Ready

I love winter. Autumn was colourful, beautiful even but you know you’re alive when it’s winter. Everything about this half of the year seems to go so quickly and maybe that’s to do with keeping busy. E and J both have December birthdays so it’s imperative to think ahead. J’s birthday a couple of days after Christmas is particularly awkward and if I forget anything it would mean a mad dash on Boxing Day. This year we’ve had to split E’s birthday celebrations over two occasions to suit everyone. Tonight we had a family meal and games much the same as Christmas Day really. E has a razor sharp memory so I held back from reminiscing about her early years lest I get repetitive in my old age.

Earlier today we took the dogs to a slightly wooded place for a walk to try and wear them out for the day. It was fresh and crisp and the winter sun was blinding. A freshly cut tree smelled absolutely divine and further on the smell of decaying leaves under foot was wonderfully earthy. M and I have been here, there and everywhere lately running errands such as dry cleaning M’s suits, fixing small things in the house, posting parcels, shopping little and often for Christmas food. This week however, everything seems under control and so the walk was relaxing, with time to just breathe it all in.

Sure enough M did feel like baking. The scene in the kitchen was more mad scientist’s laboratory than pastry chef but the results were amazing. I really do like gingerbread and it was absolutely superb. We had a standard sized gingerbread man cutter and a tiny one. The larger ones are not pictured because quite a few of them were rudely decorated with boobs. I blame M for suggesting we all chip in with the icing set. Two at least were not obscene and were given Spaniel ears, paws and an ‘H’ and ‘R’ on their chests to represent the dogs. Cute but they got eaten first.

I haven’t found much time for whittling crochet hooks this last week but I did find a small block of balsa in my recently sorted craft cupboard and it’s a lovely soft and easy material to work with after the hard, brittle beech. It would be ideal for tree decorations because it’s light so that’s on my list of things to make well before next Christmas rolls round. If I can tear myself away from crochet long enough I could get quite addicted to balsa carving. It’s easy to lose yourself in the process and the possibilities are endless.

I’ve got a couple of chunky crochet cowls on the go at the moment. Neither is quite right so there may well be some frogging about to take place. Whilst I’m stewing over those and hoping that ‘sleeping on it’ will help I’ve started a small amigurumi that looks a lot like a seal at the moment but will eventually become a bear once he has ears. The flecked brown yarn is so dark I’m having to make him during daylight hours only. I seem to go for long spells between making animals and forget how much I enjoy seeing a little character come to life. Like the llama I’m also changing the look of this one as I go and just hoping he will turn out ok. I watched a good film on Netflix recently called Winter People, based on the book by John Ehle. It’s quite an old film and stars Kurt Russell amongst others. There’s a scene with a bear that’s quite distressing but even in the late eighties which is roughly when it was made, I’m sure they wouldn’t have harmed a real bear in the making of the film.

I really should have made Mr Laid Back Llama look unmistakeable Christmassy. When E arrived home from uni a few days ago she examined him hanging on the tree and said, I think I’ll take him back to uni with me because he will look nice hanging above my desk. Never one to be shy about asking, that’s my girl! We’ve agreed that he has to come home every Christmas though and I’m going to make a Mrs Laid Back Llama to keep him company next year.

There’s been an easy going atmosphere in the house, with only a few snappy moments… some from me when I feel too tired and too incredulous to explain something that I feel should be blindingly obvious. Communication tires me out enormously. Some from M when he immediately assumes the worst case scenario before working through the possibilities, like for instance assuming we will have to purchase a new dishwasher because ‘someone’ has broken the door (it was just a bowl sticking out!) Those silly occasions aside it’s been good to have the four of us in one room watching tv or having a meal together. Even the dogs look well and truly chilled out, especially Harvey who waits on the hard tiled floor in the hall if anyone is missing.

There’s a big pile of brown paper parcels and some cheerful red and glittery ones for a small person. The tree still smells of fresh pine (even though it’s drying out a little). There’s a large supply of fresh coffee to see me through the longest days and there’s crochet in wooden bowls or baskets in several places. I think I’m ready for Christmas.

