A Year Ago Today…

… I made my first Out With Animals animal! Well, it wasn’t officially for Out With Animals (yet), but my Facebook ‘On This Day’ thing tells me this:

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I’d been knitting animals for my nephew for Christmas. And I saw a koala pattern and thought ‘that’s cute, I’ll make that’. Mostly for something to do! This was before I learnt about Pinterest’s existence, so maybe I specifically liked the idea of a koala, rather than just coming across it. Either way, a year ago today I made Kenny the Koala!

I remember my husband coming home from work and asking why I’d made a Koala and me saying ‘why not? maybe I’ll post them to the Postpals kids’.

The next day, so tomorrow a year ago, I was lounging around in my pyjamas trying to get something a bit more concrete with the idea of posting animals. You can read about my thought process here. My husband came home from work and I told him about the progress in my idea. So he asked what I was going to make next. Pass, I said.

On the 12th January, I finished Eric the Elephant.

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I’d told a friend about my idea and she liked the sound of it and said that Coventry’s animal was an elephant. So if I made an elephant, she would take it on an adventure during her lunch break for me. Great!

I can’t quite remember why I decided to make an owl as the next animal, but I have a feeling I’d told another friend about my plan and she’d said how she was going to see the Harry Potter play and how an owl might be a good animal to take. So I made Olivia the Owl later that week.

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I wanted to test out how it would work, so my husband and I took Kenny the Koala to Leamington Spa for the day. His adventure involved a walk around the park, a trip to Nandos, a nap and a trip the cinema. Accompanied by the grumblings of my husband as he tried to take photos of this tiny animal without it getting wet, muddy or lost. But by the end of it, he was surprisingly enthusiastic (as much enthusiasm as my husband shows anyway!) and was telling me that my photos weren’t good enough and finding different things for Kenny to be photographed with.

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I didn’t get around to writing Kenny the Koala’s story until I’d set up my blog, and his story was first published on the 6th February. So that’s when Out With Animals’s official anniversary shall be! I feel like I should have some kind of online celebration or something for it- there’ve been a lot of animals and volunteers in the space of a year! Maybe something will come to me while I lounge around in my PJs like it did last year, but in the meantime, if anyone has any suggestions as to how to make the occasion online then let me know!

 

 

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New Year, New Project: Temperature Scarf

I was flicking through Instagram and saw a post by Repeat Crafter Me about how they’d always liked the idea of a temperature blanket as a year long project. How cool! The gist of it is, every day you crochet based on the temperature for that day. Some people do granny squares, others stripes. It doesn’t really matter how you do it. But investing in wool for a blanket would be really expensive, and also a bit daunting- what if I missed a day? Then I’d never catch up. Then I saw someone on Pinterest doing the same thing with a scarf (yes, I spend most of my day stalking crochet people on social media!). A scarf is doable, isn’t much in terms of yarn and it wouldn’t take that long to catch up if I missed a day because I was busy. Or let’s face it- the most likely reason I’d miss a day would be because I was in hospital!

Here’s a photo of the scarf idea I found, from Repeat Crafter Me.

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So I had a look at the temperatures and decided to re-think them for our climate here in Coventry, UK. We very rarely have temperatures below -6 and above 32, but we do have a lot of temperatures falling into the blue shades. Which might get a bit boring if it’s the same colour blue for every day. I came up with these as my temperatures.

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I gave it to my husband to check to make sure I hadn’t done anything stupid. Either he’s as stupid as I am, or he really doesn’t pay much attention to any of my crochet ventures (probably the latter), because he declared it was fine. Except it wasn’t- I’d written 7-13 for the 4th colour from the right, which obviously wouldn’t work. Thankfully I noticed this on day 3, so could just redo the 3 days of the year so far. It’s a good job I noticed early on and not in March or something!

I told my husband about his lack of observation skills and he kind of did his eye roll thing (meaning- ‘jesus, you’re showing me crochet stuff I don’t care about). Then he asked ‘how will you decide what the temperature is though?’

