Monthly Archives: August 2011




A young man with dyed red hair is standing in front of an alpine scene: there are grey mountains, blue sky, green hills and chalet roofs in the background

K and I choose our traditions carefully because I don’t like breaking a streak. One is that we go away for our anniversary. Having an anniversary in early September makes it a lot easier: in Europe, the schools have gone back and the weather is still warm.

This photo was taken in Courmayeur, Italy, in 2004. It doesn’t really count as part of the tradition as we’d only been Going Out for about two days. But I like to impress, so I took K to Italy for lunch.

Despite this, if asked, he will tell people that our first date was  to see Catwoman.

K, a white man with brightly dyed red hair, is standing on a terrace overlooking the chalet rooftops of Courmayeur. The sky is summer-blue and Mont Blanc is grey and green in the background – it’s too early for snow on the south face.

Lark Rise – pattern remix

Lark Rise – pattern remix

Piece of white and yellow knitting roughly shaped like a cropped sweater with the sleeves cut off

It may not look like much but the Lark Rise pattern by Rowena Sweeney is one of the few baby gifts I’ve made which was so useful the parents asked me to knit another one.

Knit in cotton and worn backwards (i.e. with the straps crossed at the back) it makes an excellent dribble bib – and a pretty good comforter, too, in one case.

Knitted wrap/shawl with two long triangles coming down from shoulders to under arms, forming front.

As always, having knit this pattern more than twice, I’ve made some alterations. The changes below aren’t big, but they do let me churn these little beauties out a lot quicker. It’s a brilliant pattern and I’ve knit one as part of most baby gifts I’ve given in the last year.

Aran weight cotton – 100g makes about one and a half: Rowan All Seasons (white) and Peaches and Creme (white and yellow)
4.5mm needles
This makes a larger size than the original pattern – about 6-12 months. Using DK weight cotton and 4mm needles makes a 0-6 month size.

Download Lark Rise by  Rowena Sweeney from her Ravelry store. At time of writing, the pattern was free.

I found the stitch pattern tricky to work in cotton, as the yarn doesn’t have the elasticity of wool. Instead, I used a stocking stitch centre and continued a 4-stitch moss stitch border up the sides.

increase row K1, P1, K1, (P1, K1) into next st, knit to last 4 sts, (K1, P1) into next st, K1, P1, K1

fronts remember to work the moss stitch border on both sides of the front (i.e. left and right)

left decrease row K1, P1, K1, p2tog knit to last 4 sts, moss to end.

right decrease row 4 sts of moss, knit to last 4 sts, p2tog, K1, P1, K1.

Continue as instructed – you only have to work one more row of decreases after the moss borders meet, so just repeat the decrease row as set.

Kindle – review

Kindle – review

I didn’t want a Kindle. I read a lot and thought I didn’t need one. I like secondhand bookshops, libraries and charity shops. I like the pictures on the cover and the familiar weight of a well-loved book.

Fortunately, my parents didn’t ask if I wanted one – they bought me one as a gift. And it’s rather brilliant.

A portable library
I’ve got over 100 books on my Kindle. I can go on a trip and not worry about running out of reading material halfway through the month never mind halfway through the journey.

That also means I can switch between books more easily and have even more on the go than before. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing though.

Can knit and read
As the Kindle doesn’t need to be propped open, it’s easy to do something else with your hands while you read. I tend to knit but you might use a cycling machine or pair socks or wash up.

Free samples
Any time someone recommends a book, I download the sample – it’s the best way of keeping a ‘maybe read’ list I’ve ever found and as a result I’m reading more books by new authors than ever before.

More money to authors
Until I got a Kindle, 90% of the books I bought were secondhand, because of the price. Now 90% are new. While I’m giving less money to the Red Cross shop, I’m giving more money to the authors who wrote the books I love.

Can’t lend or give away books
It’s harder to share books with friends as they have to buy the books I recommend rather than borrow them. And I miss the thrill of finding something brilliant somewhere unexpected.

Hard to browse
You can judge a book by it’s cover – that’s what they’re for. Amazon’s site and the Kindle’s collections system don’t use this information. If you know what you want, you’ll find it but if you’re not sure it’s easier to browse a bookshop for a new book or an old-fashioned bookshelf to find something you’re in the mood for.

Free can be expensive
There are hundreds of free books available on Kindle, which suddenly makes paying even 99p for one seem expensive. Unfortunately, the diamonds are surrounded by a lot of rough. Reading books I don’t enjoy is a waste of time, even if they’re free.

In six months, the Kindle has changed the way I read. While there are downsides compared to paper books, I wouldn’t hesitate to replace it if it got broken or stolen: I’m a convert.

Cambridge – still common

Cambridge – still common

A row of cottages with two cows grazing outside and a path in the foreground.

Cambridge is very green. The city centre is bounded by the river and broken up by wide open spaces which mostly only have trees round the edges. They’re well used. Picnickers, dog walkers, runners, cyclists, kids playing, teenagers drinking, people sleeping rough – every segment of Cambridge society seems to have an interest in these bits of open land.

