March Miscellany 2020

Hello! How are you faring? We’ve had a lot of wet and windy weather here lately. The wettest February on record, our Meteorological Institute tells us. We could use some water after the past two very dry summers, but did we really need as much as this? I hope your feet, like ours, are still dry.

They also tell us that this was the second mildest winter on record, with the average temperature three degrees higher than normal. I can’t see this as anything other than a sign of rapid climate change and it worries me a lot. What can we, insignificant individuals, do?

Flowers never fail to cheer me up on dark and dismal days. I especially love roses, but roses flown in from Africa? Probably not the best idea. Tulips grown locally seem a more sustainable choice. I’m not terribly fond of tulips, but I’ll try to appreciate them more. I do love other indoor bulbs, though, like the magnificent amaryllis.

Bought from our neighbours’ boy, who sold them for a school project, I planted it in early December. It took a long time to come into flower, but when it did, wow!

Our front garden is still very bare after last year’s reconstruction, but some of the bulbs we planted are now starting to appear. Thank you, brave little dwarf iris, for your elegant flowers and beautiful colours.

I called this blog post March Miscellany because there are all kinds of things I need to show and tell you. I hope you can spare a few minutes more.

First there is the shawl where I was dithering over whether or not to include the grey. The entire crafts group at our local library and almost everybody else I asked said: ‘Leave out the grey.’ I felt the same. The other colours were harmonious together, the grey was the odd one out. And yet, and yet…

Then I looked at the book I was reading and knew what to do. Two tiny rows of grey stitches at the colour changes, a little like the small stones in the mosaic borders along the fresco from Pompeii on the front cover. That’s what I would do.

For those of you who’ve given me advice: thank you! Even though I didn’t do exactly as you said, your input really helped. It supported me in my feeling that an entire block of grey would spoil the shawl and made me look for other options.

This is what I was/am still reading:

Roman Woman, written by an archaeologist, is about a year in the life of Senovara, a young woman with two children, married to a Roman veteran turned shoemaker. It is AD 133 and the family lives in York, then called Eboracum. The chapters follow the months of the year, from Ianuarius to December.

Allason-Jones has cleverly woven loads of humdrum details of everyday life in Roman Britain into an engaging story. We see Senovara caring for her family, ‘ironing’ her laundry (rubbing the creases out of her linen with a glass ball), doing her shopping, visiting with friends and going to the bathhouse. I had no idea that women at that time already plucked their eyebrows and used depilatory cream!

Senovara is from a local tribe, while her husband is a ‘Roman’ from Germania, and I think it’s particularly interesting to read how different cultures and religions coexisted and merged.

Okay, on to the next subject. THIS IS A WARNING!

In a previous post I wrote about knit blockers. You know, those handy tools like small combs that can be used for blocking knitwork instead of T-pins. Well, recently I used them to block the swatches I knit for a new design of my own, in an airy, bulky wool yarn. This is the back of one of them:

Now look at the bottom, and especially at the left-hand corner. Can you see those tiny little bumps? They are hard spikes that shouldn’t be there. Fortunately it’s just a swatch. Had it been a scarf, those bumps wouldn’t have felt nice against the skin at all. The tines of the knit blockers seem to have worked like felting needles, felting the wool in the places where they went in, and damaging the blocking mat in the process:

It is the first time this has happened to me. The other times I used the blockers they were fine, but I thought I’d better warn you. I’ll certainly use them again, but will be extra careful not to push through if I feel any resistance at all.

Okay, next subject again.

Finally, finally the yarn for our daughter’s sweater has come. It crossed the Channel several times, as it went back to sender for unknown reasons. And when it finally reached me, one of the skeins was a different dye bath. Grumble, grumble. Was this my punishment for buying yarn overseas instead of locally?

Oh, well, it won’t show if I use the ‘wrong’ skein for the ribbing. The colour our daughter has chosen is a beautiful deep brick red (darker than in the photo). I’m looking forward to starting!

I wish you a lovely weekend, with some nice knitting on your needles or a good book to read. And I hope to see you here again soon!

Ordinary Autumn Days

Most of my days are ordinary days. And November is, perhaps, the most ordinary month of the year. Nothing special seems to be happening.

I’m fine with that. It makes me appreciate the little things in life more. Like the meadow saffron on our window sill.

The bulb was a birthday gift from my BFF, and it has given me flowers for over two months. It’s finished flowering now, and we’ve planted it in the garden, along with many other bulbs – snowdrops, miniature daffodils, crocuses, winter aconites and purple and yellow dwarf irises.

The garden work is done. All we can do now, is wait for spring.

My days are filled with ordinary things, like computer work, housework and reading. This is the book I’m reading now – Circe (translated into Dutch under the same title).

Greek mythology told from the viewpoint of a woman (well, Circe is actually a minor goddess, but still a female). It’s a great read. As far as I know, the ancient Greeks and their gods didn’t knit, but there is some weaving in it. Spell weaving, but also actual weaving on a loom, made by Daedalus.

There’s some knitting woven through my days, too, of course. At lunch time, I knit a few rows on an ordinary sock.

It’s a simple pleasure, easy to pick up for a few minutes and put down again until later.

As I work from home, it’s tempting to stay indoors all day on dark, rainy days.

