Sunday, January 24, 2016

Becoming Auntie Maureen

You know how it is when you get older. Something pops out of your mouth and barely has it left your lips when you hear the echo of your mother or your father or some other family member in your words - "If you break your leg, don't you come running to me!"
That kind of thing.

Well, in my case, something astonishing is happening. I'm turning into my Auntie Maureen. Let me explain: Maureen is my mother's older sister. When we were young, we always thought she looked quite stern - she's quite a straight talker, Maureen. You'll know where you stand with her. However, rather than appearing forbidding, she seems to able to extract the most intimate confessions from complete strangers. Whenever she travels by public transport, she disembarks with a handbag full of deep, dark secrets. Once, on a train to Dublin, she sat beside a young woman who felt compelled to share details of her S&M lifestyle. Share stories, photos and Wikipedia pages on her phone (because, God bless her, Maureen really didn't have a notion what it was, so the young woman decided to elucidate with informative Internet articles) with a 70+-year-old widow travelling to the nation's capital on her senior citizens' travel pass to do a bit of shopping and have a nice cup of coffee and an iced bun in some comfortable café. ("I told her it was all a heap of nonsense," Maureen declared decisively. "I said if any fellow tried to smack me, I'd give him a good, hard smack right back!" Clearly, Maureen did not understand the appeal of bondage.)

This is what I am turning into. I, however, have a very specific audience: children and senior citizens. I cannot begin to repeat some of the stories I have been told by the elderly: many of whom are now in their eighties and nineties and have a compulsion to tell a random foreigner stories of a childhood in the Third Reich (-> confusing), of having babies in the 1950s (-> scary and disgusting), finding husbands in bed with other women (-> also confusing) or their miscarriages (-> words fail me.) I must have a very priest-like countenance to inspire these confessions. I don't ask them, honest. People literally stop me on the street and tell me things. Oftentimes, they just plonk their zimmer frame in my path and hold me captive, sometimes they just smile at me and I smile back. And they're off!

But that's one thing: they're choosing to tell me these things and I choose to file them away in a big drawer labelled 'RANDOM SECRETS' in my mind. However, I seem to have the same effect on small children, and they'll tell me anything about anyone, no holds barred. When I deliver my son at kindergarten, I am often surrounded, Pied Piper-like, by half-a-dozen small children vying to tell me their family secrets. They bypass other parents, including their own, to corner me and start talking at me. Did I know that Mama and Papa had a fight this morning and Mama called Papa an idiot? Did I know that Papa got a new motorbike and banged his privates on it? Did I know that Mama was at the dentist and when she came home, she cried? The head of the kindergarten wades in and sends them off back to their macaroni sculptures and board books, while I stagger home, traumatised by the amount of unwanted information I have just been given.

I report back to my husband and he shakes his head. "Why do you get involved in this kind of thing?" he asks, as though I had a choice.
"I just look at them," I protest. And, really, I do. I look at them and stuff pours forth. So I'm coming to terms that whatever it is Maureen has, I have it, too. One of these days I'm going to read up on S&M, just to be prepared for future conversations on trains.
I really should keep my head down more.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Sonic Mama

As regular readers might know,  I have two children: the oldest boy is three and the youngest is a year and a half. They are talkers. As a language teacher, I was expecting my bilingual male children to be like many other bilingual male children and start to speak late because, y'know, that's what The Experts say happens - no, no, that wasn't the case. From the moment they rise to the moment we press them into a horizontal position in their beds, they never shut up. They even talk in their sleep.

Their favourite thing - above raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens - is to say, "Mama?" about a thousand times a day. A thousand times a day EACH. I wish I were exaggerating but it doesn't feel like hyperbole: every breath they draw seems to exhale a Mama somewhere. Sometimes they Mama even when they don't mean to, when playing with their cars ("Brrrrmmm brrrrmmama...") or when they've discovered something interesting ("Oh, Mama!"). I answer, "Yes, love?" because it's easier to answer that way than figure out which child it is and sometimes it serves as a double-answer if I'm being Mama-ed in stereo. Everyone's happy with that answer.

