Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tutorial: Lo-So Crochet Tote Bag

While rooting through one of the large bags of yarn that I keep hidden stored in the bedroom cupboard, I found a bag-within-the-bag that is - cringe - my Bag of Shame. Therein I found my little stash of started projects that had been abandoned in favour of something more exciting. Including a bunch of neat little cotton squares, bordered and stacked and ready to go:

They were supposed to be a cushion cover but upon looking at them again, I thought they might make a nice bag ... but the sewing! Bleurgh: sewing a lining for a cotton bag is just so much hassle.

Then I had a brainwave: instead of sewing a lining for a bag, why not sew a bag for the lining? And the Low Sew (Lo-So!) crochet tote bag was born. I wish it were a No-Sew (No-So :-) ) bag, but I haven't figured that one out yet.  

You need - 
- crochet squares in a pattern of your choice
- a linen shopping bag (even one that has a printed logo: the logo will be covered by your crochet work. I bought plain linen bags on Amazon for 99c.)
- a darning needle
- a sharp sewing needle
- strong sewing thread in a colour close to the colour of the bag

I simply sewed the squares together (but you can crochet them together or use the join-as-you-go method) and placed them on the bag to determine how much bigger the bag was: 

Toy car not necessary, but apparently helpful

You want your panel to be slightly bigger than the linen bag, so I crocheted two rows of double crochet at the top and bottom, and one row of half-double crochet on each side. I did this on the front (pic on the left) and back (right) panel.

I then turned them face to face and sewed them together on three sides, leaving the top open. I turned the crochet bag/cover right-side out, and slipped the linen bag inside.

Taking a sewing needle and strong sewing thread (I simply doubled mine), I sewed the top of the crocheted bag to the top  of the linen bag, so that the linen bag became the lining of the crochet bag! Sneaky, eh?

Please look closely at amazing sewing technique and do not look at unmanicured nails. Thank you.
To stop the linen bag from wrinkling up inside its crochet cover, I simply turned the entire thing inside-out again and stitched the crochet bag and the linen lining together at the corners - just a few strong stitches to anchor it, that's all.

The last thing I did was to crochet a small strap to close it at the top and add a button. That's it. Easy-peasy!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Weight Now

My true love.

I love cake.
I really do. A few years ago I met an old friend and over the course of our chat, he told me that his abiding memories of yours truly were of me asleep and eating cake. At this point, let me just say that I used to sleep a lot. I can't count the number of concerts, parties and films I slept through. I slept on epic bus rides across Europe and down Asia. I could sleep anywhere, at any time, in any position - a bit like a cat. And as I haven't had a good night's sleep in nearly three years, I do not regret a single snore. As for the cake eating ... well, let's just say that he astutely summed up the essence of my twenties.

Of course, all that sleeping and eating of cake eventually catches up with you and, meanly, it's often not in your twenties but in the decades thereafter. I've had two children in nineteen months and it's left me two clothing and one shoe size bigger. Now, I don't really believe that size matters. I think a person who feels comfortable in their skin exudes a certain kind of radiance: I've known very svelte women who wear their size like an itchy hairshirt; I've known large women - very large women - who manage to look jaw-droppingly fan.tas.tic in a way I can only envy because they wear their size like an expensive coat.

See, it took me a long time to align Outside Me with Inside Me, so finding Outside Me out of kilter with Inside Me again is a bit disconcerting. I don't carry too much extra weight well, I don't look like a curvy goddess, I tend to look like a strudel-scoffing Hausfrau (which, I suppose, I am.) More alarmingly, I never realised that childbirth can make your feet stretch - and they don't go back!!! - so I not only have a wardrobe full of clothes that don't fit, I also have half-a-dozen pairs of beloved pick-me-up shoes (hello high-heels! Toots to my suede boots!) that I can't even get my feet into. Sartorially, I feel like an ugly step-sister.