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Countdown

If there’s one good thing about these cold and frosty mornings it is, dare I say it, the fact that a certain substance Riley seems to enjoy rolling in is frozen solid. I’ve had at least a week off showering with the dog. The downside has been defrosting my car each morning which takes quite a while and means Harvey gets to shake with fear in the boot just a bit longer than usual. The lanes we usually drive on to get to our walk are narrow one track lanes and not gritted so it’s been rather icy and treacherous recently. At the risk of losing Harvey again I’ve been using the closer place to leave my jeep on the verge and we head along the riverside path which eventually joins up with our usual route. I do seem to credit them with more intelligence than they actually have sometimes. Not only are these riverbanks quite steep but it’s been minus whatever temperature and I assumed they’d apply seem common sense and not venture in for a swim. I’m not sure what was going through Harvey’s mind when he decided to take a flying leap and dive in. Luckily he still had the use of his limbs when I called him to come out. Riley wisely didn’t fancy a subzero dip.

Riley does enjoy a few home comforts though. I will often, no make that always, find the cushions have been rearranged, usually into a mini mountain with a dog shaped impression on the top. Who can blame him? He’s been a little clingy lately and I think that’s probably due to his recent holidays with J while we’ve had a trip to Sussex and a few others prior to that. He will take any company he can get but I think he likes the routine of having me at home most of the time. Today he paced between the sofa and a spot by my feet under the table. You can see from the sneaky pic I took that his head isn’t resting on the rug and that’s because he was mesmerised by being at eye level with the many birds that were hopping about outside the double doors. The blackbirds have moved in and are finishing off the rotting cooking apples that the water voles have clearly finished with. Tiny wrens perch on the side of bamboo stems. Blue Tits are the greediest with the nut feeders. Robins are everywhere and the bravest when it comes to hopping about right in front of Riley’s nose.

M’s workload has been heavy lately. He’s been all over the country including Kent, London, Norwich, Birmingham. I sometimes gently remind him to keep a day here or there completely clear to recover and there’s nothing he likes more than to go out and have a leisurely coffee with the newspapers and crosswords. This week we managed to combine coffee with occasional bursts of shopping too. It was nothing short of a miracle that we purchased Christmas gifts for nine and Birthday gifts for two without a single heated moment let alone a row.

In a few days time E will be twenty years old which is making me feel positively ancient I can tell you! J will be seventeen this month too. I try hard to live in the here and now and not get too morose about things moving along and changing. It was definitely emotional having one child leave for uni and I can’t imagine how it will feel when they’ve both gone so it’s best to focus on creating good happy family memories of get togethers like Christmas. We also have little E now and judging by some of the videos I’m receiving it’s going to be an entertaining time.

This year I’ve enjoyed the fact that J can reach up and unhook the hatch to the attic without so much as standing on tiptoes. I usually drag a chair under it from the dining room and then climb up with my dodgy knee, then I have to move the chair and pull the ladder down. It’s all so much simpler with J’s help and while I have him out of his man cave I innocently ask him if he could just pop up and find… and this is where it all goes pear shaped because we’ve got cricket bats and pads going back to when he was seven, dolls houses, wooden trucks, playmobil, lego, you name it, it’s up there and somehow all the Christmas decorations have been well and truly buried this year. He managed to find just one box of decorations which thankfully included only the white twinkly tree lights and not the coloured ones that he and M favour. So our decorations are a bit minimalist at the moment but we have a real tree and with lights at least. I snipped one small straggly lower branch of the tree you can see overhanging in the first photo to provide a jug of something festive in the kitchen. I like the simple natural touches and the smell of pine needles.

