Week forty: god bless us, every one.

And a slightly belated Merry Christmas to you all! Our lockdown Christmas was good, despite not being able to see family. As a child this was how our Christmas always was: we would do a round of the Cardiff family on the 23rd (my late grandma’s birthday) and then we’d know Christmas could start properly. On Christmas Eve, as we got older, we’d usually go out for a meal in the evening and to midnight mass at the local church. In the morning my Grandad Bill would arrive at a ridiculously early hour – before he went back to Cardiff for Mass – then we’d have stocking presents. Later, when everyone was dressed, we’d have family presents followed by Christmas dinner in the early afternoon, and turkey sandwiches in the evening.

Since meeting my beloved my Christmas has been a bit different – we would have his older girls for a few days every other year (alternating New Year in the other years), and we’d spend Christmas Day with his mother until she passed away in late 2012. One of the older girls now has her own son, and we had planned – until Tier 4 – to spend Boxing Day with them. We’d hoped to see the other one on Christmas Day, but she was isolating as her boyfriend’s mum had tested positive for Covid a few days earlier.

Usually we’d see my London sister and her husband between Christmas and New Year as well, but we had a family Zoom on Christmas Day instead – our parents, the Irish contingent, London sister and her husband, and us. It was lovely to see them, but it’s not the same as being together.

Back to Christmas Day! Thing 2 has always been a child who likes to know what’s happening: she finds it hard to jump into new things, and prefers to sit back and watch for a while before joining in. She likes to plan how things will work on Christmas Day, as she knows there’s elements of chaos, so we were woken up on schedule at 6am to watch them open their stockings. Wisely, they also brought coffee up with them!

I love watching the children open their presents. This year we bought Thing 3 a Nintendo Switch, which he hoped for and didn’t expect. Shortly after he opened it we had a brief snow flurry, and he was so completely overwhelmed he didn’t know what to do with himself. Thing 1 had shoes that she’d wanted to spend any Christmas money on, so she wasn’t expecting to have them on Christmas Day. I like to go off-list where I can, to surprise them a bit. Life’s no fun if you know what’s in all your parcels!

So we whiled away the day quietly: everyone ate Christmas dinner and far too many Quality Street, and in the evening I broke into the Christmas cake. I have been feeding it with rum and it’s quite delicious.

On Boxing Day I went for a very chilly socially distanced swim – 5.6 degrees. If someone had said to me last year that I’d be looking forward to jumping into a freezing lake I’d have laughed at them, but my swimming gang and I have had so much joy from this newfound passion this year. Some of my Christmas Amazon voucher has been spent on a wetsuit changing bag and a new tow float, in fact.

I have also had a few good muddy walks with various friends and their dogs this week, and some outdoor coffees on the way home which have provided some much needed adult conversations!. I was supposed to meet my permitted friend this morning for a wander, but there appears to be a typhoon – or Storm Bella – in progress outside so we have decided to regroup tomorrow instead.

Geek crafting

Over the past year I have made a series of dolls for a DM friend, one for each of his campaign characters. The last one was finished this week, as his wife’s Christmas gift, so I haven’t been able to share progress on it. This one had to have armour and wings: while I could find lots of wing patterns on Ravelry I had to go off-piste with the armour and make it up as I went along.

I have also started work on this sampler from FiddlesticksAU on Etsy: Tolkien fans will recognise the list of Hobbit mealtimes! I love the colours against the black aida fabric.

Less geeky but quite delicious was the stollen I mentioned last week – I have made two loaves so far as they disappear quite quickly!

And that’s been my week. It’s been a quiet one but I am happy to be safe and well with my little family.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Without the Moon – Cathi Unsworth

That Old Black Magic – Cathi Unsworth

Zero Waste Sewing – Elizabeth Haywood

The New Anchor Book of Blackwork Embroidery Stitches

Week thirty nine: small world, big ideas

Serendipity is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? About eighteen months ago, during a quick scan of my Twitter feed I saw an ex-colleague from the National Army Museum, who is now in New Zealand, tweeting about a game called Library Island.

This interactive training activity helps participants to explore strategy, innovation, and the messy business of working with communities. We’ve spent the last two years perfecting Library Island with university staff, health workers, museum professionals, students, and, yes, librarians.

matt finch/mechanical dolphin

This piqued my interest, as a) I really like libraries, b) I’m a museum professional and c) I’m really nosy curious about what other people are up to in the culture sector. At the time I was also doing a lot of thinking about how we could make our school sessions more playful/gamified, so I jumped on the conversation. That tweet opened up a whole new world of conversations around scenario planning and how that approach might be adapted to work with secondary school students, starting with a cup of coffee and a wide ranging chat on a hot day at the museum with Matt Finch of the Said Business School and developer of Library Island.