I caught sight of myself in a mirror three weeks ago and realised how ill-at-ease I look. Two days later (after a day of eating chocolate and banoffee pie - seriously, I'm not a martyr) I started a diet. I don't want to be skinny, I don't even want to be thin: I want to be comfortable. No, more than that: I want to be powerful. I want to be full of energy and dynamism ... preferably in that nice skirt I bought five winters ago.

I'd never dieted before, so some of the things I learned about myself were a little shocking, namely:

1. My idea of a portion size and a nutritionist's idea of a portion are entirely different. Fancy that! I, apparently, like to eat a Brontosaurus' portion of pasta, rather than a human's.
2. It takes about twenty minutes for my sated feeling to kick in. Until it does, I feel hungry and continue to eat, but I'm actually not. I think my stomach and my brain need counselling because they don't communicate very well.
3. I love sugar, but it hates me. It really does and I don't know why, because I have loved it dearly since early childhood. It makes me hyper, gives me headaches, encourages cravings and it has cost me at least one second-hand car in dentist's bills.

Three weeks later, I'm 4 kilograms / about 9 lbs lighter. I'd like to lose the same amount again. At which point, I'm going to put on my nice winter skirt, squeeze my feet into my high-heeled boots ... and eat half a banoffee pie. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014


 A friend asked me to make blankets for a friend of hers, who's expecting twins. I was told that the mother-to-be wanted "rainbow blankets". Rainbow-coloured blankets, I asked, or blankets with rainbows? It's always hard to guess what will appeal to someone you haven't ever met, so I made this pair of blankets in the hope that she'll like them.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

World Breastfeeding Week

My next post will actually be about crocheting. And it will be soon. I promise. Pinky swear.

This photo has made me realise that my child has extraordinarily large ears.
The first week of August was World Breastfeeding Week, which - in blogging terms - I missed because I was busy breastfeeding. My son had an inkling of the week that was in it and decided to attach himself to me like Superglue. Not that I would've done much to celebrate, to be honest, not least because this year's slogan was 'Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal - For Life!'. I really don't know what to do with a statement like that; it leaves me feeling a bit bewildered and slightly edgy, as in did-I-just-see-a-mouse-out-of-the-corner-of-my-eye edgy or what-do-you-mean-you-just-put-your-tarantula-down-for-a-second-but-now-it's-gone? edgy. I don't know why. The slogan is a bit meaningless, really. Or it might be the excitable exclamation mark.

But on matters of punctuation I digress.

Just after the birth of my second son, another new mother rang me for breastfeeding advice. I am possibly the worst person to ring for breastfeeding advice because I am one of the (I suspect) many women who breastfeed because they can and they feel they should, but don't derive the astronomical pleasure that Good Mummies get out of it. What do I mean by that? Well, in the context of WBW, many intrepid bloggers pounded the keyboard to showcase breastfeeding in a positive light, bearing in mind that encouraging new mothers to bare the nipple is often a battle. To my astonishment, I discovered other mothers referring to breastfeeding as "a delight", or "delicious" or likening it to the high achieved by smoking marijuana. For me, it often feels like someone is chewing my nipple, which is essentially what it is. I don't feel delicious or blissed out on a natural high, although I sometimes feel very sleepy - and not in a good way. I have occasionally passed out on the sofa in a deep-phase micro-sleep, awakening seconds later to the infant hanging onto the nipple by his gums and the toddler drawing tractors on the carpet.

Of course, it doesn't help that I (have) had circulatory problems and vasospasms (don't ask, they're horrible. Imagine someone sucking glass splinters out through your nipples. There: that's all you need to know. Thankfully, though, this has subsided and my extremities are behaving themselves again.) Added to this is the sad fact that my children frequently do/did not latch on to the breast in that gentle Madonna-and-Child way: often it's like trying to get a feral cat to suck your bosoms. Apparently you can be hungry, impatient and incredibly interested in your surroundings at the same time and the way one expresses this is with flailing limbs, scratchy nails and twisting your mother's chesticles about so you can suck AND watch your older brother jumping off the sofa at the same time.