Good point! Some people do it based on the temperature at the time they sit down to do it, some people do it based on the top temperature for the day. I decided that my time for doing the scarf would be immediately after breakfast, when I have to sit still for at least half an hour and not move until my tablets and food have all kicked in. Which is a great way of making sure I do it every day, but it does mean that the temperatures would all be the same for a lot of the stripes. My mum bought my husband a google box thing for christmas, which if I say ‘good morning’ to it when I come downstairs, it turns on the lights and tells me the weather. Including the top temperature! Bingo. That’s how I’ll do it then. And google knows everything!

So I’ve been doing it for about 7 days, today is the 8th day and I’ve had a nice spectrum of all the blues so far.

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If it snows again I might do a white row. For now, I’ve just been doing 50 single crochet every day, but I saw someone else do a different stitch for each month, so you could differentiate between them, so I might experiment. I’m quite enjoying it so far! I shall keep you posted 🙂

Crocheting Blankets

Weirdly, I love crocheting big projects like blankets but hate knitting similar things like scarves. Knitting isn’t as quick and takes a lot more wool to get a similar length, or maybe it’s because most long knitted things don’t have enough variation in the pattern of each row, I don’t know. But I really enjoy crocheting blankets.

Most beginner crocheters start with granny squares which can be turned into a blanket or go ahead with a blanket itself. I didn’t because I wanted to make animals for my other blog, Out With Animals. So it’s actually taken me until this current blanket to be able to feel like I can do it without having to rip out loads when I’ve gone wrong in the pattern.

I always planned to make my niece a blanket for when she was born, but then she arrived 11 weeks early so I had to get a wiggle on quicker than I thought I needed to! I made her this granny stripe blanket from Attic 24’s pattern:

I chose pinks, purples, greens and blues because I didn’t want to just assume she’d be a girly girl and like pink. As it turns out, she does seem to like pink a lot! I didn’t do it in a regular repeating pattern because I wanted it to look a bit random.

It was a pretty steep learning curve doing it though. I realised I hadn’t really learnt how to chain properly, since most animals are made of circular shapes so I got very good at magic circles, but had no idea how to chain. So doing the foundation chain was interesting! I also kept adding or losing stitches at the end of rows, mostly because I didn’t really know what a stitch looked like properly- again, it’s easier to see the stitches when making animals. And far less to count! I fixed this by using stitch markers (well, safety pins) to help keep track.

The most ridiculous thing I did when making this was to get the foundation end and the bit I was working on end mixed up when I came back to it after putting it down, because they both were pink at this point. So instead of ripping out the pink bit I’d just worked but added lots of stitches to by accident, I actually ended up pulling out the foundation chain. Which is a massive problem because then everything just unravels! I didn’t actually realise I’d done it until I started working on my next blanket, so goodness knows how I managed to fix it! I remember being really confused, but since I used to make pretty big errors knitting, I threaded the stitches to secure them with a piece of pink wool and then carried on working. You can only see where I did it if you really look hard or know where it is, so I’m happy with that in the end. Plus my niece doesn’t seem to mind!

It’s pretty big for a baby blanket, especially as she’s particularly tiny so I’ll probably make it smaller if I make another baby blanket. It took me a week to make.

The next blanket I did was also by Attic 24 called the neat wave (I think anyway). I spend a lot of days on the sofa under a blanket so decided that I’d mind less about being ill if I had a nice colourful blanket. I picked the colours because we have a striped chair in the living room with similar ones. And this time I followed a colour order, because the wave pattern makes more sense if the colours repeat regularly too. Again, I wasn’t very good at chaining and the pattern took a bit of getting used to. I put stitch markers every 25 stitches along the foundation chain, which also had the added bonus of meaning I couldn’t accidentally rip out the foundation chain! I did a practice swatch first, like the author recommended, so that I could get used to the pattern, but I still found it pretty difficult to work out what the different stitches looked like, so spent a lot of time counting or getting to the end of the row and realising I’d gone wrong. What I learnt from this blanket is that a lot of the time when you’ve gone wrong, it’s usually because you’ve made a mistake in the row below but hadn’t noticed until you tried to make the next row of pattern fit.

It’s pretty big but I like being able to fit under it without my feet poking out. I made it in summer though, which meant I couldn’t really work on it during the day because it was too hot with it on my lap! So this one took me about 6 weeks but I made other things at the same time.

