NaBloPoMo #5: The one with the romps

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Now, now, don’t worry. This isn’t about to become an ‘adults only’ blog. But over the summer I read two books that, if pressed, I really would have to describe as romps, and some of the best that I’ve read for ages. To my complete dismay, there are only 3 books in this series, and having read the first two, I’m lingering over getting the third just to prolong the enjoyment.

The first one, which I listened to while we were in Italy, was The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy, while the second, devoured in a single afternoon when I just couldn’t put the book down, was The Affair of the Mutilated Mink. The third, which I’m waiting to come into the library, is The Affair of the 39 Cufflinks.

I should say up front that I love pastiche. There’s a cleverness to it that delights me, whether I get all the references or not. The ones I do understand make me smile, and in these books, they’re woven in so tightly and cleverly for the most part, that they made me really love the stories. It helped that the reader of the first one was absolutely brilliant, and despite the intricacies of the plot, he kept all the characters distinct from the narration, and really enhanced the whole experience for me.

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For all the books, the setting is a classic English country house. There’s a cast of eccentric characters, a mysterious murder, spies, bounders, beautiful women, and truly ridiculous dialogue. The detective claims to be nothing of the sort, the suspects are all deeply suspicious and the solutions are on the borderline between genius and ridiculousness. But it turns out that for me, the most important thing is style of writing. If the writing sucks me in, then I’ll read on, even if the characters and plot don’t entirely work for me. And there are parts of this that are so wonderfully stylish that I just couldn’t put them down.

If you’ve any read any ‘Golden Age’ murder mysteries – or even just seen Poirot on the TV – these are characters and situations that will resonate, and at no point are we invited to take any of them remotely seriously. Some of the plot devices are lifted straight (and shamelessly) from Agatha Christie, which is great for me, as she’s the Golden Age author I know the best. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment, although I can see how it might for some people.

You’re not meant to take any part of the books seriously, and I loved having a break from some of the weightier tomes I’d been reading to indulge myself a little. They are wonderfully, unapologetically light, fun and ingenious, and I’m still gutted that there are only three of them.

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NaBloPoMo #4: The one with the WsIP

imageIt turns out to be remarkably challenging to take a picture of two rectangles of crochet in an exciting way. I have therefore adopted the ‘when in doubt, add cake’ approach. Recipe is Parkin by Rachel of My Life in Knitwear.

I’m a little late to the link party today, as my back is still hurting from something horrible I did to it on Monday night. Despite only being a muscle strain, it’s amazing how tired hurting yourself can make you. Even worse, I haven’t really been able to get comfortable to crochet or quilt. The horror!

I have been listening to quite a few books, though, working my way through David Starkey’s History of the Monarchy (wonderfully written, and with a real sense of the personalities, despite his saying it’s mostly about the institution), and the dramatisations of John le Carre’s Smiley series. My local library’s e-audiobook collection has them all to borrow, and Simon Russell Beale *is* Smiley to me. They’re simply wonderful, and I absolutely recommend tracking them down.

After yesterday’s organisational extravanza, I’ve made a start on 2 projects, to go with the 2 that were already started. One is in a dark brown yarn, so is strictly a ‘home and good light’ project, while the other is with a 2.5mm hook, so has its own challenges!

Both are mitts – the Dappled Mitts by Shirley MacDonald, and the Genevieve Gloves by Nicky Hale. I’ve made the latter before, so am confident they’ll be great. The Dappled Mitts are worked in slip stitch crochet, not a technique I’ve explored before, but one that makes a wonderfully stretchy fabric. Both projects definitely have potential, even if they’re tricky to photograph.

Also tricky is leaving that parkin for the prescribed ‘few days’ in order to let the flavours develop. I shall have to treat the next 48 hours as an exercise in self-control!

To see if other people are having more success getting things done without injuring themselves, head over to Ginny’s by clicking the button below.YarnAlongButton1-003

NaBloPoMo #3: The one without ducks

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There’s something very satisfying about getting organised. About putting things in order, planning, plotting, sorting and tidying. Sadly, I often prefer that part to the actual doing, which is why I always have nineteen-dozen things on the go and am always late in finishing stuff.

At this time of year, most folk who make things have to decide whether they’re going to do Christmas presents or not. It’s no good deciding on 23rd December that you want to give someone a jumper (although I know quite a few folks who’ve given presents still on the needles). And when you want to make for multiple people, you have to plan it out.

