To Focus or not to Focus

Hello! This has become rather a long and complicated blog post, I’m afraid. I hope you’ll forgive me. Why not make yourself a nice cup of tea or coffee before you dive in?

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To focus or not to focus, that is the question I am asking myself this year. Would a little (or a lot) more focus be a good thing in my knitting/life? (And if so, how?) Or would it suck the joy out of it?

I don’t think anyone would call me scatterbrained, but I often feel drawn in many directions and (except in my job) have a hard time deciding what to do first, last, or not at all. Never being bored and always having many projects on the go can be fun, but it can also lead to overwhelm, fatigue and UFOs – UnFinished (knitting) Objects.

I know I’m not the only one with difficulty focusing, so I thought I’d share some of my journey here, always focusing on knitting. To my mind, what goes for knitting goes for most things in life.

To find answers, I started as I often do – by reading a book.

(Daniel Goleman, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, paperback edition New York: Harper, 2014)

I chose this book because, well, it’s Goleman. And also because one of the chapters bears the intriguing title ‘The Value of a Mind Adrift’.

So what can this book teach a knitter (or anybody else)?

Uhm… that’s not so easy to say. Ironically, I think it’s a rather unfocused essay, without even a definition of the word focus. Still, for me, 5 things jumped out.

1 – Anxiety is detrimental to focus

In fact all emotional turmoil disrupts focus, but Goleman specifically mentions the detrimental effects of anxiety in relation to focus and performance. Small wonder that people are having difficulty focusing on all kinds of things, and can’t even focus on their knitting, in this anxiety-inducing time we find ourselves in.

It also explains why there is still no progress on this project of mine.

I still think it is beautiful and I still want to knit it, but I can’t seem to focus on it. In the past I would have set a deadline, made a plan and told myself to just get on with it. But I don’t want to force myself to focus in that way anymore. Least of all in my knitting.

Knowing that our inability to focus can be caused by anxiety, I think we need compassion. And also strategies for reducing such emotional turmoil.

2 – Different tasks use different parts of the brain

I have always felt that, say, knitting a simple sock takes a different kind of energy from knitting a complicated Fair Isle pattern, adapting a pattern for a better fit, or blocking a lace shawl. Goleman explains that it is not just about energy, but that different parts of the brain are involved in different tasks.

What he calls the ‘bottom-up’ brain takes care of more automatic and intuitive tasks. In knitting terms this would be knitting long stretches of stocking stitch, or simple socks (at least for an experienced knitter). The ‘top-down’ part of the brain is needed for tasks that take active cognitive effort, like Fair Isle, learning new techniques, doing maths or finishing a knit. ‘Top-down’ tasks also take more energy.

Let’s take my knitting as an example. I’m currently working on a reconstruction of my inherited knitting sampler.

Figuring out each stitch pattern is a job for the ‘top-down’ part of the brain. But once I’ve worked it out, the ‘bottom-up’ part can take over.

And knitting the long stretches of my Panel Debate cardigan was pure ‘bottom-up’ knitting. But now that I’ve adapted the armholes for a better fit and am at a loss how to adapt the sleeve cap, the ‘top-down’ part of the brain needs to come to the rescue.

Most of my knitting time is in the evenings. The top-down part of my brain is often depleted in the evenings. Ergo, to prevent this cardigan from ending up as a UFO I need to solve that puzzle at a different time of the day, when my ‘top-down’ circuits can deliver the right kind of focus.

3 – Knitting can help us focus

Goleman explains that tight focus leads to fatigue of the top-down part of the brain, ‘much like an overworked muscle…’ (p. 56)  And just like an overworked muscle, that part of the brain needs rest to recover. But how?

According to research by the University of Michigan, spending time in nature is one of the best ways to do that.

But according to Goleman, an even better way is ‘full focus on something relaxing’. What better way to recharge our ability to focus than some simple knitting?

