The Stork has Landed

Hello!

Good news! The stork has landed and brought our daughter and her husband a sweet little baby boy.

First and foremost, I’m immensely grateful that, apart from a few start-up problems, mother and baby are doing well. I’m also flooded with tenderness for this tiny human being, very happy for his mum and dad, looking forward to getting to know my grandson, worried about his future, hopeful that he’ll have a good life and determined to be the best grandmother I can.

Where do the storks get the babies from, I wonder. Fish them up?

Thanks to a reintroduction program, these graceful birds have become a common sight around here. And sometimes even a nuisance. It isn’t because they deliver too many babies, certainly not in our family. It’s to do with the places they choose to build their nests.

Last week I was at the library when suddenly the lights went out, together with the computer terminals, the electric doors and, as it turned out, electricity in the entire town and surrounding villages. After rummaging around in the dark for a while the librarian found the key to the emergency exit (!?!) and we were able to get out (phew!). What had caused this power cut? Storks building a nest on a power pylon and setting it on fire!

Photo: Steenwijker Courant

We’ve already had the privilege of paying the new earthling a brief visit, bearing gifts for his first 10 days (they didn’t all fit into this basket).

The first one will have been unwrapped by now, so I think I can safely show it here – a nice and warm coat knit with much love for our grandson…

… with buttons with the best ever message for a baby coat: Welkom kleine ukkepuk (welcome little one). (Excellent pattern here.)

It will come in handy in a month that is like spring one day…

…and like winter the next.

I feel a bit bad about the stork story above, because it isn’t doing our daughter justice. Supported by the baby’s father, she has done all the hard work. But I think they know how proud I am of them and will be able to appreciate a bit of folklore.

Well, that was my news for this week. Thanks for reading and lots of love!

Knieperties

First of all, Happy New Year! It’s a bit late, I know, but I still want to wish you all the best for 2022.

We’ve had an uneventful but nice and relaxing week, and I hope you’ve had a good time, too. My Christmas Break knitting project is almost finished. I’ll share that with you next week when it’s all done (I hope).

What I’d like to share with you today is the recipe for knieperties, paper-thin waffles that are traditionally served on New Year’s Eve and Day in this part of the Netherlands. They can be eaten flat or rolled up. Similar ones are also baked in Germany, which isn’t all that far away from here.

Baking knieperties (pronounced something like kneepertees, with an audible k and stress on the first syllable) is a tradition passed on to me by a neighbour across the street. She baked stacks of them on New Year’s Eve for her extensive family and always brought us and other neighbours some, too. After she died about a decade ago, I decided to continue the tradition.

Traditionally knieperties were baked using a cast-iron waffle iron held over a fire, but nowadays everyone I know uses an electrical waffle iron. Mine is from German manufacturer Cloer.

INGREDIENTS:
(makes about 100)

  • 150 butter at room temperature
  • 325 g fine caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 500 g flour
  • A pinch of cinnamon
  • 600 ml lukewarm water

METHOD:

  • Cream the butter together with the sugar and the eggs.
  • Stir the cinnamon through the flour.
  • Add small quantities of flour and water alternately to the butter-sugar-egg mixture until everything is stirred in (the batter should be quite thin).
  • Preheat the iron for about 10 minutes until the little light switches off – heat setting 3 (middle top) works best for me.
  • Place one tablespoon of batter on the waffle iron. Close it and keep it firmly closed with your fingers. Hot steam will come out – take care not to burn your fingers!
  • Open the iron when steam stops coming out. The waffle should now be a pale golden brown. Quickly transfer it to a chopping board.
  • Leave to cool flat or roll up very quickly using the handle of a wooden spoon.

From start to finish, baking this quantity will take about 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Knieperties are deliciously crunchy and so thin that they are almost translucent.

This is my set-up, with from left to right: chopping board for cooling knieperties, wooden spoon for rolling them, waffle iron, plate for stacking cooled knieperties, small bowl of batter (works easier than big mixing bowl; refill from time to time), pancake turner (bottom right-hand corner) for flipping knieperties from iron to board.

And this is the whole batch, excluding the ones that got eaten during the process. Rolled-up knieperties can be filled with whipped cream if you like.

In the pouring rain (we’ve had quite a bit of that here lately) I took them around to several neighbours. A great opportunity for catching up on the latest news.

Knieperties are not just served around New Year’s, but also on other special occasions.

Instead of an ordinary Christmas card, dear friends sent us this:

A wonderful pop-up card of Villa Rams Woerthe, a historic house in a nearby town. The last time we visited it, we were served tea and knieperties in the drawing room. ‘Must enjoy baking knieperties’ is high on the list of requirements for anyone who wants to work there as a volunteer.

This is what it looks like from the back:

And this is what it looks like in real life (photo taken in spring):

I’d love to visit it again someday soon. Ah, so many plans and ideas for the New Year! I’ll try to share anything I think may be of interest and hope to ‘see’ you here often.

Lavender and Moths

‘Oh, no!’ I thought while I was whizzing around the living room with the vacuum cleaner sometime this spring. (Or I may have thought something a little less polite.) I had just lifted the basket with spinning fibres beside my wheel…

… and discovered  a kind of grit under it. I knew what that meant – moths!