Fast forward eighteen months and one global pandemic…

At 7.30am on Wednesday (8.30am in Copenhagen, Denmark and 6.30pm in Sydney, Australia) I logged into a Zoom call with Matt, Teresa Swist of the Young and Resilient Research Centre at Western Sydney Uni, and Kirsten Van Dam of Out of Office. This was the third zoom meeting of what’s becoming a knowledge sharing group set up originally by Matt, as the nexus, but which is creating synergies between different projects all over the world. Co-design, co-production and co-creation with communities were all part of this week’s conversation, which link back into the development of the new museum.

I can’t imagine that, without COVID-19, I would ever have had these conversations with people all over the world. Pre-corona, arranging a meeting just with someone in London would have meant building in travel time, trying to find a day when we didn’t already have umpteen things in the diary months ahead of time, and certainly wouldn’t have happened on a Wednesday morning when – in ‘normal’ times – I take the kids to school and then trek into London.

My next meeting on Wednesday – also via Zoom – was a filmed interview about teddy bears and mental health, and then a conversation about how we can make the museum into a virtual environment so we can use the building while its closed. Even my works Christmas socials were online! A party where I don’t have to get on the Central Line home afterwards, perfect.

Zoom and Teams aren’t perfect, but this year they have made the world smaller and my thinking bigger.

Christmas can start now!

I think I am finally ready for the festive season, despite announcements of mutated viruses and the invention of Tier 4 in the last 24 hours. I am sad, as we can’t go and see the older girls (formerly known as the Timeshare Teenagers) and our grandson, but I am also glad we are safe at home.

I finished work for the holidays at lunchtime on Friday after a cheery, chatty Christmas cuppa with the rest of our little learning team. In the afternoon I gave in to the demands of Thing 2 to make a gingerbread house from scratch: we’d never done that before, but when we have had kits previously the biscuit has been quite fragile and the houses have been a bit of a disaster. So, it was back to BBC Good Food, which is usually my go-to for new recipes, where we found instructions – including templates – for a simple gingerbread house. We made the gingerbread and constructed the house on Friday, then left it to set overnight before decorating with Dolly Mixtures, mini Smarties and chocolate fingers on Saturday morning. I think at least as many sweets ended up in Things 2 and 3 as on the house, but it looks really festive. Thing 2 made a mini Christmas tree as well, with a wall of jelly sweets to hold in the Smarties.

Right now I am waiting for the Stollen dough to prove – again, it’s a BBC recipe, this time by Simon Rimmer. It’s funny – there’s nothing to say I can’t make stollen at any time of year, as I really like it, but it has become part of the Christmas routine. The cake was marzipanned yesterday, and I’ll ice and decorate it in the week. I’ve been haunting Pinterest again for ideas, which is always risky.

The Zoom blanket is finally finished and was sent off on Thursday, so that’s out of the way and I can focus on a crochet commission for a friend. I enjoyed making this, apart from weaving in the ends, and the matching hat is very cute. Hopefully the expectant mum will also like it!

On the cross stitch frame I have a Lord of the Rings themed pattern, on black aida so the daylight lamp is coming in very handy. A top tip someone told me ages ago was to have a white cloth on your lap when stitching on dark fabrics, or even a light box. No one mentioned cats, which is usually what’s on my lap!

My next post will be after Christmas, so I’ll leave you all with warm wishes for a peaceful, safe festive week. See you at the end of week 40!

Merry Christmas!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

Bad Penny Blues – Cathi Unsworth

Without the Moon – Cathi Unsworth

Christmas films ticked off:

  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
  • Serendipity (2001)
  • Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion/The Runaway Bride/Voyage of the Damned
  • Blackadder’s Christmas Carol
  • Detectorists Christmas Special (2015)
  • A Christmassy Ted

Week thirty eight: resignation sets in

After last week’s grinching, dear readers, the tree is up and the festive fireplace is decorated. If you look closely at the cover image you can probably spot that bloody elf lurking among the tomtes (Nordic gnomes – the pair on the left are from this pattern and the new addition on the right is here).

