Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Tendonitis starts out like a minor wrist cramp and swiftly develops into agonising pain, the likes of which would make you whimper. After a few days of whimpering (which fell on deaf ears, I might add), my loving husband packed me off to the doctor, who in turn confirmed my suspicion: I'd wrecked my hand.
"Do you write a lot?" he asked.
"I do," I answered with alacrity. I not only write more than most people do - yes, with real pens. Often with ink pens, too - but I'm also famed for my ability to demonstrate complex grammatical concepts with stickmen pictures on the blackboard. My students have even occasionally given me a round of applause for same.
The doctor noted this down and asked if I used the computer a lot.
"A little," I said, lowering my eyes modestly so I could admire my freshly-cut fingernails (all the better for tapping the keyboard.)
"Do you use it for work?" he said.
I'm not sure if intrepid blogging counts as work, but I do take it seriously. I confirmed that yes, my laptop and I are close friends.
Anything else I was doing that might strain my hand?
Phew. Where to begin?
"Well," I said, "My husband and I are renovating an old house, so we often do things like... stripping wallpaper, priming walls, painting, plastering - oooh, lots of plastering - and we put down laminate floors. And tile bathrooms..."
He was impressed. Rightly so. And even more so when I told him that I'd acquired my professional tiling skillz from watching a DIY video on YouTube. Yup. I have broadband and I'm not afraid to use it.
Shaking his head in admiration (I like to think), he asked me if I did anything else that might be a strain on my poor little hand. I stared him down for a couple of seconds, but he returned my steely gaze - and finally I admitted to occasionally doing handicrafts. Just a little. It's not like I have baskets of yarn stashed all over the place. And I don't have a hook in every handbag. Or attached to my keyring. And the fact that I'm practically on first-name terms with the lady in the local yarn shop (a big step in Germany) is no reflection on the frequency of my visits. It's just a little crocheting and I HAVE IT UNDER CONTROL.
The upshot of this is that I'm wearing a wrist brace and I have to take it easy. So I'm trying - but what do people (normal people) actually do when they watch TV? What do you do with your hands? I'll have to find a hobby I can do left-handedly for a while (finally learn to knit properly?) or I'll end up going crazy...
PS: Dr Schmidt: if you're reading this, I am being good, honest. Haven't touched a hook in days.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
This is especially for those of you who would sooner crochet a tennis-court-sized afghan than make a teensy-weensy cushion cover and sew on a back. Sewing? Bleurgh.
Anyway, I needed a backing fabric strong enough to take the weight of the crochet. Some people use denim or recycle old sweaters, but I had a thin fleece blanket I'd bought for pittance during a clearance sale. Recycling ahoy!
You will need
- a fleece blanket (mine cost €2.99 at a local department store. It has already backed three cushions and I should get another one or two out of it as well)
- a sharp scissors
- a sharp needle (I usually use a blunt tapestry needle for my crochet sewing, but here you'll need one with a sharp point)
- some pins
- and a thimble, if you have one (I don't and I survived)
- and your finished cushion cover (I edged it in a row of purple and left a long yarn tail to use for attaching the cover to the fleece.)
First of all, you need a template for the fleece back. Measure your finished cushion cover and add a quarter to one side. In other words, mine is 40 x 40 cm; if I add a quarter, it becomes 40 x 50 cm. I cut out a rectangle of paper 40 x 50 cm and then cut this rectangle in two parts: one is appoximately 20 cm wide and the other is 30 cm wide, both are 40 cm 'tall'.
I then place these two pieces on my fleece blanket side by side along the edge of the blanket, with about 8 cm between them. In other words, the 40 cm-sides are lined up along the edge of the fleece blanket, which has already been hemmed by the nice people in the fleece blanket factory. I pin them down into place and use my big sharp scissors to cut out around them, leaving a good 2 cm over on each side, except the hemmed side.
You now have two pieces of fleece, pinned to pieces of paper. One side of each piece of fleece (the bit that's 40 cm wide) will be the hemmed-in-the-factory side and this hemmed side will form the flap on your cushion back. So place your cushion cover next to the fleece pieces and overlap them so the hemmed edges are lying on top of one another in the middle, and the (roughly) cut edges are around the side. This overlapping bit is the cushion closure. If the overlap is big enough, there's no need for buttons (yay!)
So far, so good, eh? Now place the two sides of the cover (the two bits of fleece + the cushion cover) on top of one another, with the 'right' (also known as the 'pretty' sides) face to face. The 'wrong' (or 'ugly' sides - yes, there's a right and wrong side to crochet work, but if you can't see it then it really doesn't matter) should be facing out.
Keep everything from wriggling away by pinning the whole contraption together. You don't need a lot of pins, just enough to keep a grip on it. (At this point, by the way, you can remove the paper. It has served its purpose.)
