Week forty six: can you lick the end of your nose?

While scrolling through my Facebook memories this morning a post popped up from 2015 which just said ‘Terrible urge to learn to crochet’. I remember waking up that day and my fingers were actually twitching with the need to learn something new, to create something tangible and practical. It wasn’t as if I wasn’t making other things – I was dressmaking by then, and cross stitch was always in the background, but I am the very definition of a life-long learner. Combine this with creativity and curiosity and what you get is – well – me.

Luckily, I had yarn from my knitting phase and crochet hooks from the last time I’d tried to learn from my beloved’s mother, so with the help of YouTube and my crafty library I was able to get on with it. Over the next few days Facebook will show me my early progress: wonky granny squares, double crochet which gains and loses stitches at the end of every row, and – finally – a recognisable square. Friends were free with helpful advice – the craft community usually is, probably as we love to see other people getting joy from the same things we do – and I quickly became hooked (if you’ll pardon the pun). Generally I have crochet with me at all times: emergency yarn under my desk at work, a sock or an amigurumi in progress on the commute, and a large home project like a blanket. It’s very calming to be able to sit, to make repetitive actions, and the tactile nature of yarn makes it a sensory process too. If you’re happy using basic yarns it can be a relatively cheap hobby, too, but it never stops there.

I have an urge now to learn something new. I want to learn to draw. Once (in 1985) I got a B- from Mrs Allan the art teacher for my observational pencil drawing of my mum’s avocado plant, but that has always remained the pinnacle of my artistic achievement.

I don’t want to draw portraits, though I wouldn’t mind being able to draw a recognisable cat. I want to draw flowers and trees, houses and streets, and to be able to feel confident enough to do this whenever and wherever I want. I love seeing urban sketching on Instagram by people like the Shoreditch Sketcher and MaltzCreative, and two of my cousins are producing gorgeous work (Colour Confusions and ElliesPad – check them out!). I love Michael Powell‘s quirky paintings. I want to be able to see an interesting doorway or a window, and to be able to whip out a sketchbook and render it on the page.

So that’s my next mission: learn to draw. I have books (so many books!) and I signed up to Craftsy a while ago when they had an offer. There’s a number of ‘learn to’ videos on there, and it’s ridiculous to say I don’t have the patience – what I need to develop is the discipline to practise.

Play for mental health

Making and creating are play activities for me. I have attended a couple of really interesting webinars over Zoom this week about the importance of play for children’s mental health, particularly during the current pandemic, and the challenges of ensuring that children have access to play opportunities at a time when government focus is on ‘lost’ learning.

There is a lack of understanding in the current ‘knowledge-based’ curriculum that play is learning: it helps people (not just children!) to build relationships, to solve problems, to take risks, to have autonomy over their actions, to self-regulate their emotions, to make decisions, to make sense of the world around them. It doesn’t have to be structured play or play with a specific, adult-generated learning outcome. Playing with children enables us as adults to recall our playful selves, to find moments of joy in watching children make discoveries, to remember our own childhood. Sometimes its really hard to do this when you’re an adult.

One of the presenters, Sheba Gittens (an activist/artivist in Pittsburgh) talked about the need to forget that anyone might be watching you and give in to moments of joy – face pulling, laughing for the sheer joy of it, moving your body. She suggested that perhaps children’s ability to do all these things without self-consciousness is actually our default state of being, and we become so weighted down with other people’s expectations of ‘proper’ behaviour that we lose those abilities. I’ve certainly never been encouraged to try and lick the end of my own nose in a meeting before, or to pull a lot of funny faces. I’m usually trying to stop myself rolling my eyes…

When I teach a session called ‘The Importance of Play’ to GCSE/A-level and undergrads I ask them to define play, to tell me when children stop ‘playing’ and what activities they do themselves that they think are playful. It’s quite disheartening (for me and their teachers!) to hear the narrow definitions they have for play, and that they think children stop playing when they start school and ‘start learning’. Once I can get them to think of play as an activity that they do because they enjoy it, they open their thinking a bit more: I have found, also, that by starting the session with a play activity they are far more inclined to come out of the shadow of their hoodies and share their ideas. The best sessions are the ones where people talk to you, and ask questions, and think – the number of teachers who have apologised for their students interacting with me amazes me. I’d much rather they talked to me than looked at me in silence.

Reach for the stars

The lovely people at CPRE invited me to create a craft activity to support their annual star count, which this year takes place between 6 and 14 February (that’s now!). The focus of the count is the number of stars that can be seen within the constellation of Orion, which reminded me of the chapter in one of my favourite children’s books where a baby barn owl meets an astronomer. Here‘s what I came up with – why not have a go at the Star Count and making your own Orion? For those of you doing home learning, it supports fine motor skills (threading and sewing), science (light pollution), art, and English.

