We're all going on an Easter holiday: 5 things 17.4.17

1. Elf charmed me enormously yesterday by preparing a surprise Easter breakfast table for the family. (She had to order Armin and I into bed early on Saturday night to make it happen, of course.) Eggs and smarties, origami decorations, loving notes from the Easter bunny. Just the loveliest thing. 

2. Now we're off to Italy for a week, and the holiday knitting presents a challenge. How did I let myself get in a situation where absolutely everything I'm working on, both designs and non-work knitting, requires thinking and planning and mathsing before I can progress? I realised years ago that knitting monogamy is a mug's game, but evidently I still need to improve my infidelity. I should be able to just grab something and go – and not just hexipuffs.  

3. I've heard from a reader that she read my post and newsletter about my mother to her knitting group, and that they prompted both deep discussion, and promises to talk more openly with each other. I didn't expect anything like that, but I am so very glad to hear it. 

4. On the other hand, a couple of people in my life have been – very lovingly and kindly – telling me to remember only the good stuff, that now is not the time for negativity, that nobody really understands what someone else is going through, etc etc. These people are very sweet and well-intentioned, I respect them, and in general terms, I absolutely agree with them. But in this specific case, it's not helpful. In fact I find it insulting, because it seems to dismiss my own experience in favour of a general desire to think well of the dead. Frankly I'd rather give priority to understanding the living. So I'm mentioning this as a general tip: please, don't go telling people how to feel, especially if you don't know the other person involved. Bad feelings aren't generally very amenable to bans.

5. That said? I genuinely am feeling peaceful, and remembering her (mostly) lovingly. (Which is actually another reason I find those comments irritating. I don't need to be told!) I'll write some time about all the good things my mother left me with – all the big and little things I learned from her. I am after all still my mother's daughter.

No 16 of #52recipes: Twice-baked potatoes OH MY. I used broccoli instead of kale, and quite a few more leeks, because they needed using.* My kids wouldn't touch them. The 4yo's friend however agrees with me that they were completely wrong. I'm told baked potatoes freeze well, so this might be the solution to my perennial problem of how to use the spuds up before they sprout.
* I then had extra broccoli-leek mix left over, which I put in macaroni cheese, along with bacon and sweetcorn, and felt like a culinary genius all over again. (Yes. My mac'n'cheese is hardly ever just mac'n'cheese, yet I still call it that. Go figure.)

The no-challenge challenge: 5 things 10.4.2017

1. Having one of those times when I am positively itching to do some proper introspecting but there's no time for it. Nothing actually major or deeply sillysophical (despite recent events). More planning and considering and such. I'm feeling very quiet right now, but, well, I still have two small children. And life has actually been, and will continue to be, anything but quiet. There hasn't been a moment's pause all year and it's still all go. Nothing actually bad (again, despite recent events); it's just A Lot. It gets so that even scheduled holidays feel like A Lot. But I'm determined to stay as quiet as I possibly can. (If I seem to be avoiding social activity, remember it's not you, it's me.)

Only three days of school this week, then the extra-long Easter break starts. We'll be heading to Italy for a Great Big Famdamily Holiday (with my dad and my sister plus family),* which will no doubt be lovely. And interesting timing, given that we're all processing those recent events. (I realise this blog is in danger of becoming very boring but I don't actually plan to keep writing about my mother, I promise. Not even in subtext.) It won't be quiet. But I'll see what I can manage.

2. Not sure if it's the current mood or just me, but I seem to need quiet and stillness – like, being still myself, not just having stillness around me – to actually do my creative work. After a false start or two, I've realised I'm only getting somewhere when I stop pushing. A week in Cape Town with absolutely no design projects on the needles left me with a very clear idea of what I'm doing with my next thing. Winterbeere worked much the same way, as did Purzelbaum: most of the work was done in the back of my mind as I beavered away on other stuff, without any actual knitting taking place. It's not much like my old design-on-the-needles technique, and yet, it is: both methods rely on the complete absence of pressure, on space to figure things out organically. Not the most professional system (certainly not the most efficient), but if it's how it is right now, I think there's stuff to be learned here too.  

3. Meanwhile I am utterly devoted to my diary and my to-do lists. It gives me that illusion of structure that I crave, and besides, it works. I've been super productive for the past few days because I have a schedule that tells me sternly what vital deep cleaning tasks are to be done quarterly. It's very exciting. 

4. Spring is in full force now, apple blossom and zingy new leaves everywhere. My heart belongs to autumn, largely because spring is always tinged with fear of the stifling heat to come – and plus, hayfever – but really, both of the changing seasons are amazing. I love how dry twiggy bushes everywhere are covered in those little green buds that seem to be the visible manifestation of tightly coiled growth energy, calling to mind Dylan Thomas's "force that through the green fuse drives the flower". Which is an astonishing line. Only in spring could a stem be compared to a fuse, but at this time, it's perfect. 

Ok then, spring. I forgive you for the stingy eyes.

5. Remember how keen I was on February's Yarn Love Challenge? Remember how I, somewhat half-heartedly, started another photo challenge last month? Remember how I dropped out even before taking a sudden unscheduled trip? Yeah, I didn't flag that up so much, but it really wasn't working for me. The Yarn Love Challenge continues, however, and I do like these prompts. But given the points above, I think I'm going to continue treating them as suggestions rather than requirements. I will not be pushing myself to post every day (even though I'm very glad I did it in Feb, and even though I think I could have done a lot with some of the prompts I already missed). I guess I'll be doing a Yarn Love Casual Contribution, as it were.      

Nos 13, 14 & 15 of #52recipes: over the past few weeks I've made a lazy smoked salmon and leek tart without a recipe, but I'm counting it, because it's a New Thing. And it was incredible. And then I made an only slightly less lazy salmon and spinach pie because my daddy said so (and it was good). And then I made Jerusalem artichoke and almond rösti and served them with smoked salmon and horseradish mousse. Armin and I loved them, the kids really really didn't. And no, I don't know why it's all salmon all the time suddenly. It just happened.

