PYO Garden

Hello there!

Following on from last week’s knitting sampler, I was going to show you my Mum’s embroidery sampler today. But I’m keeping that for later.

Instead, I’m taking you along to a Pick-Your-Own flower garden. It’s just outside our village – 10 minutes cycling at most. You can borrow a spare bicycle, if you like. All we need to do is adjust the saddle to your height and we’re good to go.

Through the tunnel underneath the ring road, left and left again and we’re in a lane leading past several farms.

A short stop to say hello to a few grazing cows. Hello girls!

Hop on again, cycle two minutes more, and we’re there.

‘Have a nice day’, the sign says. ‘Open 24/7’. And ‘Relax’ and ‘Enjoy’, too. And that’s exactly what we’re here for – to just relax and enjoy this beautiful spot for a few moments.

The owner comes up, apologizing that there isn’t very much to pick anymore at the end of Summer. I reassure her that it’s fine. We don’t need a huge bunch of flowers. Just being here is a treat in itself. And I can see that there are enough flowers left for a posy.

Besides, there are loads of ornamental gourds as well.

Displayed so attractively. And so many different shades, shapes and sizes.

Basking in the sun, on the very last day of Summer, the garden is filled with butterflies…

…bees and buzzing.

I can feel my heart-rate slowing down already – just what I need.

For me, it works like this: For a while I’m chugging along nicely. Then work/life gets busier, I speed up, am immensely productive for a while and think I’m doing great. But I start forgetting to take breaks, to exercise, and to relax intentionally in the evenings. And suddenly I’m not feeling so great anymore.

It’s an old familiar pattern. Nowadays, it usually isn’t too long before I recognize it, fortunately. And I’m better at thinking of ways to slow down again than I used to be.

So, that’s why we’re here in this PYO garden today. Let’s enjoy it a little more.

Everything shows that a lot of loving care and attention has gone into the garden. It’s not just the flowers and plants. Hidden between them are a few lovely surprises, too. Like this adorable chicken.

Well, it’s time to head for the wooden shed, where the secateurs, the guest book and the money tin are. It’s painted black as many traditional outbuildings around here are.

Inside, the same loving care as in the garden is apparent. It’s in the small, whimsical details.

Now, let’s hurry home, before the flowers wilt. I’ll quickly put them in a vase and put the kettle on. I hope you have time for a cuppa? I’d like to show you something else I did to slow down and relax – I cast on a simple pair of socks.

For me, sock knitting is one of the most relaxing things to do, especially using self-striping yarn.

I’m making these for a friend’s Birthday in early October. I haven’t knit with this yarn before and am not entirely convinced it’s suitable for socks, although it is sold as sock yarn. It’s Rellana Flotte Socke ‘Ariana’ – a single ply yarn with ticker and thinner (some really, really thin) bits here and there. Very soft and slightly fuzzy.

I’m giving it a try because of the beautiful colours. Time will tell if it’s a wise decision. My friend won’t mind being a guinea pig, I’m sure. If the socks shrink and felt, I’ll knit her another pair (or two).

Well, that’s all for today. Thank you for visiting. And with everything that’s happening in the world right now and alongside everything else you’re doing, please remember to rest, relax, knit (if you’re a knitter), and look for things to enjoy.

August Blues

Hello!

I thought of skipping my blog this week. Sometimes I just don’t know what to say, and nattering about knitting feels totally irrelevant. Rising numbers of covid cases almost anywhere in the world. People losing their homes and children going hungry as a result. People shouting that it’s all a hoax. And then the devastating explosion in Beirut…

How to live in the face of disasters like these? Sometimes, I just don’t know.

It doesn’t help that we’re going through another record-breaking heatwave. I can’t see it as anything other than a sign of rapid climate change – another disaster in the making. I’ve always struggled with hot weather anyway. As temperatures rise, my mood plummets.

One of the best things for me to do when I feel a knot in my stomach, is to go cycling. On hot days first thing in the morning.

I often take my camera with me. It helps me get out of my head and focus on my surroundings instead. And I often follow the same route. Without camera it takes me 30 minutes, with a little longer.

First I cycle through ‘our’ woodland. There are already some early signs of autumn – mushrooms, acorns and blackberries.

As soon as I leave the wood, I come to a school for animal husbandry, hay for their horses stacked high.

On the other side of the road is a small farm with some sheep and cattle. There is a young calf suckling with its mother and another one having a snooze.

There are cornflowers in the field next to it.

Taking photographs as I cycle along also helps me to slow down, which is a good thing in this sweltering heat, too.

Many of the flowers along my route at this time of year are blue. Or is it just that my eye is drawn to them? Along a ditch I squat down to photograph what I think is tufted vetch.