So when this other mother rang me for advice, I dolled out all the practical bits: drink non-alcoholic beer for milkflow. Put cabbage leaves in your bra for sore nipples. Feed on demand to regulate milk production.
"Can I ask you one more thing?" she said.
Fire away, I replied.
"Did you actually like breastfeeding?"
You mean, did I like smelling of sour milk and cabbage, with scratched breasts and inflamed nipples? Did I like sitting underneath a snoozy baby for hours at a time, looking at all the housework that needed to be done and holding in a need to pee in case he woke up again? No, of course not. It's horrible. There are times when I feel like my body is a dairy and little else. I'm sick of milk stains on my clothes, either through leaky nipples or regurgitated by an over-excited baby (because his sofa-diving older brother is just too exciting for his digestion). I want to wear an underwire bra again! And I'm aware I'm breaking a huge taboo here, because you're supposed to breastfeed and LOVE IT. You're supposed to feel CONNECTED to your childer in a way a plastic bottle and latex teat could never bond you. If you don't breastfeed or if you belong to the quiet minority that does and isn't exactly a fan, you are somehow an INSUFFICIENT MOTHER. And this other mother just ... didn't like it. It was painful, it made her emotional and tense, the baby cried with too much milk or because he wasn't getting enough, and her midwife told her that bottle-feeding her child when she could breastfeed him was just lazy parenting. I, apparently, was the only breastfeeding mother who told her that it quite often, literally, sucked and it nearly made her cry in relief to hear it.

Truth be told, I don't actually mind breastfeeding. I don't love it, no. I won't shed a tear when my youngest weans. But I don't hate it either, or I wouldn't be doing it. Let's take all the positives about mother+baby's health benefits as a given and look at the other (superficial) pluses: it's immensely practical. You can breastfeed anywhere you feel comfortable, and plenty of places you don't feel comfortable, too! (I know, because I've had to breastfeed everywhere but would much rather do it in my rocking chair at home.) It allows you to eat A LOT after birth (this is important. I'm not joking: I left the delivery room with a raging appetite and it hasn't abated). And - most importantly - you don't have to get up in the middle of the night to make bottles. If La Leche League wanted to persuade teenage mothers to breastfeed, they'd only have to arrange for someone to wake teenage mother-to-be with a recording of an angry baby, drag them out of their deep slumber and make them shuffle down to the kitchen in the bitter cold of a winter night to make a bottle at 2 a.m. Then again at 4 a.m. And maybe at 6 a.m. for the laugh. Voilà: problem solved. Next year's World Breastfeeding Week's slogan would be 'Breastfeeding: You won't know how much you love it until you realise you don't have to get out of your bed to do it!' Even with an exclamation mark, I think it has a broad appeal.

And there are other pluses as well, the ones that recompense you for your angry boobs: my child, for example, has started laughing at my nipples. He falls asleep, mid-feed, and wakes up to chuckle at my chest. It's one of motherhood's highlights and I don't mind occasionally smelling like rotting cheese just to see that sight. You are forced to abandon dirty dishes and/or social media and/or shopping lists to sit down with your little one and look at his fluffy head and wriggling ears as he chomps away determinedly at your breasts. Nature plugs your baby in to make you turn life down and sit still for a while. Because having your baby this close is a finite experience and, who knows? Once it's over, I might even miss it.

Cabbage leaves and all.

Monday, July 7, 2014


I'm a language teacher, so I've been following my older son's language learning process avidly. (He's twenty months. I was recently asked by a 15-year-old why people refer to small children's age in months - I guess it's because every month brings a huge jump forward in terms of ability, so you have to be accurate when you're boasting at the playground, or whatever.) Watching a child learn language is really interesting and all the more so if more than one language is being learned. With enormous efficiency, children learn the words that are most valuable and important to them: for example, young John has learned that 'Please' ('Peas', actually, but we're happy with that) gets results, but 'thank you' is an irrelevant chore that only features after he's got what he wants. Pleases are abundant, thank yous are sparse. But we persevere.

