Sunday, 11 April 2021

March round up

And yet here we are, almost halfway through April! I was so exhausted by the end of term that I spent much of last week sleeping - many hours in bed at night, long naps during the day. I don't know how people with children manage. Even when I wasn't asleep, I was basically in a daze. 

March was quite a successful month though, goals wise.

Books read: I finished Caught in the Light by Robert Goddard, which was a real page turner. Then I picked up and finished very quickly Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. This was not at all what I expected: I find I now assume all novels set in mid-20th century southern USA are going to be about race, whereas this was more about class. I stayed up much too late reading it, just to get to the end. What a yarn!

Then the Head of English leant me The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and, although I read a couple of pages, I put it down again almost immediately because it is quite long (I read Bulgakov's Heart of a Dog during lockdown 1 which was very brief) and also because the Head of English is not a spine cracker and I am, and I was afraid to read it sleepy. So I picked up some non-fiction, Empireland by Sathnam Sanghera, which has been going down a treat. I was wary of going back to non-fiction as I notoriously never finish any of them, but I am nearly done with it. 

A good reading year, so far.

Metres knitted: I finished Garnered though it still isn't blocked and I counted that yarn last month anyway. I knitted a baby jumper for my new great-nephew, born a month early, out of some All Seasons Cotton I've had hanging around for about a decade. 360m. I knitted up two skeins of Lion and Lamb into blanket hexagons - 375m but the second skein was in April, so only 187m for March, really. Let's call it 550m, not so good but oh well. 

I soberingly went through my whole stash in March, too, and came across approximately 2800m of yarn that was not listed in my Ravelry stash. And then I went online to browse for yarn I can use to sew up my hexagons, and ended up buying two skeins in a blues colourway I didn't already have. So with the yarn in from Flock last month, that it about 7200m in, 2100m out. Egads. 

Luckily I have already made a start on a nice 4-ply jumper with some of the new stuff from last month, and I have a plan for a huge, crocheted blanket in some of the chunky I found in my clear out, so perhaps I will manage to come out at a net reduction for the year. 

Pounds lost: I think, 3? I am 4lbs off getting back to my pre-40 weight. Happy with that. I managed the whole of Lent off sugar but had to put up with a few snide comments when I started eating it again the day after Palm Sunday. 

The day of Palm Sunday itself was probably the most testing time of all: I made chocolate nests with shredded wheat, and Simnel cakes. The chocolate nest mixture was not combining so I got in there by hand and ended up with chocolate almost up to my elbows. Hardest thing I have ever done, not licking my hands. 

Sleep: Clearly still variable. I think I'm getting into better timing habits but probably spending too long reading. 

Blogging: A pathetic failure. Being back in school meant that more things were happening but I was too tired and busy to write about them. Still. Onwards and upwards. 

Sunday, 28 February 2021

February round up

Books read: Two halves. I finished Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and I started Caught in the Light by Robert Goddard, which Mother Hand gave me years ago as it is one of her favourite books, but I've never got round to reading it. Concentrating on fiction is a helpful way of getting myself to read, though I have picked up a bit of non-fiction now and again in between, this past month.

Metres knitted: I reckon it's about 850. I have almost finished the Garnered pullover: just 4 inches of roll neck ribbing to go. It hasn't taken anywhere near the yarn amount expected and I should have about half a ball leftover at the end, annoyingly, but that will still be basically 1000 out of stash, as I won't count the final half ball as part of stash anymore. I really hoped to get it finished today but 1x1 ribbing is really dull and I've had quite a lot of work to catch up on.

I did introduce nearly 4000m into my stash this month, thanks to a virtual Flock event that showcased some gorgeous yarn, but let's not dwell on that. 

Pounds lost: Much like the knitting, this is a tale of two halves. I have lost the required 2lbs. But I gained 3lbs at the start of the month. So not too much celebrating allowed. I have stopped eating sugar (not being a purist about it: mainly no cake, chocolate, sweets etc) for Lent and this has arrested the increase. I'm hoping that things will continue going the other way. It's disturbing how distracted I have been by the desire to eat sugar. I am pleased to say that I have good willpower - I've never been one of these people who can't have anything sweet in the house if they're trying to cut back - but it has been interesting to observe how wheedly my brain has been with myself. 'Give yourself Sundays off!' 'Oh, it doesn't matter, it's only Lent.' 'You'll have to give up when you get back to school and everyone is bringing in cakes, anyway.' 

