Playing Hooky

This morning, I took advantage of being self-employed, and after an early vet appointment that involved a somewhat unsavory procedure – dog owners: anal glands, ’nuff said! –, we went to the community forest for a quick morning walk. We weren’t the only ones around, but it’s a friendly dog owner crowd of (much to be envied!) local Berlin Dahlem residents, young moms pushing strollers, pensioners and, I guess, people like myself who can choose to do this on a weekday morning, a time which ordinarily finds me at my desk, too. But I’m certain that the benefit for both pup and me outweighed the working hour and a half I missed. I can (and will) catch up tonight.

As a Waldorf mom, I’m looking at a busy volunteer work week, as we’re gearing up for the Winter School Bazaar. It will be the first one after a three year hiatus, and many of the younger parents will be doing it for the first time. Everyone is really excited, and hopefully, it’s going to be just as crazy, busy and joyful as it was when we last did this in November 2019. I’m mostly looking forward to see the kids‘ happy faces (and even the teenagers‘ pretending to be sooo annoyed and secretly enjoying the hustle and bustle ;-), and the waffles!).

Those of you who come here for crafts might be disappointed. Although I have been working on my Aubergine sweater, there was an unraveled stitch for most every knitted one. It seems I have yet to find the balance between my vision for that sweater and the pattern. No idea why it felt wonky, but I’ve unraveled the first sleeve no less than three times, aggravating and time-consuming. First I went with the suggested decrease pace every 4th round, then I tried every 6th round, and now I’ve landed at every 8th round, which finally shaped the sleeve the way I like, but may make for a possibly too wide cuff. Or not? See what I mean?

Also, the pattern says to use a thinner needle for the cuffs, which I did for the bottom cuff at first (see exhibit below). Sadly, this turned out bunching up the rest of the body in an unflattering manner, so I unraveled _that_ again.

I figure if you’re making a sweater for yourself, you want it to actually fit your own body, right? Fortunately, the yarn is very forgiving, so I guess I’ll keep tweaking until I really like the way it looks! A true work in progress. Still, the pattern is a good one, and I’m not sorry I bought it. petiteknit, Monday Sweater, everybody.

In terms of food, I have a nice, seasonal recipe for you: it’s a variation of a good old veggie lasagna, with squash, eggplant, mushrooms and a cheesy Béchamel sauce.

Cheesy Fall Veggie Lasagna

You can make this as vegetables- or pasta-heavy as you wish. This ratio was perfect for our taste, basically three layers of everything: Hokkaido, eggplant, Porcini mushrooms and sauce, topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

1/2 p lasagna sheets

1/2 Hokkaido, seeded and cut into thin slices

1 eggplant, sliced

2 Porcini mushrooms, sliced

1 liter Béchamel sauce

2 large handfuls grated Parmesan cheese

1 clove garlic

Fresh thyme (twigs) and rosemary (chopped) to taste

First, put a single layer of eggplant and Hokkaido on a baking sheet lined with parchment, drizzle with olive oil and lightly salt. (I used two baking sheets to fit it all). Bake for 20 minutes at 200 °C. In the meantime, make the Béchamel sauce. Season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg to taste. Add the mushrooms, herbs and garlic and let steep off the heat until you’re ready to assemble the lasagna.

Brush your ovenproof dish with olive oil. Layer in, from bottom to top: lasagna sheets, Hokkaido, eggplant, sauce, cheese, and repeat until the last layer. Finish with grated cheese and bake in the oven a t 175 °C for 45 minutes (your pasta sheets should be soft when you stick in a fork.) You want a slightly browned top.

I like it when my vegetable drawer suddenly combines in my head (and later on the plate) in a tasty and satisfying manner! This was such a happy coincidence, that resulted in a dish I’ll be making again.

Have a productive week, and thank you for dropping by to read!

Virtual Break Room

Translating a lengthy non-fiction book is great. There’s a comfortable deadline weeks or months away. I get to work on an interesting subject. I’m relaxed because I know what I’m doing. All is, in fact, well. Until some days, it just isn’t! Since there’s no narrative to follow, only chapters/sections/recipes or patterns, sometimes I can feel my focus slip, my mind start to wander, and no amount of coffee, focusing techniques and dog-walking breaks seem to help. I’ve noticed that this happens much less when I work on fiction, probably because I get caught up in the story. So, trying to trick my mind into FOCUSING. Any thoughts on how to kick-start work discipline? I’ll wait…

And while I do that, I’ll pretend to be in a break room, chatting to you – about crafts, what else ;-).