After hurting my back horribly yesterday, and with a little residual pain in my hands from some hard knitting the other weekend, I couldn’t do much today. But I did find that winding yarn hurt neither my back nor my hand, and so it was a good chance to get my ducks in a row, do some planning and get at least vaguely organised.

Except when I say ducks, I mean yarn. And when I say vaguely, I mean very. Everything’s now in project bags and ready to go. All I have to do is make them.

Right. That’s all.

I think actual ducks would be easier…

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NaBloPoMo #2: The one with the blog hop

thick cobwebs draped over a bush
The cobwebs this morning looked like someone had draped silk over the bushes.

The last couple of weeks have been a very strange time. My Instagram and blog feeds have been full of people celebrating autumn. The glorious changing colours of the leaves, the incredible light that we get at this time of year, all the seasonal things that seem to make people happy.

It’s meant a lot of biting my tongue. I don’t actually begrudge people their happiness in autumnal things, and for people affected in the opposite way to me, it’s finally a chance to breathe after the oppressive heat of summer. And, of course, yarny folk are looking forward to wrapping themselves in all things woolly.

But for me, mid-October is less about pumpkin spice latte and cosy blankets and more about darkness, tiredness and gloominess. I suffer from fairly severe SAD, and the changes in daylight hours are like flipping a switch in my brain. This year seems to have been particularly bad, and I’ve spent a lot of the last month hugging my light box and sleeping (not at the same time!). As usual, November comes and things start to improve, as I adjust to the new light levels and get used to coping all over again.

And there have been beautiful things. The colours of the trees are simply stunning, and I genuinely enjoy the run up to Advent, planning decorations and starting to think about what I want to make people for Christmas presents. Before today’s fog, we’ve had some really beautifully sunny days which have definitely helped as well.

One more thing that I’m looking forward to is the Making Winter link up over at Silver Pebble. I love the idea of gathering together all the positive things about the time of year, so that even when I’m not really feeling it, I’ve got a collection of lovely things to look at. To quote Emma:

“My plan is for us to create a sort of electronic wintry crafting bee. A collection of heartening blogposts, a cosy instagram feed and a Twitter hashtag lined with quilts, yarn, hedgerow liqueurs, crochet cake and lovely twigs. A place of solace on the dreariest days.”

I’ll be sharing my first winter finish by the end of the week, I hope, with many more to follow. I’ve decided to make it a handmade Christmas, so watch this space! In the meantime, have a look at the (stunning) Silver Pebble blog, or check out the #making_winter tag on Instagram. And in the meantime, I’m going to keep taking pictures of the wonderful colours all around me, as a reminder.

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NaBloPoMo #1: The one with the numbers

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Autumn is, by some distance, the worst time of year for me, but I’ll grant you that the light is beautiful at the moment.

I am, I will admit, a last-minute person. I always have been and probably always will be. It’s why I’m better at exams than coursework, good in a crisis but always behind on the day-to-day, and why I sort of love the last-minute-Christmas-present thing. It just works for me.

It’s also why, despite planning to post every day in November, roughly outlining what I want to write about each day, and spending the best part of a week writing blog posts in my head, I’m actually sitting down to write this at 3.30pm on 1st November. Not having posted in a while, I’m out of the habit, and with so much to say, making a start is almost overwhelming. So I’ve fallen back on my trusty lists to see how many of my 2015 goals I’ve actually managed. I’m not going to go through them all in detail, just pick out a few highlights.

WINS

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I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s on my list!

12 books finished – Yes! And more! This has been the year I’ve definitely got back into reading, mostly through audiobooks, but a few paper ones as well. It’s been the big success of the year for me, as I used to be a voracious reader and lost the habit over the last few years. I’ve refined my podcast choices, upped my book list, and am very happy with the result.

2 thumbs healed – So close. I’m so close to this one. After 20-ish years, my thumbs are almost back to a normal shape and size. It’s taken will-power, concentration, and a lot of ups and downs, but I’m delighted with the progress.

LOSSES

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This beast was started last Christmas, and I’m determined to have it ready for our bed on 1st December. For scale, it’s almost as wide as I am tall.

Anything to do with sewing – this has been a yarn year for me, definitely. My sewing machine has been sadly neglected, as in the bad patches that I’ve had, setting up has just been too much effort. I need to think about this for next year, because getting it out and sitting down to sew yesterday made me very, very happy. Somehow I need to combine ‘having things ready to sew’ with a new-found need for tidiness around the flat. So there’s some quilts, and I think some bags, but none of my dressmaking goals. Ah well.