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* Invaluable Afrikaans construction: "Barbara hulle", meaning "Barbara and that crowd", ungrammatically but usefully expressed in Safrican English as "Barbara and them". I do miss this.

Back from the Mother City: 5 things 6.4.17

1. I spent a week in Cape Town for Mom's funeral, and to sort out her stuff, and so on. It was a very unusual trip home – quite apart from the funeral – because I was travelling alone. No kids to distract me. No husband to do husband things with. I was hanging out in the southern suburbs, ie my patch. Armin is a City Bowl boy, and to Capetonians, these distinctions matter. City Bowl/Atlantic Seaboard (the tourist bits) have a very different vibe to southern suburbs, and we won't even talk about the northern suburbs. So there I was, driving (well, being driven) around the roads I grew up on, seeing the mountain from my side. (Which is the best side. Yes yes, famous table is famous, but nothing compares with the view from Newlands. Those deep wooded crevices! Come on.) And talking to my friends without interruption from bored small people. And soaking up Cape Town's amazing stillness. It gave me a chance to be more me than I've had in years. Which, under the circumstances, was helpful. 

2. There were a lot of memories and a lot of feelings. Especially in my grandparents' house, where Mom had been living. That may be the last time I see that house – my Grampa will almost certainly need to go into a home now. Which is painful, since he has always hated the idea, but necessary. It's a beautiful place, right under the mountain, with a large garden and full of beautiful things (and dozens of my grandmother's paintings). It's also absolutely full of complicated and fairly toxic family history. 

3. Mostly I've been feeling peaceful. Cape Town is a deeply peaceful place. (For the privileged, at least. But that's a whole nother post.) I had space for my thoughts, and I had some very healing conversations. Conversations that probably should have happened years ago. But they happened now. Sharing experiences gave me perspective. Reminded me that it wasn't just me who couldn't deal with her. That she had (probably multiple) mental illnesses. In conversations about Mom, you use words like paranoid, delusions, narcissistic, bipolar, depressive. You remember that she actually needed treatment. She spent her entire life refusing treatment, refusing to accept her problems. So we all put our heads down and got on with things, and only now are we able to look up and see the big picture again. It wasn't just me. It wasn't just us. 

4. Still, though. The anger and frustration I used to feel every time I thought of Mom have mostly just slid away. Because now, it's safe. I don't have to deal with her. I don't have to brace myself. So it's okay to let go of that, and remember that I used to love her so much, and enjoy the wonderful things about her that everyone who knew her a little bit kept talking about. Or... it should be okay. Right? It should be. It almost is. 

5. But when I let go of the anger and... whatever it was... then what's left? Love and compassion? Where were those when she was alive? Shouldn't I have felt more compassion for her illness? If I knew she couldn't help the way she was, why couldn't I accept her? So then guilt rushes in where the anger used to be. But I don't accept that. I'm not going to be angry with myself instead of angry with her. I'm not ready to love her, yet. 

All about my mother: 5 things 25.3.2017

1. My mother died yesterday afternoon. Quite suddenly (though she'd been sick for a long time), so I didn't have a chance to fly to Cape Town to say goodbye. The last time we spoke, in January, she hung up on me in hysterics because I tried to convince her to see a doctor.  

2. Whatever you imagine I'm feeling now, I'm not. I'm not feeling anything much. I'm glad that she went fast. I'm glad that it's over. 

3. The fact is, I had been wishing her dead for years. Not because I hated her. But because she was a problem that nobody could solve. She was incapable of happiness and incapable of looking after herself (so she made life a misery for all the people who tried to look after her). She burned through relationships with drama and finality; although she had been very, very deeply loved by very many people, there is hardly anyone left who will actually miss her.

4. It's an ugly, hard, impossible thing to know that you don't love your own mother and you wish her out of existence. Even more so when you can't point to a clear reason. She never abused us. She just steadily used up all sympathy and all capacity for sympathy. You can't grow up hearing constantly that your own childish neediness was the reason she'd tried to kill herself, and the reason she still wanted to, without sooner or later thinking "Well then – get on with it!" She was a black hole of attention and emotion. And anything you told her, anything at all, could be twisted into a weapon and thrown back at you – whether days or years later – a weapon that you couldn't see coming and absolutely couldn't defend yourself against, because it didn't have to have any shred of truth in it. So I had to learn how to talk with her without talking. How to say nothing whatsoever about myself, just listen. And that meant listening to non-stop poison about everyone else in her life. It burnt me out. I have nothing left. 

5. You're not supposed to speak ill of the dead. I'm supposed to be writing about all her good qualities, and yes, she had many. I grew up hearing, constantly, "You are so lucky to have her for a mother." I'm glad to have inherited her creativity, though not her genius, and perhaps some of her charm. She was incredibly generous. I wish I had her mechanical talent and her patience. I'm glad she taught me how not to be. And I'm glad she's gone. 

How many more kids' birthdays still ahead? 5 things 20.3.2017

1. I try to plan and get ahead of things, I really do, but somehow I'm always, always up at 11pm the night before a birthday party still icing the damn cake. (If I'm lucky.) Partly it's because the days are busy, and I am not a very confident baker, and I don't like to start unless I know I have a solid hour at least to take care of it. (And, scarce and precious work hours aside, that tends not to happen till they're in bed.) But it's also because as the day wears on, I get more and more tired, and it gets harder and harder to start. And to work efficiently once I have started. I also still haven't mastered the art of foolproof birthday cake baking. (Or planning. See me looking up emergency coconut flour recipes when I discover late on Saturday night I'm out of ground almonds.) So I'm always pre-exhausted for the actual event, which is... sub-optimal.

2. Fortunately, Elfling's bossy tendencies really come into their own at birthday time. She's super ready to take charge, tell us what she wants and help us organise it. Will happily do the same for baby brother, too. Being extremely unimaginative when it comes to entertaining small people, I find this enormously helpful. Armin is also an excellent party giver – weirdly, he really really likes small kids, even (maybe especially?) in large groups. I have learned to make very sure of our scheduling and only hold parties when he's available to run them. Even so, though. Next year we might give in to having a party at the Gemeinschaftszentrum - which provides not only the venue, but the activities, eg woodworking! I've been resisting spending the money but oooh, could be so worth it... 