I love my fireplace at Christmas: pretty lights and candles, and this year I have chosen to use my late mother-in-law’s angel chimes as a centrepiece. The Google clock is there to play Christmas music, of course. This year I have built a Spotify playlist, which means I am in no danger of being forced to listen to Mariah Carey, Paul McCartney or John Lennon’s Christmas offerings but I can include Kate Rusby, The Black Crowes, Bruce Springsteen, The Killers and The Dropkick Murphys alongside Slade, Wizzard and co.

We have an artificial tree rather than a real one as its a few years old now. We’ll keep using it until it’s too tatty rather than send it to landfill – it’s so covered in decorations as Thing 2 doesn’t like leaving anything out that you can’t see much tree anyway. It sheds a bit, but so do the cats and the three long-haired people in the house!

Remake, refashion, reuse

I love charity shops, I really do. There’s nothing I like more on a Saturday morning than a mooch round the local town, preferably solo, exploring book shelves, bric a brac and the clothes rails. There are such treasures to be found: a new craft book, picture frames, a pair of curtains that can be turned into skirts and quilt backs, a vintage dress or sewing pattern, or a pretty bowl for the frivolous shelves in my shed. Yesterday I spotted dresses from Coast and Cos (sadly not in my size) and gorgeous ’60s glassware (sadly no room in my cupboard).

We are very lucky in Epping, as we have an excellent selection ranging from the well-known Cancer Research and the British Heart Foundation to more local ones like Haven House, St Clare’s Hospice and Eco. The last two have giant versions in Harlow as well, which yielded two giant beanbags and an Ikea cupboard for the conservatory. We also have a branch of Oxfam Books and Music, which I can spend ages in, usually emerging clutching a new art book in the hope that one day I will be able to draw, a craft book, or a classic from my childhood.

Yesterday’s charity shop treasures – a jigsaw for the Christmas break from Haven House, a snowman bowl and some pine cones that smell nice from Cancer Research.

Back when I was at university in Preston there was a wonderful shop called Jet Trading, packed with vintage dresses and accessories, and some of my favourite student dresses came from there – 1970s florals, worn with para boots and a biker jacket. My first LBD came from a charity shop in Monmouth – a 1960s grosgrain cocktail dress.

One of the wonderful things about learning to sew is the ability to hack and alter these charity shop treasures: like the fabric but not the length? Chop it and redo the hem. Looking for something with a bit of weight for a structured skirt? Polished cotton, double wide, full length lined curtains – done! The world is your mollusc, to paraphrase the legendary Terry Pratchett.

And then last week I got my hands on a book called Crochet Hacking by Emma Friedlander-Collins. I have been following her on Instagram for a while now, and thoroughly enjoying her hacking of clothes with a crochet hook and whatever yarn comes to hand. Anyone who has seen my shed knows just how desperately I need stashbusting ideas to get rid of all the ends of yarn from various projects, so this is a much needed addition to my craft library.

It’s a book designed to inspire confidence. It’s colourful and friendly and does not require you to buy anything new – not clothes, or specialist yarn, and for those of you going ‘ah, but what if I haven’t got a crochet hook!’, go and ask in your local charity shop as they are an excellent source of crafting materials as well as everything else. And yes, that usually includes odds and ends of yarn too. It starts by explaining why it’s better to remake than to buy new, and gives a few startling facts about how many clothes end up in landfill every year. It’s a LOT.

The book is divided into sections, showing you how to crochet into denim, jersey, wool and other fabrics – basic instructions and a few projects for each. I really love the custom sleeve stripes and the Fairisle-style cuffs, which both make the sleeves of a top longer in different ways, and the gorgeous kimono style wrap. Some projects require a bit more skill than others, but all of them are achievable.

Thing 2 has been a fan of refashioning for a while, as it happens: earlier in the summer she persuaded me to chop a skater dress that she’s been wearing for years into a crop top and skirt, as it was just too short for her. When she loves an item of clothing she tries to make it last as long as possible: this particular dress had been her older sister’s and I think was aged 5-6. It’s lasted really well, and now has a new lease of life. Last week she chopped a pair of pale grey leggings (really, what was I thinking?) into a pair of shorts, and rather grandly handed me the legs with a ‘here you go mum, I saved you the fabric’.

So I have had these legs sitting on my sewing table (oh, OK, the dining room table) and during a meeting I tried them on my arms. I have mentioned how easily distracted I am, haven’t I? They were the perfect length for arm warmers – working in what’s essentially a Victorian cast iron and brick greenhouse, as I do, means you develop a fondness for a handy layer. Armed with the Crochet Hacking book, some variegated sock yarn, a wool needle and a crochet hook I spent a few hours while in ‘receiving mode’ at some meetings jazzing up my new accessories with a few rows of crochet, some truly awful blanket stitching and some simple embroidery. The instructions in the book were really easy to follow, and now I’ll have warm hands in work!