4 – Creativity needs unfocused time

I was so glad to read that goal-driven focus is not the be-all and end-all. For creativity it is absolutely necessary to let our minds drift. According to Goleman, we do need a goal, but once we have that, it is crucial to have ‘protected time – enough to really think freely. A creative cocoon.’ (p. 46)

For me, being in this ‘creative cocoon’ is one of the best things in life. But I find it very hard to take the time for it. That is something to look into.

5 – We need positive AND negative focus

Most of the news we read and watch has a negative focus. Some people say that we should purely focus on positives. Just focusing on positives is certainly very tempting, but somehow it doesn’t feel right.

Goleman has something to say about that, too. Or rather, he quotes someone who has something interesting to say about that – psychologist and researcher Richard Boyatzis. ‘“You need the negative focus to survive, but a positive one to thrive”, says Boyatzis, “You need both, but in the right ratio.”’ (p. 172 ) Turns out every negative needs 2.9 positives for the right balance.

Looking at my current sock knitting, I tend to agree. Starting on the foot of the second sock, I noticed that there was something wrong with the yarn. At first I focused on the positives (‘the colours are still sort of similar’), but…

… after a while I could no longer ignore the negatives. The colours really were very different from the first sock. And it was not just the colours – there were also irregularities in the yarn, and later on a knot followed by a complete break in the colour sequence.

So, I sighed a deep sigh and rrrrrrrip, there it went. All the way back to just before the heel.

That was a bit of a negative experience. But I’m glad I didn’t bury my head in the sand. All in all, with 1 part negative focus and 2.9 parts positive focus, I got a well-balanced pair of socks. Knitting as a metaphor for life. 😉

This book wasn’t an easy read. I struggled with all the talk about ‘leaders’ (mostly CEOs of big tech companies), as if we should all emulate them. Somewhere Goleman says that we are, in a sense, all leaders, but imho most of us do not lead anything but our own lives.

Having said that, it did give me food for thought. And applying some of the ideas to humbler and more personal pursuits has made reading it worthwhile.

Golemans book was a good start, but it doesn’t give us any ‘How-Tos’. I’m left with questions like: How to decide what to focus on? How to find focus when you’re procrastinating? How to stay focused until something is finished? And how about people with multiple interests or roles in life? I think I need another book for those.

Take care! Xxx

PS. In case you are wondering what my camera was focusing on in the picture at the top and during the rest of the walk – it was frozen moss:

Sunshine Inside

Hello!

Well, it’s been quite an eventful week on a national and global level, what with the resignation of our government, the inauguration of a new POTUS, and the introduction of a curfew and other stricter measures here. I frequently needed to remind myself to keep breathing.

On a personal level, one uneventful week follows another. And that’s a good thing in a way – it means that we’re OK.

THE event of our past week was SNOW! Last Saturday it started snowing in the evening, when it was already dark. On Sunday morning, I could hear rain drops pattering on the roof, but the garden still looked lovely with its thin white blanket.

When I went for a bicycle ride after lunch, there were just a few patches of snow left. It stayed longest on the thatched roofs of some farmhouses.

An hour or two later all of the snow had gone.

Ah, well, it was lovely while it lasted. Snow days are a rare pleasure.

Now we’re back to more ordinary January days – dark, windy and rainy. A good time to bring some sunshine inside.

To do that, I filled a large platter with decorated citrus fruit, taking pictures during the process to share here. (I was lucky that the sun peeked out from behind the clouds now and then, giving the fruit a cheerful glow.)

It all starts with gathering everything that is needed. First of all, different kinds of citrus fruit.

Lots and lots of cloves. (For 1 orange, 1 lemon and 3 tangerines I used 45 grams of cloves.)

A large platter, and winter greenery and other ingredients to decorate it. I picked some rosemary, thyme and bay leaves from the garden, but conifer sprigs or other evergreen twigs or leaves would be fine, too.

I also had some jumbo cinnamon sticks I once bought at the garden centre. Not terribly fragrant, but still a nice addition to the spicy scent of the cloves. Star anise would be nice as well, if you have some.

And finally a few tools and other bits and bobs. Scissors and secateurs, twine for tying the cinnamon sticks together and the twigs into bunches, a thin knitting needle (I used a size 2.0 mm/US 0) or a skewer, and a cloth to mop up the juice and dry your hands from time to time.