3. Elf did get quite ridiculously spoilt this year. I hope she forgets most of it by next year. Besides assorted toys, she got a camera (old, secondhand, dirt cheap, but in perfect nick and it takes great shots) and a surprise outing to Mary Poppins on stage. Expensive! But awesome. But definitely not a standard of indulgence we'd ever plan to repeat. Oh, and she's also still owed a new bike (not that exciting a gift, in her mind, but needed), but that didn't happen yet because Insert Cautionary Online Shopping Tale Here.

4. I spent most of last week dreaming about new design ideas, trying to catch up on life stuff that's been dragging for the past, chaotic month, and researching necromantic rituals that might provide me with more hours in my day. (Not really.) What I want for my own birthday: a Time Turner. Since I don't actually have a Time Turner, I'm going to try getting up at 5am again... a lovely habit that fell by the wayside for reasons including the need to stay up late knitting, and Dude's habit of waking up way too earlier and preventing me actually using that extra 90 minutes of morning. Both of which still apply, really, so I don't know how well this is going to pan out. Let's see, shall we? 

5. Today marks the start of the first week all year that I haven't had pressing business to attend to. I mean, I have masses to do, but none of it on deadline. It's a very restful thought. I'm going to start with a little cuddle and iPad time with the Dude, who woke me up twice in the night, the second time with a very wet bed. After that it took me ages to get back to sleep, and when I did of course I promptly had to wake up. Upside, though: lying awake in the wee hours is really excellent for problem-solving. I suddenly have a Plan for all kinds of things that had been bothering me a bit. 

Nos 11 & 12 of #52recipes: Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake. It's basically a classic, right? It definitely doesn't taste mayonnaisey. Unfortunately, I screwed up something in the size/shape/heat/position relationship and it got a bit overdone (at least the centre was cooked, though, which I wasn't at all sure it would be). So I can't really comment on how good it was, or might have been.

And this coconut cake was indeed simple as advertised, and turned out surprisingly tasty with vanilla icing. (Schwiegerdaddy is a big coconut fan! I didn't know, but that makes this a particularly good weapon in my GF dessert arsenal.) 

How to: work a cheat's provisional cast-on

This technique is totally cheating. It's cheating so much that I doubt I will ever actually recommend it in any of my patterns. In fact, I'd say this is the backwards loop cast-on in just about every way I can imagine, starting with how I came to it. 

I taught Claudia (then aged 5) to do a long-tail cast-on, but as she was practising she forgot what she was supposed to be doing and did a kind of twisted loop cast-on instead. I'd never seen that technique and had to look it up. I liked it! I started using it myself… but most often, I like it better when I untwist the stitches in the first row. That makes it just a regular backwards loop cast-on

Now, the backwards loop cast-on has quite a pro/con thing going on, which is why I'd never taken to it before.

Pros:
1. It's fast. 
2. It's a short-tail method, so you can use it to add stitches anywhere you need them. 
3. It's flexible and highly elastic.

Cons:
1. It's maybe TOO elastic, if by "elastic" you mean "kinda loose and unstructured and prone to getting way outta control".
2. It's not very strong. As handy as it is, I wouldn't use it for buttonholes, which will take a lot of wear.

Con #1 is the main reason this isn't my go-to, all-purpose cast-on. It's also a problem that can be ameliorated by sticking with the twisted part of twisted loop – that creates more structure, while staying elastic. BUT the twists are quite noticeable (depending on yarn, gauge etc). Decorative, arguably; sometimes the effect is pretty good. But noticeable, so not ideal for all purposes.

Thing is, though, it's only a problem over distance. If you're casting on a lot of stitches, especially in fine yarn, you won't want to touch this method with a bargepole. Pretty soon you'll be struggling to push your loops over the needle join (if using a circular), and yet there will seem to be a bit too much yarn between stitches, and it'll just be a big mess. However. If you need to cast on for just a fairly narrow section, this cast-on is your friend. And if you need to later pick up stitches at that bottom edge to work in the other direction… well now. We finally reach the point of this post.

The tail on the side shows the join, where I picked up cast-on stitches to work the other way. How neat is that?! You can see an oddity on the left, in the first photo – that's because you do need to twist the last stitch in the cast-on row, and it shows. So: not 100% perfect. But if that stitch is going to end up in a seam, or if the fabric is quite textured and obscures this kind of detail? Brilliant. Both of these factors apply in Winterbeere, so in fact, I used it there. (Why didn't I say so in the pattern? Because when you pick up the starting stitches to work down, you're going right into a Latvian braid, and while that's fiddly rather than actually hard, even I decided I didn't need to add that extra layer of complication.)

So. Here's how I cheat. 

1. Make a slipknot and hold the needle in your right hand, yarn in your left. (Note: a slipknot is entirely optional – you can just start looping, pulling the yarn tight with your right hand, but a slipknot provides a comfortable anchor.) Bring your left thumb under the yarn and up, from back to front. 

2. Bring the needle up from underneath and tighten the loop formed. 

3. Repeat until you have as many stitches (loops) as you need. Turn and knit into the first loop – as I mentioned above, this first stitch will be twisted. 

 

 

 

 

4. Knit into the back loop of the remaining stitches. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your work after a few rows. You can actually see in this photo how the cast-on stitches get looser towards the end – this is why you don't want to use this technique for everything: unless you're very careful, those loops just don't play nice. But it's a very nifty trick to have in your bag, anyway.

5. Picking up your cast-on stitches for working in the other direction couldn't be easier – no unzipping required. Just knit into the spaces between each stitch.

Beautiful.

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Knitworking: 5 things about Edinburgh

1. The moment I arrived at the gate at Zurich airport, I saw a fellow knitter making the pilgrimage. On the next plane, from Amsterdam, we saw a dozen more (just in the rows around us). In Edinburgh itself there were knitters everywhere. (They're not hard to spot. Sure, those Selbuvotter mittens might just be the sign of a person with cold hands, but in context, it's a dead giveaway.) By the time I flew back on Sunday afternoon, it seemed like half the plane was returning from The Festival. Certainly at least 80% of those in the rows immediately around me, and why should the rest of the plane have been any different? 

