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!

All Work and No Play

As anticipated in my last post, it’s been a busy few weeks. Apologies for my absence here, but there was actually precious little to tell. I got up, walked the dog, worked, walked the dog, worked again, made dinner, walked the dog, worked some more, slept – and rinse, repeat.

We had a wonderfully warm late February, after all the cold and snow and ice, and it felt awesome to finally wear something else than my down coat. But then temperatures dropped once again, and all the early blooms and budding shrubs seem to have stopped in their tracks. But it’s lovely to walk around our neighborhood this time of year, and see the snowdrops and crocuses poke their pretty heads out of the still mostly barren soil. I can’t wait for the scent of nature waking up and finally spoiling us with color and brightness once again.

Meanwhile, my kids are soldiering through home schooling like a couple of champs, my son is buckling down for his upcoming exams, and my husband went and got a hip replacement, defending his title as Bionic Man. He’s being amazingly brave, self-sufficient, and all mind-over-matter. I’m not sure I’d be any of that in his shoes, and I admire the heck out of it.

What has me so busy is the fact that I didn’t like to say no to any of my three current projects with kind of competing deadlines. It’s manageable, but there’s not a lot of leeway, on either one of the books, so I need to keep a tight schedule. I’m trying hard not to melt into the computer and transform into a sentient Translator Bot.

Not sure how much else I’m good for at the moment. I do try and cook every day, so there’s that. But there have been frozen pizzas (always with a home made soup or salad so we won’t die of scurvy), grilled cheese, and quick pasta dishes, more often than not.

I try to take weekends off, though, to catch up with chores (boring), sit and crochet (amazing), and try to spend some time with the family. How lucky am I to have had so many years of being able to adapt my schedule to the kiddos‘ needs? I don’t know how I’d have survived this kind of workload when they were young. Also, I doubt we’d have much of a relationship if I’d been as absentminded then as I am oftentimes now. They don’t seem to take it amiss, thankfully, and learning to be a little more independent is not a bad thing for them, all in all, I suppose. This is a conundrum every working parent needs to find their own solution for.

I recently remembered white beans the way my dad would make them. Here’s the convenience version that suited my schedule better than the soaking and cooking for a long time that he used to do. (Cooked beans, 1 shallot, 1 strip of bacon, cut in thin slivers, chopped parsley, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and 1 chopped tomato, bit of olive oil – 15 minutes in the pan, the end.) I mashed mine up with a fork and had a slice of crusty French bread with it.

Last Saturday, we had one of the school crafternoons – via zoom, these socially distanced days, of course. I was excited to learn how to needle-felt, a discipline I’d somehow never tried before, not sure why. I always did other things during the crafternoons. But I thought it might be nice to do that with my daughter, and produce something cute for the school’s bazaar stand. So we made fruit and other edibles, check it out:

A new skill, and a fun afternoon with my fellow Waldorf crafters. I don’t do as many zoom meetings as most people, and even after a whole year, it’s still a little weird for me. But it’s always really good to see everyone’s faces, and a nice time was had by all.

I’ve read a little about the various psychological side-effects of the pandemic, and discussed them with friends. One thing most people are saying is that it makes them lose focus, and start many things but only finish a few. Well, this tendency certainly manifests in my crafts projects. I have no less than four WIPs, each of which would require me to just sit down and do them. For some reason or other, this is just not happening. Socks are easiest, I find, and felting was the same. Small things, quick to finish, move on. When in a pandemic …

Last weekend, I _was_ going to finish my poncho, the one in what my husband calls the Winter Colors. Well, it turns out that I couldn’t. I found it needed to be looser that I’d made it, after all, and after careful consideration, I ripped it back up to a certain point below the shoulders (top down). Also, I ditched one of the colors (yellow) like my sweet friend M had told me to all along. She was right, and everyone who suggested it needed to be more flowy was right, too. This is what it looked like before I made the executive decision to frog:

This weekend, I look forward to some time for working on the looser version, having been a good little translator and meeting my target for the week.

Have a nice one, take care – and thank you for dropping in!

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!