Now pick up your needle and start whipstitching the fleece to the crochet. It might be a bit difficult - you may have to wriggle the needle a bit - but I find inserting the needle into the fleece from the side (as opposed to directly through the material) seems to work best. Try it out - you'll find a way that works best for you.
Warning: sewing through the part with two bits of fleece (the overlapping part that forms the back flap) is going to be tough, but it's only a couple of centimetres, so bite your lip and get on with it.
You then turn your masterpiece right-side-out and admire your luvverly stitching:
Look at that lovely closure (I like the zig-zaggy side best). Did you hem that fleece all by yourself? (Practise saying it now: "Yes, I did. It took hours. I worked my fingers to the bone. But I'm a perfectionist, moi."
The back of the cushion should look like this:
And this is the front:
Now you place your cushion in a strategically nonchalant but very visible position and modestly garner praise for your wonderfulness.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Next on my To-Do list is to paint the wooden units white and the back wall of the kitchen - which is also inexplicably panelled in wood - is also going to see the hairy end of my paintbrush. I want a bright, light kitchen instead of feeling I live and work in an inn in the Bavarian Alps. With so much wood and wood panelling, all we need is a mounted stag's head and a hunter's horn, and we'd be ready to open for business.
Anyway, whilst distracting you all with mesmerising pictures of rainbow-coloured granny squares like this:
I was secretly working away on two stacks of 16 squares that each became a cushion cover. These squares involved very ... um ... daring colour schemes. Wine red with lime green. And sky blue. Plus shocking pink. For example.
I have to branch out every now and again and try a few new colour combinations.
The result is this: two cushion covers that are surprisingly harmonious in their colourfulness. I backed them with a purple fleece blanket which I bought for a song, and sneakily found a way to create a neat and practical backing that can be achieved by even the most sewing-challenged - or more accurate for me: sewing sloths.
(I know I'm not alone in this, so never fear, a tutorial will follow in the coming days.)
Sunday, June 13, 2010
But yesterday I managed to do some frenzied granny squaring, and now I have two cushion covers sewn together and a beautiful little stack of colourful grannies waiting to follow a similar fate. Aren't they just luverly?
All I have to do now is sew the backs on to my cushion covers, which will be tonight's project. So stay tuned to find out what will happen to my gorgeous granny squares...
I finally arrived back in Bavaria after a gruelling 10-hour journey from Dublin, via Amsterdam. When I got back home, I discovered that Mr G had killed my lavender. View the evidence:
When he heard me shriek, he hastened to my side.
"What did you do?" (actually, it was quite clear that it wasn't what he'd done, but rather what he hadn't done: the soil in the plant pot was dry and dusty.)
"What's that?" he said, in shock.
"It was lavender," I said.
"How long has that been there?"
(spluttering) "Ages! For crying out loud, man, you open the blinds every morning! Did you not notice the plant pots on the window sill?"
At this point, Mr Gingerbread - an accomplished actor - makes a big deal of rubbing his scrubby beard and making contemplative "Hrrrmph!" noises. Essentially, this is his way of admitting that although he's opened and closed the blinds at the window daily, although he's had to stretch over them to open the windows, he's never taken notice of the plant pots. Ever.
This is not unusual: many things in our household do not exist to Mr G until I point them out. In fact, if I buy anything new, I have to introduce them to him and him to them several times before he acknowledges their existence
("Husband! These are our new mugs. Aren't they nice?"
"Oh, right. Yeah, lovely."
"Where did these mugs come from?"
"Oh, please. You remember our new mugs, don't you?"
"Remember, yesterday? In the kitchen? You were standing beside the fridge and I held them up? Remember? I put them in the sink and I washed them? You dried them and put them away? Remember?"
Beard scratching. Slow head-nodding.
"That sounds familiar. Was that yesterday?"
"Yes. Remember? You made yourself a cup of coffee, then dropped the mug on your foot and bruised your toe? Remember? You spent twenty minutes hopping around the kitchen and cursing? Remember?"
"And remember how you spotted that pigeon on the roof, pooping into the gutter, and you wanted to throw the mug of coffee at him to frighten him away. Remember? And I pulled it away and told you not to use my new mugs as long-range pigeon missiles? Remember?"
Head-shaking. "Was it really that mug? Are you sure?"
Now, if I don't do this, we'll continue to use the objects in question for months till one day Mr G will pick up a random household object and say, suprised, "Where did this come from?" and I'll have to convince him that it's been part of our inventory for X amount of time, retracing the object's life cycle:
"Remember our wedding day? Remember? I was the woman in the white dress, you were wearing a suit? Well, do you know the couple that was there, too, the little blond woman and the big man with the curly hair - the little blond woman gave birth to you. Your parents, that's right. Well, remember the box with the coloured paper that they gave us? You opened it and we all cried. Yes, that's the photo frame they gave us. Yes, we've had it for two years."