Being surrounded by the Wool Tribe like that is thrilling. Seeing all these people who care about what you care about, enough to spend money and time on travelling to immerse themselves in it. It's pure joy. And of course, there's the fun of making new friends, instantly, just by talking knitting with them.

2. The festival itself was overwhelming. In both good and bad ways. The vendors were spectacular,* the people fantastic, but there were so many of them. The crush on Friday was quite unbelievable, making it very hard to either shop or find people. Saturday was a little gentler; still very busy, but on a more enjoyable level. I'm glad the event is so successful, but it was exhausting – especially since I started off exhausted. I didn't manage to see everyone I hoped to (honestly, not a surprise – it would have taken a miracle!) and, worse, I didn't manage to spend nearly enough time with those I did see. Too bad I'm not one of those who find masses of people energising, instead of draining! Spending time with good friends in small groups is always great, but even though I had the chance to do that, I no longer had much energy for it. I'm sorry, friends. You're awesome. I'm just tired.

3. Still though: grabbing a hug and a few words with so many internet friends was incredible. It doesn't sound like much; after all, if you've been talking so much online and already know each other, what difference does it make to have a quick hello (really, in most cases not much more) in person? But it does make a difference. And not just because a hug is nice. Taking the effort to find each other, seeing and showing pleasure at connecting, cements things. It gives you more trust in the friendship: yes, she really does like me as much as I like her! It means a lot.

4. Which is a huge part of what makes a great event so great. Sure, the actual product on offer (the yarn in the marketplace, and the knowledge in classes) is inspiring. But as I've said before, I'm not very interested in "inspiration". Ideas are plentiful. Motivation can be harder. The personal connections you make, though; the joy of being part of a community; that's golden. Getting appreciation for your work is nice, too; when else are you almost guaranteed compliments on your favourite scarf! Put it all together, and you have a pretty solid cure for a creative slump.

5. Having a break is of course good anyway. Edinburgh is a lovely city, and I thoroughly enjoyed tramping around a bit. (Also. The coffee in Edinburgh Larder? Ambrosia. The platonic ideal of coffee.) It was very refreshing to be child-free for a few days. But... it's really nice to be home, too! 

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* Someone said they were looking forward to my Instagramming of the festival – but as I feared, I totally failed! Partly because I'm just not very good at that part (I don't like taking my camera out in a crowd; no actual reason, I just feel uncomfortable and self-conscious). Partly because I was constantly worried about my phone charge and data use. Sorry, folks. I totally fell off the #transformyouryarn challenge too, although that's not really working for me anyway.

I think I can, I know I can, I think I can, I – oh, not again!

When I fail at something – or, let's say, don't do it as well as I expect of myself – there's this whole thing that goes on in my head. First, I have the excuses. Too little sleep, too much childwrangling, too many interruptions. Then, there's the part of me that raises an eyebrow and uses the word "excuses". Then the dance begins. Yes, but I'm really so unbelievably freaking tired. Yes, but get over it. Yes, but I can't concentrate on a big job without a big chunk of time. Yes, but you have to, and anyway other people manage. Yes, but I'm thinking in instalments, and the less sleep I get, the smaller the instalments and the stupider I am. Yes, but why are you taking all this on then? What were you even thinking?

And that's the question.

I say yes all the time when I should probably say no. Maybe because I don't want to let someone down. Maybe because I fear missing an opportunity. Most often because I want to do the thing, and I convince myself it's perfectly manageable.

And maybe it is, but circumstances change. Or maybe I should count on circumstances changing and factor a certain amount of Things Coming Up into my plan. Or maybe I'm just totally deluded in the first place as to what I can actually handle. In any case, I end up stressed and flailing, and failing, or feeling like I'm failing, and I don't even know whether the part of me with the excuses is more or less right than the part of me that thinks I'm full of shit, but it sucks beyond measure.

When I end up with 40 hours of work to do in a week when I have 0 hours of childfree work time, or when I end up taking two weeks to finish a project I thought I could wrap up in half a day, there's obviously a degree of self-delusion involved. How do I get to that point? What makes me think that I can achieve the impossible just by trying a bit harder

I don't think it's just me. The entire booming productivity industry – all those apps, blogs, books and workshops – is built on the assumption that you can make it work, whatever "it" is, by managing your life that bit more efficiently. And plus, there's this whole narrative that it's important to stretch yourself – so the sensible instinct to say "actually, I'm not ready for that" just triggers the desire to prove you can after all. 

I have to remind myself of some people I've worked with – very smart, motivated and well intentioned people, but they're always astonishingly late in delivering. I don't think they're slacking off; I think they're struggling to be realistic about what can be done when. You can't actually squeeze 30 hours out of every 24. And at least in my case, the more I try, the worse I perform, and the longer it all takes. 

Well. 

I've conquered the massive onslaught of work I had over the past two weeks. Some of it went well; some of it didn't. But the final products worked out, in any case, so I'm hanging onto that. I'm off to Edinburgh now. In between the meeting and the laughing and the fondling and the sightseeing, I'm going to be thinking about what's reasonable, and what's worthwhile, and what's worth a bit of unreasonable effort. 

And I probably won't come back with any very profound or useful conclusions, because I do love a challenge and I really hate to say, "I'm not ready for that," so I'll probably keep on taking on too much and doing it badly. But... I'll at least consider the possibility of not. 

Introducing Winterbeere

Is it the end of winter, or the beginning of spring? I'm not sure either. What I do know is that my latest design, Winterbeere – the final, late surprise pattern in Lost in the Woods, designed for exactly these in-between times – has been in use constantly. But I also can't wait to try it in summer, because the fabric feels soooo good to touch.

It's soft and drapey and sort of papery? I've been wanting to use this yarn for the longest time – and spent much of last year swatching it, trying to figure out what would make best use of its tactile quality, and the subtle tweedy flecks in its amazing colours. Finally I settled on a bit of texture – nothing too complex or detailed; just enough to play with the light, create shadows and a hint of shine, depending on the angle – and a wide A-line silhouette.  