He has an extensive vocabulary and often shocks us with what he knows. "Silly Mama," he said to his truck the other day, "silly Mama." I don't think he believes the truck gave birth to him, but he was obviously practising his new vocabulary for a more opportune moment. He knows how to ask for most of the things he likes to eat, in both languages, so if "Cake, peas!" fails, "Kuuuuuchen!" might work its magic. One of the most useful and used words in his repertoire is 'stuck', which reflects shockingly badly on our parenting skills as it's used a LOT. He tends to get stuck quite a bit (toddlers don't really know how big they are) and he has a lot of toys that are remarkably clumsy. Tom, for example.

This is Tom. He's a helicopter pilot on one of his favourite television shows, Fireman Sam (no, he doesn't watch television. What kind of bad parents do you think we are? He watches it on my iPad. Haha. Yes, I know, but you try to change a newborn's dirty nappy while your toddler attempts to climb up your IKEA bookshelf - he needs to be anchored somewhere safe for ten minutes and Sam kindly does the job.) In any case, Tom and his helicopter are his most beloved toys; sadly, Tom is a bit of an eejit and tends to get stuck on a daily basis.

For a start, he has difficulty with the concept of doors:

He seems to nosedive into the laundry basket a lot. Very disturbing - my smalls might be in there.  

He requires a lot of tissues:

But, on the plus side, has proven to be a very capable babysitter. He hasn't become stuck here yet, and we dread the thought that he might.

Friday, July 4, 2014



Happy 4th July, American readers! And belated Happy Canada Day, Canadian readers! Your official leaders had the good sense to place national holidays in the middle of summer, unlike the Germans (3rd October) or the Irish (17th March - I mean, come on. What are the chances of a dry day in Ireland, much less a dry day in March?)

Over here, we're in the midst of the World Cup, the football World Cup - or soccer, as people call it in places where football involves men in very tight trousers and Dynasty-style shoulder pads. This evening, Germany qualified for the quarter finals and a spontaneous street party erupted outside my house. The noise of cheery revellers aside, I'm very glad to see it: Germany has an uneasy relationship with displays of national pride. Their history makes it difficult for many Germans to discern an appropriate amount of patriotism: overt displays of love for the Vaterland often make people embarrassed or uneasy. Like a person who can only show emotion after a couple of drinks, tearful flag-waving often only comes after a victory in one of the big football championships.

And it's taken very seriously over here. Aside from the fact that people have flags hanging from their houses - which is probably utterly unremarkable to a lot of American readers, but extraordinarily rare here -

- news channels  report daily on the players' constitutions. Yesterday, we were breathlessly informed that seven of the players - yes, seven - were suffering from colds. Goodness! The big media groups are given a daily update on the team's schedules, thus we all know that they start training at nine and have a break after lunch for Kaffee und Kuchen. Yes, they might be training in tropical Brazil. but that's no reason not to stop for Schwarzwälderkirschtorte and Donauwelle at 3.30 in the afternoon. 

Were that not exciting enough, an octopus called Regina was appointed the official World Cup oracle.  I don't know what qualified this particular octopus to forecast match outcomes - I wasn't aware of octopuses' footballing talent in general, though having eight tentacles does suggest a certain advantage - but the sight of her flailing around her aquarium warrants a good 20-minute report on many TV channels and a terrible number of newspaper columns. (She predicted a draw for the Germany/USA match, by the way, which might have attributed to the rise of a new fortune-telling star, a pig - as yet unnamed - which is apparently having good luck picking out the winners. We wait and hope.)
 Worst of all, however, are the bandwagon fans, of whom I am the leader. You know who we are - you might even be one yourself. I know nothing about football, neither the tight-trousered nor the baggy-shorted variety. I never watch a football match from one end of the year to another, except when there's some big tournament, like the European Championships or the World Cup - and luckily they only come every four years, because 90 minutes of football at a time is exhausting. All the more so, because I have to support Germany, my adopted home, and Ireland, my real home. Being a supporter of the Irish team is just pure heartbreak: we seldom qualify, we're better known for our ability to sing than to play football. Our fans are universally loved, but our football team seldom qualifies. But when the Germans play, I mutate into the kind of smart-alecking back-seat football player (mashing idioms there, for the laugh) that must make anyone who knows anything about football rolls their eyes.