Oh, and if you’re working at a wooden table like ours, don’t forget to cover it with a whipeable table cloth or place mat, because juice will drip out of the fruit.

Now the fun starts. Prick holes in the fruit before inserting the cloves.

Make lines, circles, spirals, crosses, diamonds or other patterns.

There! It’ll give you sticky hands, but doesn’t make too much mess. And it’s an uplifting project that is also lovely to do with children.

Now it’s time to arrange everything nicely on a platter, together with the greenery and other spices. Tadaah!

I can’t guarantee that the fruit will keep for months. Sometimes it dries out nicely and will keep for a long time, and sometimes it gets mouldy. In the past, I’ve tried dusting it with a mixture of orris root and cinnamon powder. In theory, that should preserve it better, but it didn’t. I’ve also wrapped the fruit in tissue paper and stored it in a dark cupboard to dry, but that didn’t always work either.

My experience is that it is largely a matter of luck whether the fruit keeps well or not. But no matter how long the fruit lasts, the sunny colours are a feast for the eyes and the lovely wintry scents are a delight for the nose!

Word of the Year

Hello again!

It’s good to be back here after a 2-week break. I hope that, in spite of everything, you’ve had an enjoyable festive season and a good start to the New Year.

We had a quiet and pleasant time, and on New Year’s eve I baked a big batch of knieperties. These very thin wafers are a traditional end-of-the-year treat in this part of the country. I always make more than enough to share with several neighbouring families.

This year’s conundrum was how to hand them over at a safe distance? It didn’t feel right to place them on people’s doorsteps. I came up with this solution:

Loops of silver ribbons tied to the bags to hang them from the hooked stick we otherwise use to open our attic hatch. It was great fun, really, and brought smiles to everybody’s faces, including my own. The anderhalvemetersamenleving in action.

Anderhalvemetersamenleving (1.5-meter-society) was chosen as Word of the Year 2020 in the campaign organized by our leading Dutch dictionary Van Dale.

A word that sums up a lot about the past year, and also a word that we will not be leaving behind us soon, I fear. (As a former translator, I have a thing for words. Although I worked with digital dictionaries for years, I still treasure my paper ones.)

My knitting during the Christmas break was entirely in the spirit of the Word of the Year 2020. It’s an exactly 1.5 meter long scarf for my brother who lives in Germany.

Knit in 2-by-2 ribbing it is very tight and narrow now. It will need some TLC (a bubble bath, some steam, and an acupuncture treatment) to relax.

More about that and the matching hat soon.

I have very little knitting to show today, but there will be more over the coming months. Lots more, I hope. Looking back at 2020, I realized that I haven’t finished those UFOs that I planned to turn into FOs. Not nearly all of them. Am I beating myself up over that? No, I don’t think that will help. But their state of unfinishedness did set me thinking. It’s not just those UFOs. I currently also have 4 WIPs as well as loads and loads of plans for new knits. What might help, is a personal word for the year 2021 to give me some direction.

At first I thought of ‘limits’, but on second thoughts that sounded too bleak. There are so many outside limits already. (Our present lockdown lasts until January 19 and we don’t need a crystal ball to predict that it will be prolonged.)

A word with a similar meaning that sounds much friendlier is ‘focus’. Maybe more focus is what I need. Or maybe not. During the past year I’ve become a very focused grocery shopper.

On the left an old-style shopping list with everything in no particular order and room for browsing around. On the right my new-style shopping list with everything neatly arranged along the supermarket aisles. Pro: More focus makes for very fast shopping and I’m not in anybody’s way for long. Con: It sucks all the joy out of shopping.

But still, I have a feeling that the word ‘focus’ may help me in my knitting as well as in other areas of life. At least it is something to explore. I don’t know if it’ll be worth writing about here, but we’ll see.