It's one of the most wearable things I've ever made. And one of the simplest to knit, constructed top-down, entirely without seams, and with minimal finishing. I still found room for some special details, though; like these buttons, which finish the rolled cuffs perfectly, and the Latvian braid that provides much needed stability at the yoke. (Look out for a tutorial shortly.)

I'll have it with me in Edinburgh this weekend – if you see me, I may well be wearing it. Say hi! 

The storm before the calm: 5 things 6.3.2017

1. It bugs me that I can't get over the feeling that exposing my fat body in certain ways – bare tummy, tight clothing - is indecent. Fine, it's not flattering. But if I'm hot, and wearing a perfectly respectable tight T-shirt, shouldn't I be able to take off that loose top layer? Can't bring myself to do it though, and not just because I'm vain. It feels indecent. Unacceptable in public. You'd think that if I can see this is bullshit, I could change my attitude, but I can't.

2. Last week held the triple whammy of school holidays, personal project stress and – as the fates would have it – FIVE paid jobs all lined up at the same time. I'm so over this ridiculous amount of juggling. I need a nap. That lasts about a week. 

3. That said, two of those jobs were editing and laying out patterns, and were a lot of fun. I'm excited to have more of that in my life. If you're in Edinburgh this weekend, look out for The Knitting Goddess's accessory booklet – six gorgeous little things designed for her irresistible mini-skein rainbows. 

4. And look out for me! I'll be there WITH BELLS ON as they say in the classics. I'm excited and terrified and exhausted in anticipation. But mostly excited. 

5. Met two new babies this weekend (our extended family has been busy). They are so tiny and ridiculous! And I so don't want another one! Nor do I want to knit any more baby gifts for a while; between these and the #stressmustfall up-cheerers I made for friends last year, I'm about done with fiddly little things. Although it is nice getting things off the needle quickly.

No 10 of #52recipes: cauliflower and caramelised onion tart from, well, you know where. Now, I didn't actually expect my kids to eat this, because cauliflower and onion! And in fact they didn't eat much of the actual tart. They didn't hate it. But they didn't really eat it. However. I made this tart to take to someone, so I double cooked the night before: made double the quantity of onion and roasted cauliflower, and put the other half in a frittata (with bacon). And the frittata went down extremely well. So. There are definitely ways to feed the kids broccoli and cauliflower without fighting for it. Noted.

Also noted: my pie dish seems to be a leetle too big for this recipe, needs more filling. But still good.

Sour and sweet: 5 things 27.2.2017

1. The children are being fairly horrible to each other, and sometimes to me, which I'm convinced is a direct reflection of my failings as a mother. Not enough attention? Not enough discipline? Too much indulgence? Too much TV? Too much of my own grumpiness? The mere fact that there are so many possible causes is itself an indictment. (You don't have to tell me it's not my fault, I know I wouldn't stand for any other mother giving herself grief like this, but you still can't convince me I'm wrong. Lovely neighbour's kids are perfectly lovely to each other. So that proves it.) It's making me utterly miserable. Feel sure I should be able to find the magic trick to nip it in the bud every time they start up with each other, but I never can, it just becomes a three-way fight instead of two-way.

2. Went to knitting club yesterday and had a little trouble figuring out what I actually wanted to knit on. Fair to say I don't have my mojo back. But that's okay - one doesn't have to be fired up all the time. In fact, I'm starting to get almost excited about clearing away my WIPs, without the distraction of shiny new things.

3. We've enjoyed a couple of days of beautiful sunshine this week, and I even went out without a jacket once. The environmentalist in me is worried, but the rest of me is just grateful to feel sun on my skin again.

4. I spent the weekend helping someone prepare a booklet of beautiful knitting patterns for Edinburgh, and it made me so happy. I enjoy layout and editing so much. Applying those skills to knitting, and working with a client who trusts me? Perfect.

5. I've had fun playing along with the #yarnlovechallenge on Instagram this month. Sometimes I slacked off a bit - my pics weren't necessarily creative or great quality – but I did post every single day (so far; two still to go), which I'm proud of. As ever, I was terrible at predicting what posts people would respond to. Now there's a new challenge next month, from New Zealand designer Aroha Knits: #transformyouryarn. I feel a little exhausted just looking at the prompts. They skew significantly more woo than the Yarn Love Challenge and repeat a few of the more difficult ones (gratitude, community etc). All things I can write about plenty, but photos? Hm. But I guess that's why they call it a challenge, right?!

Nos 8 & 9 of #52recipes: grapefruit cake and carrot miso soup. (Are you bored of Smitten Kitchen yet? I'm not, see, so... get used to it!) Both were of course good, although the kids are still convinced they hate soup. Told Dude, "You like carrots, and this is just carrots," which was enough to get him to eat the three spoons in his bowl. But that's all.

The pause that hasn't entirely refreshed: 5 things 20.2.2017

1. I haven't wanted to knit all week. (I finally picked up my needles yesterday because two relatives are expecting babies any minute, and y'know, girl's got obligations.) Being too tired to knit is a really bad sign. I'm at that stage of tiredness when you don't want to go to bed, because as soon as you fall asleep it's tomorrow, and tomorrow's just another exhausting day. I take it on faith that one day I won't be tired all the time, but frankly the idea of having energy is almost worse, because if I had energy I'd have to do stuff, and that sounds exhausting.

2. Instead of knitting I've been doing that jigsaw puzzle. It's awful. It's the worst puzzle ever. A thousand pieces of blurry bluebells, all alike. I'd have thrown it away ages ago if it were really mine, but technically it belongs to Elfling. (Sweetest, most deluded present ever from a childless friend to my then three-year-old. "She likes flowers!" Um, yes.) And she's really excited to work on it with me. It's less than satisfying. Yet still more appropriate to my current headspace than knitting. 

3. Besides jigsawing, I've been hanging out with a snuffly kid most of the week. He wasn't really sick, just sick enough to be worth keeping home (mostly so he wouldn't infect the other kids at spielgruppe). Normally this would drive me crazy, of course. Mommy needs work time. But as it happens, I couldn't do very much anyway, on account of computer woes and similar. So it was strangely nice playing hooky with my boy. Watching too much TV and being completely irresponsible.