One of the most beautiful flowers of this season, if you ask me, is the harebell. It grows in clusters along my route. There is quite a bit of wind, making the delicate flowers dance, and it takes a lot of patience and concentration to get a good, sharp picture.

The harebells have slender stems and small flowers, but not as small as the sheep’s-bit below. From close up it may seem like quite a big flower…

… but it is just 1 to 2 centimetres in diameter. There’s a clump of them at the top of this post that gives a better impression of their size, I think.

Getting home, an hour or so later, I feel better. I haven’t solved any world problems, but I don’t feel hopeless and powerless anymore. There is always something I can do to make things better. And I realize again that there is still a lot in the world that is beautiful and good, and that small and seemingly irrelevant things can make a big difference to a day.

It’s too hot for knitting – another thing that is making me edgy. But cycling along, I thought of a dear friend of mine. We exchange e-mails every Sunday. Recently, she wrote that all she feels like doing in her spare time when it’s so hot is spinning and reading.

That reminded me of some spinning fibres she gave me a while ago. Merino wool in a gradient of blues with some white Tencel mixed in. I know that spinning those lovely fibres will also help to lift my mood.

Well, those were my thoughts for this week. Thank you for reading. I hope that you are all safe and as well as can be. And for those of you in the grip of the same heatwave, I hope this weekend will bring some rain and relief.

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?

A Stroll through our Village

Hello again! Today, I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you while strolling through our village. It isn’t a particularly picturesque village, but I love it because it’s home.

Although the village is already mentioned in 14th century documents, there is little left that reminds us of the distant past. Most of the houses (some more attractive than others) date from the middle of the 20th century, and there’s also a brand new, recently finished housing estate.

But there are several beautiful old reed-roofed houses left, like the one at the top. And here’s the corner of the roof of another one:

I’d like to translate the lovely scallops into the edging for a knitted shawl someday. My mind is always overflowing with ideas. Right now some of the ideas are crowded out by worries, however.

It’s the end of the third week of our ‘intelligent lockdown’, as our Prime Minister calls it. All events, big and small, have been cancelled until June. Schools, restaurants and cafés, theatres, libraries and other public places will remain closed until at least the end of April. People work from home and stay at home as much as they can. Everything to keep this dratted virus from spreading too fast.

We can still go out for our necessary shopping and also for a walk or a bicycle ride, as long as we keep a safe distance. I’m incredibly grateful for that, as for many other things.

Strolling through the village, I’m grateful for spring, with its birdsong and its flowers. For a garden filled with grape hyacinths…

… for flowering magnolia trees…

… for the sunlight reflecting off the bell of a cheerful children’s bike…

… and for the tiny pavement garden that gives passers-by something different to enjoy every month of the year. This month’s treat is scillas and lesser celandine:

I’m grateful for so much. And I’m worried. Although I have the occasional what-if thought, I’m not so much worried for myself and my family. We’re okay, and we’ll manage.

I am worried for the vulnerable people in our society and in the world at large. For the elderly, for those suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental health problems, for children in unsafe homes, for people losing their jobs, for people making overtime in hospitals, for people unable to stay at home simply because they have no home.

I know that worrying won’t help, but what can I DO?

Strolling along, I see positive signs of other people wanting to do something. Someone placed this chalkboard along the pavement:

It says, ‘Make room for trust, understanding, wonder, wisdom’.

And I don’t know who it was, but someone somewhere in the world had the idea for a Bear Hunt, meant for small children and their parents, but also very nice for grown-ups. More and more bears are appearing in our village, too. One family crammed their windowsill full of them, and placed two more on their garden table:

Such a simple and sweet gesture. Whoever it was who came up with this idea, I’m grateful to them for thinking of it. It reminds me that small and simple gestures can help. In this spirit, I made a short list of small things I can do:

  • Make phone calls to everybody I can think of who may appreciate some company, even if it is from a distance.
  • Listen to people without trying to push or pull them in any direction.
  • Send someone an uplifting postcard.
  • Donate to organisations supporting people I’m worried about.
  • Chat with neighbours (from a safe distance) and ask if they’re okay.
  • Keep blogging.
  • Keep practising social distancing.
  • Try to stay as nice as I can to the guy I’m staying at home with (not hard at all, because he is a VERY nice guy).
  • Knit something for someone.

Any ideas for things to add to this list are welcome!

Taking action, no matter how small, is what works for me. I realize that not everybody is the same. I hope that you can find things that work for you. If nothing seems to work, please talk about it to someone you trust.

Thank you for strolling along with me and listening to my thoughts and worries. I hope you are still all right. Here’s a big smile for you from our upstairs window.