The rest of the crafty week has been spent weaving in the ends of the nine-patches for the Zoom baby blanket, ready to put them together, and I started a pixie hat to go with the blanket as the baby in question is due in January.

A tidy pile of nine-patches and 2/3 of a pixie hat.

The cross stitch is coming on – I am working on fabric with 18 squares per inch, and my eyes are not what they used to be so yesterday I gave in and bought some of those magnifying specs from the chemist. I really must organise my eye test….

So that’s been my week. We are counting down to the end of term now – I failed as a parent on Friday and forgot it was Christmas Jumper Day, only realising as I was leaving school after drop-off that no one else was in uniform. Thing 3 seems to have forgiven me – I had it in my head that it was next week, when they have their Christmas dinner! Things 1 and 2 will be remaining at home after their isolation period ends on Tuesday: Welsh secondary schools are all moving to online teaching this week in a bid to stop the spread, but once again the English government is failing to act and is forcing them to remain open despite advice from the scientists to close.

Today Things 2 and 3 have asked if we can make stained glass biscuits – I have said yes, on the understanding that they don’t take a bite out of each one on the tree as they did a few years ago.

Let’s see what week 39 has in store!

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Gobbelino London and a Contagion of Zombies – Kim M Watt

Hogfather – Terry Pratchett

Christmas films ticked off this week:

  • Arthur Christmas
  • Alien Xmas
  • Muppet Christmas Carol
  • Over Christmas (short series on Netflix)
  • Scrooged

Week thirty seven: bah humbug

I am not good at Christmas – well, I’m not good at the build up to Christmas. I am tense. I am stressed. The mere sight of a Christmas tree before December 1st turns me into the Grinch. My family – bless them – have been asking me for weeks what the children would like for Christmas. I don’t know. Ask them! Ask their father! He is good at Christmas. He has ordered presents. I have not ordered presents. I have not booked my Christmas delivery slot at Tesco (other supermarkets are available).

I have not done Christmas cards for anyone but family for the last several years – work colleagues in a normal year get a tree decoration, and I donate the cost of cards and postage to charity. This year it will be a food bank charity. Until last Sunday I was in deep denial and we ended up dashing to Tesco to buy advent calendars (which we eventually got in M&S, as everywhere else was sold out)

And don’t even get me started on that bloody elf. He could stay on the shelf for all I care, but Things Two and Three come downstairs and look for the stripy little sod every morning. The first year we had an elf, the kids went into hysterics and I had to promise to send it away. I rehomed it, but that didn’t last and their dad bought a new one in Poundland a couple of years later. I salute my neighbour who has two big elves and three baby elves, which is a whole lot of work. Luckily our elf – dubbed ‘Candycane’ by the children – just does what it says on the tin and sits on various shelves rather than getting up to twee mischief.

I am mellowing slightly, however, and Christmas lights are allowed to be put up this weekend. The tree goes up two weekends before Christmas and I am not budging on that. I have noticed that Thing Two has persuaded her dad to get their ‘bedroom tree’ down already, but I’m ignoring it. Teddy the cat was thrilled to catch his first bird as a result of this, however, and proudly dragged the fake robin downstairs to show us… he was practically strutting for the rest of the evening.

Teddy’s first bird…

This year – of all years – I am enjoying the Christmas lights on the way to school, and one of my neighbours always goes all out to decorate their house.

There is one thing that’s guaranteed to make me feel a bit more Christmassy, luckily, and that’s a Christmas movie (Christmas music, too, but we’ll do that another day). Thing Two refused to allow us to watch any before December 1st, but now it’s open season and I can indulge. So here, in no particular order, are my favourite festive films.

1.The Muppets’ Christmas Carol. Michael Caine in possibly his greatest role ever. Excellent ghosts. Muppets. It truly has everything.

2. Scrooged. You can’t go wrong with Bill Murray in anything, and this also has one of the best Christmas theme songs ever in the shape of Al Green and Annie Lennox’s ‘Put a little love in your heart‘. It’s not Christmas till Carol Kane has thwacked Bill Murray with a toaster, frankly.


