Friday, January 27, 2012

Yolanda's Scrapbuster

This is a true scrapbuster.
Nooooo! you shriek. The harmony, the colour palette, the meticulous planning - how could it possibly be a scrapbuster? 
Yes, it is. Honest. I just bought one single skein and the rest were fished out of my stash. I'd love to say that it made a significant bite into my bag(s) of yarn, but ...
... it didn't. I could make another - even wilder - blanket without leaving the living room. Let's change the subject.

This blanket will probably go to a colleague's daughter, who loved my blankets and asked for a Kuscheldecke (a cuddly blanket). She likes bright colours. (Of course, she might change her mind when she sees this.) Washed and dried, it'll be packed up and passed on, so I can move to the next project without a guilty conscience.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Granny Square Love - The Joys of Monochrome

Granny Squares. They're how I learned to crochet - taught, by the way, by my Great-Aunt Christina. Sure, I can do all kinds of fancy stuff, but these are brainless and comforting, the perfect January project. I always have at least one baby blanket on hand for surprise babies (they pop up all over the place in springtime, the little beasties). The colour scheme is one of  the familiar go-to colour combos that requires little thinking: the joys of monochrome.

True monochrome should start with a darker colour that gradually becomes lighter, as though white paint was being added to the darker colour, bit by bit. When picking out the colours, though, you have to make sure you do it by daylight or there's a possibility that you might make a colour booboo:

What went awry on the left? Well, I had a nice, cool pastel green plus a cool, woody dark green - and I thought I had a suitable green for the middle. Sadly, though, when I looked at it by daylight, I noticed that the middle green was too acidic, a warm apple green that includes a touch of yellow. In other words, it clashed. So out it went.

Now it's done and wrapped up ready to go. On to the next project - Anny's eagle eyes spotted it in the last post, so as soon as we have enough sunshine to take a decent photo, I'll show you My True Scrapblanket: not a single skein was purchased in the making!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Adultiship? ... Adultery? ... Adultiness!

For years and years I've felt like a student, even though I'm not. Maybe it's because I'm a teacher - all of the studentiness just rubs off on me. This transitory feeling was reflected in the way I lived: everything seemed to have a temporary feel to it (not helped by my husband's view that packing boxes are a legitimate piece of furniture.) Last weekend, I finally did two things that, in my mind, have established me as A Real Adult.

1) I Bought a Decorative Household Item
"Grrr! Take me to your leader, earthling!"
Paintings not supplied by kindly relatives,
they're Monet prints that cover a hole in the wall.

All other decorative bits were presents from people
with a keener sense of the household aesthetic than I.

All about the functionality, me. My minimalist soul is constantly battling with the part of me that clutters spontaneously (how oh how can one be a minimalist and yet be stalked by clutter? I don't get it), so I've always bought furniture, fixtures and fittings that Serve A Purpose. And then I saw this lamp and, mesmerised by its wavy arms and the fact that it was vaguely reminiscent of an alien, I bought it. It serves no purpose other than decoration. I am so proud.

2) I Framed and Hung Pictures
Daddy Gingerbread took the husband and me down to his painting studio and showed us his paintings. We rifled through his private stash and selected two, with which we absconded to Germany. Added to that was a painting by my little sister, Emily, and a small landscape by a friend of ours - and before we knew it, we had enough eye candy for a wall or two. My husband did the technical work - measuring walls, brandishing spirit measure, hammering nails - whilst I was the Artistic Director, which (I think we all agree) is the more important task.

"It's crooked! Crooked! Straighten up that picture or you're fired! How can I expect to work like this?" (flounce.)
a.k.a The Trials of the Artistic Director

Mr G's candlestick. He brought it
into the relationship, along with two
computer monitors, three printers,
a veritable snake's nest of cables
and a chrome bookshelf that, um,
got lost in the move.
 Clearly, this signals a new chapter in my life, so in order to celebrate my inner Terence Conran, I borrowed a stack of books (chapter, books - get it? Never one to shy away from the lowest form of humour, me) from the library with impressive names like Moroccan Interiors and Decorating in Provence. I spent a pleasant afternoon looking through pictures of other people's houses. Every time Mr Gingerbread passed, he looked over my shoulder and alternately said, "Yuck" or "No".  Our divergent taste in interior design is only becoming apparent now, and it's probably a good thing, as it might have been a pre-marriage dealbreaker. My love of Cuban colonial furniture, Moroccan textiles and Provençal tilework are at odds with his idea that chrome is too pretty to be confined to the bathroom and kitchen. If either of us had enough energy to do anything as dynamic as, say, interior decoration, this might be An Issue in our marriage, but I think the divorce lawyers of Gingerbreadtown needn't get too excited yet.