But my favourite passers-by are the cows.

Picture is of two cows grazing on Midsummer Common in front of a row of charming cottages – one with roses at the door – which now cost something like half a mill each. 

Living more with less

Living more with less

I’m really interested in minimalism or simple living as a lifestyle.

Partly it’s aspirational – I love the idea of travelling around the world armed only with a computer and a job I can do from a deckchair on the beach and I hate the idea of spending any time at all cleaning tchotchkes. (That’s why all the souvenirs I own are either useful or dusty.)

Another part is the enviromental impact, both personal and global.

On a global level, it’s clear that the Western rate of consumption is unsustainable – if you’ve ever worked in a shop or factory you’ll have some idea of how much stuff winds up in landfill before the carefully made and advertised knicknacks even make into the home. So I’m trying to buy less, consume less, throw away less.

Owning less also has a big impact on my personal landscape. In a purely physical sense, it helps me stay organised, spend less time cleaning and display the things I love.

As a kid, I was a packrat and I still have a bunch of stuff at my parents house. When I moved countries for university, it gave me a clean slate – which I promptly filled with stuff. Combining my stuff with K’s stuff helped me realise that other people’s stuff is annoying and an over-stuffed house is a pain to live in. Plus, renting a larger place so there’s somewhere to put all the stuff is expensive.

It’s a work in progress, but culling my stuff over the last couple years has already made it easier to move house, which we do quite often, and has also allowed K & I to move into a shared house with some of our favourite people.

In turn, sharing a home with other adults means less stuff: we share chores and bills and tools as well as movies and games. Which means more good things for everyone.

I got interested in minimalism through blogs, but minimalist blogs often seem quite homogenous, and the same advice is repeated over and over without much critical thought. Ironically, I’ve found I tend to keep reading blogs with a wider focus. Here are five of my current favourites.

Minimalist Mom
Combining minimalist, travel and family life. This Canadian family have just moved to the UK, which I find particularly interesting.

Minimalist Knitter
Minimalism and knitting don’t usually go together as crafting both requires stuff (raw materials, tool) and produces stuff (lovely stuff, of course) so it’s an interesting ebb and flow. Robyn is also documenting a minimalist pregnancy.

The Variegated Life
Thoughtful posts about work/life balance, choices and parenting. The blogger is a writer, and writes about writing too.

Jerri’s Organizing and Decluttering News
Great tips from a professional organizer as well as in-depth articles.

Miss Minimalist
This is one of the few pure-minimalism blogs in my reader. It’s well written and I like the weekly ‘real life minimalists’ feature which showcases a range of stories.

Converse Booties Baby – pattern remix

Converse Booties Baby – pattern remix

A pair of red and white baby shoes which look like converse high tops are shown sitting on a white window frame
Picture of a pair of newborn-size handknitted baby bootees designed to look like a pair of red Converse high-tops.

I knit these for a friend’s baby this week and think they’re charming. However, I did wince when I realised I had 14 ends to weave in – the making up took longer than the knitting.

I remixed the pattern when I knit the second one to simplify it. It’s a cute pattern and easy enough for a beginner to make.

The Converse Booties Baby! pattern by Crystal was free at time of writing. My alterations are below.

Materials I used
DK yarns in red (MC) and white (CC)
3.5mm straight or circular needles
4mm circular needle for magic loop

This gave me a bootee 9cm long (garter st sole part) and 7cm high.
I made ‘laces’ 60cm long which seem about right, maybe a bit long.

Follow Crystal’s instructions until it says to ‘Change to larger needles’ (i.e. rows 1-10).
NB: This will leave a 5cm seam to sew up along the sole. I find this easier than doing a 2-way cast on.
Work row 11 then join for knitting in the round.
For rows 12-18 where it says ‘purl’, knit.
NB: I omitted row 16 but this is a matter of taste.

Shape Instep
You will have to break and rejoin the CC (white) yarn when you start the ‘Shape Instep’ instruction. Leave a long tail and knit row 1 with the tail, not the main ball. This will leave the main ball in the correct place for the rest of the white toecap.

Rows 5-9, carry the MC (red) yarn behind the CC (white).
Otherwise, follow the instructions for ‘Shape Instep’ as written until row 16.

Row 16 do not purl to end. Instead, turn and work tongue, starting with row 2 (a knit row).
NB: the toe shaping is worked over 9 sts. The tongue is worked over the central 7 of these.

Rejoin yarn at centre of back with wrong side facing and purl to end.
Working back and forth, work shaping for both sides at once.

And it’s done! If you’re lucky, you should have 8 ends to weave in and a rather cute pair of baby shoes.

Monkey World

Monkey World

Orangutan resting, using a wide-meshed rope net as a hammock

 One of the rescued apes at Monkey World, Dorset. I assume that the orangutan is resting while using the wide meshed rope net as a hammock but to me the pose looks quite uncomfortable.