And he just shakes his head in wonder.
Monday, June 7, 2010
People always mention Ireland's landscapes, but I love the sense of sky: great, big cloudy skies
Friday, June 4, 2010
"So what's happening at the pea factory now? Have they sold the site?"
Thursday, June 3, 2010
For starters, the weather in Germany has been awful for weeks on end, while Ireland, on the other hand, has been experiencing a heatwave. Now, I will warn you that an Irish heatwave means that the mercury hovers at about 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit), as opposed to the 30 or 40 degrees you might experience in other countries. Still, it’s about 10 degrees more than we’re used to. But rather than be thrilled at this unexpected blast of summer, the locals are pooped.
“Jesus! This weather has me murdered!” one woman exclaimed, as she looked around for some place to lean her tired bulk against.
“We might get a drop of rain at the weekend,” said the shop assistant, peering hopefully out the window.
“Oh, wouldn’t that be great?” said the first woman wistfully, fanning herself with a paper bag.
Irish people seem to be split on the Good Weather Issue. Some people view it with great suspicion. My Gingerbread Mother, for example, thinks it is a curse sent to try her. She reacts the same way a vampire does to daylight, squinting out at the cloudless blue sky and hissing when hit by sun-rays. We suspect that she might melt like the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz if someone pushed her outside at noon; there’d be nothing left but a puddle of mother and her Ecco shoes. The Gingerbread Father, on the other hand, would gladly spend the entire day working in his garden
which, thanks to Ireland’s rude fecundity, is bursting at the seams with growth. Father is engaged in a constant Man vs Nature battle and Nature trounces him at every turn.
But it’s not only the humans who’re pooped in this weather. The animals aren’t used to it, either. Both the cat and dog have found themselves choice locations to snooze in:
Even the cows aren’t going very far.
A death in the family meant I had to cut short my convalescence (= copious amounts of tea and medicinal doses of chocolate biscuits) to fly back home to Ireland for the rollercoaster ride that is an Irish funeral. Thankfully, I was able to continue my medical treatment (more tea and even better biscuits), and I now feel right as rain again.
When you live in another country, especially when you’ve made a point of studying its language and culture, you simply presume you’ve become familiar with all aspects of life in your adopted home. But one thing no language and culture course prepares you for is death and funerals. How we send off our nearest and dearest is an integral part of our social behaviour, and at the same time, it’s something people would rather not talk about. And it’s not surprising: I don’t have a copy on hand, but I’m quite sure it wasn’t on Dale Carnegie’s list of recommended chit-chat topics in How to Make Friends and Influence People.
My experience in Germany has been that death is very intimate and low-key. The funerals I’ve attended have been immediate family only, and the ceremonies were quiet and tasteful. I almost committed a massive faux pas by inviting myself to a funeral ceremony, thinking – Irish-style – that it was the correct thing to do. I was gently informed that the funeral was for immediate family only, the subtext being that the presence of strangers – or, in my case, simply non-family members (I did know the deceased, honest, I wasn’t trying to gatecrash a complete stranger’s funeral) – was intrusive and inappropriate.
Funerals in Ireland, like many other Irish events, are basically a big clan gathering. And Irish families are very, very big. Not only are there (literally) dozens of cousins (in my case I have over sixty first cousins. Yes: six-oh. Five dozen plus small change) and aunts and uncles, but these relatives all have spouses and partners and off-spring of their own. An Irish funeral is only deemed a success and an appropriate send-off if it’s huge. Yes, in this case size really does matter. There’s no greater honour for the departed and the family left behind than an enormous funeral - hundreds of people in attendance. Many of the attendees don’t even know the dead person, but that’s okay: you attend the funeral of a friend, relative or colleague’s loved one to show your support for the person you know. And if the funeral cortege manages to stop traffic, if the local Gardai (the police force) have to be called out to direct cars... well, then, the funeral was a smashing success and the family can rest assured that justice was done to their loss.
Re-reading the above, I realise that it all sounds a bit mafioso-like: “Come and pay-a the respect-a to the Family!” but while there are a lot of men in black suits and dark cars, no rings are kissed, I promise. Instead, funerals are just part of life over here and they’re not hidden or sanitised or toned down. The funeral cortege leaves the local church after a funeral mass and the procession slowly makes its way to the cemetery, usually passing down one of the narrow main streets of the town. People stop and bless themselves when the funeral draws level, cars pull aside to let the hearse pass, and shopkeepers rush to turn off shop lights as a mark of respect. It’s solemn and respectful, and it’s wonderful and horrible. It doesn’t make death any easier or more pleasant, but it’s an ingrained ritual that everyone experiences or has experienced, and perhaps this collective empathy makes it easier to bear.