Archives for the month of: October, 2013

lemons

No, no, no. Not a starvy, fasty, juice-y one. Just a planned period of time where I spoil myself with some clean, wholesome food; instead of ramming grease and simple carbs down my neck during the brief interludes from manic office and mothering life. Why not. I’m worth it. Plus I NEED it.

I’ve always fancied that I look a little younger than my 37 years. Not that hanging on to youth is a big prize in my opinion, my 1991 perm and acne deserve to stay buried in the annals of history, but looking ‘fresh’ is something I value. Recently, my face and figure have been racing up to my birth certificate age however, and are in danger of lapping it. No longer do people appear surprised when I tell them my age (and yes I know much of it is politeness, like when an old lady at the bus stop tells you she’s ’82, you know’ and you have to look incredulous), in fact they are more likely to tell me I’m looking ‘tired’, ‘ill’, ‘pale’, ‘rundown’. Pick a vaguely insulting adjective of your choice.

It’s got the point where blusher ain’t cutting it. But more importantly than my appearance, I’m starting to worry I’m just not a very nice person anymore. I am tired a lot, and grumpy. I complain and I snap irritably at my children. Yes, life is busy, but I’m not doing myself any favours with my appalling diet and exercise regime. I think I may have the worst eating patterns of just about anyone I know. Certainly more than anyone else in my demographic. I eat like a 17 year old boy. A neglected one, who lives in a hovel smoking weed and eating takeaways intermittently. Not that I smoke weed. Honest. My addictions lie elsewhere. Sugar, wheat, salt. All the crappy stuff. And the exercise thing? Well, I just don’t. Ever.

I have a monthly massage to help my slumpy knitter’s shoulders at the fabulous Natural Health Centre. My therapist Jean is an advocate of healthy living, and a fantastic advert for it I may say. Very glowy. She told me about Jane Shrivner’s Detox Programme. I had heard of it before. It’s one of the original round of programmes that were very popular a decade or so ago, combining eating well with exercise and beauty treatments. I was working at The Body Shop at the time and sold a gazillion cactus bristle brushes for the dry body brushing which is an important part of the detox. My therapist knows Shrivner professionally, and tells me she has updated the detox several times. It’s the orginial book I bought though, and read cover to cover. And do you know what? I am totally up for this. Not in the half-arsed give-it-a-go way I consider a lot of things, but in a proper stick-to-it 30 day kind of way.

The key thing about this particular detox is that its not particularly restrictive in any way. Yes, it means cutting out caffeine, sugar, wheat and dairy, but although that may be a challenge there is nothing there I feel I really should be eating anyway. I have chronic rhinitis (perpetually snotty nose in layman’s terms) and I have wondered if an exclusion diet might help identify if wheat is a problem; I eat it A LOT.

Instead of fretting about what I can’t have, I’ve been able to think of loads of nourishing and good foods I can have. And no girl from good Irish stock is going to cry at the loss of wheat when potatoes are still on the menu (roasted in olive oil no less!). The only thing I’m struggling with is giving up eggs. In my world, they are not dairy, and I only have eggs from the farm up the road so they are as organic as organic can be. I may re-introduce them before 30 days, we’ll see. I love eggs.

But before I go and buy all of Holland and Barratt, I have been preparing. You know; fail to prepare, prepare to fail and all that. I have pages of lists of meal ideas and things I will be able to eat. PAGES. My plan is to start at the weekend as I have a quiet one planned and two days annual leave booked Mon/Tue. I have already quit caffeine and booze and come out the other side of the headaches so that’s not so bad. I anticipate some difficulties given my intensely emotional attachment to food (how does one celebrate without cake??), but it’s only 30 days. And Autumn is such a fabulous time to detox. January Schmanuary. When is it more important to get your immune system in tip top shape than just before winter hits?

At the moment all of the Christmas festivities seem a long way away, whilst all the socialising budget is eaten up with Christmas shopping, so it’s a good month to lay low and eat brown rice.

Wish me luck!

I thought I should insert some kind of ‘before’ picture of myself here, but I bottled it, so here is a picture of some lemons instead. Very Detox-y

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As reports of howling gales and torrential rain fill the radio and TV, I sit in my cosy living room trying not to think about the squally commute which awaits me in just 9 short hours.

I have also made a decision. I’ve felt it coming for a few weeks now, nagging at the edge of my mind as I sit down to yet another evening of crappy TV (Sleepy Hollow and Bates Motel excluded, natch); it’s time to crack open Game of Thrones again.

I started reading these books at the beginning of year, despite my initial reservations. Having considered the wise words of a good friend who advised avoiding any tome with ‘either a family tree or a map in the beginning’, I nevertheless embarked on what I knew would be a reading marathon, as I had watched my husband consume all 8 volumes previously. I wasn’t expecting much, I was the girl put off LOTR by too many battles and beards for goodness sake, but I was gripped from the start.