That’s it from me this week – I have a giant blanket hoodie to make and some mending to do, so I probably ought to get on with it. See you at the end of week 47.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

Ring the Hill – Tom Cox

Close Encounters of the Purred Kind – Tom Cox

The Night Hawks (Ruth Galloway) – Elly Griffiths

Spoils of the Dead (Liam Campbell) – Dana Stabenow

Tate: Sketch Club Urban Drawing – Phil Dean

Week forty one: goodbye 2020

The wish ‘happy new year’ has quite possibly never been said by so many people with so much fervency (is that a word?) as it has been this year. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some bad years before: 1994 was pretty horrendous, as was 2003, but those weren’t universally bad. I was glad to see the back of them but felt pretty hopeful about the future. And, to be honest, announcements of vaccines this week are giving me hope for 2021.

Have a cat, because there’s about to be a lot of text.

And 2020, despite all the challenges, hasn’t been all bad. Yes, there were the cancelled holidays, the various levels of lockdown, Covid-19 as a thread across the year, worry about my nurse friends and my vulnerable family members, Christmas without family and so on, but to end the year I’m going to share the things that gave me joy. In no particular order, I give you…my top ten of 2020:

  1. I’ve had six unexpected months with the Things, which is the longest time I’ve been able to spend with them since maternity leave. Maternity leave is wonderful, but you have a tiny baby, no sleep, you’re juggling any other children you have, and trying to remain an actual person at the same time. In my case, too, I had post-natal depression with both Things 1 and 2 which made the whole experience somewhat frightening, especially with Thing 1, when I didn’t know what was happening to me. So, six months with my children, spending time with them now they’re independent, finding out what they love to do, going on walks, learning new skills with them: thank you 2020, for giving me that.
  2. The glorious summer! Can you imagine being in lockdown without that wonderful weather, in a typical rainy British summer season?
  3. The garden. My beloved and I were both furloughed, and had we not had the garden we’d have been under each other’s feet constantly. We are lucky to live where we do, and the garden at the end of this year – thanks entirely to my beloved – looks amazing. It’s filled with birds at the moment: as I look out of the window I can see an enormous rook, wood pigeons, collared doves, a robin, blue tits and great tits. We have goldcrests, dunnocks, sparrows, nesting blackbirds, occasional woodpeckers and jays. This year I have learned to love the noisy, scrappy, playful brood of magpies that hatched in a tree behind the garden – and to have great sympathy for their put-upon mother.
  4. Open water swimming. We came late to this, starting in July, but it’s been a sanity saver for all of us. Swimming in the summer was wonderful, surrounded by the coot chicks and the grebes, but if anyone had said to me then that I’d be looking forward to getting in a sub-5 degree lake on New Year’s Day I’d have laughed. I never thought I’d take up an extreme sport but apparently this is ice swimming – and I love it. I’m a head-up breast stroker, not a front crawler, but at Redricks this is fine: everyone is made to feel welcome. The mental health and physical benefits have been heavily documented by other people in much more learned spaces, but I have to agree with them!
  5. Our local countryside – I live in North Weald in Essex, and I do a lot of walking anyway, having trained for and completed a couple of walking marathons. This year there are no events, so I have been walking for the sheer joy of it. Being at home for most of the year and being able to just ramble, watching the hedgerows and wildlife, not having to be anywhere: it’s been so mindful, just slowing down and watching the world and the seasons change. On any walk I may see rabbits, red kites, muntjac and fallow deer, and hares as well as fields of horses and cows, friendly cats and lots of dogs. It’s cheaper than therapy, too: my friends and I put the world to rights, and when Thing 2 joins me we spend time looking for tiny fungi and mosses.
  6. Zoom and WhatsApp: I may not have been in Wales with my family but we can still see each other and chat. This year we have had a wider clan WhatsApp chat which gets very silly at times, I have conversations with my sisters and with the whole family. We can still share the things that make us laugh, and then we realise that the whole clan shares the warped sense of humour.
  7. This blog! It’s been such a cathartic experience: sharing when I am down or angry or frustrated, talking about the things I love to do, taking you all on a journey through my creation processes. It’s not a curated lifestyle blog, or a foodie blog, or a crafty blog: it’s just me. I try and be honest, whether that’s about my mental health or my reaction to government policy. I try and be wry and look sideways at disasters. Hopefully I succeed! I use Facebook as a daily microblog, too – keeping a count of the days, with three highlights, positives or disasters of the day. In work writing these days tends to be figures, and proposals, and reports – I have loved the chance this year to write because I want to – and to write what I want to.
  8. The people I work with: Microsoft Teams has kept us all in contact, as has Zoom for those social moments. I am so lucky to work with a core team of brilliant people – we are tightknit, we care about each other, and we have felt supported by each other throughout. The museum we are creating is going to be amazing, and I can’t wait for the days when Monday meetings are round a table and not on screen again. I genuinely love my job.
  9. Making, of course. Crochet, dressmaking, cross stitch, quilting: 2020 has given me time to hone old and learn new skills. Obviously there’s still more to learn, but the act of creating and sharing my creations has given me such pleasure this year. Designing my own cross stitches and sharing those has boosted my confidence, too. I just need to get back to work now to wear all those clothes….
  10. My friends: socially distanced coffees in front gardens, people to walk with, to see over Zoom and Houseparty, to make plans with for ‘when things are normal’. I have never been that mum at the school gate as I have always been working, but this year I have really appreciated the chance to walk up daily with my neighbour and their puppy, to see other parents, and to feel part of village life.
  11. Staged, with Michael Sheen and David Tennant. A comedy that perfectly captured the 2020 zeitgeist: Zoom, spending so much time at home, turning our focus locally, working so differently. And Season Two starts this week! OK, so that’s 11 – but this programme is definitely a bonus!
My top nine Instagram posts (@ladybirdkirsty)