Somewhere in the attic chaos are last year’s crochet tree decorations, I can’t even remember what they were. It’ll be fun finding those when we get round to decluttering which thankfully M and J have both agreed to help with. I bought a pack of six large baubles with every intention of covering them all. Somehow it just wasn’t holding my attention so I might have to wait six years for the set of six! Making a llama for the tree however, did hold my attention long enough despite the many parts. It was originally a free kit but come with pale blue yarn which didn’t really fit in round here. I dug out some off white merino which has a nice amount of give which I’ve learnt is a good thing for small amigurumi. I tweaked a few things mainly to avoid more fiddly stuff. I gave him a mop of hair using an unwound mini tassel of about six strands. I did a simpler tail by working slip stitch back down a chain of about eight. I almost did another tassel because sometimes their tails go bushy but decided against that. Then finally, when I was getting a bit tired if I’m honest, I made up the whole saddle because I couldn’t be bothered to follow the pattern by then. I left out the harness because I wasn’t keen on all the sequins. I’ve named him Mr Laid Back Llama because that’s how he comes across!

When E was getting things ready for uni way back in September and chatting to J about it they agreed that the most rebellious thing they’d do was buy kitchen roll and surface wipes. Initially I was not impressed that the reason I don’t buy either (I use cut up old shirts instead) was totally lost on them and then I saw the funny side. I guess it’s a bit like religion. I am grateful that none was ever forced upon me and I was able to make my own mind up about it all. Turns out I did this when I was five and decided that bible stories just didn’t add up, although it was years before I dared to say that out loud. When the children were born I also allowed them to come to their own conclusions and I can honestly say, hand on heart that I did keep my own views to myself. All three of us have had the experience of Church of England primary schools which obviously include prayers and hymns. We are unanimous in that we enjoyed the singing at least.

I always feel so unsettled around Christmas time and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s less about the religious aspect and more about the excess of it all. Although I’d dearly love to have a modest small occasion that isn’t too much more than an average day I do manage to simplify things in small ways each year. The gifts, whilst the same budget as usual, are simpler. Obviously I can’t say more than that until after Christmas. I haven’t bought wrapping paper or tags this year. I’ve used brown paper and a large reel of red and white string I bought quite a few years ago now that seems to magically last forever. When I opened my box of tags I was really pleased to find I’d already stamped quite a few with a pine cone design.

Tomorrow E will be home from uni, M will start to think about baking (he always does at this time of year). The dogs will take advantage of anyone offering extra walks. I will be figuring out what crochet project to start next. J will be dreaming up one of his special birthday cards for his big sis, it’s become a thing now and we are all looking forward to seeing what kind of character he will superimpose E’s head onto.

I’m already making plans in my head for next year. Nothing revolutionary. Just more small changes, the type that eventually lead to the one big thing I wanted to change in the first place. The attic is on my mental list, as are crochet plans, travel plans, house plans, even garden ones although I wouldn’t know where to start. Nothing is set in concrete but I like to dream, I like a loose flexible plan and I like to learn from what didn’t get done when it was on a mental list from the year before!

Time

There seems to be quite a lot of woolly goings on here at the moment. Projects are actually getting finished, albeit in random order. I made the Little Red Riding Cape a while ago but only got round to making the apple when the mood struck a few nights ago. I think it was something to do with throwing all my small chunky odds and ends into a new wire basket and spotting a bright red amongst them. Naturally I went I get the book to pose the apple upon a suitable double page spread featuring the apple or apples in LRRH’s basket and lo and behold, discovered that this imposter of a book had substituted the apple for a pie! The book deserves to be shredded but instead I will be donating it to charity so that some pie loving recipient can be found.

I can always rely on Riley’s nose for an indication of how cold it is or is going to be. I’ve got a whole collection of photographs of him tucking his nose inside his blanket or under his paw. I’ve had four previous dogs in my life and none of them ever did this. I must point out that he did not manage to get the crochet blanket over him in the first place, although he does try when he’s having a good old dig around in his wooden bed. He’s had four showers this week due to complete body coverage of fox poo. On one of those mornings it had just turned cold and despite warm towels to dry on and his bed by the radiator he was shivering so I just gave him the nearest blanket. That didn’t seem to be enough so I ended up giving him my warm cardigan too and when that didn’t work I plopped him on the sofa and gave him a cuddle. That finally did the trick, either that or he wanted a cuddle all along.

