walnuts and jigsaws


We had a brief holiday in Tasmania, and while there I bought some walnuts, in their shells. Back at the apartment I realised that I had neither nutcracker nor meat tenderiser. An image of Antonio Carluccio entered my mind, and I thought of him wandering about in the woods, eating anything, using his pocket knife when necessary. So I tried opening the walnut shells with a knife, and it worked! At home, I wanted to repeat the experiment, but did not want to risk ruining any of my few sharp knives, so I tried an ordinary bread and butter knife, quite blunt. It worked. And since then only one walnut has required that I resort to the hammer equivalent.


Life has been busy. I am making an effort to get more junk out of the house. When I made the huge effort five years ago, I began at the back of the house and worked my way forwards. This time I am beginning at the front, and I am still in the front room. I have reduced the space occupied by jigsaw puzzles simply by making puzzles share boxes. The largest boxes have left the house, minus their pictures, which I have taped to the shared box, larger pictures accommodated inside. 


This is something I could not have done a few years ago – it would have seemed wrong to cut up a jigsaw box, to disregard the feelings of the people involved in its design and manufacture, and then of the person who might own it next. Huh. Today it is mine. And it only took so much space so that it might be noticed in the shop.


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cats at year’s end


I often carry around a bag of cats. Last year there were five of them travelling to the zoo each week. Some people make a rod for their own back, I stick to crochet cats. 


Pyewacket joined us at Christmas. If the name is ringing a faint bell, perhaps you have enjoyed “Bell, Book and Candle”. It is the movie my son first saw when he was around 15 months old, and it instantly became the movie he had to watch. I don’t know if it happens with all children, or just with most of the children in my family, but it seems that at that crucial age they suddenly become obsessed with a single movie, and have to watch it repeatedly. I felt I was lucky. The more we watched this movie, the more I loved it. I love the soundtrack, which is very important in a movie that is watched daily, sometimes twice, as a loathed soundtrack can drive a person crazy. (An evil family member tried to create an attachment to Mama Mia, that ABBA movie, and I cannot adequately express my dislike for that soundtrack. My sister’s children were introduced, by the same person, to ‘Dirty Dancing’, another movie I am happy to never see nor hear again.) I also like the people in “Bell, Book and Candle”, many unattached adults who lead interesting lives and don’t seem to be bothered about having romances. Anyway, for years it was known as ‘The Meow Movie’, and there are still times when I find myself thinking of it that way. The movie begins on Christmas eve, so it seemed an appropriate time for our own Pyewacket to enter our lives. 


Then came the birthday, just a week later. I was told in the middle of the year that the blankets I make are too dreary. Even the eye-watering blanket my grandmother had made was not bright enough, I assume due to the inclusion of a black border. So I ordered so bright wool from the Bendigo woollen mills, and this blanket seemed to make itself. It was a lot of fun. I also had a ball of brightly coloured random-dyed wool in the stash, so a cat was made to accompany the blanket. Absolutely insane, yet fun.


And now I can carry seven cats everywhere we go.



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cracking walnuts



I bought some new season walnuts, in their shells. I remembered my sister saying how delicious they were last year, while her children were cracking nuts open at Christmas (one of the family Christmas dinner traditions, which seems a bit crazy given the amount of food already consumed before the nuts appear). 

I searched through the utensil drawer. As I suspected, we don’t own a nutcracker. However, we do own a meat tenderiser, a bewildering utensil in our kitchen. I don’t know where it came from – had it been my grandmother’s, or was it already in the house before I came here? Anyway, it turned out to be a very effective tool for opening walnuts. One sharp tap and the shell is broken sufficiently to be removed. I seem to be far more skilled in its use than I have ever been with the myriad of nutcrackers that have appeared at Christmas. 

And the walnuts do taste good!


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sorting lego



School holidaysare almost over again. Time passes quickly, with little time for the computer. We are staying home for the two weeks. My son needs a good play with his toys, and I think it is good for children to experience mundane everyday life occasionally. I belong with the grandparents who moan about how overstimulated children are these days, with the constant succession of activities after school and on weekends. I even know of a grandmother who is denied access to her child because the only day he is home is on Sundays, and that is ‘family time’, not to be interupted by a grandmother. Another suspects that her granddaughters are cranky when they come around for family dinner on Thursdays because they have been exhausted by the number of activities crammed into their week. Just the time in the car would have me cranky.

Anyway, we are having a relaxing time, with bits of origami, painting, walks to the local shops and such. And there has been a good chunk of Lego time every day. 

My way of playing with Lego these days is to provide voices while putting away loose pieces. It sounds insane, but that is the way it has evolved, and we are satisfied enough. I tend to be clumsy with Lego, and the more I try to avoid breaking it, the more it dissolves into pieces in my hands. I think the connections work themselves loose over time, which makes sense in terms of high school physics lessons, with inanimate objects subjecting each other to forces just by fitting tightly together – there they are, trying to get a bit more space around them, pushing each other apart. So I sit on a footstool, plastic containers around me, piling pieces of Lego onto a dusting cloth, giving them a quick wipe, then dispensing them a handful at a time into the appropriate container. Our Lego storage has gone through a few stages. There was the single tub, but it was difficult to find anything. Then there were the cat litter trays, and large flat pieces were kept separate from the others. Soon I learned to keep tiny pieces in their own container too, those with a single hole in them, or those special pieces such as tools and accessories. The people now have their own box that they share with the animals. Train track has a container. Wheels go in the container with the browns and oranges, as there are few pieces of that colour in my son’s collection. At some stage I realised that it was best to keep contrasting colours together, and a little later the accumulated fluff annoyed me, so cat litter trays were replaced by containers with lids.