Now for something completely different. Spring is still a long way away, but even at this time of year there are a few bright and flowery spots in our garden. There’s the Viburnum tinus (top) that gives us flowers for a long, long time and provides a great hiding place for the sparrow family. The hazel shrubs already have catkins…

… and for the first time this year the Cyclamen coum is flowering. Its bright pink flowers are only about 7 cm (3”) high, but they cheer me up no end every time I look out the kitchen window.

Focusing on things like this really helps in a world in turmoil. Yes, Focus seems like a good word for 2021. Hope, too, by the way. And Peace.

Advent Calendars and Seasonal Drinks

Hello! Do you have an Advent calendar? A home made one? A new one, or one you use year after year? A paper one, or one with ‘real’ gifts?

Advent calendars are not a tradition I grew up with. My Dad did not believe in Christmas. My Mum’s belief in Christmas was very strong, but of a kind that did not approve of such things. This year, however, there are no less than three Advent calendars in our home. It seems like I have some catching up to do.

The first one is the one you see at the top – a fir tree that is gradually filled with birds, nest boxes and animals. It was a gift from our daughter last year and can be used again and again. It is a small treat to hunt for that day’s ornament in their box every morning and add it to the tree.

The second Advent calendar is a traditional paper one with a door to open every day. It is next to my bed and the first thing I see in the morning when I turn on the light.

It was a gift from a dear friend. I found it in our letterbox on December 5th (our traditional gift-giving day), in a large envelope that also contained a pair of beautiful ‘pre-loved’ earrings and a bag of tea from Germany with the brilliant name Warme Socken (I don’t think I need to translate that).

It is a delicious seasonal blend of rose hips, apples, almonds, cinnamon, cloves and more.

The third Advent calendar was, in a way, also a gift from the same friend, because she recommended it to me. This one is in the shape of a book, The Alternative Advent Calendar: Secrets of the True Spirit of Christmas by Gillian Monks.

The book gives ideas for things to do for every day of the Advent period that are, in the words of the author, ‘universally relevant, regardless of geographical and genetic origins, social, academic or professional status, cultural background, religion or belief.’

All of the ideas in it are small and enjoyable ways to offer of yourself to the world. Most of them can easily be done even during the strict lockdown we are now finding ourselves in, in the Netherlands. Some require a little creativity under these special circumstances, but so far I have only found one that seems well-nigh impossible: ‘Open your door to all. Invite all your neighbours to supper – and I mean ALL your neighbours… as many as you can sensibly fit inside your house.’

Although the book was only published in 2019, this now sounds like a bizarre idea from a very distant past or for a far-off future, almost like an indecent proposal. But with a bit of creativity… a Zoom supper, perhaps?

Behind another ‘door’ there is a more doable suggestion: ‘Make someone a hot or cold drink’. My friend did that from a distance by sending me Warme-Socken-tea. In my turn, I am offering you a virtual hot drink.

Cinnamon-and-Orange Cocoa

For one small mug, you’ll need:

  • 10 grams of chocolate (I use a very dark chocolate, but think any kind will work)
  • Finely grated zest of half an orange
  • A pinch of cinnamon
  • 200 ml milk (I’m allergic to cow’s milk and use plant-based ‘milk’ – the rice-and-coconut variety is my favourite for this recipe)
  • Sugar or honey to taste

To make the cocoa:

  • Break the chocolate into chunks and put them in a small saucepan, together with the orange zest, the cinnamon and a little of the milk
  • Heat, stirring until the chocolate has melted
  • Add the rest of the milk and bring to the boil
  • Pour into a mug, add some sugar or honey if you like, and enjoy!

You’re welcome to virtually join me on the veranda in front of our garden shed. I don’t usually go to the trouble of outdoor decorating in winter, but in this special year I’ve made it into a cozy corner.

Our garden bench is overwintering there. It should of course have a beautiful hand knit blanket hanging over the back instead of this Ikea one, but nobody’s perfect. Maybe next year.

I’ve placed a few candles next to it on a rickety old footstool. One of the glasses has a felted sheep’s wool jacket, bought at a fair a few years back.

And in the back our little laurel tree is protected from the elements.

It looks happy there, and for the first time ever has flower buds.