Sleep: Variable. I've been good about bedtimes but have had some sleeplessness this month. I have been quite sad about not being skiing and it has been difficult to drop off some nights. Nothing too severe, but I am really hoping to get some holidays booked soon.

Blogging: As you see....a barren desert of blog posts. But again - what is there to say? Once a week I go to school. Once a week I go out to exercise. I might occasionally go to the supermarket. I had a Skype and a catch up with my friend Helen in half term. A couple of projects are finally coming to an end and I have been nominated for a thing (it's all on the DL at the moment but it is quite a nice thing), so there are some plus points. But otherwise it's just the same old, same old. Maybe in a cleaner house these days, due to my weird cleaning obsession. 

Sunday, 31 January 2021

January round up

Rounding up my progress towards my aims for the year...

Books read: One and a half. I finished the Casual Vacancy (definitely not an uplifting read but I did find it very compelling) and am halfway through Song of Solomon, my first Toni Morrison book. This one isn't flying by as easily but it is intriguing and I find myself thinking about the characters during the day. 

Yarn knitted: I was estimating 840m. I was into the 4th skein on this jumper I am knitting...

...and adding that to the hexagons, meant I was close. Ish. Not too bad, considering how busy this month has been. 

However, I decided I didn't like the fabric of the pink pullover - too loose and open; the body was maybe an inch wider than it was meant to be so my gauge wasn't far off, but I became convinced I just wouldn't get the wear I wanted out of it. So tonight I ripped the whole thing back, made and washed a swatch (I know) and have cast on a needle size down. I'm narrowing the edges of the lace panel by a stitch each side - this pattern was made to be knitted in pieces but I want to do it in the round - and knitting a purl stitch fake seam instead. 

So...I did sort of knit 840m. But then I ripped out 600m of it. Depressing. That said, I never rip things back. It is a feature of my knitting that I plough on through mistakes and bad signs, even if I end up with something I don't really wear. So on a personal growth level, this was a win. 

Pounds lost: three. Some of the Christmas weight, but not all. I made good strides in the first week of January but then, as soon as teaching from home became a thing, I essentially stopped moving around. Happily PT Jenny is still seeing me on the rugby field once a week or I think my whole body would be one chair shaped lump that refused to unbend. I'm still sticking to the same eating hours but eating the same amount as when I'm running around school all day. So I could do some work here...or I could just not, because global pandemic. I'm happy enough that the weight isn't going up tbh. 

Sleep: I've averaged more than 7 hours a night every week since the start of the year: a significant improvement on pre-covid times, when a weekly average of 6h45m was a success. February is for working on a routine bedtime that is before midnight. It's too easy to stay up when I know I only have to roll out of bed at 8am to be in front of the screen in time.

Blogging: Three posts. Better than last year. Not as good as 2019. But what is there to say? It's January. It snowed. We're in lockdown. Meh. 

A couple of FOs

 These jumpers were both finished in December but I hadn't got round to taking pictures until now. 

Pattern: Cabeladabra (Ravelry link)

Yarn: Mirasol Miski, purchased lovingly a skein at a time from Get Knitted, circa 2008. I had 18 skeins of this wondrous yarn, which looked to be just enough, but turned out to be way too much, so I am left with 4 more skeins for a future project. 
Needle: 5mm
Mods: None, although the choice of yarn means that the FO doesn't look much like the original: it's possible I wasn't getting row gauge (although stitch gauge looked OK) and the yarn is 100% baby llama so it is pretty hefty and drapey. I was concerned, to begin with, that the cable definition wouldn't be good but it is nice and crisp. 

I think it's going to be one of those jumpers that is too warm for me to wear out and about, when any kind of rushing or spending time in warm shops invariably makes me overheat when I've got a coat over the top, so instead it's going to be a cosy, indoors sweater dress. It's long enough to wear over a pair of leggings without worrying about any knicker flashing (as pictured). The neckline is maybe a bit wide; I could always unpick the bind off and add a couple more rows, if it loosens up too much on wearing. 

Pattern: Candy Shop (Ravelry Link)

Yarn: Mr B's Hiddlestone in a one of a kind grey flecked colourway - flecks of purple and green. There was some variegation in the skeins that I didn't really clock until I was knitting with it and like an idiot, of course I didn't knit from two skeins at once, but luckily the skein that was more of a mauve grey was the one that I used for the sleeves. It's got a lovely crisp drape to it and I really love the fleck. I'm not usually a fleck person but they were selling this at a Flock event in 2019 and I could resist. 
Needle: 3.5mm
Mods: Longer sleeves, but other than that, as per the pattern. 