For all of that, most of the Lego is on the floor, made up into buildings, vehicles and goodness knows what else. Occasionally I gather up loose pieces in a plastic container (one of those litter trays), and that might sit around for a week before the pieces are recycled into another creation, or before I get around to sorting them into their containers. One day my son will do this, but not yet. I used to be the one finding the pieces when they were wanted, but that service is no longer required. It is a relief that my role and his capabilities keep changing.

I used to frantically ask other mothers in the school yard about how they stored Lego, and received some peculiar looks. In some houses, once the model is built, it goes on a shelf, sometimes behind glass doors. Others have a single large tub for loose pieces. They do not assist in the building, and never did. A few mothers put the sets away in containers with many compartments, sorting according to size and shape, and keeping sets isolated. Their peculiar looks were returned. 

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crochet blanket completed

150910 blanketinsun

This project was a joy to work on, and the border far more pleasant than I expected, even though I had to pull it out and substitute a second, less yarn-consuming stitch. And it was fun weighing the yarn remaining at the end of each round. So little left of the 200 g balls – 41 g total!

100910 yarnremaining

The details:

5 X 200 g balls of yarn, 8 ply (approximately 400 m of each).

4 mm crochet hook.

144 squares worked, joined together on the final round.


make a loop (just yarn, or 4 chain ring if preferred)

rnd 1: 12 tr in loop

rnd 2: 2 tr in each space between trebles

rnd 3: *(2 tr, 3 ch, 2 tr, 1ch) in space, (2 htr, 1 ch) in next two spaces, repeat from * total 4 times

rnd 4: *(2 tr, 3 ch, 2 tr, 1ch) in 3 ch space, (2 tr, 1 ch) in 1 ch spaces, repeat from * total 4 times

** to join squares on final round, substitute sl st for a single ch – the second of 3 ch when working a corner (and insert hook into ch to fix st), the 1 ch spaces when working along the sides.

150910 blanketborder


4 rounds identical to rnd 4 of the motif. Spaces where corners have been joined are treated as 1 ch spaces. Just work corners at corners.

Final round: *(tr, 2 ch, tr) into each 1 ch space, repeat from * for the length of the rug.

At corners: (tr, 2 ch) 3 times, then 1 tr in the 3 ch space.

(I liked this better with 3 ch between the two trebles, but realised I would have insufficient yarn for this variation. I liked the spikiness.)

150910 blanketborder2

 Original Border, which I loved, but had insufficient yarn to complete:

Final round: *(2 tr, 3 ch, 2tr, 1ch) into 1 ch space, (sl st, 1 ch) in next 1 ch space, repeat from * for the length of the rug. 

At corners: (2 tr, 3 ch,2 tr, 3 ch, 2 tr, 1 ch) into 3 ch space, (sl st, 1 ch) in next 1 ch space.

150910 awkwardcornerstogether

Where previous space holds a group of trebles, I tried to compensate the following way:

In 1 ch space before corner: (2 tr, 3 ch, 1 tr, 1 dc, 1 ch), (sl st, 1 ch) in next treble (before 3 ch space),

then (2 tr, 3 ch, 2 tr, 1ch) in 3 ch space, (sl st, 1 ch) in next treble (before 1 ch space), (1 dc, 1 tr, 3 ch, 2 tr, 1 ch) in next space for symmetry, continue as before.

Of course, if I had worked one more or one fewer border rounds before this final round, I would not have had to fiddle about at the corners. (Even number of squares, so even number of spaces along the edges. With each round, an extra space is added, so alternate rounds have an odd number of spaces, and for this sort of edging, an odd number of spaces is required, so that each end of the side will require the same stitches in its space to make the corner.) But I wanted to use all of the colours in the border, and to use up as much of the yarn as possible. I don’t mind if the corners are not identical.

150910 blanketborder3

A third border I tried, but did not like so much for this blanket, but will use in future:

sl st,*( 3 ch, 2 tr in next 1 ch space, 3 ch, sl st in next 1 ch space), repeat from *. 

Like the abandoned border, strange things would need to happen at corners where the number of spaces along the side of the blanket is even, and I am not sure what I would do at the corners, maybe some variation on the corners I worked on this blanket.

I don’t know if any of these final rounds have been printed anywhere. I found myself thinking of Elizabeth Zimmermann and her ‘unventing’ of knitting techniques. It seems unlikely that nobody would have done this previously (particularly the ‘V-stitch’ variation I ended up using). I was just too lazy to go hunting about for border patterns, and I did not want to risk using much more yarn than on a conventional round, as for the other colours, only 8 g of yarn remained (from around 32 g at the start of the border). And then I can think of how while no part of the rug is unique, others have used this yarn, others have crocheted this pattern, the final product is unique. 