New Year’s Resolution

At the end of 2019, I was suddenly assailed by doubts. I think it was partly the time of year, and partly my first blogiversary that involuntarily made me look back and look ahead. Questions that went through my mind were: Where am I going with my knitting and my blog? Should I be going anywhere with my knitting and my blog? Shouldn’t I be doing something more important or useful?

Fortunately, I received some lovely comments that really helped me put things in perspective. Some of them said things along the lines of ‘giving people pleasure with your blog is worthwhile in itself.’ I’m really grateful for these remarks, because they reminded me of why I started blogging in the first place – the hope that  some of the things that make me happy will make others happy too.

Others commented about the importance of asking questions and suggested that I could, perhaps, try some slightly more controversial writing. Thank you for all of those comments – they have given me food for thought.

Then, on December 30th 2019, De Volkskrant, a big national newspaper in the Netherlands, published an article about knitting that provided me with more food for thought. It was even introduced on the front page!

The article, entitled ‘Knitters are Finally Coming Out of the Closet’, was about a knitting group in Amsterdam. Here are some thought-provoking quotes:

  • ‘Knitting isn’t just a hobby, it’s a way of life.’ (Is it? How?)
  • ‘In Britain, Scandinavia or the Baltic states knitting has status. Here it is seen as a mere hobby, as something grannies do.’ (Do people in those countries really feel that knitting has status, or does it just look like that from the outside? And what’s wrong with grannies anyway?)
  • ‘Coming out as a knitter was harder for me than coming out as a gay person.’ (I think/hope this means that it isn’t very hard for people to openly be themselves in this country. But why this huge embarrassment about knitting? Is it a typically Dutch phenomenon?)
  • ‘The Netherlands do not really have a knitting tradition.’ (?)
  • ‘If you have spent three entire weeks knitting a sweater, you aren’t going to discard it after one season.’ (This was about sustainability, of course, about not throwing things away thoughtlessly. An extremely important issue. But my first, unworthy thought was: Three weeks? An entire sweater in just THREE weeks?!? Further on in the article there is even someone who knits a sweater in two weeks. How?)

More question marks. Interesting.

In between al this pondering, family gatherings, meals with friends etcetera, I actually also managed to do some knitting. I finished a pair of fingerless mittens for our niece’s 17th Birthday. We chose the pattern and the yarn together.

After finishing the knitting and darning in the ends, I soaked and blocked the mittens.

I placed the damp mittens on two foam mats and pinned them into shape with ‘knit blockers’. These nifty tools look a little like combs and come in boxes of twenty blockers in two sizes.

This step is not essential, though. Before blocking, the cable was more or less hidden in a ‘ditch’ between two areas of stocking stitch. Blocking made the cable stand out better and the knitting look more even, which is nice for something meant as a gift. But when worn, the mittens will stretch and the cable will become visible anyway.

The pattern I used is Kujeillen, by Finnish designer Tiina Kuu. I asked Tiina what Kujeillen means and this is what she wrote:

‘Kuje’ could be described as a harmless prank or joke that has warm and positive vibes – ‘kuje’ makes you giggle! The form ‘kujeillen’ can be roughly translated as ‘pranking/joking’ – or ‘as a prank/joke in mind’ – keeping in mind that the action has absolutely no bad intentions.

Kuje was also the name of the LYS for which I originally designed the pattern, thus the name.

A fun knitting project with a fun name, Kujeillen is a free Ravelry pattern. Tiina has published lots of lovely patterns on Ravelry and also writes a blog. I can’t read Finnish, but enjoyed looking at the photos of her beautiful sock designs.

The mittens are long – they cover the little finger almost entirely. For myself I would have made them one repeat shorter, but the recipient thought they were nice and warm like this.

The yarn I used was less than one ball of Drops ‘Alpaca’. It is really soft, but next time I’d use a different yarn, because I think the nupps (bobbles) will ‘pop’ more in a bouncier sheep’s wool yarn.

There, my first FO (Finished Object) of 2020.

And that brings me to UFOs (UnFinished Objects).

While I was looking ahead, and thinking of where I’d like to go with my knitting, I could feel something bubbling in my belly, and it wasn’t the Christmas pudding. I mean figuratively, like new ideas. But that ‘something’ felt very vague and elusive. So I asked myself, ‘What is it that makes this so? What could help me to bring it more to the surface?’

And suddenly a small voice inside me said, ‘You need to make room for new things by finishing some old stuff.’ I immediately knew what this small voice was referring to – this collapsible crate filled with UFOs:

I have quite a few UFOs. That never really bothered me, but it is starting to bother me now, so now I’m going to do something about it.

I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions since I was a teenager. For a long time they have felt like too much to add to my already crowded to-do list. But this year I’m happy to make this my New Year’s resolution:

In 2020, I’m going to either finish or frog all of my UFOs.

Just one New Year’s resolution. That should be doable, right?

