March 2020: unprecedented times

Such strange days we are living in my friends. Who would have imagined only four months ago that our collective lives would be so utterly disrupted by the complacency of our governments and their inability to see what was coming, let alone prepare? (Rant over).

So here we are for 12 weeks at least: after being piped out of school on the 20th, K is at home, bored and lonely. School can be tricky but no school and knowing you likely won’t go back until it’s time for secondary? Very stressful, very stressful indeed. Mr S is working super hard – the last two weeks entirely from home. This last week we got the garage hooked up to the internet and cleared what had been my studio out so he can paint and listen to his music, have zoom meetings etc as much as needed. Keeping a business going in these times is extremely hard work.

Me? Mostly attempting to stay on top of the housework, entertain the young miss and cajole her into daily work on school things one way or another. I’m very grateful that we got the switch at Christmas and that the new Animal Crossing game came out – that’s been a boredom buster of epic proportions. Along with digital art and animation, she is pretty good at entertaining herself even if it’s not how I would like her to spend time – right now though, we have enough of it to spare.

I’m knitting – a jumper, a shawl, mitts and trying not to get distracted by new techniques – but why not? I’m not painting – it’s really hard because I know I will be interrupted almost immediately when I try to settle and Mr S is almost constantly working – but today was the first day I felt up to gardening for a week. I’ve thinned the fruit trees as much as I can stand to; have cleared and planted one bed with my baby herbs from Pepperpot Nursery and got laundry out to dry.

I am feeling a bit tight in the chest and sore in the throat, but don’t have a constant dry cough or fever so – God willing – if I have something it is mild enough to manage here. otherwise, our heremitic life is trundling along, along with millions of others, as we pray and wait out the virus peaking over the next 2-3 weeks.

What I am trying to focus on

It’s a strange time to live through but I’m comforted by knowing that we live at the best possible time to have a pandemic – no, honestly. We are still connecting with people on the internet, we can send money electronically, we have the most phenomenal scientists and medical support and there’s likely to be a safe, usable vaccine in 12 months or so – never before in human history has this been possible – and so as crazy as it sounds, these are all things to be thankful for.

So I finally get time to do the garden, the knitting and sewing, (God willing) the painting and share it with you here, avoiding doomsurfing useless information on twitter where, a friend pointed out, Screwtape no doubt has a blue tick and at least 10k followers. My most useful technique when I can’t even knit is to finally use my kindle – an old one that doesn’t do audio books, that’s for Miss K – and this weekend I got lost in “The Bone Thief” by Victoria Whitworth. I won’t give away too much but it’s set at a time of great upheaval in early Britain, when the kingdoms of Mercia, Wessex and the Danes were all jostling uneasily around and the saints were as real to the faithful as they are to me now. I think that’s one thing that struck me – although we don’t have whole relics (thanks Cromwell) I talk to the saints very much the way the main character, Wulfgar, does. Very interesting and a wonderful escape for a few days.

Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2019

This year was my second visit to EYF and I think I’m getting the hang of it. Last time I dragged my poor mum around it for four hours, after waiting in the queue for an hour having not bought advanced tickets. That was a rookie error although it’s not easy to buy them – they sell out super fast online as thousands of knitters wait for the page to go live and then blam, gone!

I had a class on Wednesday morning with Maddie Harvey, about using a Stitch Dictionary (of which I have five or six) to create a design for a cowl and/or hat. I have to admit I struggled in this: my wool wasn’t ideal, my needles slippy, I had too much choice to get the hang of it and I don’t think I’m a fast knitter, even though I’ve switched to Continental & Norwegian purl, so I’m not thrashing the wool around. Plus at the moment I’m all about stranded colourwork OR big rows of garter stitch and brioche (I’m blaming Andrea Renee for that) so choosing a textured or lace pattern was a bit off. I DID get the hang of it, eventually, but my top tips for this kind of short (3 hour) class are

  • Get there in plenty of time, bring water and yarn that you love, needles that you know work with the yarn
  • DON’T have too much choice or options, if your brain is like mine
  • If you’re a modest speed knitter, aim for a small sample, use your notebook and camera, accept that this is a jumping off point for your project
  • Enjoy the company – We had knitters from Norway, Germany, England, Holland and (of course) Scotland.
samples of different knitted patterns on a table.