In my free time, I’m trying to knit a perfect crewneck sweater. I bought this beautiful, soft merino and a little cashmere mix a while ago, with a vague idea of making a no frills color block and stockinette stitch sweater that goes with everything.

And since I’ve successfully managed to knit a top-down sweater following a pattern before, over the summer, I thought I’d try my hand at another one. There’s this young Danish fiber artist I’ve been following, her handle is PetiteKnit, whose work you may or may not have seen online before. She makes simple-looking, yet sophisticated knit garments, and after giving up on trying to find a free pattern I loved, I went and purchased the instructions for what she calls the Monday Sweater.

One of the selling points was that she uses short rows. For those of you who don’t know, this is a clever way of shaping certain parts of knit garments (in this case, back of the neck), much in the same way you do a heel when knitting socks. You knit the fabric on the right and on the wrong sides, and you only do the rows partially, turn the work and continue on the WS if you started on the RS and the other way round. So, that’s the principle, and I’ve been intrigued by it for a long time. I was of course scared by the math, but I figured if I used a pattern, it would do it for me.

Needless to say, I botched the first attempt, the one you see on the right! I did follow the pattern, but my stitch markers weren’t where they needed to be, which made the whole thing wonky and just wrong. Also, I decided I liked the look of the rib being a different color than the rest of the sweater, so that’s what I’m trying to do. Navy Blue for the rib, and the rest in this beautiful, deep, rich shade of Aubergine. So, last Sunday I ripped it back up, adjusted my stitch count (evidently, I’m using thinner yarn than the one used in the pattern) and began again, paying close attention to setting and moving those stitch markers this time.

So, this is the beginning of what will hopefully turn out to be a beautiful winter sweater, fingers crossed. You can see how the back of the neck is an inch or so higher than the front of the neck, right? That’s what the short rows do.

So, break time’s up. It was a very nice chat, and now it’s back to my manuscript, or else…

Have a beautiful late summer week, and thank you for reading!

What A Mess.

Those of you who come here often know that this is not a political blog. I rarely write about current events, for many reasons, not the least being that I feel way too uneducated to find the right words. However, I am a mother, and this is to a large extent a Mom Blog.

So, how to explain atrocity to children, who (bless their sheltered lives) don’t know what pain is? Yesterday morning, a sentence I never would have hoped to hear from any of my children – „Mom, we have war“ – kick-started an ongoing conversation that incorporated history, geopolitical considerations, the East and the West, the Cold War and the NATO … They need to learn about this stuff, and my husband is a very good honorary history teacher.

Nobody seems to be quite certain at what Russia’s end game might be, though, and it’s not only my daughter who keeps asking the century old classic question of the pacifist: „Why?“

Right now, my heart goes out to the people who have chosen to run already, because they seem to feel, regardless of the outcome, life as they knew it is ruined :-/.

Our own lives are, simply because of the random luck of living where we do, unaffected otherwise. My daughter has a school play coming up, my son’s internship is going great, my husband is prepping a shoot, and I, thanks for asking, got the crochet book job. It’s a great book, and I’m having a wonderful time with it, after having gotten my head back in the game.

In my spare time, I’ve been working on my Red Sweater, and if all goes well, I’ll be able to finish it next week. Here’s the sweater journey so far.

Sometime in October, I saw this post on IG. Loved the huge ribbed cuffs that were actually half the sweater, and instantly wanted to try that!

During my 10 days off, when I finally had time, I bought red yarn, and got started.

At first, I thought I wanted raglan sleeves, like so:

Then I realized what I actually wanted was a boxy crew-neck sweater, and sat down to draw it.