Considering that it has taken me two years to hang paintings, these might be
unrealistic aspirations.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Family Lexicon, or Aunt Christina's Press

In this post I outlined some of the highlights of the locality in which my parents live in Ireland. Many of you were kind enough to comment on that post and add some of the exciting things to see where you live - Carla's cattle adventures, the church where Liz's husband's relatives got married (perhaps this one? Intrigued, I Googled churches at crossroads in Whitley Bay. This could be it, readers, this could be it - the scene of Aunt Margaret and Uncle Andrew's nuptials!) Or the criminal court in Canada where Barbara plighted her troth (sadly, this one was more of a challenge than my Google skills could handle, so no accompanying pictures here.) In any case, all of these places are important because they're part of your Family Inventory: places, objects, memories that are special to your family and make up part of your Family Lexicon. Every family speaks its own language, every family has phrases and terms that are incomprehensible to people outside of the family circle. Sometimes phrases even emigrate from one family to another: my husband and I like to indulge in a psycho-pee (separately, not together) before we leave the house. This is a trip to the facilities even though you really don't have to go - it's a just-in-case mission. It's short for a psychological peepee, and although mentioning it has already lowered the tone of this post, I believe that it's a very useful term that was lacking in the English language. Thus, it did not surprise me when I recently heard the boyfriend of a friend use it. Clearly it has the potential to become A Thing, like Googling and earworms.

A press. Not Angristyna's press
- hers is bigger and better cared for.

Another example: my mother inherited a large sideboard from her aunt, Christina, after my aunt's death twenty-four years ago. Christina's name is pronounced ChrisTYNA, not ChrisTEENA for reasons no one really knows, and this doesn't make the next part of this story any easier. Although she was, technically, our great-aunt, we kiddies always called her Aunt Christina, too. Actually, we called her Angristyna, all rolled up into one. So now we have a big mahogany sideboard in our living room, which we refer to as a 'press', Irish-style (note: a press in Ireland is a cupboard. If someone asks you to get the biscuits out of a press, open a cupboard and look for cookies) belonging to a dead relative that most of my younger siblings never even met prior to her demise (= because they were still twinkles in my father's twinkly eyes, not because we kept them locked up or anything.)

In any case, Aunt Christina's Press (Angristynaspress) has become a kind of jumbly black hole in our house, the place where all kinds of things end up. A recent peek in the middle drawer revealed a stapler, a single knitting needle, two earrings - not matching - an empty box of matches, a fluffy piece of modelling clay, a lone marble, a piece of Lego, the legs of a Lego man (maybe he crawled in looking for his brick and his torso was eaten by the drawer?), sundry pieces of paper (old electricity bills, prayers to a multitude of Catholic saints, scraps of paper with indecipherable notes on them), rubber bands, dried-out felt-tip pens, a pencil with the nib broken off, part of one of my father's pipes ... and you get the idea. You probably have a drawer like this at home. But you probably don't have an entire sideboard dedicated to collecting pieces of stuff that have no discernible use till they are thrown away ("Awww, flip! I could've fixed this wobbly table if I still had the legs of a Lego man!" etc.) In the twenty-four years that we've had it, the cupboard has defied physics by managing to house more rubbish that can possibly, logically, fit into its modest dimensions. MacGyver could build a particle accelerator that would put CERN to shame with the contents of middle drawer alone.

Aunt Christina's Press has become the last refuge of the lazy looker: missing something? Why bother search for it? At some point you're going to pull open one of the side doors and your missing knitting / magazine / baking bowl / running shoe / sunglasses / comb will simply fall out on an avalanche of assorted bric-a-brac. "Check Angristynaspress!" has become the answering roar to any questions that start with, "Have you seen my ...?"
Sometimes, Angristynaspress is so self-explanatory that we forget that it actually isn't. When my German husband wanted to know where he could find a pen, I told him to check Angristynaspress - like, of course. I found him bumbling around the living room, checking the coal scuttle for a writing implement (?). Annoyed, I tapped the top of the mahogany sideboard and explained (sigh) that this was Angristynaspress. Like, of course. His blank stare reminded me that there was no way that he could have known that
(a) in Ireland a press is actually a cupboard, a sideboard, a dresser or basically any wooden box with doors
(b) it used to belong to Aunt Christina
(c) Aunt Christina is my mother's aunt
(d) she died in 1988 and my mother inherited her sideboard
(e) and, contrary to all logic, we continue to refer to this piece of furniture as Aunt Christina's Press as though my parents' home were so chockablock with cupboards that its deceased former owner was the only means of differentiating it from the sundry other mahogany cupboards knocking around my parents' living room.

Readers, I was stunned. Not every home has an Angristynaspress!!! Or maybe they do, but they call it something else, like the jumble drawer, or the curiosity cupboard, or Mummy's Craftroom. Astonishing! Of course, I had to give my husband a tour of Angristynaspress ("And this is where my mother keeps the napkins - behind the Christmas decorations, the year's supply of old TV guides, the broken remote control and tin of throat lozenges") and show him how to delicately extract something from a thundering landslide of  accumulated junk, whilst simultaneously shoving the whole mess back inside. He was very impressed and even found an interesting-looking copy of the Reader's Digest from 2009, which he kept to read over a cup of tea.
Mind you, we never found a pen, but the miraculous middle drawer coughed up the stub of a green crayon and that did the job.