Thursday I stayed home, as there was only access on the afternoon and (according to stall holders and visitors) there was a real frenzy AND over-heating. Not my scene.

Friday I got there at 11, a bit late since with pre-purchased tickets you can get in at 9. THat is definitely my plan for next year! I managed to wander around and buy two things I wanted – the new book and shawl yarn from Martin’s Lab (photo) and the glove kit from Ysolda which was spun by JArbon – their merino DK is a thing of dreams. (photo) It was massively busy however – I tried a few times to get colours from the Jamieson & Smith stall and Jamieson’s but they were too busy – just too many people. I couldn’t decide on what to buy at Woollen Flower – amazingly soft hand-dye with plants and unusual fibres so after a quick coffee, got home for my dog – I never leave her longer than I possibly can.

Marquee with thousands (or maybe hundreds) of women knitting and drinking coffee.

Saturday I was up and out early, getting there just after 9 and my goodness, what a difference! I spent a lovely time with Monica from Ardalanish, on Mull. I’ve got a few ideas for what to do with this yarn, involving St Columba and a big cosy cowl. She’s a real superstar and I really recommend visiting or buying from this small farm.

Balls of wool in natural colours from dark to cream, from Ardalanish weavers on the Isle of Mull in Scotland.
Ardalanish Weavers

Next, zip round to Knit with Attitude for a festival special skein of Black Elephant ‘Gloaming’ – to be knit into a colourwork cowl with a variegated light netural which I suspect will be lurking in my stashbox. I accidentally bought a pin there which I love – not sure where I’ll use it – on my coat? on my project bag? Also accidentally bought some ‘Hillesvag Ullvarefabrikk’ Sojle yarn – a bargain and lovely Norwegian yarn which fits in with this year’s theme of green!

Next up, the three skeins of Magpie Swanky sock for the new Curious Handmade shawl, including Edinburgh Lanes, from A Yarn Story. Lovely shop, lovely yarn, beautiful pattern. Ditto Brooklyn Tweeds for the yarn for Lens Flare, a lovely green and neutral shawl. Yes there’s a pattern. I will die mummified in shawls. What can I say, tension squares are not essential…

three skeins of handdyed variegated wool and a pattern of 'Edinburgh Lanes Shawl' by Helen Stewart.

At An Caitin Beag I bought the most amazing pin (see above) – a venn diagram of me (knitting, dogs, feminism!) and a pattern for a cardigan – I’ve no idea how/when I’ll knit it but I’m sure you’ll agree, it is bonny.

Finally, the book for last year’s Shetland Wool Week has the pattern for a bunnet/tam and gloves that are the same as my much loved ones that are mostly lost (only one fingerless glove survives!) – now to track down the yarn colours and I can in future recreate my favourites.

Book of patterns designed for Shetland Wool Week festival 2018.

I was absolutely exhausted and left by 12, having met a few interesting travellers from all over the world – it really is a destination these days and I recommend having a couple of days access, if you can. By the time i went out there was no queue but it WAS busy, so bear that in mind. It is not for people who hate crowds, small spaces (a lady freaked out in An Caitlin Beag because other people just wouldnt’ let her leave!) but it will give you enough inspiration to keep knitting for at least 12 months until the next one. Well done Jo, Mica and all the volunteers, the stall holders and doughty travellers from all over the world for making it such a special, vibrant event. Next up, my test knitting adventures and a finished shawl by Curious Handmade (Helen Stewart) which provides mental health respite and uses one of those amazing skeins that you buy then can’t bear to use because they are so beautiful.

undyed and green wool in front of a pattern for a mixed yarn shawl called Lens Flare by Suvi Simola