I’ve enjoyed historical literature in the past, and this had just enough quasi-queens and castles to keep me going, and I found I could overlook some of the extended battle sequences in favour of the strategic game playing that led to them. I enjoyed the characterisation and the way the action moved throughout different parts of the created world. Plus, it had dragons in. So, win.

I’m not expert enough to wax lyrical about the plot or world George RR Martin creates at length, this is the wrong blog for that, although I am sure there are very many out there. Indeed, I often consider it a curse that throughout life I have been geeky enough to be a fan of stuff like this, but never geeky enough for my passion to come out the other side of cool.

But enjoy it I do, and the point of this post was just to say I am re-commencing reading; at the start of volume 3. I stopped fairly abruptly in May when the sun came out, it just didn’t feel right reading this without a onesie on, or a whisky at my side. Or indeed, without the wind howling outside.

It’s seems I have all those ingredients ready once again. So in I go……………

It was a tense Sunday evening Chez Minx. Moods swung wildly between anticipation, anxiety and abject horror. No, our overwrought emotions weren’t a result of Downton Abbey’s rape storyline (although, WTF?); I was washing The Blanket for the first time.

The Blanket is probably the biggest achievement of my knitting career thus far. It’s definitely the biggest FO. Consisting of a gazillion* squares, it took me the best part of two years and one pregnancy to make.

blankie chair

I knitted it from Shelly Kang’s rather excellent tutorial, and it’s a deliciously simple way to use up all the scraps of fingering weight yarn one accumulates from too much knitting. Whatever that is. I am a pretty prolific knitter, but it was too grand a challenge even for me to accrue all the yarn needed for a blanket this size. So I entered into lots of swaps with other knitters, and even a couple of ‘bouncing bags’; where you receive a parcel of scraps in the post and replace anything you take out before posting to the next address on the list.

Therefore, the provenance of some of my yarns is unclear. Most of it is sock yarn, of that I am confident. Generally a mix of wool and nylon, it was in the main washable. But there are some rogue squares of luxury/handwash/rubmeupandIgofunny yarns too.

IMG_20131015_205641

I have avoided washing this blanket for a looooong time. I made it as an investment piece. I hate to use the word ‘heirloom’ on my own projects, it sounds so pompous and loaded with the misplaced self importance some knitters give to their work when it is largely unappreciated by others; but I did knit this with the hope that it would be a fixture on the sofa for a while. And it has proved to be very popular indeed. With The Boy. He sleeps under it, and over this long hot summer he used it in lieu of a quilt when the temperature hit its lowest points overnight. Which is lovely and all that; except he sleeps in the nude and has the hygiene standards you associate with, well, a seven year old boy.

So wash it I had to. But how would it react? It’s not only the fabric content that concerned me, but also how the blanket construction would hold up. You see, I can knit. MAN, can I knit. Quite fast, and very often. I can cast on several projects in one sitting. I even finish some of them eventually. But I am a terrible finishererofferer. My attention span just doesn’t seem to hold until a project’s end. The Blanket has fared better than most, since it was mainly knit-on construction (yay!), but there are the odd mitred squares at the side which were sewn on, and I could only hope they still would be after a spin in the machine.

Because of course this was a machine job. I threw a couple of Colour Catcher sheets in the drum. I’ve no idea why as I’m not even sure what they do or if they work but hey ho. One gentle wool cycle later………

Yes, they are a couple of casualties. One yarn in particular that formed a few of the larger squares has definitely felted, but The Blanket is big enough to be forgiving and you can’t really tell. As for the finishing. Well, I’m not going to show you the back. It looks like a rave in a worm colony. But structurally it is sound. There are a couple of holes where squares have become slightly unattached, but no dreaded unraveling.

But the real test? One little boy gave it his seal of approval

sleepyboy

*Square count is estimated.

norma bates blue dress

Ever feel like someone has stolen your fantasy wardrobe?

Occasionally a woman comes along who encapsulates everything you want to convey with your style: class, individuality, a nod to timeless elegance, murderous tendencies..

OK, scrap that last one.

In Bates Motel, currently showing on Universal, Thursdays at 9pm in the UK, we meet Norma, mother to infamous Norman (played by an all growed up Freddie Highmore), in a prequel of sorts. It may be stretching it to call her murderous, although she is indeed a murderess (not technically a spoiler, this has been airing in the UK for over a month-where have you been people?!), at least once over so far.

Not entirely unsympathetically drawn, Norma is a strong woman struggling to open a motel in a town full of slowly unravelling secrets, whilst trying to protect her shy and somewhat charming boy from his inevitable descent into the monster we are more familiar with.

