgery to get rid of the necrotic tissue. Yikes. Hope with me that the antibiotics will take care of it!

It was difficult not to feel like I let my dog down. I wasn’t fast enough to save him, and I feel I should have been. Also, I must confess that the place feels haunted to me now. It was only yesterday that I dared to go back. First, Charlie wasn’t up for longer walks, and now that he is again, I find myself shying away from that spot. Yesterday my husband took us, to exorcise the ghost, as it were, but I have yet to go by myself. I know I need to. That place is one of our favorite hikes, and I’m determined to be able to enjoy it again. Acknowledging the trauma is a first step. (The dog seems to be less affected by this than I. He seemed quite happy and unfazed yesterday, to my relief!)

In the meantime, I learned to appreciate our little park close by, once more. The Gingko tree is always the last to shed its beautiful foliage, and I’m grateful for the final dosage of yellow of the season.

As I told you, we were cooking Thanksgiving dinner the weekend before last, and this seems as good an opportunity as any to share the stuffing recipe I love. It’s great for turkey, and it was equally yummy for a chicken:

It’s the simplest recipe, and this is probably the reason why even my daughter appreciated it. It’s also pretty cool because it uses Johnny Cash’s cornbread recipe :-).

Cornbread Stuffing

1,5 cups cornmeal

1 cup flour

1 TSP baking soda

1 TSP salt

2 TSP sugar

1,5 cups buttermilk

1 large egg

4 TBSP vegetable oil

1 onion (or 2 shallots), diced

Mix ingredients together, pour into a baking dish and bake approx. 30 minutes.

Other cornbread recipes I’ve made use melted butter, some call for more sugar, or more eggs. I find the combination above particularly good. If you get the ratio right, it’s soft and a little bit moist, and can be enjoyed with a bit of butter, or avocado, or bacon, the next day. It’s the onion that gives it a distinctly savory character – which other types of corn bread don’t necessarily have. I love corn bread, can you tell?

After baking, let cool and wrap. Use no earlier than the next day, or bake 2 days in advance.

On the day of cooking, dice:

2 celery sticks

2 onions or 3 shallots

Add 1 tiny (or 1/2) parsley root, chopped

2/3rds of the cornbread, cubed (1 cm)

Prepare about 300 ml vegetable broth.

Chop 1 small handful fresh sage leaves, and pull off the tiny leaves from a good 6-7 large twigs of fresh thyme.

In 1-2 TBSP butter, sauté the vegetables. Add the herbs and cook for a few minutes until onions are translucent. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Careful with the broth. You want the mixture to be soft and moist, but the bread cubes should keep their shape, so don’t add too much liquid. Season with salt & pepper. You can be generous, because when you stuff your bird, you won’t have to season it from the inside. I’m not too fond of touching the uncooked meat, so to me that is a bonus :-).

To roast the chicken, stuff it and put it in a fireproof dish of your liking, brushed with oil. Season with salt & pepper. Leave in the oven for about 1,5 hours. Basting every 20 minutes is key for a crisp skin, which looks prettier as well. Your meat is done if a clear liquid runs out when you poke a thigh with a skewer.

Trimmings in our case consisted of a very modest spread (in comparison to what I’ve seen people do). Cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, corn, a salad and corn bread. It was lovely, simple food, and it pleased both kids so much that we decided to make the same thing for Christmas dinner.

Dessert was more elaborate than I usually do: I made my first ever layered cake, a Torta al Pistacchio.

There it is, and it looked impressive, I thought. It was very good, too! However, next time, I will try making the frosting a little less fluffy and moist, and use buttercream instead, maybe with mascarpone, but definitely without whipped cream (like this recipe called for. If you’re interested, it’s on the same food blog I recommended a few weeks back, unfortunately only of use to those who can read German, mi dispiace!)

That was it for today, I think. I wish you a peaceful, happy, and most of all healthy final month of the year.

Thank you for reading.

Covid Crafts

So, my son’s girlfriend was tested Covid positive, and we’re waiting for P’s test result to come in tomorrow; it would be short of a miracle if he didn’t have it, either with or without symptoms. Just in case, we’ve taken the necessary precautions inside the house. However, there is a high probability of us being infected as well, because we are a touchy-feely, affectionate family. In fact, that is the thing I find most vexing, not to be able to touch my boy :-/. I mean, I don’t wish for getting sick, I really don’t. In fact, we’ve been more careful than some of our friends, and doing our level best to avoid it, up to now. Still, a part of me can’t help thinking if it wouldn’t be best to just get it over with?