So come on, readers - share some terms from your Family Lexicon!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Horrid Craic With Apple Pies

Grrr. I'm having a bad crochet week. I have lots of ideas for new projects but everything I touch turns to ... rubbish. One project took me ages to make but has turned out useless: it's 25% too big, due to a mathematical booboo on my part. Yes - maths = my nemesis.

In any case, the husband and I returned to Germany on Tuesday, flying east over the continent and away from a brewing storm so big that it later that day dislodged a bus shelter and whacked it against a plane at Edinburgh airport. As you know from previous posts, disaster follows when we travel (volcanic eruptions, blizzards, tsunamis and nuclear reactor meltdowns), so a flying bus shelter was relatively mild, given the previous catastrophes unleashed by our wanderlust.

A teddy bear not having the craic.
(It's a gratuitous picture. I just liked his knitted sweater. Bear with me. Haha)

Our stay in Ireland was - to use a bit of Hibernian English - great craic. Craic is a very useful Irish word, it means 'fun' or 'a laugh' (as in, to have a laugh) and its intrinsic link to fun and general frolics is only underlined by the fact that it's pronounced 'crack' - which means you can frighten the wits out of non-Irish people by saying things like, "I had great craic last night!" or "I don't think it's possible to have too much craic!" or the ecstatic declaration that something was "the best craic I've ever had!"

It's a wonderful word and has many different meanings. For example:
What's the craic? = Is there anything newsworthy you wish to share, my good fellow?
The craic was mighty! = Jolly good fun was had by all!
We were only having a bit of craic! = No ill-will was meant, we were simply having a spot of fun.
There are regional variations to craic - in some places it has been awarded a definite article: the craic (as in "Are you having the craic?" = "Are you enjoying yourself?") and in other places it has even earned supplementary (and baffling) adjectives, like horrid craic. My brother James assures me that having horrid craic is all the rage in Sligo, in the west of Ireland. Having spent two days in Sligo, I am willing to believe that just about anything is possible there.

Anyway, Mr Gingerbread and I had many interesting discussions of the following variety:
Me: I'm going to visit my Auntie Dell (= or substitute name of random relative here)
Him: Is that the one with the two sons?
(I'll just interject at this point to tell you that my mother is one of - brace yourself - fifteen children. They in turn are a rather fertile bunch. Having two sons really does not narrow it down and he should know this. He was at our wedding, after all. He has seen - nay, he has participated in - a number of family photos.)
Me: She has lots of sons. You know my Auntie Dell, you've met her a dozen times -
He holds up his hand to stop me.
Him: Wait. Does she live in town?
(Again, this does not help. My mother's family has multiplied rapidly but in a geographically-restricted area. Most of them still live in or around the town they grew up in.)
Me: No, she's -
Him (triumphantly): Wait! She bakes the apple pies!

I pause. He's right - kind of. All of my aunts bake apple pies, or apple tarts, as we call them. But my Aunt Dell makes my favourite apple tarts. Each aunt has a tiny variation on a standard shortcrust recipe, some add cinnamon or nutmeg to the filling and some don't, but every pie is different and unique to the piemaking auntie in question. And sometimes - genetics are a funny thing, my friends - the children of the piemaker commit the heresy of preferring the pies of an aunt to the pies of their mother. I am one such evil child. I love my mother's apple pie, I swear I do. But I also love my Auntie Dell's apple pies just as much ... and on some days a tiny bit more. This is something my mother and my aunt are both aware of and when I visit my Auntie Dell, it is not uncommon for her to produce a freshly-baked apple - or rhubarb, I won't say no - pie, which she'll place on the table with a flourish that might be a shade more triumphant than strictly necessary in the presence of my indignant mother.
"Hrrrrmph!" my mother snorts, as she helps herself to a slice of appley nomminess. I know she's thinking: Ungrateful wretch.  But it doesn't stop her eating the pie, though. She'll even have a second slice to confirm to her own self that her apple tarts are better.

However, this Christmas we dropped by unannounced for a quick visit and there were no apple tarts - not even a paltry rhubarb tart, for that matter. I don't want to make a big deal about it but, quite frankly, I was utterly devastated - it has taken me a full week to recover from the disappointment and blog about it. A poor start to 2012 indeed.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!


After many days of excessive eating (whine - there are so many delicious things to eeeeaaat!), Daddy Gingerbread, the husband and I decided to take a walk in The Nature. We went up to the remains of a great big hill fort called the Rock of Dunamase, with spectacular views over the surrounding countryside:

The walls are more than two metres thick in many places and, standing in the bitter wind atop a high hill on the first day of January, we shuddered at the thought of the hardship people endured when the fortress was inhabited.


Having had a brisk walk up the hill, we headed home for a cup of hot tea and a slice of toast.