Pre-Christmas Mulling, Baking and Making

Hello! It’s good to see you here. I hope your life is not too frantic in the run-up to Christmas.

There’s quite a bit of pre-holiday preparation going on here. And some knitting, too. And some mulling, not just of wine, but also in the sense of pondering. But before I get to that, I’d like to take you on a mini-trip to the castle in the picture at the top of this post – Middachten Castle. It’s a private property that only opens on special occasions. The Christmas opening is one of these occasions and we visited it last weekend.

Although the castle has medieval roots, the current building dates from the 17th Century. There’s a moat all around it and a bridge leading to the front door. Or, rather doors. The two glossy dark green doors were decorated with beautiful wreaths flanked by other greenery.

Unfortunately photography wasn’t allowed inside, so you’ll have to take my word for it that the Christmas trees and flower arrangements were amazing. There was at least one Christmas tree in every room and the decorations were themed to the rooms. There were bunches of cigars in the tree in the smoking room, orchids sprouting from books and Christmas ornaments made from printed pages in the library and so on.

There was a Christmas market outside and in the outbuildings…

… but looking through my photographs, I see that I was more drawn to the quiet corners…

… and architectural elements.

We ended our lovely visit with a shared bowl of barbecued mushrooms and tiny potatoes and some piping hot mulled wine.

Our preparations here, at our own modest abode, are far less elaborate than those at the castle, I’m glad to say.

Taking the Christmas tree decorations out of their box is always a special moment. I put on some music first, to get into the mood. This time it was A Christmas Together, starring John Denver and the Muppets, with The Christmas Wish as one of my favourites. It always really moves me when Kermit sings in his funny voice:

I don’t know if you believe in Christmas,
or if you have presents underneath the Christmas tree.
But if you believe in love, that will be more than enough
for you to come and celebrate with me.

Well, back to decorating, here’s one of my oldest ornaments:

With a little more time on my hands than in the past few years, I also did some baking. I looked up an old recipe for Basler Leckerlis, a kind of gingerbread from Switzerland made with honey, candied and fresh citrus peel, ground almonds, spices and Kirsch liqueur.

After baking, the leckerlis are iced with a mixture of icing sugar and more Kirsch. The heavenly warm, spicy aroma alone is worth the effort. Here they are cooling on a wire rack.

A while ago, someone said that my blog exudes a feeling of contentment – that I must be a very contented person. Scrolling through the blog posts I’ve written in the past year, I can see why people might get that impression. But contented is far from how I feel. I do feel grateful. But also worried.

With everything that’s going on in the world around us, I sometimes feel like pulling up the drawbridge, closing the shutters, and withdrawing into my castle, figuratively speaking. But then again, I don’t think that is the answer to anything.

While I’m knitting, I’m mulling over better answers. Pondering on how to make this world a better place. And on the place of knitting, and blogging about knitting, in it. So far, I’ve mainly come up with question marks. Where am I going with my knitting and my blog? Should I be going anywhere with my knitting and my blog? Shouldn’t I be doing something more important or useful? Should I go into politics? Answer to the last one: No, I’d be totally useless as a politician. I’ll ponder on the rest for a little longer.

Meanwhile, I just keep knitting.

I’m knitting a pair of fingerless mittens for a gift. They have a lovely little cable with tiny nupps (an Estonian term for delicate bobbles).

I can show them here because the recipient already knows that I’m making them. She chose the yarn and the pattern herself, in fact.

I’m also still knitting the blue cardigan I’ve been working on for quite a while. I had almost finished the second sleeve when I realized that I wouldn’t have enough yarn for the neck band and the pocket tops. Pinning the parts together to find out what could be done, I saw that the sleeves were on the long side and unravelled them to a few centimetres below the sleeve cap (not much fun with this sticky yarn, I can tell you). The one on the left is now re-knit, and I’ll soon be able to finish the rest.

When I’m stuck on a knitting project, like with the sleeves above, I get out what I call my in-between-projects-project – a large stole.

I add a few rows or even an entire stripe to it when I have no inspiration for other things. But now I’m stuck on that too, because I’m not entirely happy with the last two colours I’ve added. I think I may rip them out and substitute them for different colours, but I’m not sure yet.

In between all this knitting and baking, I also made some beeswax candles. I’ll come back to those when I’ve experimented more and can find the time to write up a post about them.

These at least literally make life a little lighter.

And finally, I’m knitting some swatches for a new design idea I have. If it works out the way I envision it, I’ll show you more sometime in the New Year.

Well, this is my last blog post for 2019. I’m taking some time off to eat, drink and be merry first. And then some time to knit, read, take naps and go for walks, so it may be a while before I’m back.

I wish you a lovely Christmas and hope to see you here again in 2020!

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.