My current blanket is also Attic 24 and is a ripple blanket. The pattern is slightly easier but also I now know what the different stitches look like so don’t just have to pull it out to the start of the row, I can actually tell where I’ve made a mistake! And also I know about the error in the row below thing, so check that too. I’m much better at chaining, and, although I seem to have lost one stitch at one end, both edges are currently really straight. I’m only making this one at night time when I can’t sleep, so progress varies on how well I’m sleeping! So far I’ve been doing it for about 2 and a half weeks.

This one is to keep me warm when I go out in the wheelchair over winter. It’s really, really cold sitting because you’re obviously not walking which is what warms most people up. I’m aiming for it to be longer than it is wide, so that I can double it over on my lap or pull it up to my ears if its particularly cold! I picked the colours partly through practical reasons and partly because I just liked them. From a practical view, the blanket is going to be outside so likely to be dropped on the floor or rained on. So dark colours show dirt less!

I like having a blanket to do at night time because the repetitiveness of it helps me switch off. Now that I know what I’m doing and don’t make as many mistakes! Once I’ve finished this one, I shall have to find someone else to make a blanket for!

Crochet & Mindfulness

I started knitting when I had to have a long time off work because my asthma was really unstable. I couldn’t walk around my house without numerous doses of ventolin and steroids a day, let alone teach music. But my brain was fine. It wasn’t like feeling poorly where all you want to do is watch daytime tv and snooze on the sofa. I was slowly being driven mad and getting really bored.

So I taught myself to knit so I had something to do while watching hours of daytime tv. And now, I also crochet. Difference being is my brain isn’t as ok now- now I have brain fog and concentration issues but I work around that. Crocheting also has the added bonus that I can do it while lying down!

One of the big things with my Adrenal Insufficiency is that I can get incredibly anxious over not a lot. And then I can’t sleep, which feeds the anxiety…. so I find crocheting gives me something to slow my anxious brain but isn’t too taxing, as long as I pick the right project. It means I have lots of things on the go constantly because then I can pick and choose.

Like I said, usually I crochet with the tv on. But more recently I’ve been trying something new. I’ve been practising mindfulness and meditation to help my anxiety anyway, but I thought why not combine two things I love doing?

Nowadays, we don’t really approach many things mindfully. We constantly have our phones out, or listen to music while walking or eat and watch TV. We don’t actually really ever settle to do one task and get absorbed fully in it. Our brains are constantly thinking of the next thing, and we don’t really enjoy being in the moment.

So crocheting mindfully means not doing it with the tv on. I’ve been doing it two ways: one way is where I approach it like meditation, where I concentrate solely on what I’m doing (more on that in a minute), or the other is where I want to give myself space to think about something specific but without getting emotionally involved in it e.g. My hands are busy which lets me see the facts rather than the emotion attached to the facts, which is what makes me anxious. If I feel overwhelmed, I switch to just the mindfulness option.

What does it actually mean though? It’s:

– paying attention to each stitch. If there’s a pattern or rhythm to it, I say the stitches in my head like Dec, single crochet, double crochet… it helps if it’s repetitive and I don’t have to consult a pattern

– looking at the colours. I love the blanket I’m working on (they’re best for mindfulness practice). So I like looking at the colours blending.

– I also like the feel of my current yarn. It’s really soft but chunky so it’s easy to hold but really tactile.

– I sometimes put on calming music from my Calm meditation app or definitely have my white noise machine on. So I tune into those sounds

– I try to match my breathing to what I’m doing. It kind of makes it musical if you’ve got a steady rhythm going and get your breathing to coordinate

– it’s about not getting frustrated if you make a mistake and have to rip it out. I’m not doing it to make progress in my project (well I kind of am too), I’m doing it because I love crocheting

– it doesn’t matter if I finish in the middle of a row. Another reason why blankets are good because you can pick them up and put them down again easily. It’s about removing the need to set targets and time limits, and just ‘being’.

There’s something a bit hypnotic about it. Some days I’m better at keeping my mind on the task, others my mind keeps wandering and I keep having to bring myself back. But that’s ok, because I’m recognising my mind wandering, which is almost as important as staying focussed is. I still like crocheting in front of the tv, but I also quite like the time I get to just crochet because I want to enjoy that specific time.

