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:

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.

Comfort and Joy

It’s Christmas Eve, and we’re nearing the end of a challenging year. Thinking about writing this post beforehand, I felt that I should say something Profound and Meaningful, but what? I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’m not some kind of oracle or Wise Woman, after all. I’m just an ordinary person muddling along like everybody else.

In the end, I’ve gone back to what this blog is basically about and decided to share a few of the things that have given me comfort and joy over the past weeks, hoping they’ll do the same for you.

The front door with the lovely garland at the top of this post isn’t ours. It belongs to a house further down the street.

Every time I pass this house, looking at these neighbours’ stylish grey-and-white decorations brings me joy.

Our style is more traditional, mainly red, green and silver. It’s comforting to take the same old Christmas baubles from their box every year. This one symbolizes 2020 for me.

White hyacinths opening their flowers at exactly the right time scent our living room.

The upstairs Advent calendar has now opened its last door. And I put the star on the top of the downstairs one this morning. One of the first creatures I placed on this cardboard fir tree was a woodpecker.

It looks just like the great spotted woodpeckers that visit our garden. They’ve been away for a while, retreating to the wood during their moulting period, but are back in full force now. Sometimes there are four of them at the same time, looking for insects on the branches of our old pear tree and fighting for a place on the peanut feeder.

Watching these beautiful birds always brings me joy. They are fairly shy, but if I’m very quiet and patient, they allow me to take a picture now and then.

Something that always brings me a lot of comfort is knitting. It is the feeling of the yarn in my hands combined with the rhythmic movement that makes it so. And what’s more, knitting things for others makes me feel connected with them during a time we are unable to meet. That’s also a comfort.

Apart from knitting several pairs of socks, a scarf and a hat to give away, I’ve treated myself to two skeins of exquisitely soft yarn for a hat and a cowl.

The hat pattern was a freebie from Churchmouse Yarns & Teas. They have a very active and friendly knitting group on Ravelry that I’ve enjoyed being a part of for years. The moment I saw this simple hat and read that the yarn they used for it was a sustainable cashmere, I knew that this was going to be my special December knit for me this year.

I was not just going to knit the hat, but also a matching cowl. Although I could have finished each of these projects in an evening, I decided to take it slow and enjoy every minute of the process, including winding the yarn and taking photos along the way.

I limited myself to knitting no more than a few rows a day. During these quiet, contemplative moments, I first saw my hat grow.

And then my cowl.

Knitting a pattern thought out by someone else is especially comforting – no stress about how many stitches to cast on, getting the right size, what decreases to use, and whether there will be enough yarn. I’ve given my own twist to it by adding a bit of contrasting colour to the rim of the hat, making a matching cowl, and finally duplicate stitching hearts onto both.

For the duplicate stitching I’ve tried out a new (to me) type of needle, with a bent tip. I’ve laid my ordinary darning needles and the new ones out on the finished cowl to show the difference.

The new ones are officially called tapestry needles, and they are a real improvement for duplicate stitching, I have to say. The bent tip slides easily between the knit stitches and is really nice to work with. (I’ll keep using the regular straight ones for darning in yarn ends, though.)

And here are my hat and cowl all finished.

They were a joy to knit, and I know they’ll be a joy to wear for a long time to come.

Now there is just one last thing I’d like to share with you – a gift we received on Tuesday. This year the organic farm that delivers groceries to our door, gave all their customers a bag of organic daffodil bulbs. It came with a message on a bit of sunny yellow paper. Translated it said:

When all of a sudden ordinary things
Can no longer be taken for granted
We realize how extraordinary
Ordinary things really are

Such a lovely gift – a ray of sunshine and hope during these dark days.

Thank you so much for reading my blog over the past year, and leaving a comment now and then. These small virtual moments of contact mean a lot to me. I’m taking a break now and hope to be back here somewhere in the course of January. I’m looking forward to ‘seeing’ you again then.

I wish you a safe and peaceful Christmas and the very best for 2021!

Slowing Down and Tidying Up

Hello!