150910 blanketsection
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150906 plainpopcorn

Normally I eat this with just some salt, pepper and dried oregano. If you haven’t tried popcorn with freshly cracked pepper, but do like popcorn, I recommend this variation.

150906 popcornsnack

For added variety and health benefits, add a little fruit. Mandarins and chunks of banana shown here.

150906 popcornolivesandlettuce

To turn it into a lunch, I added chopped lettuce and a few olives. Very enjoyable.

Now I am wondering if I can present this as a salad for general consumption. It would be unique. In summer I could substitute pineapple for the mandarin, and there are loads of other variations based on such substitutions. 

Or maybe it would be better, certainly more conventional, to omit the popcorn.

And while this might seem an attractive way to entice a fussy eater to broaden their food range, it held no attraction for the one bearing that label in this house. I was not surprised. Perhaps when he is older I will have to drag him off to France to replicate the experience Michael Booth describes at the beginning of “Doing Without Delia” (also published as “Sacre Cordon Bleu”).

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a few notes on clutter


We recently stayed in Adelaide for a week, in an apartment near the zoo. It was an excellent holiday. My son and I walked to the zoo each morning. We soon developed the habit of walking past the pandas and making our way to the children’s section, where he fed the quokkas, and then we would make our way back to the food area so that he could have his early lunch. After that we would look at a few different animals, with each of us choosing a favourite or two to visit. It is a wonderfully compact zoo, and it is impossible to walk along any part of it without being near some animals in an enclosure (this makes it very different to Melbourne Zoo, our regular much-loved zoo), so I made sure we saw many of those other animals too. Mid-afternoon we would have something else to eat, and then we would make our way back to the apartment. 

Usually holiday apartments have me thinking I need to make a better effort to remove clutter from our home. But not this time. We must have made good progress last year, and have sufficient space to breathe. This time I missed several of the luxuries of home. I missed the hot water system that allows me to set the temperature of the water that comes out of the taps. It saves a lot of time in the shower, and eliminates the risk of burns. I always miss the clothes dryer, with its dryness sensor (no need to guess drying time).  I also missed some of our kitchen utensils. Usually it is enough that I take a decent knife and chopping board with me. I realised just how much I love the mugs I regularly use, and the range of china we own. 


However, since we returned I have let the craft projects multiply, breaking one of my self-imposed rules of having no more than one of any sort of project in progress. (I still laugh when I remember my brother pointing out to my mother that if she completed her quilting projects instead of leaving them at the final stage, when the binding needs to be stitched on, she would have at least eight quilts on her bed, instead of ten unfinished projects.) At least the knitting is back to a single project. I knitted a couple of hats in parallel, but they are such short projects that they are exempt – my ears were chilly then, and I did not want to wait until I had finished a large project before making myself a hat. The small crochet project, another cat (as though five are not enough to be lugging to the zoo each weekend), is excusable, as it is a secret project and there is limited time for working on it. The clutter element is in the stash of wool for making the next crochet blanket, although one is still in progress, and in the spinning. I have two spinning wheels, and both are now in use. On one I am spinning carded alpaca, so a clean fibre that requires no work before the spinning. On the other I am spinning raw fleece, so I need to do a little work to prepare it for spinning, and it makes my hands very dirty. It was the first of the spinning projects, and I only began spinning the alpaca because it rained for a week and I did not have the opportunity to card more fibre, an activity that I keep outdoors because it is so dirty.


Oh, maybe it is not as bad as I thought it was.

And I have recently read a fun clutter book, Marie Kondo’s “the life-changing magic of tidying up”. It has been extremely popular since appearing in English, and after a lot of dithering, I obtained a copy and loved it. It is one of those books where just reading the reviews on Amazon, particularly the negative ones, can be a lot of fun. (Many years ago, when I was having a bad day at work, I read some reviews of a favourite Anne Tyler novel, perhaps The Accidental Tourist, and just seeing that people could hold such negative views regarding a book and characters I loved, I felt much better, consoled that someone who seemed so lovely to me could also be a victim of such criticism.) Since reading the book, I realise that some of the reviewers had not read the book properly, and once again I realise easy it is for people to misinterpret what they read. Among the reviews I had read there were people who thought Marie Kondo was saying they should restrict their book collection to 30 books (she doesn’t, and acknowledges that for some people multiple bookcases are not clutter, and the books are used and loved), others think that she endorses tossing other people’s possessions (she doesn’t, she says this is a mistake she made as a child). Some think she has obsessive-compulsive disorder, and others think that Japanese homes must be much smaller than American homes. I thought my Australian house sounded far smaller than the spaces she was describing. I find any time anyone describes a closet, it sounds a room-sized space to me. It is a good book. I think it balances the ‘clutterbusting’ books by Brookes Palmer very well. He describes the heavy feeling of inertia that can be induced by clutter. Marie Kondo describes the lightness and joy induced by the objects we love. It was a pleasant change to read a book that gave permission to own more than some generic minimum of stuff. (Or maybe that is my wilful misinterpretation!)

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