Monday, October 13, 2014

My Mother

At the tender age of nineteen, my mother fell pregnant. 'Fell' being the operative word: she kind of tripped over and by the end of that same year, was married and had a child (me). You might think she and my father had learned their lesson, vis à vis important, life-changing decisions regarding family planning, mightn't you? Well, no, they didn't. She fell pregnant again, then she slipped into pregnancy, careened into pregnancy, stumbled into pregnancy - okay, no need to get the thesaurus out to tell you she had eight more children after me. Why didn't she stop, I often wondered? Life as an only child often seemed like a beautiful dream, one where I had a bedroom of my own and a Barbie doll's house, instead of sharing a room with younger sisters, while Barbie lived in a shoebox. My mother maintains that, having attained perfection with their first child, she and my father felt compelled to try to recreate this miracle eight subsequent times. And failed.

Of course, she was cackling with laughter when she said that, so take it with a pinch of salt.

My mother turns A Certain Age today, a round birthday. I can't tell you her age, that would be rude, but you might be able to guess it. She's a tour de force, my mother. She's involved in various committees and boards and groups in our small town, and she claims she's giving them all up ... but I've long suspected that she just likes being in the middle of it all, bossing people around and chairing meetings. I wanted to write a moving tribute to her, but found it difficult to sum up her essence in a few paragraphs. Thus, I decided to tell you about her using some key words.

These are the things she loves:
1. Tea
Ma drinks a lot of tea. Like, a lot of tea. As in: somewhere around ten litres daily (three or four cups an hour ... yup, that's about right). I think her blood is a dun shade of brown, her liver pickled in tannins. When she enters the house, she shouts "That kettle had better be on!" before the door has a chance to fall shut behind her. If someone suffers a trauma, my mother alleviates the situation by shoving a mug under their nose, along with homoeopathic remedies. (But more about them anon.)

2. Tissues
Mother to so many children, a multitude of tissue paper was always needed to keep her and her offspring reasonably clean. She stashes them everywhere: in her pockets, up her sleeves, down her bra. When she removes her jumper due to The Heat (coming to that later as well), a shower of crumpled tissues is released into the atmosphere like snow. If you want to track her down through the house, just look for the tissues.

3. Cigarettes
She's fond of a cig, my mother. Yes, she's tried to give up but 'giving up' just meant that she smoked in the chicken coop instead of the sitting room. Watching my mother puffing under the pear tree in torrential rain throwing desultory scraps at bewildered hens became too much for the family to bear, so she gave up the pretence and smoked inside again.

4. Downton Abbey
I don't quite get this one. I know Downton has a massive appeal that transcends cultural borders, but it's not quite my cup of tea. It's just a soap opera, but with nicer frocks. My mother likes to watch it because of the nice frocks, of course, but also because everyone is jolly nice to each other in a sexless (sorry: s-e-x-less) way and difficult issues are resolved quickly and to everyone's satisfaction, usually by topping one of the characters. When a lead met his doom a couple of seasons ago, my mother - like millions of viewers all over the globe - was aghast. But why? I wondered. Downton Abbey is cursed: pose any kind of difficulty to Mrs and Mrs Downton and their lockjawed offspring, and you'll be killed off! Unwanted girlfriends, wayward daughters, drunken exes, unhappy sons-in-law: the Doomton Abbey will strike you a fatal blow and everyone's grief will be dealt with by the time the village fete takes place, two episodes on.

5. Homeopathy
My mother practises homoeopathy from the cupboard over the deep fat fryer. If anything ails you, she'll produce a small bottle and try to foist pills upon you. You might wave them away, you might point out that the expiry date was 2009, you might not know whether you feel better in hot or cold weather (upon which the success of the remedy hinges), it's often easier to take the pills and pretend they work, regardless of whether or not they do.

Some of the things she dislikes:
1. The Heat
My parents' house is freezing. It's an old stone farmhouse and it's draughty and cold. When you tell my parents this, they are deeply offended.
"This house is perfectly warm!" thunders my father. Not that he's bad-tempered or anything, but he has to thunder so you can hear him through his thermal vest, three t-shirts, woolly jumper and fleece-lined waistcoat. If - God forbid!!!!! - the temperatures in a room should creep towards 17°C or 18°C, panic sets in and my mother goes about flinging windows open
"We'll die of The Heat!" she says, wiping her brow with a tissue she's dug out of her bra.
She has a morbid fear of The Heat. One of her worst nightmares is being at someone's home where they might have - clutch your pearls, readers - central heating on and double-glazed windows. The Heat! Think of The Heat!

Luckily, though, there is something that combats The Heat, namely A Healthy Draught. This is the icy wind that blows down the stair case and whistles under the door, ensuring that the sitting room never gets properly warm. This, my dears, is The Healthy Draught that stops us all from ending up with all kinds of Fevers, Agues, the Humours and all kinds of other Dickensian illnesses that could only be cured by a trip to the cupboard over the deep fat fryer.