Anything to do with contacting people – I’ve sent some birthday cards, and a few emails, but this has been something of a hermit-ty year for me. Given how much of a slog much of it has been, that’s not really a surprise, but it’s hard re-making contact casually when you’ve lost it for so long. I’m not counting Christmas cards towards this one, as that seems like cheating! On the other hand, I’ve been using Facebook to reconnect with people I haven’t seen in ages, and that’s been lovely, so not a total loss.

All in all, it’s been a mixed 10 months. There have been some real lows, mental-health wise, and some real successes, especially around my personal organisation (it turns out the secret to getting things done is ACTUALLY DOING THEM. Who would have thought??). In the run down to Christmas (oh shush, I’m looking forward to it!) I plan to do a lot of making, more sorting, and to start up some of the good habits now that I want to carry into next year. It’s going to be a busy 2 months until January. Time to get organised!

Anyone else planning on blogging every day in November? Or are you NaNoWriMo-ing? The goal of that is to write 50,000 words in one month, and I’m going to go for 25 blog posts in 30 days. That’s technically not the full NaBloPoMo, but with 2 weekends already booked out, and signs of things getting busier – and the fact that I haven’t posted since August! – that feels like an achievable stretch. And if I do manage every day, even better!

Here’s a sample of some of what I’ve been up to since I last saw you, and I’m looking forward to catching up with everyone this month.

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Yarn Along: So that happened

I had a slightly odd experience this morning. Last week, I’d fully intended to participate in the Yarn Along, and wrote most of a post which only really needed tweaking and some pictures adding. Then at lunchtime, I was hit with a massive migraine, the effects of which I’m really only just over. But it’s Wednesday again, and I thought it would be easy to just go back, edit the post and put it up here.

Except the two projects I was talking about have both been finished, as have the books I was listening to. Apparently it’s been a productive week, possibly due to the enforced time of rest – I slept for the best part of two days, and when I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t really up to doing much apart from lying under quilts crocheting.  I have found this tiger to be an excellent crafting companion. He doesn’t interrupt my counting, he doesn’t try to play with the ball of yarn, and he’s great for propping a pattern up on.

Does anyone else find they go in cycles with their crafting? I find that for a couple of weeks, all I want to do is start things. I spend time on Ravelry matching patterns and yarns, I swatch, I fill my heap of project bags with all kinds of lovely things. Then in the middle phase, I despair because I feel overwhelmed with works in progress. In the last phase, I have a spurt of energy and seem to finish things left, right and centre, and I just want to be DONE. And towards the end of that phase, I start the ‘what shall I make next?’ process all over again, and have to be crowbar-ed out of my Ravelry library. 
It’s not just me, right?

As part of my finishing spurt, I’ve blocked a cardigan and a shawl, both of which are still drying. That takes the number of FOs that need photographing to four. I’m going to have to take them on holiday with me at this rate! In my concentrated effort to be DONE, I’ve picked up my Hap again and finally settled on an edging that, if I don’t exactly love it, I can live with. There’s not much yarn left, so I’m hoping to be done by the weekend. 
I finished a couple of books, and am currently trying to get to grips with The Weather Experiment. I’m sure it’s a good read, but the narrator has one of those voices that I find it easy to tune out, so I keep missing sections because I’m staring out of the window on the bus or wondering what to have for dinner. As there are so many other books on my ‘want to read’ list, I’m not sure I really want to take the time with something that can’t keep me hooked. I think I’m going to try The Ask and the Answer next. I read The knife of never letting go several years ago, and always wondered what happened next! 

Hopefully with a better head this week, I’ll actually get around to replying to comments and making some too! To see what folks are up to, head over to Ginny’s for the Yarn Along.

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Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again

Alongside the catchy lyrics of the title of this post, I’ve also been using Lamentations 3:22-23 (a surprisingly encouraging book, considering its title!) as my motto lately:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

The ‘new every morning’ bit is just as well, because every day lately I’ve resolved that this will be the day when I [insert productive goal here]. And most days, it hasn’t been. Most days have been like the one before, where I get a few good hours in the morning, where my brain cooperates and I get stuff done, then it’s more or less worn itself out, and I spend much of the rest of the day wrestling with anxiety and exhaustion. That’s apart from the days where the negative stuff just takes over full stop and the whole day feels like a battle for sanity. I can’t listen to yarny podcasts or get on Ravelry without experiencing massive anxiety, and blogging has just been impossible.

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I have, however, made sure to take lots of pictures of flowers!

Continue reading “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again”

#creative_identity. Crochet, The Library and Me.