The title of today’s blog post – ‘Slowing Down and Tidying Up’ – may sound terribly Zen and Organised, but that’s not how I’m feeling at all.

The slowing-down part is my left foot speaking. I’ve injured it during a recent walk. Nothing serious, and I hope it will heal soon, but for the time being I need to listen to my foot and walk slowly and mindfully. Because whenever I ignore it, it sends a stab of pain to my brain.

I think my left foot is a rather sadistic Zen master, and I can’t say that I’m grateful to it. But I am grateful that it isn’t my left hand that’s injured. At least I can still knit, and that’s what I’m doing a lot.

There is some gift knitting going on that I can’t show you, but I’m also knitting something for myself that I can show – a cashmere cap and matching cowl in charcoal and red. Pure comfort knitting.

More about that when I’ve finished it. The novel next to my knitting is from the series of Jane Austen mysteries by Stephanie Barron that I’m re-reading. Highly recommended!

While the slowing-down bit from this blogpost’s title is dictated by my left foot, the tidying-up bit is dictated by the state of some parts of our house. You probably know what it’s like if you have many interests: notes, patterns, newspaper clippings, recipes and other papers pile up until there comes a moment when they take up so much space that tidying-up becomes unavoidable.

And for a knitter, there are all the things left after a knitting project is finished: pattern print-outs, notes, swatches, scraps of yarn. After finishing my Monogrammed Guest Towels I am left with all this:

A folder full of notes and charts, left-over yarn, yarn labels, the towels and face cloths themselves, and swatches. Lots of swatches of the monograms – many knit-in versions, one in duplicate stitch, and even one in cross stitch on a knit swatch (not a success).

And there’s also a small bouquet of loops:

Shall I keep them for future reference? I have difficulty tidying up, because I keep thinking that things may come in handy later. But no, they’ll have to go or we’ll get snowed under in stuff. If I’m ever going to make something with loops or monograms again, I’ll knit new swatches. That’s part of the fun anyway.

Speaking of new swatches, I paid a visit to Wolverhalen to get some materials and needles for them. Maybe you remember the shop? I wrote about it before here.

My tactic at a time we need to avoid crowds is to shop as little as possible, and when I really need something, to go at a quiet moment. So last Wednesday I arrived at Wolverhalen when Catharina was just about to open up. While she was placing a last little Christmas tree in the shop window, I looked at the things on display and put on my face mask.

I had taken a good look at her website beforehand and made a shopping list. One of the things on my list was two balls of this squishy yarn.

Something to play/knit swatches/cuddle with during the Christmas holiday.

Also on my list was some of Catharina’s own handpainted yarn for another Thús 2. On my way to Wolverhalen, I dropped the original version off at a friend’s house, and now I’d like to make another one. I chose a deep teal merino singles yarn (2nd from left in photo below).

While I was choosing my yarns, another customer came into the shop. She was wearing a very special sweater, and when I asked her about it, she told me she’d bought it during a month-long stay in the Faroe Islands. Oh my, an entire month in that beautiful place!

I asked her if I might take a picture of her lovely sweater for my blog and she said that was fine, so here it is – Thank you, unknown knitter!

Chance meetings like these are what make visits to a brick-and-mortar yarn shop extra special. I don’t know if I’d recognize her in the street or she me, large parts of our faces being covered in masks, but from her story about the Faroe Islands, the pattern she was choosing yarn for and her remark that’s she’s a bird watcher, I did recognize a kindred spirit.

Well, let’s browse around a little more before leaving for home. Apart from her own gorgeous hand dyed yarns…

… Catharina also stocks a selection of yarns from other companies, like Danish CaMaRose.

And then there are plants in lovely pots everywhere…

… books…

… and magazines.

Ah, it’s been so good to not be at home for a while. And to meet other knitters and yarn lovers, even if it was only briefly, in small numbers, at a safe distance, and partly hidden by masks.

Well, that’s all for today. I’m hurrying back (slowly) to my tidying up. Wherever you are in the world, and whether you are slowing down (of your own free will or not) or are extra busy at work or at home, I hope that you are okay. Thank you for reading and see you again soon!

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!

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?