When I called our pediatrician, they recommended to isolate ourselves as a family, until the boy’s test result is in. So, to pass the time in a meaningful way, I’ve resorted to crafts.

This is my contribution to the festive decoration of the school building. With my fellow Waldorf mom E, I did three of these large twig stars:

You may not be able to tell by the picture, but they’re huge – like 1 m in diameter. Fun and cheap to make too. What you do is:

  1. Collect a huge pile of thin twigs.
  2. Cut out a circle of thick cardboard in the desired size.
  3. Heat up the hot glue pen.
  4. Keep the garden shears ready to shorten twigs to desired length.

And round and round you go!

(Of course you don’t need to make them this big – you can easily make them the size of a plate, or even cutesy little ones with the thinnest twigs, to hang on your Christmas tree as ornaments. Those might benefit from being double-sided.)

One of the branches I brought home wasn’t suited for the project, but I loved it so much because there was some very pretty moss growth on it.

So I was thinking it might be nice to use it for hanging stuff from. Something fluffy, seasonal – it made me think of the tiny snowflakes I crocheted when I was still learning, seven years ago.

Looking at my branch, and its size, I thought what if I made those with a really bulky yarn, so they’d be huge? In my stash, I had some single ply, squishy, ultra-soft merino wool and a few other yarns in the same color, and decided I’d use them all at once, crocheting with a really big hook. I looked up the pattern once again at attic 24, unsure whether the proportions would work, but then I gave it a try with a size 6 hook, and I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out:

The Attic 24 blog has been one of my most important inspirations when I first started to crochet (the other being this YouTube channel – an amazing source for any and every question a knitting or crochet enthusiast, may they be beginners or advanced, might have. In effect, Elizza, the Nadelspiel host, taught me how to crochet!).

Lucy, the Attic 24 host, on the other hand, opened up a whole new universe for me with her impeccable sense of color composition and uniquely cheerful style. It may also well be down to her that I even started this blog. Her documentation of everyday life with children, and crafts, and her pretty pictures of the British countryside, as well as occasional recipes, sounded so appealing, and relatable. Her stories, told with little fanfare, but a lot of kindness and sense of humor, resonated with me to a degree that made me brave enough to start sharing mine.

Professionally, my life was at a crossroads then, and I had yet to make the leap to becoming a full-time translator. Crafts kept me sane (as they still do) and gave me something rewarding to do, over the many hours spent nursing my daughter whose immune system didn’t pick up speed until she was five or six, back to health, again and again and again…

Blogging about our life, my crafts projects and what was cooking turned into the classic weblog you know (and choose to read, thank you so much!) So, here’s to Lucy – who doesn’t know me from a bar of soap, but has been important to me, as a crochet artist and as a writer, all the same ;-).

As you can see, I’ve also made progress on my daughter’s pink sweater, while watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, enjoying the Agatha-Christie-y vibe of the cases, the gorgeous period-piece set and costume design, and Miss Fisher’s significant mischievous eyebrow quirk. The knitting is quick work, and I’m planning to try something new with the sleeves. Have you done dolman sleeves before? I have not, and we’ll have to see how it goes.

When making the cats, I found other patterns for Waldorf knit animals, and these looked easy enough to to, so I made one just to see if I could. Not exactly the most perfect design, and the proportions seem a little wonky – or is this just the way chickens look? As ever, my problem is more with the shaping and finishing than it is with the knitting…

Oh, and check out what I found at my favorite local yarn store! Isn’t it the most festive yarn imaginable? Soft, and deep red and glittery – Christmas socks, I was thinking :-). For whom, we shall see!

Since the flower stall isn’t off limits yet today (as of tomorrow, it may well be, should my boy test positive), I went out and bought a huge armful of fir branches to be able to make my advent wreath next week. It must be the earliest I ever did that, a week in advance!

Side note: I know that crafts are no real solution for dire circumstances (being out of a job, having financial troubles, health issues and dealing with close quarters related psychological problems). I’m not in any way trying to make light of the situation, for it is an existential catastrophe for many, and I’m well aware we have been so very fortunate so far, to be able to stay healthy and sane, as well as busy and getting paid for it. It’s just my go to thing whenever shit gets real to go and make something, or cook something, or take a long walk. These things make me feel better, but may not help you at all. Although, since you are here of your own free will, it’s probably correct to assume you enjoy these things, too ;-).

Leaving here today with a picture of this beautiful leaf (maple? sycamore? can’t be sure!) that had the first frost on it when I saw it while walking Charlie in the morning. It suddenly made me realize it’ll be Christmas in a matter of weeks. Hang in there – and fingers crossed for our virus situation.