Over at A Playful Day, this month’s theme is Creative Identity. It’s an interesting topic for me, and while I usually have thinky-thoughts, save them as a draft and never post them, this one has got me thinking enough to finish a whole post.

I like new things. I like starting new projects, learning new crafts, and often lose interest once I’ve got the hang of them. My house and garage are stuffed with odds and ends for different types of yarn, fabric and other crafts (though not paper. With paper, I end up with more cuts than it does.) In May, being so unwell meant that a lot of my creative activity ground to a halt, but the one thing that never stops is my brain.

 The centre of my Hap was pretty much the last thing I finished before I ran out of energy for anything but work and sleep.

It occurred to me in the middle of it all, with beautiful creative posts swirling around me, making me feel completely inadequate and plodding, that craft isn’t actually how I mostly express my creativity. I love making, I love making up my own patterns, I love beautiful things. I have a serious Instagram and Podcast addiction. But actually, I mostly express myself in my day to day work. I love my job (most days) and I’ve spent a lot of time over the last eighteen months expanding its boundaries.

Libraries are wonderful things. Being a librarian gives me the best of all worlds. I work primarily with people, but I get to handle beautiful objects. There’s always a new challenge, whether it’s budgets or difficult people or a new subject that needs an entirely new section of the library. I teach students how to use catalogues and databases, and I get to see their faces when I show them the amazing research world that’s out there. At the moment, I’m coordinating a massive hardware upgrade, designing on a new website for digital manuscripts, consulting on two exhibitions (one of them international) writing three talks and organising an Oxford-wide survey. I firmly believe that this job is what I make of it, and I intend to make everything.

The thing is, it’s hard to show how creative I’m being. There are no beautiful lines of stitching to photograph, there’s no colours to play with, no fun designs to show off. Like craft, there’s a lot of boring grunt work to be done – and it’s the same whether you’re filling in a grant application or chugging through another massively long row of treble crochet. It’s just that at the end of it, it’s hard to set up a good scene to Instagram. But for me, they both satisfy that part of my brain that needs to make. That needs to see the things inside my head become tangible. I think that need is at the root of my creativity, really. I have to keep this swirling mess of my brain occupied somehow, whether it’s in designing a crochet pattern or volunteering for yet another project that I think the library could help with.

And of course, one of these I have to do, while the other is optional. By thinking more consciously about being creative at work, it’s meant that when I get home in the evening, too tired for anything but food and bed, I’ve still been using that part of my brain, and still have that creative buzz.

 Yes, this is really part of where I work, although my building is the ugly one behind it that we don’t take pictures of!

I realise that I’m incredibly blessed, and certainly a lot of my library work hasn’t been nearly so fulfilling. To be able to honestly stand up and say I love my job is a rare privilege. In the craft world, a lot of the time, work is what you have to do to fund your yarn habit, so I found it hard to see it as creative – it’s not what springs to mind for most people. Then I step back, look at a presentation I put together and realise just how much creativity went into it – I recently spent a whole (Satur)day putting together a Prezi, because I knew to work it had to be exactly the way I saw it in my head. It was hugely hard work, but absolutely worth it. So many people dream of giving up their jobs to ‘do something creative’, but I’m finding my creativity right here.

And don’t get me wrong, I love my crafting. The urge to make doesn’t stop just because I leave the library for the evening. But what’s helped me hugely over the last few weeks is stopping seeing creativity as something I leave at the door when I get to work. Whether it’s using “Cats of the Internet” as my sample research topic, or starting my presentation to Important People with a Terry Pratchett quote, I am immensely fortunate that I don’t have to stop being me to do this job. In the immortal words of the Third Doctor:

[I’m serious about] what I do, just not necessarily the way I do it.

And that has made all the difference. I’ve only been on hiatus from crafting, not from being creative, and these project bags are all just waiting for me to get going again. Watch out, June, here I come!

Yarn Along: At Capacity

It feels strange, but apart from a hibernating cardigan and a blanket that’s waiting to be frogged, these are all the crochet projects I have on the go right now. L-R they’re my Hap, my sadly neglected Freyja, the Frankencardi, and the sample that never was and needs ripping out to start again. I checked my Ravelry pages, and there’s nothing more to be found. As I’ll be away for a few days next week, I’ve been trying to think what else I could start as a nice easy project to keep my hands busy, but I can’t seem to make any decisions. Maybe I’ll just use the blanket yarn to make some simple granny squares, for a different blanket this time. Or maybe not.