According to the Alternative Advent Calendar, I should have asked you what you’d like to drink first. I didn’t know how to do that here, so I’ve chosen cocoa. For our friends in the southern hemisphere – please pour yourselves a cold drink from us! And for anyone who doesn’t like hot cocoa – maybe you’d prefer some Winter Tea instead? You can find my recipe for that here.

Sock Gift Labels

Hello!

Do you remember our visit to a PYO flower garden about a month ago? And that I started knitting a pair of socks for a friend’s Birthday in early October? Well, I finished them in time.

While I was knitting them, I studied the ball band for information about the composition of the yarn and noticed a circle with the text: ‘Geschenkverpackung auf der Rückseite!’ (It was a German yarn). Gift wrap on back – what could that be? Ah, the inside of the ball band was a gift label!

What a lovely idea! If we’d been speakers of German I would have used it straightaway. But we aren’t, and I’d rather have one in Dutch. So I decided to borrow the idea and make a personalized gift label for my cat-loving friend.

I gift-wrapped the socks, added a Birthday card and mailed them. I think socks are a perfect gift, especially now. What’s nicer than to give someone the gift of warm feet? Choosing the recipient’s favourite colours makes it even better. They fit into a letter box, are fairly lightweight and won’t break during transport.

I enjoyed this simple spot of crafting so much, that one dark and rainy afternoon I got my crafts supplies out again and made more. (If some photos look rather yellowish, it’s because of the lamp light.)

If you’d like to make some sock gift labels too, here’s what you’ll need:

Sock Gift Labels – List of Supplies

  • A pot of tea, mug of coffee or other comforting beverage
  • Calming and/or uplifting music, or blissful silence
  • Thick paper (1 A4-sheet will make 4 labels)
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Clear tape
  • Scissors
  • A flat surface/something to protect your table
  • Any other crafts supplies you have, like: stamps, inkpads, washi tape, markers, felt tips, coloured crayons/pencils, stickers…
  • And one or more pairs of handknit socks, of course!

Start by marking off one or several 25cm (10”) x 5cm (2”) strips, using your pencil and ruler. Cut them out.

Now let your creativity flow! Here is some inspiration.

I started with some very simple ones, using just some washi tape.

Then stamps and a marker in monochrome.

After that, I added in a little colour using washi tape and a coloured ink pad, matching the colours to the sock yarn.

Several days later, I got out my brand new box of coloured pencils to add colour to a few more.

(A while ago, our local supermarket gave out coupons with which we could save up for lovely boxes of coloured pencils and sketchbooks. A nice change from the usual storage boxes and towels. It even has metallics like silver, gold and bronze!)

Adding colour to the stamped motifs was so much fun! On this one, I matched the colours to the sock yarn again.

Sometimes I knit socks with a specific ‘victim’ in mind, and sometimes I just knit socks because I feel like it and will see who they’ll go to later. Adding washing instructions to the label is always a good idea. And in the latter case adding the size is useful, too.

Here are 3 more pairs of socks in shades of blue and green, with labels decorated with stamps and washi tape.

I’ve really enjoyed playing around with my crafts supplies – I hadn’t used them for ages. They made me forget the time and all the woes of the world for a few hours. If you now feel inspired to make your own sock gift labels, I hope it’ll work like that for you, too. Have fun!

Bye for now and lots of love.

More or Less

Hello! And how are things going in your part of the world?

Over here, not particularly well. From the day before yesterday, 10 pm, our country is more or less in a lockdown again. A ‘partial lockdown’ our Prime Minister calls it. The door is still slightly ajar, so to speak.

I’ve been feeling very angry about the whole situation. It isn’t the lockdown itself that bothers me – I can handle that and even think it’s a good idea. It’s the large number of hospital admissions that keeps me awake, the pressure on our care workers, the loneliness among vulnerable people… Again!

In spring the virus took us by surprise, but this time around we knew what we were dealing with. And yet, the numbers of cases have rocketed over the past month. We are now one of the countries with the highest numbers in the world! Why haven’t we been able to prevent this?