4. Computer is now fixed, which fills me with joy and also anxiety, because suddenly I have to catch up on everything, and everything is a lot. The next week is looking a whole lot less fun than last week.

5. "Mommy ALWAYS makes mistakes." Quoth Little Dude, out of the blue, on Saturday afternoon. He was reflecting on my failure to bring bubbles along to the forest, as promised. Ha, ha, kids are so funny. But when we got home from this forest photo shoot, I realised (a) I'd been wearing the top back to front the entire time, and (b) the top has a glaring mistake right across the bust that I'd totally failed to see while knitting it, finishing it, blocking it, and modelling it the first time. So, kiddo, fair enough. 

#52recipes progress: None. I was going to make a grapefruit cake – I bought a grapefruit especially, which M insists on calling "the world's biggest naartjie" – but haven't found the right moment. Maybe this afternoon. Cooked some pretty good meals anyway, though. (Monday: sheet pan chicken & root veg; Tuesday: stewed the roasted remnants with rice. Yum. Wednesday: roasted a butternut, made butternut pancakes; Thursday: turned the rest of the butternut into pasta sauce. Felt pretty pleased with myself for all this roast-once-eat-twice meal planning.)

Unplugging: 5 things 13.2.2017

1. Life without a phone really sucks. I'm not good at unplugging. Especially not in the middle of an Instagram challenge. Fortunately I wasn't without a phone very long last week, but it was enough to throw me severely off. Having my hard drive die a complete and total death, on the other hand, was kind of a relief. My computer is still basically working, after all, I just can't access that drive; but I have backups (in theory, I haven't checked them yet), so, all is well-ish. And, y'know, it's an actual diagnosis. Real progress from the frustratingly vague Issues I've been dealing with as it was in the process of dying. (Of course if the new drive is installed and weird vague Issues continue... that will be properly stressful.)

2. I impulsively did a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle last week. And having completed it, despite the children's best efforts, with only one piece lost – and having greatly enjoyed it - I seem to have started another one. It's satisfying me strangely. Something to do with having a mental challenge that's completely and utterly pointless and self-indulgent. Fun!

3. Took the kids up Felsenegg yesterday (the nearest cable-car to Zurich – not very high, but a beautiful outing none the less) and was surprised to find just how snowy it still was up there. I was specifically looking for snow (for photo shoot reasons) and yet I wasn't prepared for the cold. Or the ice. Taking two small, rather hyper children on a narrow, icy path that falls away steeply on both sides? A bit stressful. But it was so gorgeous. 

4. On Saturday I left the kids with Armin and went to a cheap, English-language Inkscape workshop. Although geared towards techies hoping to create informational posters, slides etc, it was an opportunity too good to pass up – I've used both Inkscape and Affinity Designer, but I find them very hard to learn and always wished for someone to talk me through things, so I wouldn't get stuck so much. And it was great. I was (as expected) totally out of place among the coders, and I had a splitting headache that made me even slower on the uptake than usual, but it was still great. Now to make time to practise what I've learned. 

5. As it happens, I'm about ready to take a little break from designing. My last Lost in the Woods pattern is almost ready for release, and what with one thing and another, I'm feeling a bit burned out. It certainly won't be forever – I am still full of ideas – but when all I really want to knit is hexipuffs, well, apparently I need a break. Luckily, I can take one. I wonder how long it will last?

Nos 6 & 7 of #52recipes: "Modern Greek salad with spinach and chickpea parcels" from Jamie's 15-Minute Meals. Honestly, Jamie, does a Greek salad have to be "modern"? It was all very tasty though. I made a pie instead of the parcels – following the super-easy method from Jamie's 30-Minute Meals, because Migros doesn't seem to know about phyllo, but has plenty of puff pastry. And on the same day I baked Smitten Kitchen's browniest cookies, which were predictably delicious, although I screwed up the quantities somehow (perils of baking with kids) so the dough was far too runny and the cookies came out far too flat and thin. But very, very tasty.

So that's TWO recipes down in a week where I wasn't sure I'd manage one. Go me, and since I'm doing so well I'm not even tempted to count the salad and pie/parcels as two separate recipes, which they basically are.

Stressors and anti-stressors: 5 things 6.2.2017

1. There's a person in my life with narcissistic personality disorder. Admittedly that's an armchair diagnosis, because one of the features of this disorder is that the person in question doesn't think there's anything wrong with them and won't accept treatment, but it's pretty solid. There's a lot of messy stuff happening with her, and although I'm far away, it's stressful. At the same time, every day I get to see a narcissist ranting and wrecking things all over the news. Even more far away, and very little to do with me personally. But I'm feeling pretty battered.

2. This past weekend went some way to restoring me. Armin and I celebrated 20 years together with a child-free getaway in Lucerne. We only had one full day (babysitting and work constraints being what they were), and specifically chose to take it easy, but we still managed to fit in a lot of lazing around, gentle wandering around the town, a movie and an art museum.

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3. The art was very much the best part. Although there was minimal information about the works, I believe I learned a lot just from seeing such a large number of Picassos and Klees together – the Paul Klee drawings in particular were a total surprise. I realised I hadn't known anything about his work. I really miss the London museums! Switzerland has some lovely ones but they're smaller, typically have less information about the exhibits, and crucially, they're not free. Fr12 or Fr15 isn't exorbitant, no, but it makes the difference between being able to just pop in for half an hour at a time – say, because you have impatient kids with you – and, well, not.* It also makes for a much more elitist environment. I hope one day I'll have more art in my life again.

4. Computer gremlins abound. Armin has made great progress in fixing the issues that were slowing me down so badly (I've hardly been able to do any computer work at all for a few weeks), but there are still a few mysterious Issues, and now it's started ticking like a time bomb. This is Quite Stressful. 

5. The opposite of stressful: Instagram's #yarnlovechallenge, running throughout February. If you use IG, you've probably already seen it. If you haven't, just take a peek – it's lovely. And if you're an occasional Instagrammer wondering whether you can jump on board late – I think yes! I've seen late joiners every day so far. All the daily prompts can be found here. (Yesterday's, community, was my favourite so far.)