And I can often ignore it, but not for long. The MPMs (Mamas Per Minute) increase and become increasingly frantic because - heavens above! - I might've disappeared! I might've been abducted! Or, God knows, I might be sitting down with a cup of tea and a book or writing a message to another literate, full-sized human being on my phone. If they can't see me, e.g. if we're separated by the insurmountable obstacle that is the bathroom door, the MPMs might increase to a wail, "Maaaaaaamaaaaaaaaa!". And if I'm resting - the cruelty! the neglect! - they'll Mamamamamamamamama onto the bed and I'll be given a couple of seconds of ominous silence and feathery smallchild breath on my cheeks, till they try to poke my eyes open.
"Yes, love?" I'll say to the little faces pressed up against my own.

I say "Yes, love?" oh, hundreds of times a day. Sometimes there's an answer:
"I'm a baby octopus now."
Or: "I want to run away and away."
Or: "My feet smell disgusting"
However, there often isn't. The child in question stares at me blankly and visibly racks his brain to find something to tell me: "I like owls."
"That's super," I'd say. "What's your favourite owl?"
And off the child goes on an owl monologue, punctuated by - you've guessed it - twenty million Mamas.

Yes, yes, it's lovely and sweet, but also exhausting and relentless and head-wrecking. When I come in from work, I just want five minutes of peace and quiet, preferably with a cup of tea, and instead I'm bombarded by two children climbing on to my knee, up my sweater, into my face: "Mama! Mama! Mama!"
"Yes, love?" I answer. "Yes, love? What is it, love? What would you like to tell me?"
Exhausted. Weary. Fed up.
Go away, children, and just leave me alone.

"What flavour would you like?"
And then today I learned something interesting. I went out for a walk with my oldest boy and he had an ice cream, his first of the year. I sat on a bench and he sat on my knee, holding his ice cream and delicately eating it with his plastic spoon.
"Mama?" he said, squirming around to face me.
"Yes, love?" I replied automatically, distractedly.
He repeated it, but he said, "Yes! Love!" and turned back to his ice cream with a grin on his face. And then I realised that what I'm saying to my children and what they're hearing are two different things. I say, "Yes, love?" and they hear: YES! LOVE! and they seem to need to hear it hundreds of times a day. They use it like a bat's sonic signal to locate me and I answer. I didn't know that. I'd never thought about it. To them it's not a question, it's an affirmation. Now I know.

This evening my youngest son wouldn't sleep. He told me about trains and dogs and Papa and more trains and Papa and then there was something indistinguishable about a monster truck ... till he finally fell asleep. Drifting away, his eyes rolling, being pulled downwards into soft sleep, he whispered, "Mama?"
I watched his lids fall, kissed his forehead, and gently I replied: "Yes. Love."

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Crafter's Thingy

When I was packing up to travel to my in-laws' before Christmas, I did my usual search for one of the little bags I have on hand to carry my crafting supplies. As I scrambled to find some scrap of paper or cloth to stick a darning needle into, I thought, "Wouldn't it be great to have a thingie that had all of your crafting bits and bobs in one place?"

Aha. An idea was born. And I created this ... thingy. I asked members of an online crafting group if they could come up with a name for it, and the first suggestions were a thingamajig, a thingummy, a thingamybob and an it - as in, "Where is it? I need it!" So I think I'll just stick with a crafting thingy. You know what it is.

In any case, self praise is no praise, I know, I know, but I love it. It's brilliant. It is the first thing that I have made in years that I have not only kept for myself but (whisper it) kept two of. I feel so naughty and so decadent - imagine! Making something for me! And you can make one for yourself, too. It's not difficult, I promise.