Why I Started ‘Out With Animals’

It’s a very strange thing when you stop working because of ill-health. The only thing I can really compare it to in any way is it must be a bit like what retirement feels like. It’s the end of an era, you’re admitting that you’re not able to function like you used to, you’re taking some time for yourself and you’re putting your working life behind you. But retirement is expected, and it’s a celebration in some ways as well. When you stop working 40 years earlier than expected like I did, you don’t get people celebrating your working achievements with you or praising your dedication and merits. I didn’t even get a leaving card or a cake. It was a bit like I died- I just ceased to exist in the working world and life carried on for everyone around me.

I get it, to everyone else – family and friends included, not just work colleagues- it’s a case  of people don’t know how to respond. It’s not like leaving for a new and exciting job role, or a change in career, or going back to studying, where you can wish someone luck in their new projects. It’s not like giving up work to go on maternity leave or to concentrate on bringing up your family where you can at least make jokes about the perils of parenthood, while also wishing luck for the future. It’s not even like taking a break because I’ve got cancer or another illness with an end date on it and I’d hopefully go back to work sometime in the future. So people didn’t know what to say, and, truth be told, it’s only now I think about it that I realise what would have helped me at the time.

I realise now that I didn’t fail because I stopped working. But I felt like that was the case because of my feelings about it and because of the way people (inadvertently) made me feel by dodging the subject or the way they spoke to me about it. There should have been something to mark the successful bits of my career.It takes a bit of getting used to, being unemployed, even if you’ve been off sick for a while beforehand. It’s completely different and still comes as a shock. It also takes a bit of getting used to admitting you’re disabled. So until Christmas, I basically was trying to find where I fitted in the world without my job and all of the things I loved about having a job which came with it. Not to mention the sudden drop in income and the change in lifestyle which has to come with it.

I decided to knit everyone I knew Christmas presents, which kept me busy. But then I got to January, where everyone always feels sad and depressed anyway and it kind of hit me. What the hell am I going to do with my life now? The way I saw it, there was two options:

  1. Give up and become a victim-like personality and exist purely as my illness and nothing else.
  2. Find myself a reason to get up every day which gave me some sense of purpose. I can’t work but I can find something to do with my life which makes it actually worth living. I’m definitely not living the way I planned my life to be, but I can’t do much about the cards I’ve been dealt, so I may as well make the game as good a one as I can. Just because I’m incapacitated doesn’t mean I’m incapable. I still have worthwhile characteristics and qualities which didn’t just vanish when I stopped working.

Number 1 is by far the easiest. If people feel sorry for you, you get attention, and who doesn’t feel better from attention? You can use your illness as an ‘excuse’, some people will let you act in whatever way you want ‘because you’re sick’. But it’s more pity than attention, and it’s completely fake. And, if you’ve got a normal lifespan with your chronic illness, other people aren’t going to put up with you acting like that forever.

Number 2 is definitely harder. Most mornings I wake up and think ‘here we go again, I feel awful, I haven’t really slept, I wanted to do X today, but I probably won’t manage. Why is the kitchen so far away to make my breakfast? Can I really be bothered with this?’ In January, it was even worse and I really struggled mentally. So I decided to do something about it.

I sat down and thought about what I’d like to do with all my ‘free’ time if I wasn’t restricted by illness:

  • volunteer
  • support a charity
  • do sports
  • play music
  • start a business
  • meet up with friends
  • read
  • study something
  • Take up a hobby I do every day
  • travel

Then I put a line through all of the ones I can’t do because of illness. Meeting up with friends with no money wasn’t going to be a sustainable thing. Plus they have jobs during the day. Reading is something I struggle with. I’d been supporting Post Pals, a charity which sends post to seriously ill children to cheer them up over Christmas with their reindeer post scheme, so I contacted them and asked if there was anything regularly I could do. They said people send their kids post all year round. I know I like receiving post when I’m feeling poorly and depressed, so I decided to find something along those lines which I could do. I could do it from home when I could manage it with my illness, which was good for me too.