#52recipes: nada. Sick kid followed by weekend break = minimal effort in the kitchen. This week's not looking too good either, so I might be officially falling behind. No worries, I'll catch up.

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* Zurich's Kunsthaus does have free entry on Wednesday afternoons. Just FYI. They frown on toddlers in back carries, though.

Sick and tired: 5 things 30.1.2017

1. The news is nauseating and terrifying, every single day. I'm even more exhausted than usual. But at least the world being on fire gives me extra motivation to fix my Twitter habits. (I haven't quite figured out how, yet, but it clearly needs to happen.)

2. The #52recipes challenge has had me thinking about how I'd probably be a better mother with just one kid. (No, I'm not beating myself up, and I certainly don't regret my delicious Maxiboy; just reflecting.) I started collecting – and using - cookbooks when C was a toddler. After the astonishingly hard baby phase, she was pretty easy, and enthusiastic about getting involved with my kitchen adventures, so it was probably the first time in my life I'd had motive and opportunity for culinary experiments. Nowadays, though, it's just stress. Yes, M is also keen to get stuck in, but it's just not fun. Between limited kitchen workspace and two children constantly yelling about how "unfair" it is that it's the other one's turn to stir, or demanding that I drop everything to help them with something completely different... getting the kids involved is about the last thing I want. And when they're otherwise occupied, there are a million things I need to spend time on other than baking.

Which is just one example of how parenting two small kids feels a lot harder. Even though, yes, sometimes they keep each other happily occupied without me. I did a lot more with Claudia, pre-kindergarten, than I have with Max: more reading, more drawing, more outings, more everything. Now I'm just so tired. Poor shortchanged little dude.  

3. After a solid week or so with temperatures well below zero, it's suddenly warming up. Blue sky is nice and all but I fear the ice on Katzensee isn't going to get thick enough to walk or skate on. I am SEVERELY disappointed.  

Yes, some people have been walking on it already, but it's still officially "Lebensgefahr" – and there are places where the ice has in fact broken. Hold thumbs for another cold snap!

4. Spent 10 minutes or so with an iron yesterday and suddenly Max has a drawerful of trousers. (He'd worn through all the knees in the summer, usually within half an hour of wear, through playing cars on the path outside.) Ironing patches on such a simple job yet I let it slide so long, at least one of those pairs is now way too short. Total mommy fail. 

5. Last week marked our 20th anniversary. (Coupledom, not marriage.) Although we'll be celebrating properly next weekend, we did spend the evening taking stock and looking forward, because what are milestones for? Thing is, Armin has a tendency to beat himself up (and by extension, us as a couple) over his perceived failure to Do Stuff, without properly acknowledging how much he actually does do or the very real constraints on his time, etc. Then there's me: always whining about how frustrated I am about all the stuff I'm not doing – not able to do, in current circumstances – but anxious about whether I'm just making excuses. Putting the two of us together, it's pretty hard not to feel terrible about all our failures. But I'm trying to maintain perspective, and as I wrote last week, just keep swimming. Sometimes progress is hard. It just is. I just have to keep my head above water and trust that eventually, I'll be swimming with the current instead of against it.

Recipe 5 of #52recipes: Norwegian cinnamon buns from Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess. Love that book, but not this recipe. My main mistake was putting them too high in my small, hot oven, so they came out slightly burnt on top and just slightly doughy underneath; not sure if that's to blame for the way the cinnamon sugar filling slid down to the bottom, though. Overall they were bland, and unpleasantly soggy at the base. But fun to make – even with kids – so I'd like to try a different recipe some time, for comparison. And maybe revisit this one after that.

Just keep swimming: 5 things 23.1.17

1. Ah, January. When I'm all fired up with New Year energy, and anticipation, and a general sense of forward movement, and there's SNOW – but there's also the new school term, and sniffles, and Dude's exhausting birthday week, and Armin heading to Davos for a week to cover WEF... January hard. (See how late this post is? At least it's still Monday.) I'm getting nothing done, and I'm shattered. Trying not to lose my 2017 optimism, such as it is.

2. Even harder with computer woes. Don't upgrade to Sierra, kids. I mean it'll probably be fine but some of us are having a real battle (Finder slowing to a crawl – which affects opening or finding any file in any program) and there doesn't seem to be a fix yet. Gremlins are always frustrating, but when I only have 10 minutes to do something and 5 of those minutes are taken up with just opening the document... it is a Problem. 

3. Apparently it's not just me; creative slumps are quite the thing in January. Nadia talked to a bunch of designers etc (me included) about how we handle them. My own answer (essentially, step back and ride it out) seems pretty glib after reading the responses from those who face a lot more pressure to deliver. This is work for me, yes, but it's not paying the bills. How would I handle things if I needed to put patterns out on schedule to feed my family? To some extent, I think, you can always switch gears a bit to rest your creative muscles – any independent worker always has a mountain of non-creative work to deal with. But only to an extent. It's a solid reminder of why "turning your passion into a job" isn't really great advice. Making it a job can kill the passion. Doing something for fun (even if you aim to make money off it as a side project) is often a better idea than doing it as a business.

4. Besides all of the above, I've been really distracted by Twitter since Friday. I'm so excited at what happened with the Women's March, but I have to find some discipline and switch off now. The world can wait. I need to get shit done.

5. Sometimes it seems like, even with all the late December soul-searching, my focus for the year only becomes clear later in January. I'm realising that it's going to be quite the challenge just getting through the first half of 2017. My tiny part-time job and my very few external commitments are quite unbelievably hard to manage right now. These commitments are about perfect for my schedule as it will be from August, when Dude starts kindergarten, but until then? Hard. So I'm trying to just put one foot in front of the other, keep going, manage one run or gym visit a week (so little! but better than nothing), do my job, do the extra things that come up, and not get distracted. HARD. But only another 209 days to go. 