The morning after the snow excitement (flurries all afternoon but none actually settling) I loaded the dogs into the boot of my car. Harvey wriggles straight to the back of the boot and shivers with fear (he’s always hated car journeys). Riley stands and looks out of the window. They are so used to this routine that they were totally confused when the car didn’t start due to a flat battery and I opened the boot and told them to get out. Riley was the first to reluctantly jump down and Harvey refused point blank. I had to drag him out in the end and he was quite grumpy about it. We had to resort to plan B which involved getting leads and me having my shoulder nearly pulled out of it’s socket by Harvey who has never learnt how to walk nicely on a lead. It also involves a route that we haven’t done for years so Harvey did his own thing and explored all diversions while I patiently (through gritted teeth) waited for him to rejoin us. It didn’t help that the snow was coming across the fields in a horizontal fashion by this time. Apart from my face freezing I was just happy that Riley hadn’t discovered fox shit on this particular route. Happy days.

I’ve finished one big fat oversized scarf for a Christmas gift. It’s humongous, and should keep out even arctic weather. The Bernat is for another, in fact I have two more to make. With these two I’m using the recommended yarn and the gauge has come out correctly using one size bigger than the suggested hook size but a smaller hook than the first scarf so instead of struggling with my only other size 10mm hook which is bamboo I treated myself to a new Clover Amour. It just happened to match one of the yarn colours. I’m slightly annoyed that the yarns are different and that the scarves will feel a bit different, especially as all the recipients will be receiving them in the same place at the same time but I’ve mentally decided to see how the Bernat works out before deciding whether to remake the first one. It sounds a bit picky but I’m liking the way the Bernat is holding its shape slightly better. Probably over-thinking it all!

Still on the theme of keeping warm I was sidetracked by some extra chunky crochet mittens whilst browsing on Instagram and decided one evening to ‘cast on’ for those. It requires two strands of Aran which was a bit fiddly with a slightly blunt size 10mm bamboo hook and I soon lost track of the stitch count (probably due to watching a cheesy Christmas movie at the same time.) I put them aside while we were away in Sussex during the mildest November week and picked them up again when it started to snow here. I’m winging it by trying the mitten on every few rows and it’s working out nicely. It will eventually have an enclosed thumb and a rounded mitten end. The stitch is supposed to look knitted but I’m sure mine looks a lot less knitted than the photos given. It’s still an interesting texture and makes a nice change. I just hope I get round to making the second one. They are incredibly thick and I’ve used a yarn with 63% wool which should be ideal for keeping hands warm.

I don’t really need any more crochet distractions this close to Christmas but having suggested E watch Stranger Things when she was having a day off in the middle of a nasty cold at uni recently, she realised that the recent crochet doll I made her was just like Eleven! I made it while I was watching series two so it may well have been a subconscious thing. Though it could also have been to do with the fact I lived in dungarees when I was a child. Eleven needed a grey sweatshirt to complete the look so I’ve started that as well as the body for a Dustin, who, lets face it, is everyone’s favourite! Since I took this photo I’ve tackled the multi coloured baseball cap and on the third attempt I have cracked it. He just needs hair, legs, one more arm and the rest of his outfit. I’ll be alternating him with chunky scarves.

I cannot believe that December has come round again so quickly. I was full of plans last year to really think my crochet time through and choose projects carefully but as always they kind of jump out at me and happen without too much thinking through. Having said that there have only been a few projects that I’ve not enjoyed, not liked or had to frog completely so it’s been a mainly productive year. I will no doubt be surprised when I put together montages for all of this year’s projects. I will probably always wish I could use up my entire stash and only buy yarn in exact quantities for specific patterns but in reality if I started from scratch tomorrow I know that I’d soon end up with bits and pieces. Yarn just seems to find me! I’ve bought specific yarn quite a few times this year but I’ve also made many more projects with random yarn I already had. Perhaps when I’ve made a few more weavings or some rugs I will manage to use up quite a bit more than just with crochet.