I had stuffed the fibres into a plastic bag, put them in the freezer, removed the grit, and shaken out the basket before I thought, ‘this could be interesting for my blog.’ The only things left to photograph were 3 cocoons.

Moth problems are unavoidable in a house containing so much that is high on the moth’s Munchability Index. (Isn’t that a brilliant term? It was coined by Adrian Doyle, conservator at the Museum of London.  There is a link to the article in which I found it at the bottom of this post.) Fortunately, I haven’t had moth problems very often, but often enough to recognize the signs.

I’ve taken a few photos of moths lately. It isn’t that I’m a moth geek or anything. It is just that with my camera in hand I’m becoming more and more aware of my surroundings. And when I see creatures I don’t know, I try to find out what they are.

This is the large yellow underwing on our kitchen floor. It is called grote huismoeder (literally: large stay-at-home-mum) in Dutch. Whoever thought of that name?

And this is a box tree moth.

Isn’t it beautiful, with its almost transparent veined wings in a dark frame? We don’t have any box in our garden, and its family has already destroyed our neighbours’ box hedge, so I can admire it without getting nervous.

Several moth caterpillars crossed my path while I was out cycling this summer. This hairy little monster is the caterpillar of the majestic white ermine (NL: witte tijger).

And this big fat beauty will later transform into a small emperor moth (NL: nachtpauwoog).

It isn’t any of these that munch on spinning fibres, knitting yarn and sweaters, though. It’s the clothes moth that does that. I have, (un)fortunately, not been able to photograph it and am borrowing someone else’s picture. Here it is – every knitter’s and spinner’s nightmare:

Photo: © Olaf Leillinger, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Doesn’t it look glorious in this picture, all shimmering gold? In real life it is only about 7 mm (0.25”) long – an unsightly beige-ish little fluttery thing.

So, what to do about them?

Moth balls and moth paper are one option, but they smell horrible and are carcinogenic. Another is cedar wood. There was a block of that in my spinning basket. Maybe it loses its moth-repellent quality over time? Something else moths hate is lavender.

This bush along our driveway established itself there years ago. It is a pale shade of, well, lavender.

This isn’t a moth, by the way, but a butterfly called painted lady (NL: distelvlinder).

Last year we planted some more lavender in our front garden.

It is smaller and a darker shade of purple.

Moths may hate lavender, but I love it. Its scent, the purple of its flowers, and the silvery grey of its leaves. When all the lavender in our garden had finished flowering, friends coming to spend a sunny afternoon chatting in our garden brought us a big pot of a different variety.

It has beautiful tufted flowers. I have placed it just so that we can see it every time we look out the kitchen window.

I don’t know what it is that makes moths hate lavender so much, but it is a well-known fact that lavender is an excellent repellent.

Over the summer, I’ve been knitting some lavender sachets from small remnants of sock and other fingering-weight yarn. Not the old-fashioned frilly kind, but more modern? simple? plain? ones. I don’t know exactly how to describe them, but if all goes according to plan, you’ll see what I mean next week.

Meanwhile, here are a few links to some interesting reading about moths, the problems they pose for textile-lovers and what to do about them.

Behind the Pelargoniums

Hello!

In Dutch, we have the expression achter de geraniums zitten (sitting behind the pelargoniums). It’s hard to explain exactly what it means, but on the whole it’s considered a Bad Thing. Not quite as bad as pushing up the daisies…

… but it comes very close. Sitting behind the pelargoniums, you’re a dull old stick-in-the-mud.

I never particularly liked pelargoniums. But since we came to live here, almost 20 years ago, we’ve bought them from our local brass band every year to sponsor their uniforms and instruments.

Ironically, last year – when we spent more time behind the pelargoniums than ever before, figuratively speaking – we had to go without them. Fortunately this year, the brass band players were able to go round the doors selling them again.

I don’t know if I’ll ever love pelargoniums, but I’ve come to like them over the years. They provide some nice splashes of colour around the house.

And how about sitting behind those pelargoniums?

According to our government, it is no longer necessary to do so. I don’t know what it’s like in your part of the world, but here almost all of the covid-measures have suddenly been dropped. As of last Saturday, we don’t have to wear face masks anymore, and almost everything is allowed (with 1.5 metres distance). It’s a BIG step, and I wonder where it is going to take us.

It is not going to take us (my husband and me) anywhere much in the foreseeable future. We don’t have big plans. I mean, it would be a shame if we weren’t here to enjoy our wonderfully fragrant miniature strawberries, wouldn’t it?

And who among our neighbours would be crazy enough to pamper my little woad seedlings the way I do? Yes, the seeds have germinated! Well, most of them anyway.

We will just continue living our lives, and doing the things we normally do this summer. But we are planning to take a day off now and then to venture away from behind our pelargoniums. I hope you’ll virtually join us on some of our outings.

One thing we have planned, is a visit to our niece. She left home last September to go to uni and I am really looking forward to finally see where she has been studying so diligently on her own this past year. Before that trip, I am crocheting her a pair of old-fashioned pot holders from blue and cream cotton.