And I have this from my mother, who - on the rare occasions when Ireland do play - turns into a raging fury: "Come on! COME ON! What the heck are you doing? PASS THE BALL! PASS THE BALL! For the love of God, that was a foul! Is the referee blind?" (alarmingly, in real life, there's a lot of bad language, too. From my mother. Good job it's only every four years.) She knows as much about football as I do, we could fill the back of a postage stamp with our combined knowledge. 

All of which I will proudly demonstrate when shouting at the television next .. um  ... weekend, when Germany plays ... eh, another team. Oh, okay, I promise I'll know a bit more by then. In the next few days, though, I'll make important-sounding noises about the team's form and how well their opponents ... eh, ... France, yes, of course, France - played.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Birth and Other Business

I don't want to insult anyone's deity or anything, but I happen to believe that there are a few basic design flaws in the female body, vis à vis procreation. For starters, pythons manage to dislocate their bottom jaws to accommodate the eating of much larger prey - wouldn't it be spiffy if women could pop their pelvis open a few inches to facilitate the exit of their very large offspring through their nether regions? This would be quite wonderful because - and allow me to put this delicately - giving birth is inconveniently painful.

Such is the inconvenient pain, that one has brief moments of lucidity when one can ponder the ludicrousness of the situation. At one point I looked down at what was happening below my navel and at the assembled crowd of strangers looking expectantly at parts of me that normally never feel the breeze and wondered what on earth I was doing. Five total strangers, to be exact. And, of course, the sixth hovering by the door - who was that? Oh, that was my Dignity. I dumped that before I crossed the threshold of the delivery room, it turned out that I didn't need it at all. It sat outside and drank coffee with Care, who occasionally made an appearance in the delivery room to mock me:
 "Do you know how gruesome you look right now?"
"I don't, Care."
"Do you wonder what all of these people are thinking about you at this moment?"
"Seriously? I don't, Care."
"And what about that noise you just made - do you know you just screamed?"
"Honestly, I DON'T, CARE!"
The pair of them probably twittered updates to Self Control and Modesty, who didn't come anywhere near the building.

To be sure, there are women who have orgasmic contractions and feel empowered by the experience: good for them. Really: well done. I can't talk myself into loving childbirth, I really hate it - and that's despite the fact that I, apparently, am really good at it. I've had two uncomplicated, epidural-free natural births with no injuries to my person of any kind and was walking around, without a care in the world, within an hour of each delivery. Midwives keep telling me that I should have more babies. I laugh my hollow laugh and keep telling them that they're nuts: I've beaten the odds twice, I'm not going to push my luck. Having a healthy child is like winning the lottery. Having a healthy child without great difficulty or lasting distress is a bonus.

See, I hate the word blessed - and it's an irrational hatred. It makes me feel like you've been picked out by Someone Upstairs for being extra special, a reward for your all-round goodiness. (I'm also not keen on it because, to my mind, its opposite is cursed - which is just as random and lightning-bolt-struck as blessed. I know - but I just can't help not liking it.) I prefer the more down-to-earth lucky: I know that my good fortune is random, not a pay-out for my being a better person than anyone else, I appreciate every minute of it and recognise that many other people are much less fortunate. I am extremely appreciative of my two sons and my husband, our good health, our togetherness.
I hope it lasts.
I take nothing for granted.