Monkey World is rather brilliant. It’s home to over 240 primates who have mostly been rescued from abusive circumstances or the illegal pet trade. Some animals arrive with horrific injuries or addicted to drugs. (This sounds bonkers – why would a chimp be on crack? – but apparently animals used as props are regularly doped by unethical people.)

A few of the animals at Monkey World are the offspring of rescued animals, which – as a visitor and purely selfishly – is lovely because they are so. damn. cute.

I’ve visited twice and would love to go again. I highly recommend it as a day out – the site is extensive so give yourself at least a couple of hours to get round it.

There’s quite a lot of walking or rolling involved. The paths are mostly level, smooth and wide but there aren’t many benches or stopping points. There are two cafés, though: one near the entrance and one at the centre of the park.

This Writer’s Code

This Writer’s Code

Now that I’m self-publishing, I can set my own standards, and I can set them as low as I like – you’ll notice I haven’t done any in-depth research to bring shocking news into the light. (And that’s not just because I’m not getting paid.)

With no boss to keep me in check, I could be racist, sexist, lie or just be wrong and there’s not a lot anyone could do about it, apart from complain in the comments.

It’s an odd feeling.

It’s like leaving home: no one has a vested interest in teaching me or imposing their standards on me. It’s freedom and responsibility.

Now I have to sift through all the things I’ve been taught or absorbed or simply believe to build an ethical code for my own work.

I’m not starting from scratch: I have a few long-held beliefs which form the basis of This Writer’s Code. Some of them are so deeply ingrained that it makes me wince when people ignore them, even in casual conversation; others I am still working on.

Don’t be a douche
Don’t steal; attribute all quotes.
Try not to be -ist. Check your priviledge and learn. Try harder next time.
Don’t be cruel – there are people behind the usernames, even the trolls.

Get it right
Check the facts. Check the facts again.
Change the story to fit the facts, not the other way around.

Ads are not editorial
Make it clear what’s been paid for.
(So far – nothing although if anyone wants to cover my hosting costs, I’m sure we could work out a deal.)

How to Pack Light

How to Pack Light

Travelling light is easier when going for a month than two weeks: if you know you’ll have to do laundry, you can just pack for a week but if – like me – you hate washing your undies in the sink, then there’s always the temptation to slip in a couple more pairs of knickers, another t-shirt, a pair of shorts and save yourself the trouble.

I’ve taught myself to pack light over the last few years, spurred on by EasyJet charging for hold luggage – and sore muscles from lugging a 20kg bag across London. Here’s how I do it:

Think about it in advance
Honestly, I think about packing well before I start doing it. I find it’s a good thing to think about as I’m drifting off to sleep, partly because it’s dull.

Beware of special clothes
For events like weddings, beach holidays or skiing, try pick outfits which can be reused as ordinary wear. For example, I can wear a t-shirt for ski and après-ski as long as the après-ski comes first.

Be honest
Packing light is relative. If you want to wear a different outfit every day, see if you can mix and match or pack physically light, small items. If you’re happy wearing the same shorts all week, but can’t face a week at the beach without half a dozen books to read, swap out the clothes for paperbacks. I’ve done both, and my top tip is: buy an eReader.

Take 3 things out
When you’re finished packing, take at least 3 things out. This is a tip I got from a Libby Purves book, and it’s a great way of pushing me a little bit past my comfort zone. Sometimes the things come back next time, but often they don’t.

Make a list
That way you don’t have to think so hard about each trip. And if you update it when you get home, you’ll know what not to take next time.

Don’t be prepared
It’s the easiest way I’ve found to overpack. It’s so simple to chuck in an extra pair of shoes (in case these ones rub) and a spare swimsuit (in case I want to wear a bikini) but it quickly adds up. Now, I just tell myself I’ll buy it if I need it – and only pack shoes I’ve owned and worn for at least 2 weeks.

I’m planning on taking only hand luggage on our month-long trip to the USA, so this is exactly what I’m doing at the moment: adding things to my list and taking them out. And trying to convince K to pack light, too, so I can fit more yarn in his bag on the way back!

There is a caveat to my one-bag policy – we’re going to stay with some friends and I reserve the right to check in a small bag with gifts and food from the Old Country if I can’t fit it all in my pack. It’s a small price to pay when someone is letting you stay with them and has a cute kid to spoil!

Sunday Afternoon Football

Sunday Afternoon Football

The thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football - Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals

On Sunday, K and I drove for a couple hours to watch Birmingham draw with Arsenal in a fairly mediocre game.

I’m not a big fan of team sports, either watching or playing, but the trek was worth making because – sing it – it’s not just about the football.

The teams were playing as part of the first FA Women’s Super League, a semi-pro league which, if it’s successful, will hopefully turn into a professional football league. Which might just mean that we’d no longer have people quitting the Women’s England squad because it clashes with their day job while the Men’s England squad get paid millions of quid a week.

Which would be bloody marvellous.

Picture shows the green grass football pitch at Stratford Town under a blue sky with white clouds. The two teams are Arsenal (in red) and Birmingham (blue) but individuals cannot be distinguished.