This one was a marvel - it's so clever how the v-neck is just done through paired increases and decreases, and then later evened out with short rows. It got a bit tedious on the sleeves and with the broken rib edgings (it's probably not broken rib, but that's what I'm calling it) which is why it took four months, but I can tell I'm going to get a lot of wear out of it. 4-ply jumpers are (sadly) the way forward. 

Monday, 18 January 2021

Aims for 2021

I'm not resolving to do anything for 2021, especially not this late in January, but I have had my usual period of self-reflection and been thinking about what keeps me happy and healthy, and it seems to be making conscious decisions to prioritise my leisure time. This isn't the same as putting myself first: I think I'm probably too good at that; but I enjoy my work and will binge on it too often, and then spend the little time off I allow myself endlessly scrolling under the pretence that this is what I like to do. So here are my intentions, to help with that. Hopefully they are all achievable in a time of covid. 

1. Read one fiction book a month. I was an avid reader before I was a teacher but have somehow convinced myself I am not one any longer. This seems to be because I've been attempting to force myself through endless non-fiction and history texts: not my jam. I picked up a novel from my shelf that I've had for years and finished it inside a week over the Christmas holidays. For January, I chose The Casual Vacancy, which Father Hand gave me years ago, and I finished it today. It leads to less scrolling. I remember how much I enjoy reading at bedtime instead of it being a chore. 

I've definitely got enough unread fiction on my shelf, too.

2. Knit 1000m every month. This one will be trickier to achieve but it is good to have a goal. If I can manage this, I will beat my 2020 yarn total. I'm hoping that this will encourage me to keep plugging away at the blanket hexagons (I'm up to 58 now but have at least as much yarn left as I've used) in between projects. I've done 8 this month and each one uses roughly 40m. Only 760m to go. Better get this post finished and get back to the jumper I've cast on.

3. Lose 2lbs a month. I've been doing intermittent fasting now since October. This essentially equates to skipping breakfast. It was hard at first but isn't anymore. I only have to fast until 10am on the split that I picked, so I can still have it when I feel like it, just later on, and one day a week I sack it off entirely, which usually just means a late night gin and an early-morning milky coffee. I'd lost a stone by Christmas: essentially the weight I'd put on during the last two exam series. 

I know people have Opinions about how other people choose to lose weight so please let me reassure you that you don't need to tell me if you don't like intermittent fasting. Your time is precious, as is mine. 

I'm not in a hurry, I'd just like it to be ebbing slowly away with no great effort on my part. I might need to make a bit more of an effort now we're all confined to barracks, though. Luckily Jenny and I are continuing our sessions, very distanced, in the local park, so I am getting some weekly exercise at least. 

There are a couple of other habits I picked up in 2020 that I'd like to continue, such as taking better care of my skin, going to the gym independently and getting more sleep, and a couple of others that fell off the end, like blogging, but those are a bit more difficult to frame and, anyway, I don't want to overload myself. We are in a global pandemic, you know. 

I'm off to pick another book off the shelf. 

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Ten Things about 2020

There doesn't seem to be much point in doing one of my usual long, picture-filled, month-by-month posts about the year that has just passed. I do love reading them, but what is there to say about this year, when I have spent most of it at home? Definitely my greatest achievement will be the knitting: I am 3 rows off finishing my 6th adult garment and my yardage total for the year is almost 10,000m, an unprecedented amount in a normal year (last year I managed around 8,500). Knitting post to come separately. 

Here are the things I'd like to remember 2020 for:

1. Belfast. 

Right after New Year I flew to Belfast with my friends Rachael and Kate to visit another friend, Naomi, who moved back there last year. We did a massive walk to the Giant's Causeway, a walk all around Belfast centre with a visit to Crumlin Gaol, and a castle visit on the last day. It was a deeply relaxing and superfun way to eke out the last few days of the Christmas holidays. 

Here we all are, enjoying a cocktail in the highest bar in Northern Ireland. 