On the knitting front, I don’t have any big plans either. I’ll focus on small projects from those yarn remnants I talked about last week. There is one big project I want to finish, though – the soft, light and relaxed cardi I started earlier this year. Only, I found out that I’ve made a mistake in one of the front bands. Oops.

I think I know how to fix it, but I need to pluck up the courage for that.

Some crochet is also on my list of things to do this summer. Not a big blanket or anything – I’ll keep it small, too.

For the rest, I’ll keep enjoying the small miracles surrounding us and sharing them with you.

The other day, when I was starting to lower our awning, I heard a dry, crackling sound. Like something dropping down from it. And this is what I found:

An emperor dragonfly. I couldn’t see it breathing, and after observing it for a while concluded that it was dead. A rare opportunity to study it more closely. Such a beautiful creature.

Another thing I found just outside our backdoor this past week is this:

I’ve zoomed in on it; in reality it is only about 3 cm long. At first I thought it was a bit of moss fallen from off the roof, but when I looked more closely, I saw ‘things’ in it and realized it was a pellet. Probably regurgitated by this sparrowhawk.

I may seem like a dull old stick-in-the-mud to others, spending so much time behind the pelargoniums. But life never feels dull to me. To close off, here is one of the young woodpeckers who visit our garden every day.

Wherever you are in the world, and whether you are staying behind the pelargoniums or not, I wish you a safe and enjoyable summer and hope you’ll pay me a visit here from time to time.

PS If you’d like to see a dragonfly breathing (they breathe through the lower part of their body), here is a lovely video I found on YouTube.

Fragmented

Hello!

My days and weeks are very fragmented at the moment, and the only thing I can think of to do here this week, is post a few of those fragments.

Sunday
No workmen today. Ah, sigh of relief. I’m very grateful to them for all the work they are doing, and they are really nice guys, but I’m also grateful for a day without them. It isn’t just the upheaval. It’s also having to dance the distancing dance that we have been performing in shops and in the street this past year at home now, too, that is stressful.

After breakfast we’re escaping the house for a walk in the wood. Many trees are still bare, and in some places it still looks very wintry, but the amelanchiers are in bloom. Although torrential rain on Friday has made them look slightly dishevelled, they’re still worth photographing.

The fresh young leaves of the beeches make other parts of the wood look really springlike.

A couple of hours in the wood erase a week’s worth of stress.

Monday
Today the walls are painted. It feels like a luxury that somebody else is doing this for us – we have always done jobs like these ourselves in the past. Choosing paint colours was fun. There were so many colours to choose from…

… but in the end we chose more or less the same ones as before. We didn’t want to redecorate, after all.

For the living room we chose white with a hint of pink in it, like the blossom on our apple tree. Not like the buds, but like the petals of the fully opened flowers.

And we chose a pale yellow for one wall in the kitchen. Similar to these daffodils that are now flowering, only slightly less lemony.

The rest of the walls and the ceilings are simply painted white.

We’re suddenly without electricity and internet for part of the day, so no computer work for a while. When I head outside to do some jobs in the garden, it starts to rain. The only thing I can do now is retreat to our bedroom and knit.

Tuesday
This was the day the central heating radiators were going be re-installed, but alas… change of plan, it is now going to be Thursday (we hope). Changes of plans are not my forte. The weather is dismal (stormy view from our bedroom window).

Everything is covered in white dust again. I resist the urge to get back into bed and start cleaning again.

Flags are at half-mast around the village (and everywhere else in the country). On the 4th of May we commemorate those fallen during wars and peacekeeping missions since the beginning of WWII. At 8 pm we observe two minutes of silence and watch the ceremony on an almost empty Dam Square. The stories told by survivors and their children and grandchildren are deeply moving.

Wednesday
On May 5th we celebrate the end of WWII as well as freedom, democracy and human rights in general. Normally, there are all kinds of festivities. This year again only the flags show that it’s a special day.

I’m becoming more and more aware of how fragile these values are. We have a mini celebration at home with some sweet treats hot from the baker’s oven.

The June issue of Country Living magazine lands in our letterbox. I don’t think I’ll be visiting the UK any time soon, and it is a real treat to look at some lovely pictures of British wildlife. With phone calls with our daughter and a dear friend added in, this was, all in all a festive day in a small way.

Thursday
Hurray! I have an appointment for my first vaccine jab. And very soon, too. Can’t wait!

Hurray 2! The radiators have been re-installed! We have the house to ourselves again, and can start moving back in. This whole episode, with the semi-earthquake and the cracks in our walls, has taken up so much time and energy. I’m glad the end is in sight. I sympathize with all those people in the north of the country with far more serious cracks in their houses caused by real earth quakes due to gas extractions and fervently hope they will finally be compensated soon.

Hurray 3! The blue tits’ eggs in one of our nesting boxes have hatched. The parents are flying on and off with food. They refuse to be photographed, so here is just the nesting box and you’ll have to take my word for it.

Hope all is well with you and yours, hope to be less fragmented next week, and hope to see you again then. Bye!

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?

————————–

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.