You need
  • a very small amount of thin yarn, about 20g. I used self-striping sock yarn, but you could also use cotton or thin acrylic
  • something to stuff it with - enough stuffing to fit in your fist
  • a darning needle
  • a folding scissors (I ordered 10 on Amazon for less than $1.50 each)
  • a round, retractable tape measure (also can be ordered on Amazon for about $1 each or found at a local euro/pound/dollar store)
  • something to attach the scissors to the ... thingy. I use a keychain, but a piece of ribbon would do just as well
** This pattern is written in American English! The British English terms are in [brackets]. ** And a PDF of the pattern can be downloaded HERE. **

Start with a magic loop and make 10 SC [DC] and join with a slip stitch to form a little circle.
Round 1: Ch 1, then 2 SC [DC] in the same stitch. 2 SC [DC] in next nine stitches (20 stitches in total)
Round 2: Ch 1, then 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next nineteen stitches (20 stitches in total)
Round 3: Ch 1, then 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch, *1 SC [DC] in next stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch. Repeat from * around, ending with 2 SC [DC] (30 stitches in total)
Round 4: Ch 1, then do 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next twenty-nine stitches (30 stitches in total)
Round 5: Ch 1, then 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch, *1 SC [DC] in next two stitches, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch. Repeat from * around, ending with 2 SC [DC] (40 stitches in total)
Round 6: Ch 1, then 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in next thirty-nine stitches (40 stitches in total)
At this point, stop and place your little circle over the tape measure. It should cover it, but not be bigger than it. If you need to make it bigger, do another round of SC [DC] with a double SC [DC] in every fourth stitch. 

After this point, you won't increase any more, just continue by doing 1 SC [DC] in every stitch, so your work starts to form a little saucer-shape:


When you are satisfied with your little dome (I normally only do 3 or 4 rounds of SC [DC] to achieve it), continue:
Round 8: Crochet 3 chain, then 1 DC [TR] in next and each stitch around till you come to the last three stitches. Do not do any DC [TR], simply do three chain and join to the third chain in your initial 3Ch at the start of the row.

Round 9: Do 1 SC [DC] in each stitch. Finish by doing 1 chain, cut yarn and yank tight.

 When you fit this over the tape measure, you will see that the hole formed by the 3 chain is designed to allow the tape measure to poke out.
The back (part 1)
Chain 8-9 stitches - large enough to form a circle around the button at the back of the tape measure. Crochet a flat circle by following the instructions above:
Round 1: 1 SC [DC] in each of the chain.
Round 2: Ch 1, then 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 1 SC [DC] in each next stitch
Round 3: Ch 1, then 1 SC [DC] in the same stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch, *1 SC [DC] in next stitch, 2 SC [DC] in next stitch. Repeat from * around
 - in other words, every second row has a double stitch spaced between 1, then 2, then 3 single SC [DC]. Do this till your work covers the bottom of the tape measure.

Place some stuffing on the 'top' of the tape measure - not the side with the button! - I hold it in place by just smearing a bit of glue on the tape measure, then pressing the stuffing down, till I have the little crocheted dome in place. Then I sew the back to the bottom of the dome with a whipstitch.

The back (part 2)
Follow the instructions as per the front, but just before you finish the final round, stop about 10 stitches before the end. Do 1Ch and cut your yarn, yanking it tight. This creates one side that's a bit flatter than the others and this serves as a kind of pocket flap. Sew this (almost) circle over the bottom of the thingy, covering the button.It will create a pocket to store the folding scissors.

 And that's it! Now you simply have to attach the scissors to the thingy, by using e.g. a key chain or tie it on with a piece of ribbon. Then you're ready to go! Be warned, though: they are very addictive. Very, very, addictive.

The legal bit:
This is my idea, my work, my photos, my pattern. You may not reprint it/them, republish it/them in any form, or claim it/them as your own. What you can do is make them for friends and family, and if you can make yourself some pin money by making them for sale - good for you. Just don't go into mass production with them, though - not without my permission. It would be nice and decent of you to credit me with their design, though - but I don't need to tell you that, do I? Only nice and decent people read my blog :-)