Perhaps it’s better not to start, as I have a few dozen sewing projects waiting to be completed, assuming I can manage to get my machine set up. Even that feels challenging at the moment. Between work stuff – which is all-consuming – and home stuff – which has been immensely stressful – I think my brain has actually reached capacity. There’s no more room in here, and for once, instead of wanting to start a new thing right now, I really want to finish things, get them done and clear the decks.

Considering my usual startitis, I’m starting to think I might be sickening with something. Finishing? That’s really not like me at all. Maybe I’m more stressed out than I realise! Hopefully if I can get some of these done and gone, I’ll free up some of my brain capacity for new stuff. Right now, I just want to hunker down with what I have and sew in ends. And this is the woman who wore a shawl for eighteen months without sewing in the last end. Definitely ill!

I’ve been trying to get some books read, but have been disappointed in everything I’ve started lately. The ‘Audio Crimes’ collection of short stories that I borrowed contained 4 dull and 1 averagely interesting story, while ‘The Painted Lady’ by Edward Marston which I’m listening to at the moment isn’t quite working for me. There’s ‘Blood and Beauty’ to try, which is historical fiction, and I’ve downloaded ‘The Gunpowder Plot’ by Antonia Fraser, in the hopes that some good non-fiction will hold my interest, but otherwise, it’s back to the podcasts!

I’m running a little late, but joining up with Ginny this week, after a few weeks off. Looking forward to catching up with everyone!

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15 in 2015: June edition (don’t ask about May)

I think the less said about May the better. Can we all agree on that, please? I spent the first two weeks or so feeling absolutely dreadful, and the next two weeks trying to recover, which was an uphill battle. Stuff has happened that set me back a bit, and I still want to sleep more than I want to be awake, but I’m definitely emerging from the other side at last. Now is the time to try to put myself back together again, little by little, as trying to do too much sends me rolling right back down again.


What I mostly seemed to do in May was take pictures of flowers. I’m actually okay with this.

But as it’s a Monday and the first of the month, it seemed like a good chance to draw a line under the last four weeks and start again. One good sign is that I’ve realised my Ravelry Projects list is looking a little empty, and while I have some things that I’m finishing off, there’s nothing on it that I can just pick up and stitch at the moment. Going through my library and my stash, I’m starting to get excited again, which has to be a good thing. My lists and plans and gearing up again, so it’s the perfect day for a 15 in 2015 check-in.

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I had to go back to April to see how I’m doing on my 15 in 2015 goals. And it’s not so bad, really. I’ll do a full half-year round up at the start of July, but here’s how I’ve done for April and May.

14 New recipes tried twice
This has actually been my most successful one, since I started using Jack Monroe’s recipes. They’re simple, tasty and mostly made from ‘storecupboard’ ingredients, which means I don’t worry if I don’t make what I planned, as the ingredients won’t go off! We’ve had turkey and chickpea burgers, cauliflower cheese carbonara (fab!), mushroom and kale soup, and haddock kedgeree, all of them at least twice. We’ve also had Mushroom Tea Bourgignon (a bit dull) and spaghetti puttanesca (not entirely successful, but I know how to solve the problem) once each, but I’m sure we’re going to have them again. That’s pretty good going for what’s been an otherwise uninspired month!

12 Books finished
I’ve read (or been read to) quite a lot, and I think my total for the last couple of months is 3 books, which is great for a time when I haven’t wanted to interact with anything much, let alone literature.

9 Friends emailed
Not as many as I’d like, but I managed to email 4 people in the last few months, which feels like a real achievement.

8 Patterns written
Not completely written, but I’ve got 2 full samples ready to be turned into written patterns, and an idea for a third.

0 Stash acquired
I’ve absolutely kept to this one, despite extreme provocation from all the wonderful fibre festivals that have been going on lately, and the amazing pictures on Instagram from Quilt Market. Sorting the garage yesterday, I realised that I really do have an epic craft stash – fabric, yarn, notions, beads, bag handles, you name it, I’ve got it. It’s rather inaccessible in the garage, and not being able to see it, I tend to forget I have it. One day I will have a permanent craft space, oh yes, and then we’ll see what I can make!

Overall, that’s not too shabby, I don’t think. The goal for June is to set my sewing machine up in the living room in a way that doesn’t drive me nuts. Our flat is quite small, and having too much out at once makes it feel rather claustrophobic, but I can never be bothered to set up and put everything away each time, so I need to work something out, or my sewing goals will never be met. I have too many UFOs for that to happen!

June has started cold and grey, but I think that means it can only get better. And if it doesn’t, at least I’m getting good wear out of all my woolly shawls! Hope your month has been manageable, and I’ll be back on Wednesday with a WIP round up 🙂