But I make a point of going out every single day, to get as much fresh air, exercise and daylight as I can, no matter what the weather. Sometimes, when I think of it, I take some pictures of ordinary things along the way.

Now and then, in between the gloomy and overcast days, we’re treated to a day of glorious sunshine. It’s an extra treat when this happens on a Sunday, when we’re able to take a longer walk…

… and enjoy the sun illuminating yellowed moor grass along the water’s edge…

… tufts of moor grass growing in the water…

… and the still surface of a small lake mirroring some birches.

It gets dark early and the evenings are long. Every evening I add a few centimetres to the simple cardigan I’m knitting.

And I finally find the time to weave in the ends of some dishcloths that I knit a while ago.

Ordinary things. Simple pleasures. Nothing special.

Having said all that, I do have something special to celebrate next week. I hope you’ll join me again then.

Lemons and Literature

Thank you so much for all your well-wishes, both online and off! They have done me a power of good.

In the grand scheme of things, a bout of the flu is nothing, of course. But in my personal life it’s been rather disruptive, and I haven’t always been the most patient of patients. I’m on the mend now, I’m glad to say, and feeling a little better every day.

When life gives you lemons…

… make lemonade. Or so the saying goes. I feel ambivalent about the philosophy behind this. On the one hand it sounds nice and positive. But on the other, I would never, ever say this to somebody who is seriously ill or otherwise going through a difficult time. I side with Ursula Le Guin, who says:

Positive thinking is great. It works best when based on a realistic assessment and acceptance of the actual situation. Positive thinking founded on denial may not be so great.

(from: No Time to Spare, p.12)

In the case of flu, though, I do think it’s a good thing to do something positive with those lemons. Only instead of lemonade, I’d rather make tea. Our good friend Richard sent me his recipe for Lemon and Ginger Tea and has kindly given me permission to pass it on here.

Richard’s
Lemon and Ginger Tea

Ingredients

  • 1 litre of water
  • 25-30 grams of ginger
  • 2 bags of herbal tea*
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • honey or stevia** to taste

* Richard likes to use a detox blend, but says that any other (organic) herbal tea is fine. I used a blend of lime flower, chamomile and rosehip.

** The stevia powder available in most supermarkets is a mixture of stevia and sorbitol. Pure stevia is available from health food shops in liquid form.

Method

  • Bring the water to the boil
  • Peel and thinly slice the ginger and add to the boiling water
  • Leave to cool to about 80°C and add the teabags
  • Remove the teabags after about 5 minutes
  • Leave the tea to cool further to lukewarm
  • Sieve out the ginger and add the lemon juice
  • Sweeten with honey or stevia if you like

Drink straight away or keep refrigerated for up to 2 days.

This tea can be reheated gently (do not boil again or you’ll lose the goodness from the lemon), but is also delicious as iced tea in summer.

Tip: add some slices of orange and/or a clove for an extra warming winter tea.

Enjoy!

Tea label wisdom

Apart from the tea itself, the labels attached to the bags have also been nudging me in the right direction, with gems of wisdom like ‘This life is a gift’ (Absolutely, and I really appreciate it), ‘Kindness is the essence of life’ (All right, I’ll try not to be too grumpy), and ‘Create the sequence of goodness, consequences will be always good’ (Uhm, I need to meditate on that one for a bit, but I’m sure it will lead to something good).

Books

Books have been a great comfort to me during the past few weeks. I’ve been reading a lot, mainly re-reading books I’ve read before.

I’ve given this blogpost the title ‘Lemons and Literature’ because of the attractive alliteration. Whether everything I’ve been reading falls into the category Literature with a capital L is debatable, but I don’t think that matters all that much. Among my reading matter, was the book by Ursula Le Guin from which I quoted above.

No Time to Spare

Le Guin, who died last year, was a prolific writer. Apart from many novels, she wrote essays, short stories and poetry. She also published a new English translation of the Tao Te Ching. And she started blogging at the age of 80! No Time to Spare: Thinking About what Matters (Houghton Mifflin, 2017) is a compilation of some of her blog posts.

These are gems of wisdom in a different category entirely from the tea labels. Witty, warm-hearted and wise, Le Guin writes about subjects ranging from ageing to cats, literature and life in general. A book to savour in small chunks.

Tip for Book Lovers

No Time to Spare was a gift from my dear friend Pien, a fellow book lover and a book artist. Pien makes her own paper, in which she often includes plant fibers, like gingko, hemp or stinging nettle. She writes her own texts, prints them onto her hand-made paper and then binds her books by hand. Do take a look at her website Waterleaf Paper and Words if you’re a book lover too. All images on her website can be enlarged by clicking on them.

KnitLit

The book you may have noticed on my bedside table in my previous (very short) post, was KnitLit: Sweaters and their Stories… and Other Writing about Knitting. The title says it all: this is a collection of essays and stories about knitting, yarn, wool and other fibres, disastrous and successful projects and much more.

Some of the pieces are humorous, some moving, and some thought provoking. Most of them are no more than 3-4 pages long, and some only half a page, like ‘Silent Knit’, about the sound of wooden knitting needles versus that of plastic ones. Does anyone really want to read anything as nerdy as that? Well, I do. And apparently lots of others do too, as there’s also a KnitLit Too and KnitLit the Third.

Knitting

I have given my needles a couple of weeks’ rest, but I’m back to knitting now and hope to give you an update next week.