New beginnings 2019

So my poor site has been languishing for a very long time now. I don’t blame you if this isn’t the blog you thought it was. We no longer do ‘formal’ homeschool, although given the adapted timetable that Smol has, we have to continue things like French, maths revision and of course, music. Currently she plays piano and recorder although she is aiming for flute in the next year. So far, she is still at the local RC primary school. Scotland has a tradition of denominational education but only, in practice, provision for Roman Catholic children. While we are Eastern Orthodox, this suits us well – she understands that her teachers are church-goers, believers in the same God, that we have the same Bible and same standards, so she feels there is less pressure on her to try and contain her thoughts around feast days and other religious times of year.

To try and re-engage with the blog, I decided we need a spring clean. She is almost 11 and the days of playing with dolls and lace and pinkness are fading in the backview mirror. I downloaded the *gorgeous* and easy to use ‘Weta’ Theme from Elma Studios

but so far I’m finding the new block editor a bit of faff – so back to the old ‘Document’ editor of wordpress it goes. What will I be doing on the blog then, now it’s not exclusively home-ed based? well…

  • Gardening: documenting the blossom, bird and bounty of our garden, which is a huge blessing as well as a LOT of work.
  • Making: I’m making some adorable dolls of different kinds (and price points) to sell over at Katherine & Kitty as well as little plushy toys, *genuinely squee worthy* doll clothes using repurposed silk, satin, wool, linen and leather scraps.
  • Baking: a bit more of this, although obviously we are still dealing with the sensory challenges of ASD for both of the women in the house.
  • Nature: I love walking the dog and will share our little finds when we are out and about.
  • Knitting and Sewing: Knitting has become a real passion of mine – I’m attending Edinburgh Yarn Festival for the second time next week so there will be a LOT of pictures of colour, shawls, fun and more projects. I still have things I bought last year that have not been knitted yet but we all know, whoever dies with the most yarn wins! Sewing is a challenge: I’m overweight and accepting my new/old body is an ongoing dilemma. Health-wise I’d like to be fitter but I’m 47 and let’s face it, my job and hobbies are sedentary. So understanding what to sew, how to fit myself and as she grows, to adapt things to Smol, while maintaining our ideas of modesty and appropriateness will be here too.

Now, after a thoroughly boring bit of housekeeping and the obligatory updating post, I’d love to hear if there are any topics in sewing, gardening, teaching, learning, whatever that you’d like to hear more about. I realised that I’ve learned quite a lot in the last almost 50 years and I want to keep a record of it here, for Smol and for anyone else who, like me, finds that “doing small things with love” is a revolutionary way to live. I’ve added the Prayer of St Ephraim, our additional daily prayer for Lent, at the top of the post. It really does sum up the way we have to live so perfectly and I wish I could use it all round but keeping it for Lent does make it more special. I’d also recommend “Tending the Garden of Our Hearts” by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger for families during Lent – short, daily meditations to help us focus on the themes of Lent and make sure the young – and older ones – are engaged in the readings.

When what you want isn’t what’s right or easy.

I’ve been avoiding the blog for a while. Not because things haven’t been moving along, not because I haven’t actually *whisper it* made things or done things. Because in April this year, Miss K went back to school. To her local, catchment area RC (Roman Catholic) state primary school… and so far, it’s working.

The area around it is euphemistically called an “area of regeneration”, so they receive high levels of funding and have the most amazing staff I’ve ever met. Miss K started at the end of P4 for the summer term and has, so far, made it almost to November. She went back part time, she had in class ongoing support from the first day. She has a tent in class where she can go when it’s too much and she needs time to calm down, although this is now something she avoids as social pressure to be normal and conform increases.