Anger isn’t going to help, I know that. But I’m having a hard time getting to grips with it. I’ve been pouring my anger out on paper, been mulling things over during sleepless nights, and been for walks around the village muttering to myself (well, not aloud, but inside). What I’ve come up with is a question, and an answer of sorts, too:

Q: What do I need in order to come to grips with my anger and be able to contribute to society in a positive way again?
A: I think I need more of some things and less of others. Here is a quick list.

LESS news. Over the coming weeks I’ll just read the morning paper and watch the evening news. That’s MORE than enough.

MORE walks.

I need to breathe in MORE fresh air and listen MORE to the wind soughing through the tree tops.

LESS time gazing at screens.

MORE time gazing at the sky and the beauty of nature. (Fortunately we can still do that during our partial lockdown, as long as we don’t do it in groups.)

And MORE time to enjoy small natural wonders.

LESS fuming and ruminating.

MORE pottering around the garden.

LESS worrying.

MORE making.

The latest issue of Making Magazine landed in our letter box on the very Wednesday the lockdown started. The cheerful, sunny picture on the front cover is a close-up of a pair of mittens inside.

I also have two great books about MORE and LESS.

Less: Accomplishing More by doing Less was written by someone with the amazingly appropriate name Marc LESSER.

For me, this is a very helpful book, because I tend to get very (too) busy from time to time. The whole book is about that, and especially the last chapter, Busyness, or Finding the One Who is not Busy. But this time, I leafed to the chapter about resistance. It starts with a quote from Rilke:

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart
And try to love the questions themselves.

Finally, a very entertaining and also helpful book about MORE.

It tells us how to tell a good joke, conduct a Japanese tea ceremony, get custody of your pet in a divorce, mend a broken economy and save the world from climate change, just to name a few random examples. The book doesn’t tell us how to deal with a pandemic, but it does tell us how to cope with anger in 4 steps.

Leafing through this book has at least made me feel a little LESS irritable and MORE cheerful.

I fear that we’ll all be faced with partial or complete lockdowns for some time to come. We’ll have to find ways to keep our spirits up and help each other along. I hope you’re more or less okay, wherever you are in the world. What do you need more or less of?

A final remark about my need for MORE making: I’m working on a small project that I hope to share with you in my next post. It isn’t a knitting project, but it does have something to do with knitting. Hope to see you here again next week!

Nuts and Knits

When we moved here 18 years ago, friends gave us a walnut tree. Or rather a tiny sapling that had sprung up in their garden. It has grown, and grown, and grown, and now provides a shady spot for lilies of the valley, ferns and wood anemones.

It also provides us with nuts. Last year, many were shrivelled up inside their shells. 2020 is a much better walnut year. Still, our harvest isn’t huge. It’s the magpies, you see. They love walnuts, and this year there is a large magpie family to feed. Fortunately they are generous enough to leave us a few, too.

This is our share of the walnut harvest this year.

Our big old pear tree has also done very well. Last year, it didn’t give us a single pear, but this year it produced masses. So many, that we couldn’t possibly eat even a tenth of them. So one evening, I loaded wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow with pears to share with everybody in the neighbourhood who wanted some. A great opportunity to catch up on all the local news, too!

And then there were still many left on the tree to share with a big and noisy travelling band of starlings.

Now, the tree is dropping its last few pears…

… and also starting to shed its leaves, now a dull brown. Among the pear leaves, there are some fiery red ones blown over from the Amelanchier, like chili peppers in the grass.

It is really starting to feel like autumn. The temperature is dropping, and it is getting dark soon after our evening meal. Although I knit all year round, for me this time of year always feels like the start of the ‘real’ knitting season.

I realize that I tend to write about my knitting projects mostly when starting and finishing them – the most interesting moments. Now, for a change, here are two of my knitting projects in progress.

Here is my Indigo Sea Shawl on the needles.

I’ve thrown it into a corner taken a break from it, because one of the skeins was colouring my hands and the white blouse I was wearing blue. Aaaargh!

After a while I ripped the offending part out, washed the yarn, rinsed it, gave it a vinegar bath and rinsed it again and again, until it (almost) stopped bleeding.