So, unraveling the top halves of front and back, and redoing them it was. Here’s where I am now:

I’ve been binging The Vampire Diaries all through this process. Not sure why I love the show so much. It’s basically a teenage show, and I’m a middle-aged lady whose high school days are long over. I did have an intense Anne Rice phase in my twenties, though, so the genre is familiar enough. Did you know she passed away last December? May she rest in peace – she was famous for sexy, atmospheric gore, and I have great admiration for anyone who can pull off writing light fiction in style. Anyway, I’m hooked on the fates of The Vampire Diaries bunch now, humans, vampires, werewolves, witches and ghosts, and that has made my sweater progress a swift one.

There, and now I’m smiling again. Evidently, a little knitting and TV talk has managed to pull me out of the dark place a little. Thank you for dropping by and taking an interest.

Don’t Want to Day

When I was a young, bushy tailed trainee at a small ad agency, one day a new colleague was hired. Freshly tanned from a trip to Greece, happy and shiny, wearing fabulous golden ballet flats and displaying the hottest legs in the office, she was an inspiration and we were instantly smitten with her. She’s a bright, lovely, warm and wise person, and I’m happy to say we’re still friends.

One story she told from her former employer, a larger network agency, was the one about the colleague who would call in sometimes to say she was taking a day, simply calling it her ‚Don’t want to day‘. This greatly impressed me as you can tell by the fact that I still remember it 30 years later.

Even though I’m self-employed now, my work ethic kind of doesn’t allow me such a thing as waking up in the morning and saying to myself: You know what? I’m taking a selfish. But today, I feel like I might be ready for a little break from routine.

My morning started as it always does with getting my daughter ready for school (that’s right, I only have one school kid now!), after which I usually have 30 minutes that are my own – to sip my tea, check Instagram, knit, do a sudoku. This morning I suddenly felt a craving for scones, found that I had buttermilk in the fridge, and went ahead and made some. It’s a very quick process, craving to buttered scone can happen in less than 30 minutes.

I used no recipe but my memory served, and they turned out just fine. Here’s how I made them:

Quick Buttermilk Scones

100 g soft butter

300 g flour

2 TBSP sugar (you can use 3, if you’ve got a sweet tooth, it’s a matter of taste, really)

pinch of vanilla

pinch of salt

1/2 p baking soda

about 100 ml buttermilk, did not check how much exactly

Quickly combine ingredients to make a soft, fluffy dough, slightly sticky. Flour your work surface, gently pat down the dough to about 2,5 cm thickness (or even more if you’re feeling all baking show-y). Cut out using a glass or a large round cookie cutter, or just cut up in chunks if you prefer.

Set on a baking sheet covered in parchment, paint with egg wash and bake at 160 °C for 15–20 minutes, or until nicely risen and a very pale brown. I pressed a couple of tart little plums into some of the scones, but they’re equally good without fruit. You’ll probably want some jam with them.

Since this is not the UK, I have no clotted cream nor do I need it. The scone just as it was and a cup of coffee made me very happy after my morning walk with Charlie.

So, instead of being a good little translator, I’ve popped over here to chat, how’s that for playing hooky? As mentioned in my last post, work has been a little insane, and I’ve been very good about focusing on my tasks. Today I have another 8-10 pages due (in my own self appointed work load, not to submit), but I won’t think about that rn.

What else? Watched Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, and loved it.

Spent a few days in the country (working), and found the first porcini mushrooms of the season.

Went to the yarn shop for the first time in months …

… and started a new sweater:

I got inspired by this lady whom I follow on Instagram, and even though mine will probably be less perfect and less elegant than her knit-from-the-top-down pieces, I’m still looking forward to snuggling into that Mohair-y goodness once it’s done.

Oh, and also I cut my hair, and I couldn’t be happier I finally made up my mind to do it :-).

Other than that, as non-German readers may not be aware, we get to vote this September, and it’s a momentous election at that because Chancellor Merkel will be stepping down after her long years of service. It will be interesting to see whether people will trust the young (and female) candidate from the Green Party to fill her shoes, or choose the more seasoned male candidate from the Social Democrats to represent this country in the future.

It would, in my opinion, not be a bad thing to move ecologic matters to the political forefront. You’d have to live under a rock not to realize the planet needs humanity to change its ways, and even though the Green Party has made compromises not everyone who voted for them in the past agrees with, environmental matters are still what they stand for, so I guess my mind is made up.

And with that, I’m going to bow back out of here, wishing you a nice day, and thanking you for procrastinating with me for a while.

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!