I’d say for the first term up to the summer break, her best friend was a boy with a similar obsession with crazy science (he knows a lot more facts but they both have a big vision and intended to go to Oxford together to study science). Since the summer holiday, she has been BFFs with a small red haired girl, H, who joins in her obsession with soft toys, cuteness and other girlish things. She has had many more bumpy days since September – There have been few weeks where she has survived a whole five days, as we ramped up her attendance to full time and it’s not really worked. What has worked? Seeing the amazing, unflagging, dedicated skill and love the teachers put into their time with her. I’m not sure the PSAs are just the same but her ASL teacher is surely an angel sent down from heaven… who is about to go on maternity leave… 

Anyway. Over the next few weeks I’ll try and update with my projects: sewing, knitting, baking, gardening, the usual. I spent FOUR DAYS while Miss K was away reorganising and decluttering her room so it’s now the nicest place in the whole house – she loves it so much she’s started sleeping on her OWN and voluntarily stops watching TV to go play in it. Wow. More soon.

Homeschool in February 4-8/52

The days are a little milder so I started by forcing her to walk more. I’m not sure why she hates it so much – I don’t remember hating it but I had no choice: we often had no car and my parents refused to get the bus so…
Anyway: the weekly routine is:

Monday: piano am, badminton pm

Tuesday: recorder at noon

Wednesday: Pony riding and Gorebridge

Thursday: dance am, theatre club pm

Friday: Gorebridge

Somewhere in there we do maths & ‘functional’ literacy – the maths is an online progressive programme where she does a short module each day.


She is so excited about Laika coming for a holiday that we had to go see her early. The visit went so well we were fairly heartbroken when she left.

Homeschool 1-4/52 

At the Alphonse Mucha exhibition in Glasgow – she was singularly unimpressed by the beautiful drawings and engravings but did a few sketches of her own, which I am not to share on here.

The dolls have become very popular so of course, there was a doll picnic or two. She uses a German bone china set which is very carefully played with – I have never seen such a careful child before.

We tried ice skating. I managed around twice but she was not happy with it and it was a very expensive 30 minutes.

The daily routine is very much hit or miss at the moment. Too many demands and she will refuse to do anything. Too few and she tries to watch TV all day. The contrast with our screen free few weeks in December is pretty awful.

I think I have to admit temporary defeat on he project based idea for now: despite being obsessed with the Lion King 1 & 1/2, there was no way to get her sitting down or lying down and looking at the amazing materials I found about Kenya. Maybe next month!

Yeah she still knows how to get on my good side: she used some of her new Klutz lettering set to make this one.

Sometimes I try to make plans. I like the bullet journal approach as it makes the chaos seem almost managaeable?

A thank you note from the Wellie Wishers (smaller cousins of the American Girl dolls). I really love the unprompted poetry in the middle! 


On our way to recorder lesson at the end of the month, I pointed out the difference between the two flats: lying panes – aren’t they great? The windows are still 6 over 6 but they lie on their sides.

Lots and lots about art and skillshare and watercolour…

An old one from our (so far) only trip to Devon. I think she can only have been 18-20 months and was nicknamed “The Claw” for not good reasons. Her main phrase was “mine”, even when it clearly wasn’t…

Learning about bulbs as it is almost Spring here. 

Christmas 2016

Christmas and New Year were official homeschool holidays. I did some quick sewing, knitted a birthday gift for a January person (and developed painful RSI), and we did our best to keep the excitement to manageable levels. K finds it hard to focus on anything else if a big event is coming so it would have been almost impossible to learn much anyway. I am looking forward to getting back into our routine next week though!

Week 6: a bit of this, a bit of that

After last week’s challenges, I decided that we needed a big change. K has gotten into the habit of waking at about 4 or 5 and then hogging the iPad until 7, when she will often swap it for TV. I know. Over the past two weeks we noticed a big deterioration in her concentration and mood, so when I saw an article about how screens were making children moody, lazy and angry, I thought: why not?! The author suggests a four week “Fast” which is appropriate at this time of year.

Monday

After I announced the screen fast, K immediately perked up. It was amazing – she suddenly became more playful, happy and almost relieved. I’m not sure what’s going on but I won’t complain. She wouldn’t go out at all BUT we go through a whole day with zero squabbles. It was very stressful as we were waiting on the new piano arriving – which it did, with the help of three strong young men. Hooray!