And she does it all whilst looking absolutely fabulous (split lip accessory optional).

blue cardi

The scheduling clash of Peaky Blinders with Bates Motel caused a bit of consternation in our house for a few weeks, but now there is no contest.  Whereas the former combines accurate period detail with a contemporary sound track, the latter is more ambiguous about time and place. Ostensibly set in the modern day, the main characters in particular wear clothes more suited to the 40’s or 50’s, making it odd to see shots of Norman clad in a Fairisle jumper and slacks checking his iPhone. This jarring of the characters against their background provides a strange, unnerving atmosphere; the whole series feels very Twin Peaks to me.

I love it.

But nothing so much as Norma’s wardrobes. The dresses! The blouses! The chicness! Vera Farmiga (looking spookily like Gillian Anderson) puts in a cracking performance as the matriarch with control issues.  I’d only previously seen her as a brunette, but here she is a perfect Nordic blonde, very Hitchcock, and cuts a dash in every outfit. The floral dress and fitted cardigan look is one of my own favourites, but like Norma I don’t always play it demure. I’d love to know where this dress is from for example.

Bates-Motel-Vera-Farmiga-as-Mother-Bates

It’s not all flowery frocks. Norma gets down and casual in a while. She has a great range in plaid shirts, and just may be the only woman ever to inspire me to shop for a belted tan leather jacket. But there is one aspect of her style which really has me green with envy. Norma ROCKS a good blouse, and boy has she got some good blouses.

norma blouse

I have always struggled to get shirts to fit, being a somewhat unfortunate combination of shortwaisted and booby. Consequently I am usually flashing my bra through a gap at the front, and the extra material in the length always seems to make its way into a humpback, leaving me looking like a lady Quasimodo. But not our Norma. Not only can she wear a blouse and apron combo with aplomb, she can cook and clean and KILL in that getup!

Us mere mortals can only dream.

Keeping busy on the bus

As I approach my late(ish) 30s, I feel that us bus w*nkers are a dying breed, amongst my demographic anyway.  Most are drivers, the others smart enough to score jobs close to home. Not me. I spend on average 10 hours a week riding the 45, one of the busiest and most congested routes in Birmingham.

That’s a lot of hours to sit and do nothing. Not that I subscribe to the very modern notion that we need to fill every second of our lives engaged in STUFF.  Watch any supermarket queue or outdoor coffee shop seating area and you will see everyone staring at their phones, using the time to check up on news, email, Twitter, what Facebook friends are having for lunch etc. No, I’m all for a precious bit of pure daydreaming time, tuning out and relaxing the mind. But the bus commute is not that time; even if the pungent stench of super strong marijuana does occasionally make me feel a little fuzzy.

Staring at one’s phone is definitely the number one pastime of my fellow passengers. Closely followed by reading the Metro or paperbacks, listening to music or indulging in anti-social behaviour. Which is why knitting is such a boon; it allows you to avoid eye contact and therefore unwanted confrontation. Of course, people who talk to you on the bus don’t always want to kick your face in or bring you to Jesus. Sometimes they want to know what you are knitting. I LOVE THIS. Not enough people knit, or even appreciate the craft and give it the respect it deserves (Shreddies grannies, I’m looking at you), and I am on a constant mission to spread the woolly love. I’ve had some wonderfully warm and friendly chats with people through my knitting, I value how it can bring people together.

But commuter knitting is not for the fainthearted. You have to have a thick skin at times. A while ago whilst sitting in routine traffic, two teenage girls were pointing and giggling, calling me ‘sad’ and asserting that ‘some people have far too much time on their hands’. Then they sat doing nothing for another twenty minutes as we sat stationary in the jam. Whatever.

You also have to be pretty flexible. Not in a roll-with-it, up-for-anything kind of way, but as in physically bendy. Knitting on a busy bus can take some contorting, especially if you sit on that weird seat halfway on the lower deck with the jutting wheel arch. You will generally have to keep one arm still and let the other do all the work. As a yarn thrower, I find this challenging.  I tend to go for an aisle seat and hope I don’t elbow anyone standing in the crotch. I also get a monthly shoulder massage. I figure I’d need it anyway even if I were a phone gazer: The very act of riding the bus is stressful enough. Small projects are the best for this kind of activity, and a circular needle will minimise potential injury to other passengers.

Finally, you will struggle if you have any standards of cleanliness whatsoever. I can tolerate an unusually high level of grub, I think mainly down to my constant public transport use over the years. Use a big handbag to keep your yarn in and have it on your lap. You will not, I repeat WILL NOT, want your lovingly wound ball of superfine alpaca cashmere blend falling on the filthy floor and rolling in Greggs pasty crumbs, kebab sauce and/or vomit.

My time is precious. I am currently in a deep cycle of guilt about my stupid working hours and the time I spend with my beautiful children. I can’t justify the long hours of recreational knitting I used to enjoy, and come 9pm I’m fit for bed. Commuter knitting offers me the chance to churn out beautiful scarves, socks and hats, all which serve me well on those draughty February buses.

Give it a try. I recommend it.