Now I’ve picked up the needles again and have almost finished it. I’m thinking of a slightly more interesting edge than just an ordinary bind-off.

I’m also still knitting on my Panel Debate cardigan. Progress is slow. For one thing, yarn and needles are very fine. For another, I’ve been knitting socks and other small items in between.

I’m now determined to speed the process up because I want to wear it. And also because I feel like starting something new – something warm, cosy and woolly.

Unfortunately, I can’t literally share our nuts and pears with you here. But I can share a recipe using them. Here is my simple Pear & Walnut Salad recipe.

Pear & Walnut Salad

Serves 2 as a side dish or starter

Ingredients

  • 50 g mixed salad leaves
  • 8 walnuts
  • ½ pear

For the dressing:

  • 1½ tbsp (olive)oil
  • ½ tbsp good white wine vinegar
  • ¾ tbsp honey mustard
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • Some freshly milled black pepper

Method

  • Roast the walnuts in a dry frying pan and leave to cool
  • Rinse the salad leaves and gently pat dry with a clean tea towel
  • Halve the walnuts. Leave some halves whole and chop the rest coarsely
  • Whisk all the dressing ingredients together until they form a thick and smooth sauce
  • Mix the salad leaves with the chopped walnuts and arrange them on a plate. Distribute blobs of dressing over it
  • Peel and core the pear. Cut into thick slices and arrange on top of the salad leaves
  • Finally, add the walnut halves

Serve immediately and enjoy!

Kalm an, hè?

Hello again everybody from near or far,

For the first 40 years of my life, I lived in Friesland (except for the few years I was at uni). Then, 18 years ago, we ‘emigrated’ to a place 5 kilometres across the Frisian border. No distance at all, but still a different region, with a different landscape (so many trees!), a different building style…

… a slightly different culture and a different language.

In Friesland, people say Oant sjen (See you) when parting. Or simply Hoi! (meaning both Hi and Bye). Over here, people say Kalm an, hè? (Take it easy, won’t you?). I love the expression. It sounds so friendly, laid-back and caring – just the way many people around here are.

From the start of the lockdown, I’ve been/felt busy, busy, busy. That’s the effect this strange and unsettling time seems to have on me. Being busy is fine. Useful even. But feeling busy all the time? Not so much.

I was going to write an update about my knitting this week (my needles, too, have been busy), but couldn’t find the words. So, high time for some kalm-an-time.

Time to watch the house sparrows bathing…

Time to admire the flowers in the fields…

Time to leaf through some old scrapbooks…

Time to play with some embroidery floss…

Next week, I hope to be back here with that knitting update. If I’m not, I just need a little more time to listen to the grass growing.

I know that some of you are now recovering from Covid-19. The best thing I can think of to say to you and everybody else reading this is, Kalm an, hè?

Treasure Hunting

While I was folding laundry at our dining table, my eye was suddenly drawn to the wicker chair on the left. The sun slanting through the back of the chair made a lovely pattern of small triangles on the seat.

I grabbed my camera and took a few pictures.

Wow! Maybe I could translate that into a piece of knitting. Lace, perhaps, or some colourwork?

This period of staying at home has made me look at my immediate surroundings more closely.

The wooden fence at the back of our house had always been just that – a wooden fence. Until recently. Looking out, I suddenly noticed how the grazing light made the patterning in the wood stand out beautifully.

Again, I see potential for knitting in it. What if I tried to replicate it in two-tone brioche?

In the living room, I looked at the feathers on the back of a wooden raven through the lens of my camera.

Wouldn’t those look wonderful as cables in a tweedy yarn?

Walking around with a camera in hand, can be like a treasure hunt. On the spectrum of hunter-gatherers, I’m much more a gatherer than a hunter, as I wrote here. I usually just take pictures of things that draw my eye, and then sometimes a pattern or a theme emerges afterwards. That was what happened when I wrote, for instance, Shades of green.

But it can be fun to actively go hunting for treasures, too. One day they could be things in a certain colour, the next day things with interesting patterns, and the day after that things with a particular shape, say circles.