2. Skiing

Who could have guessed that we'd be skiing in northern Italy the week before northern Italy shut down with the pandemic? It was a great trip, regardless. We were in the South Tirol which doesn't really consider itself to be northern Italy, and we had a lovely hotel were Alex and I essentially shared our own flat (talk about a private room - this one had a kitchen) and the owners let us use their hot tub. Throw in some lovely coach drivers, Cieran and Kamal, a terrifying evening of night-toboganning, a go in a tubing park that wasn't technically open to the public and some skiing around statues of dinosaurs, and this trip was an absolute winner. It was an awful journey back with some terrible delays, which spelled trouble for me as I was preparing for a big job interview on the Monday, but other than that, it was a great 'last trip outside the UK for 2020'. 

3. The Lake District

My friend Zoe and I were meant to be going to Costa Rica in the summer. Many hours had been spent planning the route. We'd booked tickets through a questionable third party as they were literally half the price, so naturally cancellation and refund took a long, long time, but it did happen eventually, phew.

Instead, we decided to do a domestic holiday. 'Anywhere except Scotland,' I told Zoe, sympathising with my little car. So naturally, she picked Cumbria. 'I really want to see Hadrian's Wall,' she said. OK, I guess it's not technically Scotland...

We had a really lovely time. We went the second week of August, in what turned out to be something of a national heatwave, only in the western Lakes I can report that it was Not Too Awful. We had one stormy night and one muggy day, but the rest of the time it was just sunny and lovely. We saw Hadrian's Wall. We visited the tree from Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (my choice). We did a paddle boarding session - my coccyx still hurts from falling off (not kidding). We did a 5 hour walk to Black Moss Pots that was less than 2 hours on the way back; Zoe had a sore foot and I never mind walking slow, so we took our time and had a good long stop on the way up, but picked up the pace on the return as we were afraid it would be dark before we got back. We went to the beach at St Bee's, had lunch at the Lakes Distillery, a gorgeous cream tea at a very posh hotel where my car was valet parked, and a boat ride around Derwentwater. I lost my GoPro but it was handed in! So the memory card was returned to me in October. 

It was all just beautiful. What an amazing place. I am looking forward to having another trip back there one day - preferably when I am fitter and enjoying walking a bit more. It's all about the walking, it seems. 

4. Spending more time with friends

For various reasons, the pandemic has enabled more spending time with friends. There was a weekend in the Forest of Dean, a couple of days in a cabin on Oxwich Bay, a few fun nights in at various houses, picnics in the park and at school after the end of the day, more WhatsApp video calls, weekly knitting groups on Zoom, and, of course, masses more time spent with Mr Z, which we both found we enjoyed. There was a fun party at Rachael's house in January. I got a new group of friends to compete alongside in all the history online quizzes there have been this year and we send each other nice things in the post, which is lovely. 

This has all been enjoyable and a definite upshot of the pandemic: more time, more interest in hanging out with people. I hope it lasts beyond corona. 

5. Becoming an auntie

My sister in law gave birth to the bonniest of babies, Lara, on December 29th last year. I have been lucky enough to have a hold of her twice so far, and also feel fortunate that she won't remember this year, or the absence of family. 

Here she is, submitting to wearing my glasses at 11 days old (top) and around 8 weeks (bottom).

6. Getting kittens

Undoubtedly the joy of lockdown. Alex's girlfriend's cats both had a wild night out and conceived at the same time, so we got one from each litter. They have been endlessly entertaining and it has been such a treat to be able to spend so much time with them when they've been little. As a result, we've got some very cuddly cats now. Lenin even sleeps on my desk when I'm working. Krupskaya is, meanwhile, a big fan of the bathroom and likes to supervise all teeth cleaning and baths. 

Sadly, Cromwell the rabbit went off with Frith in November, after a few days of not eating. Luckily Earl seems unconcerned, but we do miss Crom and his entertaining ways. Bonus Crom pic.

7. Some big work wins

It was a weird work year. At the start of it I applied to be the subject adviser at the big O. I wasn't sure if I wanted it, but I knew I would be able to do a good job and it seemed interesting and exciting. I was invited to complete an assessment and then, at the top of a mountain in half term, I got the call inviting me to interview. This gave me approximately no time to prepare, so (as predicted) I did ok on the subject specific questions, less well on the general ones. I spent the rest of the week trying to decide what I would say if they offered me the job, and had pretty much decided on no, due to the requirement to stop all other work; but they thankfully took the decision out of my hands by not offering it to me. It was an interesting process, at any rate.

Perhaps partly as an upshot of this - she was very clear she did not want me to leave - the head at school decided she would create a new Head of Faculty post, which I duly applied for and got. So I've gone from managing a department of senior teachers, to managing one NQT, to managing 4 other subjects alongside my own. I am enjoying the new challenge a lot. 