So, 2020 – thank you for all the above. Thanks also to the key workers – not just the frontline NHS crews who’ve really, really, really earned a pay rise rather than claps, but to the retail staff, the cleaners, public transport people, and – the unsung heroes – the teachers who’ve been juggling conflicting and frankly bonkers government advice, online and in-person teaching, pastoral care on unprecedented levels, given up their holidays to care for key worker and vulnerable children, who are now spending this holiday trying to plan mass testing, remote learning and more while being abused by the red-tops for ‘laziness’ and ‘cowardice’. The two schools my Horde attend have been brilliant throughout and their care and dedication is being echoed across the country.

I am not given to New Year’s resolutions, but if I were, mine would be to take the positives from 2020 forward into this year: to slow down and watch the seasons change, to appreciate the time I have with my children, to keep being creative and learning new skills, to keep writing and swimming and finding the positives.

It’s not Christmas without a Dalek

One of the things I like to do between Christmas and New Year is a big jigsaw – you may remember this one from my charity shop trawl before Christmas. It took three days, and those Daleks were trickier than they looked. Things 2 and 3 dropped in to help occasionally, and I took up most of the table, and thankfully it didn’t have any pieces missing – not bad for £1.75! And all finished in time for this year’s Doctor Who special on New Year’s Day which was fantastic, to quote Nine – sad to see Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole go, but bringing John Bishop on board is going to be interesting. Catherine Tate was surprisingly good once I put enough distance between her and her sketch show characters, as was Matt Lucas, so why not John Bishop?

In crafty news, I’m still working on the Hobbit cross stitch… and have so many more geeky patterns on the to-do list! Not much crochet has happened, but it’s not going anywhere.

Do you think he knows about second breakfast?

Facebook memories threw up a quote I’d shared a couple of years ago the other day, and it inspired me to create pixel people of the family and to design a new pattern – I started with squared paper and pencils, as I’m not confident enough to work directly into StitchFiddle yet, and then transferred into the software afterwards. I made a lot more use of the floss chart, too, but need to test it against the swatch book as soon as I remember where I put it this time.

The pixel people templates came from here, and the fonts were from a book I bought a few months ago and this set on Etsy as I wanted to use a range of lettering. I am not sure about using the coloured dots in the ‘Friends’ font (the word ‘nice’), and I might go back to the original one from my pencil drawing. The idea was to incorporate some of the things the kids have enjoyed – Thing 1 binged Friends earlier this year, and Harry Potter is always a favourite.

The final pixel family – the kids love their minis, but my beloved thinks he should have a swagbag over his shoulder. Note that Lulu is next to him, as he’s her favourite human!

I’ve also done a lot of walking – very muddy, very icy, very beautiful.

I’m looking forward to my third dip of the week later this morning – we swam on the 29th and on New Year’s Day. We didn’t have to break the ice in the end, despite being a bit concerned as the temperature didn’t get above one degree on New Year’s Eve! It was so cold, but we felt amazing afterwards. The outside temperature right now is two degrees, but it is only 7am.

New Year’s Day at Redricks

On the subject of temperature, another new project I’ve decided on is a temperature cross stitch using this tree design, where you stitch the high temperature for each day. I’ve just seen that someone is doing two trees, one for highs and one for lows…. must. Resist!

So Happy New Year, everyone! Catch you at the end of week 42.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading:

That Old Black Magic – Cathi Unsworth

The Not Knowing – Cathi Unsworth

Help the Witch – Tom Cox

21st Century Yokel – Tom Cox