However, as much as sending post to children would give me something to do every now and then, it wasn’t really the regular thing I was looking for i.e. something every single day. What else can I do every day? Knitting. I was doing a lot of knitting. I could also write blogs on my phone. The thing with me and charity work is that I don’t do charity work for the ‘praise’ I get back. I actually prefer doing charity stuff if I don’t get feedback from whoever I’m doing it for, because it makes it feel less like I’m doing it for myself and more like I’m doing it for the ‘right’ reasons (in my head anyway). But, I was pretty isolated, and I knew that whatever I was trying to do every day needed to be something which involved a two-way interaction process with another human being, so that I didn’t get stuck in a depressive spiral.

So I had knitting, Post Pals and writing as my ‘things I can do most days’ list. I’d been making a lot of animals for my nephew because I’d got bored of making conventional things like scarves. The animals were good to make because they only took me a couple of days each and they knit up in sections, meaning I can start and stop them when I needed a rest without getting lost. Except my nephew was quickly developing quite a zoo in his bedroom, so that couldn’t continue much longer. But I thought ‘if he likes animals, then other kids will too. Maybe I’ll make some for the post pals kids‘. Another thing which I realised, is that I always have some kind of stuffed toy in my hospital bag because it gives me some kind of comfort when I’m feeling vulnerable in a hospital. Now, if I like to have something pocket sized to take with me as a 30 year old, those kids from Post Pals definitely will. What if the animal was their friend? And wrote a letter to them to say hello when they got sent to them? Or, what if the animals talked about what they’d been up to before they got sent to the child, and then the child could introduce them to their world?

Basically, I came up with: knit an animal (daily habit), persuade a friend to take out an animal and take photos of it doing things (2 way interaction for me), write a story (daily habit), post the animal and story off to the post pals children (charity). My doctors, especially my psychiatrist all heartily approved of me doing this.The friend who took the first animal out for me works in comms, so suggested social media to get more people involved, and because she found the whole concept quite amusing! I was having to work hard to convince people that they wanted to take a stuffed animal out with them places and take photos of it ‘pretending’ to be on an adventure (people thought I was a bit nuts), so I set up twitter, instagram and Facebook profiles, as well as an online blog for the stories, under the name ‘Out with Animals‘.

I was quite enjoying being sent photos of the animals doing fun things (and seeing what my friends were up to) and using my brain a bit to write stories- it appealed to the creative side of me that had kind of got covered in dust since stopping music teaching. Then around Easter time, a lot of people I know had holidays planned and, instead of me thrusting an animal on them and begging them to take photos, suddenly a lot of people asked if they could take an animal with them. And I’ve had some really imaginative photos from lots of people! I started using the social media pages I set up to ‘chat’ to places the animals visited- I had a lovely chat with Monarch Airlines about Lizzy the Lizard’s travel sickness from having eaten too much Easter Chocolate, I managed to get Eric the Elephant a City of Culture Badge by tweeting them about his adventures and the Kennedy Space Centre tweeted me back about Oscar the Octopus’s attempt to be the first octopus in space. Not only were the animals getting more and more adventurous- they’ve been to places all over, from Italy to Japan, but it really was helping me and my mental health. Around the same time, another charity called Help for Dominica emailed me and asked if I could send some animals over to Dominica to help with their school education and outreach programmes following Tropical Storm Erika. That was also pretty exciting, and I’ve sent 7 out there so far.

Now I’ve constantly got a ‘list’ of animals that people have requested to take out, and I’ve also had a few random strangers who have come across my page ask to be involved either by crocheting animals or because they want an animal to take out. Groups and organisations like primary schools, Scouts, Rainbows, Hospitals, the army, a mayor, and the police have asked to be involved somehow. That’s pretty cool for an idea that came out of me sitting in my PJs knitting one day in January!

Making animals is in no way filling the massive hole that teaching and having a job left. But it’s something I can do which helps other people, gives me some kind of a sense of purpose, and stops myself from hiding away and exacerbating my illness by isolating myself. I can do it at my own pace and stop when I’m having rough patches with illness. If you follow my social media, I tend to do an update before 8am when I’m doing my whole ‘here we go again….’ monologue- that’s intentional. It’s the hardest time of day for me, and even when I’ve been in hospital, I’ve still managed to post an update. It means that I can feel like I’m contributing to life even though I’m not out of bed yet and everything is really hard work. I’ve achieved something even if I manage nothing else for the rest of the day. It’s only a small thing, but it’s quite important for me to be able to do it. It’s not the same as having a career, but I enjoy doing it, and it’s a lot better than giving up and letting my illness take over completely. If nothing else, I’m proud of myself for that!