In the non-school work side of things, I've been working on a new textbook with a bunch of other local teachers since the summer and I am so flipping excited for it to come out. It's been something I've wanted to write for a couple of years and watching it actually happen has been a highlight of the year.

In fact, only one thing could trump it, and that was writing something for the exam board: an addition to the units currently being offered. I won't be more specific than that because this is public but also my personal ramblings and preferably kept on the DL. But, this has been my long-term goal and I am bursting with pride at having had the opportunity to achieve it this year. It has been a long and, at times, frustrating process, and we're still waiting on approval, but it was a definite win.

8. Better self-care

Lockdown has taught me that I don't naturally only need 6 and a half hours of sleep a night. Lockdown has taught me that I don't have to be at the gym to exercise and if I make cake then I'm the only one likely to be eating it and this will make my clothes shrink. Lockdown has taught me that screentime should not be unlimited and that hobbies are things to be encouraged. 

So, I'm ending 2020 with an earlier bedtime, more at-home workout equipment, a 72-day intermittent fasting streak and a larger pile of finished books and completed knitting projects than is usual for a year. Go me. I wish I had blogged a bit more, but then - what was there to say? I'm struggling to get to 10 on this list tbh. 

9. A diagnosis for Mother Hand

We were probably a bit complacent about Mother Hand's mental health during lockdown because, by the time she visited us in July, it was becoming clear that all was no well. This time it was a very hyper episode, which involved flinging things from windows and being very blunt about things. Sib took over and eventually she was sectioned again, though only for a short time while they got her medication right. Either the hospital or the private psychiatrist Sib employed diagnosed her with bi-polar, which is a diagnosis she has welcomed. She seems fine at the moment so I guess we will just wait and see what happens. But this is the first time she has been under medical care during a high episode, so this should hopefully mean that she can access the system more easily the next time. 

10. Working less hard

2020 has been simultaneously a good and bad year to be a teacher. Good - when the exams were cancelled in March, my teaching load instantly halved and I suddenly won back June and July from the grip of the exam board. Bad - I had to learn a whole new system for delivering lessons. Good - for the rest of last academic year, I was only expected to be in school once a fortnight. Bad - I was only expected to be in school once a fortnight: I don't thrive when I'm having to do school work without being in school. Good - it reminded me that I love being in the classroom and cemented my feelings about the job I didn't get in February. Bad - teaching online and in person at the same time is hard; keeping on top of student work is hard; replanning everything for social distancing and distance learning is hard. We have worked very hard, since September, in an environment that has felt increasingly more threatening. 

But from March-August, it was a dream, really. I worked all day on what felt like mostly silly little annoying things, but I did no work in the evenings or at weekends. There was no stress around exam entries or coursework. No intervention or hours of extra marking. GCSE results day was worry-free. I did remember thinking that, in the best tradition of these things, the lack of work in the spring could only mean more work in the autumn (which has proved true) but it was a breath of fresh air, to be honest. 

That said, I hope it's never repeated.

Happy 2021 all. 

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Deck the halls with FOs and holly

The pandemic has given me a lot of opportunities for poring over my Ravelry queue this year and I was inspired to get my hands on some Big Softie off ebay and get on with knitting myself a door wreath for the festive period. Then I made the mistake of posting about it on Twitter and got a request for one, but since it takes all of 4 hours to finish and I bought 10 balls of Big Softie, and since the request came from Yul and Me'Julie (if you happened to read this blog back in 2002 you might remember them) and they've had a horrible year of it, being pub landlords, I decided to oblige. 

Pattern: Hampstead Wreath (Rav link)
Yarn: Sirdar Big Softie, now sadly discontinued. 
Needle: 10mm
Mods: On the first one, on the left, I knitted 14 repeats of the cable instead of 13. The result was a bit too oversized for the pipe lagging - Wilko's only had 15mm lagging, so I stuffed one length into another to get the girth. So, on the second one, I cut to 13 repeats, as per the pattern, but narrowed the width by 2 stitches on each side, resulting in a slightly more stretched cover. I believe the third time will be the charm, when I will probably reduce by one stitch each side and knit 14 repeats, but who knows when I will get round to that? I think knitting two in the space of a week is probably enough. 

Now just to decorate, but how? I'm thinking a big glossy red ribbon bow and some fresh holly and mistletoe, and the toy robin that Krupskaya keeps trying to destroy.