3. Miracle on 34th Street – the 1934 version is my favourite, but I am quite fond of the Richard Attenborough one too.

4. Elf – The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing out loud for all to hear.

5. It’s a Wonderful Life – my dad’s favourite. James Stewart is wonderful as the frustrated savings and loan owner whose life never goes quite to plan. He’s so human, and if anyone deserves an angel its him.

It’s a Wonderful Life

6. The Christmas Chronicles – a late entry by this Netflix original, with Kurt Russell as a great Santa. Goldie Hawn needs to lay off the Botox though. Plus, a guest appearance by Miami Steve (Steven Van Zandt). The sequel is brought down by the really naff ending.

7. The Hogfather – I reread the book every year, and although this isn’t strictly a film its still part of my Christmas watch list.


8. Arthur Christmas. Another new one, but a great voice cast.

9. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. If only for the cat.

There are others, of course, but for me its not Christmas until I have watched this lot. (For the record, yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie.)

I feel more festive already.

Lost: one (crafty) mojo

This week – quite apart from it being December – has been a bit challenging, to say the least. Thing One was already isolating after contact with a Covid case in the last week of November, and then on Monday we received an email telling us that the whole of years seven and ten now had to isolate as the number of cases had risen among both students and staff. Back to the home learning then, and I made the decision to work from home with them. While I could leave Thing One alone for a few hours in between my beloved leaving for work and me coming back, it wasn’t fair to expect her to supervise the (very determined) Thing Two. And yes, mum, I know where she gets it from!

Thing One had a great virtual parent/teacher conference this week which told me what I already knew – my daughter is brilliant – and she has worked really hard this week. One of her English tasks was to write a speech, and she spent far longer on it than the allotted lesson time as she was so passionate about her subject. She was writing about mental health; as someone who has been diagnosed with generalised anxiety, this is really important to her (and to me, as someone who lives with depression) and I am really proud that she is engaging with this in her work.

Thing Two is a different matter. She is still getting used to secondary school after six months at home, and unlike her big sister she is not a self-motivator. My work week has been punctuated by demands for assistance with geography, history, English and science (though she did at least get on with the maths by herself). The only plus was that she did the art homework she’d been resisting while avoiding her geography. I have found meetings having meetings with a bad-tempered little presence in the room quite tricky, especially as she’s a curious little bird and likes to come and see who I am talking to. Really I should invite her to the design meetings as she’s the right age and we could pick her brains!

I am tempted not to send them back for the last few days of term, to be honest: the infection rates are highest in the 11-16 age group, as secondary schools didn’t close during lockdown, and keeping them safe has to be my priority. I don’t want whatever Christmas looks like to be spent watching them for symptoms of the virus – Thing One is already fed up of me pouncing on her and feeling her head for signs of a temperature. Poor Thing Three is having to go to school still, as the girls aren’t showing any symptoms, but I suspect he likes the escape.

Having to wear the mum head and the work head at the same time is tiring, as you need to have separate brain spaces, so by the time we finish for the day and I have fed the horde crafting is the last thing on my mind. Dinner is nominally 6pm, but I am flexible as to time zone: it’s six o’clock somewhere, to paraphrase the song.

The very quick stitch I started last week is mostly a frame and some wording, very little has happened with either blanket and the sock is positively languishing in my work bag.

Sometimes when the crafty mojo vanishes it’s good to pick up something different just to get the hands moving, so I delved into my Ravelry library yesterday evening and whipped up a weeping angel amigurumi which will end up on the tree next weekend. The photos were taken on the kids’ mini tree which is lurking upstairs (yes, the one where Teddy ‘caught’ his robin).

I dragged Thing Two out for a muddy walk yesterday, through the woods to the rope swing. We tested out our new wellies, and looked for fungi and mosses. The winter sun was golden and lovely in the trees, and we followed deer tracks through the mud. There has been a lot of rain this week, so it was good to get out into the sunshine.

So that was week 37. Winter has set in with a vengeance, with sub zero temps – the lake was 5 degrees yesterday, so hopefully it won’t be too much colder this morning. We didn’t get to swim last week as the police shut it down as a ‘gathering’ despite the social distancing measures that Redricks had put in place. Is it weird to be looking forward to getting into freezing water?

See you at the end of week 38, when the tree will be up and I’ll be well into my list of festive films. Which ones have I missed out?

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Crochet Hacking – Emma Friedlander-collins

The Dark Archive (Invisible Library) – Genevieve Cogman

Forged (Alex Verus) – Benedict Jacka

The Third Nero (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)