Monthly Archives: November 2008

First candle of Advent

We follow a mixture of traditions at this time of year. I am half German, and a lot of what we do is based on German practices, tempered by English ones. Because we are not religious, and because we want Christmas to be more than a mere consumerist present-fest, we also think about the winter solstice.

We have the same advent calender every year. It comprises twenty five miniature books that tell the nativity story. Every day we read the story for that day, and hang the book on a little metal tree. Every year we have a mad panic at the beginning of December, trying to find where we put the tree last year. Steve is going up into the loft tomorrow to look for it…

Our real tree only goes up on Christmas Eve, and remains in the house just for the twelve days of Christmas. As a child I was always torn between being jealous of other peoples’ December-long decorations, and loving the magic of Christmas Eve when the tree finally appeared.

We bring lots of foliage indoors – the tree, obviously, but also holly, mistletoe and ivy. We have candles everywhere, including on the tree; the practice of burning candles on a tree comes from the tradition of burning a Yule log on the shortest day of the year.

Our tree decorations are simple: we hang straw stars and angels, as well as glass baubles, and a few decorations made by my boys over the years. It is topped with a straw angel made years ago by one of my German aunts, which is a version of the corn-dollies kept over the winter to ensure a fertile crop the following year.

We have a very old crib that I inherited from one of my German great aunts. Every year I tell myself that I really must mend the donkey’s legs, and stick the wise man’s head on with something better than blue tack. Every year all the pieces get wrapped up and put back in their box, unmended. I have gone through this thought process so many times that it has become something of a tradition in itself.

This year, as you can see, my advent ‘wreath’ is more of an advent ‘arrangement’. I could pretend that it’s an artful and carefully-planned minimalist decoration, but that would be somewhat stretching the truth!

I’d love to hear about some of your traditions – what special ways do you have of celebrating at this time of year?

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Druid mittens

So, it’s not all Christmas knitting around here at the moment.

My Druid mittens are pretty much done – the second one is just blocking and then they’ll be ready to wear (and photograph properly!)

Oh, and the yarn casually draped over the mitten? It’s a skein of Cherry Hill Suri Lace Alpaca that I picked up on my recent trip to Iknit. I thought the colours complemented the mittens perfectly and that I could make a lovely cowl to wear with them. The yarn is 100% alpaca, and is dreamily soft and warm!

The pattern I’ve chosen is for a smoke ring with lace edging, but I’m making some alterations to the lace edging, as I’m not too happy with how it looks so far:

I don’t really like how the pointy bits lean over to the left. On the pattern these bits look as though they have been heavily stretched by blocking, but I’d rather make them the shape I like in the first place. If I can’t get it right, I may make the Ice Queen Cowl from last winter’s Knitty instead.

Not just yet though – I have some Christmas socks to make first!

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Christmas knitting update

Hmm… It’s not going too well really. This is how Will’s polka dot socks have ended up:


I spent all day on Sunday trying to get a corrugated ribbing that fitted over Will’s heel without gaping over his ankle, and working out a polka dot pattern that didn’t automagically transform into a polka oval pattern the minute he put it on. Finally I gave up. I’ll come up with an alternative soon…

And Steve’s socks? Well, I decided to use the Nine-to-Five pattern instead of my original choice of Having Hope.  They were looking pretty good, if I say so myself:

Nice stitch pattern, and variegated Malabrigo sock yarn that turned into attractive stripes, instead of pooling nastily as I feared that it would.

A really sturdy heel, knitted with the addition of woolly nylon for strength.

And now?


The problem was that they were just too tight for Steve. I sort of knew this from about the first inch, but carried on anyway, telling myself that all would come right in the blocking.  He very sweetly struggled to get the sock over his heel several times, telling me that ‘no, really, it’s fine!’  – at the same time as the effort of pulling it on caused his face to match the colour of the sock…

I decided to come clean with myself. This is really special yarn, and I want Steve to have a really special pair of socks from it. Just too tight socks, however gorgeous the yarn, are just not what he deserves.