Peeking inside to watch the hammers hit the metal strings. 


Immediately settling down and getting on with playing. I’m glad to say her recorder teacher is right, the piano appears to come very easily so far. We hope to have it tuned very soon and a new piano teacher starting next week.

The rest of the day was mostly play but she soaked it up: we read books, played games, danced to silly songs. I think that after a week or two she might need a bit less focus but it doesn’t matter. A couple of Christmas books arrived but I managed to hide them 🙂

Tuesday 

A tough start, all of us exhausted. She woke at 4 but both she and daddy managed without the iPad. I took over just after 7, with the aid of minimal coffee. We had a timetable with ten minute amounts of work, broken up with playing, dog walking (!), and music. In spite of the reluctance to walk, we managed to do almost all the work planned before leaving for recorder at midday. Her daily practice has moved her along and she’s now playing much more fluently. Home for lunch and more clay charm making before Get Going again. She did really well with the tennis games and her coach Lewis wants her to keep playing when the course finishes at Christmas! It made such a big impact on her confidence. A happy girl greeted daddy on his return and we all made tiny doughnuts – in clay – before bed.

Wednesday 

An early start but no iPad or tv – just parental entertainment – mum reading the Day the Crayons Quit in a stupid voice. We played with her new Playmobil Nativity set (arrived Tuesday to huge excitement – except I thought it was an advent calendar … and then gathered up her work and drove to G&Gs. In spite of asking for a little tv at lunch time, they all got through the day (more intense than usual as there was no TV break for grandad) and she returned bright eyed and chirpy after her supper. A few new winter jumpers were tried on and then for our special time, we got out the wooden blocks and built towers etc. I discovered an old iPod which we have loaded up with Harry Potter audio books, so she can have a little down time without the screen, hooray!

And then it all gets really busy. The best thing is that the screen fast allowed us to really reconnect during a time of year when I get really stressed out and down. It lasted until the week of Christmas, so the full four weeks. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Will K be happy to do it again? Watch this space.

Week 5: FiaR New Coat for Anna (cont).

Monday

After a very mixed up weekend with some late nights, we had a later than usual wake up call at 7:30. Although we agreed to go to Church, I was very pleased that the Liturgy didn’t start til 10:30, as we were going to try and do something before then and maybe walk. I managed to hoover while K did recorder practice and the dog snapped at the hoover, then we got the bus. It was freezing, literally. We talked about weather, temperatures, why our breath is visible and what Makes frost slippy.

This has nothing to do with the frost but it does mean things are even slower Han usual. The GP diagnosed overuse. Not arthritis, which is a bonus.

During Liturgy K likes to draw and today produced this gem.


We stayed for a Serbian slava service and then made our way to coffee, where K had one gingerbread and then worked away on maths and English on the laptop. She found it tricky to start with but managed to get into it enough to do 40 minutes. Far too cold for a walk at her pace, we got the bus home at 3 (late Liturgies are tricky) and spent the rest of the day feeling tired. No full moon but 10pm before sleep was achieved… no work or down time for mama today.

Tuesday

Recorder lesson dominated the day, getting there by bus and stopping off at the Treasure Trove, where makers can sell their knitted, sewn & baked goods direct to the public through the Edinburgh based Self Aid Society. I bought a knitted bunny for K’s name day and a colour work beret for myself. We got to Class on time and thirty short minutes later, hopped onto a bus back home. I have to say getting any formal work done was not easy today…

Wednesday 

Grandparent day, eventually. They have done better at getting her to work than I have this week!

Thursday & Friday 

Not a great end to the week, with a bare minimum of work. We went to see Trolls at the cinema on Thursday as she just couldn’t work or focus at all. Huge upset and just an unhappy little soul. I’m so glad to say that the film was great – very positive message – and we both loved it (and having the cinema to ourselves)!

On Friday she went to G&G as usual, had a good time and did a little work, but became very focused on a toy which won’t be available til the first Friday in December… a long week ahead.