No #4 of #52recipes: A simple one, that I totally failed to photograph – penne with goat's cheese, parsley and almond "pesto", from Sophie Dahl's From Season to Season. I really enjoyed it; the kids, predictably, not so much. 

Resistance is fertile

Like many of you, I spent yesterday feeling utterly awful. And today absolutely glued to Twitter, seeing incredible, fantastic, uplifting pictures of Women's Marches around the world.* 

Protests not just in Washington, not just in the US, but in Melbourne, Sydney, Kolkata, Berlin, Paris, Geneva, London, Lilongwe, Nairobi, Toronto – you know what, why don't you just look at the map. (Yes, there was even a demonstration in Antarctica.)

This is officially the biggest presidential protest in US history. Doesn't it look rather like the biggest one-day global protest on anything ever? Marchers shut down the centres of DC and Chicago. (And yes, Donald, everybody's noticed how many more people were out today than came to see you yesterday.) 

There's been a lot of advance criticism of the event, including from feminists, especially women of colour. And I get it. I do. White feminism has a lot to answer for, and stepping out wearing a pink hat maybe doesn't look like the most immediately constructive way to get shit sorted out. Clearly, the march is not enough. At best it is the start of something. At worst, an empty gesture that could fizzle out into nothing. 

But wow. Wow.

Solidarity matters. Seeing, collectively, millions of women around the world coming together to say FUCK THIS NOISE – that is an exhilarating, astonishing, uplifting, empowering thing. And it matters that the marchers identified themselves with pink knitted hats. It matters, not only because knitting is such a "feminine" craft and I love seeing femininity harnessed as a tool of resistance, but because knitting is such a perfect example of how tiny acts repeated over and over can become something amazing. 

Thousands of insignificant stitches together can make a weather-defying sweater, an heirloom shawl. 

Millions of women make an army.

* I wanted to share them with you but I realised that would be completely uncool, since I don't know the copyright owners and can't credit them. Just do yourself a favour and check out the #WomensMarch hashtagGlorious signage and massive crowds.

Facing facts: 5 things 16.1.17

1. Last week we went to see the in-laws for a chat about various things; FIL expected us to announce another baby on the way. HA. I get a strange amount of enjoyment out of telling him very very clearly how very very closed the baby shop is. I've said this many times; also how hard I find the baby stage, and how relieved I am to be leaving it behind. And yet, still he hopes, apparently. Thank goodness he has other sons to expand the grandparental brood. (Which they are busily doing.)

2. One of the things we were in fact there to discuss involved the possibility of buying a flat.* And the chat keeps turning to the necessary compromises. Of the three main factors – location, size, condition – we care least about condition; but almost everything on the market is in good shape. As for size, we have a hard limit to how small we can go, because of needing a guest bed as well as two desks (Armin and I both work from home at least sometimes, and it's not the kind of work we can do effectively on laptops). Location is also key – we really want to stay where we are, partly because it gives A a beautiful and speedy cycle route to work (which enhances his well-being enormously; commuting by train would be seriously impractical for his midnight shifts, and would make him miserable) and partly because we've built up a pretty solid support network. Which, for parents of small kids, is invaluable. (And getting to this point was hard work! Having had to start from zero when we first moved here, I'd really rather not do it all over again...) So I'm pretty well convinced of my reasoning. I know that what's important to us really is important. But trying to explain that makes me sound, and feel, greedy. I hate that. Anyway. Good thing we have time to wait for the perfect place. 

3. I went for a run in the snow yesterday, which sounds like an exercise in self-discipline but really I couldn't wait to go out there; it was gorgeous and energising. Then we took the kids sledding, which sounds like a delightful excursion but I had to force myself to do it, because it felt like terrifyingly hard work. I've got it backwards, haven't I? Some people do all this stuff with their kids and don't seem to feel the strain at all. And then there's me. (And one of my neighbour friends, incidentally, which is a relief. She's probably much better than me at actually gritting her teeth and doing the stuff anyway, but she certainly doesn't like it.)

4. Right before Christmas I ordered a huge pile of new woolly tights on sale. It felt ridiculous, spending three figures on tights, but it was the best investment ever. Drawerful of tights = whole new wardrobe – suddenly my skirts are getting a lot more use, it's not just jeans every day. I've picked up so much weight in the past few years (especially since quitting breastfeeding and before quitting Mirena). I'm not interested in stressing out over it, but my clothes don't fit, and there's a huge psychological resistance to spending money on new clothes in my new size, which really doesn't feel like my size, at least not for long, right? Right?!... I know, I know. But it's a thing. So: skirts are a lot more forgiving than jeans. New tights and a few flattering new T-shirts make me feel so much more like me. Total style win. 

5. I'm also facing up to the fact that it's past time to clear out some old clothes. This means accepting, not only the physical changes, but the lifestyle change that's been obvious for eight years but I couldn't quite admit it: I'm not an office worker any more, I'm a hausfrau. And even if I did get an office job again, it would be part-time, and not require a full business-casual wardrobe, and frankly I may never recover the ability to walk naturally in heels. So it's farewell to the cute shoes. Farewell to the bras that will never ever ever fit again. Farewell to a whole bunch of stuff that's really lovely but just... not needed. Not now. And probably not ever. 

*sniff*

Nos 2 and 3 of #52recipes: This week I made these cheesy biscuits and this birthday cake (but in a square pan, no layers, with basic chocolate icing). Both are keepers. It's hard to get excited about a basic yellow cake but then again, I'm excited about anything that comes together easily and reliably and tastes really good. Plus, I believe it would hold up very well to cutting into weird shapes, if I were ever foolish enough to attempt a theme cake.

I also baked three more familiar recipes (smallest's birthday week involves two playgroup parties, plus one for friends and one for family!) – the reliably delicious Queen of Sheba flourless chocolate cake, and Nigella's birthday biscuits and fairy cakes. Those Nigella recipes are not particularly delicious, but they do the job. If I'd been just a tiny bit better organised I could have baked the square cake and the fairy cakes at once with one double batch of the Smitten Kitchen batter, and that's what I'll do next year. (Note to self: buy more buttermilk!)

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* It's on the agenda, it's likely to still take a few years, but there have been Things to Discuss.