Bread rising basket
Old pudding basin

I don’t know anything about photography. I have a small camera that easily fits into a jacket pocket. It’s of a type that’s often called point-and-shoot, and that’s what I do with it – point and shoot. Although it has lots of other features, I always have it on AUTO and only zoom in or out. For the rest, I let the camera do the work.

I don’t know anything about photo editing either. The only editing software I use is the programme provided by Microsoft. I don’t even know what it’s called. I can straighten the horizon if necessary, rotate photos, make them darker if they’re overexposed, and cut off bits I don’t like. That’s all.

Being a seriously good photographer takes a lot of dedication, practice and know-how. But enjoying taking pictures doesn’t. Photography can be a lot of fun, even for somebody who doesn’t know anything about it. You don’t need any fancy equipment – a small camera or even a smartphone will do. And you don’t need to travel far, either. I didn’t leave the house for any of the pictures here.

Standing in the front door opening, I photographed the roofs of the terraced houses across the street.

The tiles make an interesting pattern in themselves. But when I closed the door and looked in the same direction through the frosted glass the result was simply amazing.

It made me think of the lozenges in Argyll knitting.

Treasures (and knitting inspiration) can be found everywhere and anywhere.

Take care! xxx

Heart-Lifting Spring Things

Good morning!

How are things going in your part of the world? I feel torn in two directions. On the one hand, my heart is heavy with all the bad news from around the world and closer to home, but on the other, it is still spring. And what a glorious spring!

I think there’s enough bad news already, so here are a few heart-lifting spring things from my home turf. Let’s start indoors. Every spring from around Easter I grow garden cress on our windowsill.

I love it sprinkled over cottage cheese on Swedish knäckebröd.

This time my knitting is in sync with the seasons. I found six balls of alpaca yarn in a lovely blossom pink shade in my stash, bought in Norway years ago. They are going to be knit into a Lace Sampler Scarf. Here’s my swatch.

In our back garden, the pear tree has shed its blossoms in a snow of white petals. Now it’s the apple tree’s turn to shine.

There’s lovely quick and simple apple blossom embroidery project in the May issue of Country Living (British edition). It has some other nice ideas for things to make as well.

The pink knitting on the right is for a new design I’m working on. This is just a first try – it may take a while for the pattern to materialize.

Leaving the house through the front door, the first spring things to catch the eye are a pot and a basket filled with ‘wild’ strawberries, dug out from an overgrown patch in the garden.

Normally I’d plant them with pelargoniums. Every spring members of our local brassband go from door to door selling them to raise money for new instruments and uniforms, but not this year. It’s one of the many things that are different this spring. The brassband will have to make do with their present kit a little longer.

Turning left and walking almost to the end of the street, we come to an old, old Japanese cherry tree in full bloom.

The sky is incredibly clear and blue now that there are no planes creating a haze. Our solar panels have never produced so much energy in the eight years since we installed them.

Strolling along the street in the other direction, we come to our farmer neighbours’ cows. They are out again after having been are kept indoors all winter.

I would have loved to go a little further afield to visit a flock of sheep, pet the newborn lambs, chat with one of the shepherds and take some photographs, but unfortunately that’s impossible this year.

I did talk (on the phone) with one of the volunteers of the Rhedense schaapskudde, though. It’s a flock of Veluwe Heath Sheep, a rare breed breed much bigger than the Drenthe Heath Sheep I wrote about here and here.

The volunteer told me that their lambs are growing fast and the adult sheep will be shorn soon. (Their wool can be spun, but is too rough to be used for clothing.) Their four bottle-fed lambs have become a close gang and tend to wander off together when the flock is out grazing the heathland.

This is a difficult period for the flock, as they largely depend on the revenue from their annual Lambing Day and the adoption of lambs by visitors, but they are moving with the times and people can now adopt a lamb online. It’s not as nice as choosing and petting one’s ‘own’ lamb in person, but it’s a good alternative. Although this year’s Lambing Day is cancelled, we can still visit virtually through this video from a couple of years back. Enjoy!

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