So I’ve started again, this time with a similar but different pattern. This time I’m making the Diagonal Cross-Rib Socks from Interweave’s Favourite Socks. It’s specifically designed for men, and although it has the same number of stitches in a round (70), the leg is worked with a 3.25mm needle, which goes down to 2.75mm for the foot. It is already much looser, and I think it will be fine.

So, I had 6 1/2 weeks to knit six Christmas items (2 mittens and 4 socks), and in 1 1/2 weeks I have completed a grand total of – one. Oh well, all is not yet lost!

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Dear Santa

I know you are Very Busy at the moment, and that you and your elves must be hard at it making all those toys and things up there in Lapland. So I thought I’d help you out a bit.

I saw that Gerard and Craig from Iknit had been to America and smuggled in brought back some yarn. Their newsletter came yesterday, and when I saw what they had in the store, I knew that I had to have some. So, thinking of you, you understand, and wanting to save you some work, I made a detour on my way home last night and stopped by the Iknit shop.

Helpfully, they had a scarf already made up of the yarn. It’s the kind of yarn that doesn’t come one’s way very often, the sort that really, really needs to be touched to be believed. If clouds were warm and dry, or if candy floss was not sticky, this is how the yarn would feel. It is so soft that it feels like nothing in your hands, as though someone has merely breathed warm air between your fingers.

Of course, as I was shopping on your behalf, I didn’t look at the yarn, and I promise not to take it out of the bag until Christmas morning. I’m sure one of your little helpers will be kind enough to wrap it and put it in my stocking, maybe after your’ve been?

I hope you don’t mind. You know that I have been a Very Good Girl this year, and I promise to keep on being good between now and Christmas.

Yours sincerely

Pea xxx

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It’s funny how one thing leads to another…

…and how an apparently negative experience can lead to others that are enriching and fulfilling.

You may remember that this summer I was ill with pneumonia. (I tried not to bitch and moan about it too much, but my normal cheerful disposition was notably lacking for those months!)

That illness caused me to reflect on my life, on many levels.

Steve was in the States when I was most ill – he rushed back as soon as he could, but by the time he got home the antibiotics had kicked in and the worst crisis was over.

This meant that, for those few days, my children were effectively nursing me. At one point my teenage son, under telephone instructions from the doctor, had to wipe my entire body with a cold cloth in order to reduce my dangerously high temperature of 107%. This intimate, loving and yet slightly uncomfortable experience made me think about what it must feel like to be really old and incapable, and having to rely on others for one’s most basic needs.

After the first couple of weeks, the worst of the illness was over. It then took two months before I had enough energy to walk for more than a few minutes. Ironically, during this time I was fine doing my job (I write, so am able to work from home). But leaving the house was out of the question. In total, three months of this year were given over to the illness, and its physical consequences.

Now that I am well again, I find that the illness has had other, more lasting effects on me. I have been questioning whether I am spending my days doing things that I am really passionate about, or whether I am continuing down a fifteen-year old path because I feel it is somehow expected of me.

I find myself quite fearful about my body, and hyper-aware of any minor ailments. I have had a sore throat this week, and have been surprised to notice that my primary reaction to this is one of fear. It’s as if I don’t trust my body not to let me down again.

I have had to work hard to regain my fitness, and have found it hard to lose the weight I gained over those three sedentary months.

But, I began this post by saying how such negative experiences can lead to other, more positive ones.

For over a year now, I have wanted to deepen my understanding and practice of yoga. Going on a yoga retreat last month really helped me overcome my fears about stepping onto a new path in my life, and since then I have enrolled on a foundation course that is the first stage in training to become a yoga teacher. The course starts in January. I am excited about finally making the decision to take the next step on my yoga journey. I’m not sure where it will end up, but that doesn’t matter; what’s important is that I am starting on it.

I have also decided to lay a few more of my childhood demons to rest. In particular, I am taking on the inner voice that tells me that I am just no good at exercising, or indeed at anything physically taxing at all. These are not my messages, they belong to someone else and were internalised by me a long time ago. I am choosing now to leave those messages behind me, to turn my back and walk away from them. To help me do this, I have engaged the services of a personal trainer, who is also a counsellor. For me, this is a big, scary leap into unknown territory and yet, pleasingly, I am feeling great about it.

So, here’s to new paths, small steps and giant leaps!

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