2. Strange Food
Strange Food is any kind of food that was not available in Ireland in the 1950s. This covers about 90% of the foodstuff available in Ireland in the 2010s. But this is not just my mother - all of her sisters are the same. When forced to eat anything Foreign - say, pizza or curry - they smile their rigid smiles and raise the fork to their face ... but don't actually put it in. At the last moment, disgust causes them to reflexively turn their faces away. And I'm not joking: I've actually sat at tables and watched my mother and my aunts jab their faces with the silverware, rather than put a spoon of chilli con carne in their mouths.
Oh, go on, then: I'll admit it. It's a funny sight. It's worth dishing up a chicken korma at a family occasion, just to see them struggle with their compulsive politeness and genteel repulsion. Basically my mother would never survive any kind of torture: if someone wanted to get some state secrets out of her, all they'd need to do is force-feed her spaghetti alla carbonara.

3. Alcohol
She doesn't drink. And never has. My mother never touches a drop. She's occasionally been put in a position where taking a sip might be required of her (handed a champagne flute at someone's wedding, for example) but she simply jabs her cheek with it or jams it into her forehead, before hiding it on a table and shedding a layer of outer clothing to combat The Heat.

4. Books with s-e-x
My ma is an avid reader, but a choosy one. Nothing ruins A Nice Book like a steamy scene. Given a choice, she'd like a nice historical novel, where bosoms are encased firmly behind a corset and throbbing members never see the light of day. She has never quite understood the appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey: reading a book about people prancing around in the nip, spanking each other and having s-e-x would be enough to have her go through several tissues at once.

5. Marilyn Monroe
We're going to leave aside the scurrilous rumour that The Blond One had shenanigans with John F. Kennedy - no, we're not even going to go there - and focus on the fact that she is, in the words of my mother, a terrible twit. She can't understand how any man with a screed of sense could possibly fancy her.
(My father thinks she's gorgeous.)

Is that my mother? I think that might give you a sense of her essence. But in actual fact, I can't sum up what she means to me or to my family.
She's the heart that beats at our centre, that's all.
And that's all there is to say.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Owls and Penguins On Their Way

Ah, charity.
Don't get me wrong. Big charities are the ones with the clout, the ones that can make changes, lobby governments, make a significant difference. But I live in the centre of a small city and I am accosted daily by toothily attractive young people out collecting direct debit details (no, they don't shake a can under your nose any more, they want a permanent recurring donation direct from your bank account), handing out shiny literature and unwanted compliments. So while I could never say a bad word about UNICEF or the Red Cross, I sometimes also like to make a donation to a charity with the feeling that I am directly contributing to something, that my money or my effort goes directly to someone in need, and does not get used in part to pay an hourly wage to collectors, printing costs, advertising, directors' salaries ... or anything else the big charities need to continue to function and make their difference.

One of my friends runs a Christmas bazaar to collect money for our local children's clinic. Helped by an army of elderly ladies, they spend the year knitting and crocheting and jam-making for their stall during the holiday season. The money they make is used to buy equipment for the local clinic or to fly children in from crisis areas for needed operations. The medical staff at the clinic will operate for free if the ladies can fly the patients and their parents to Germany. So this is what they do: a handful of pensioners spend the Advent Saturdays in the freezing cold, selling chutneys and scarves and candles, and euro by euro they make enough money to make a small difference in a global sense, but a huge difference to a small group of individuals. That's good, too.

Last year I made a stack of owl key rings and they sold out within an hour. This year, I've started again. I plan to make thirty of them - and more if my fingers don't fall off. And I'm finally going to post the pattern for you! (just give me a day or two...) While some people feel a bit odd about the results of their patterns being sold (which, by the way, is apparently not illegal under US copyright law, so there you go - you learn something new every day), I have no problem with you using this pattern to make gifts for the holiday season, to give to or sell for charity - and if you make a few bob for yourself as a result of making them ... well, good for you. Be warned, though, the little blighters have a mind of their own. When I set up this photo, they were all facing upwards, I swear. But the one in the bottom lefthand corner is trying to escape and the pink one in the second row is pulling his neighbour's feathers. Spooky!

Caught in the act. Can't leave them alone for a second.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

PATTERN: The Margaret Square

 This free pattern is for an afghan square that I named the Margaret square: Daisy was a popular nickname for girls called Margaret, but this square seemed a little bit more demure and less whimsical than the name Daisy merited, so it goes by the more formal Margaret instead. Using a 5 mm (H) hook, it creates a 15 cm / 6 inch square. Using a worsted weight yarn and a larger hook, this square would measure close to eight inches.

The pattern can be downloaded as a PDF from the Ravelry pattern store for free (you don't have to be a member of this site to download the PDF.) download now

Friday, September 26, 2014

Me and the Y Chromosome

I have a husband and two sons. This greatly influences my crafting endeavors, primarily because of all the (cough) "help":

"This is MY street!"
"No, this is MY crochet."
"NO, this is my STREET!"

Craft basket hemmed in by vehicles. I waded through a sea of Matchbox cars to take this photo.   

Thanks, love.

Surrounded as I am by cars, tractors, diggers, front-loaders, trucks, trains, helicopters and planes, it's very nice to make things that are ... more feminine. I recently knit my niece a jumper - more about that in another post, but here's a picture for now, because we all need a bit of colour:

In my defence, she wanted "a jumper in rainbow colours"   

 ... and that blanket in the craft basket? It's a new, free pattern that will follow before the weekend is out!

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.