Harry Potter in Concert

The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra is currently touring the UK performing the Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone film score live at the same time as the film is played. I’m a massive Harry Potter fan and particularly love the Harry Potter film music, so I loved it! 


We went to see it in the Albert Hall. There were performances closer to us, but I incorporated it into part of my 30 things list and I thought the atmosphere would be amazing. And it was. It was a great mix of people- film lovers, orchestra fans, Harry Potter geeks dressed in robes, children… it was really good fun. And audience participation was encouraged! 

I studied conducting at university, but never did any film or screen conducting. I found it interesting to watch it being performed live with the film, because it obviously has to be really precise, but usually when the film score is recorded, it’s done with cues and times. This conductor must have really internalised his score and the film to be able to get it so spot on in front of a live audience. Incredible. And the musicians were amazing too. An entire film score, especially the length of a Harry Potter one, is a lot of playing to do in one concert! 


There was also a choir with wordless parts throughout. You know their bits exist when watching the film, but because it was live their parts added more depth to the soundtrack. In fact, in general there was more depth to the music, especially in the lower brass. I guess it’s partly because I haven’t watched the first HP film on a large screen since it originally was released and the sound gets compressed a lot when it gets turned into a DVD. I also noticed a lot more of the musical devices used and our perception of some of the characters was different, which was interesting! All because the music was played live and more of a focus rather than in the background. 

I think my favourite bit was actually the credits because they played them in their entirety and people stayed in their seats and listened unlike at the cinema. The orchestra played all of the themes we’d listened to for the last few hours and it just rounded it off nicely. And also got a really loud round of applause. 

It was a great day out. We managed to get street parking right outside the Albert Hall (£14 ish for 4 hours), and the congestion charge doesn’t apply on weekends. Because I’m not up to walking far, we decided to have lunch in the Italian restaurant at the Albert Hall, which was a bit of a gamble because we hadn’t reserved and it could have been ridiculously expensive, but it turned out to be really reasonably priced and a nice meal. Plus we didn’t have to rush because we were already at the venue. I’ve only been to the Albert Hall once before so I loved being in such a historic venue. The same orchestra are performing the Chamber of Secrets next year so I’m tempted to see that too! 

Banner photo: taken from the Albert Hall box office 

Podcasts

I really hate napping. I’ve always hated going to sleep. When I was a kid, I didn’t like to feel like I was missing out on anything (what, I don’t know) so I didn’t like going to sleep. I’m still like it in some respects, but a lot of my time at the moment is spent napping or lying down resting. It’s boring! 

A friend told me about podcasts. These are now my new favourite thing! Sometimes I lie on the sofa and watch tv and nap, but unless it’s something I’ve seen before, I tend to want to have my eyes open so I don’t miss anything, which isn’t very conducive to napping. Plus it takes extra energy processing sound *and* sight so it’s not as much rest as I could get. Making podcasts a good option! A lot of them are free, there’s lots of talking and I can lie in bed with my eyes shut and drift in and out of sleep. Or if I can’t sleep, I know I’m getting decent rest. I tried audiobooks before, but the problem with those is that if I fall asleep I tend to get ‘lost’, and I feel like I’ve ‘missed out’ on some of the plot (which I have). Here are some of my current favourite podcasts:

The West Wing Weekly

It’s a discussion of each episode of the West Wing, so I have a legitimate reason to watch the West Wing for the umpteenth time! They talk about plot lines and characterisation, but also production and backstage things too, which I’m finding really interesting. 

Serial

This is one which you have to listen to in order. It follows a case of a girl who was abducted and murdered and the 17 year old boy who was convicted of it. It’s a real case from 1999 but the point of the podcast is that they’re not convinced he actually did it. So they’re picking apart the case and using interviews and evidence to try to decide. It’s so interesting! It’s a bit like Sherlock, to me anyway. 

Desert Island Discs

This is quite a good one to dip in and out of if I actually want to sleep. A different famous person per episode is asked what music they’d take with them to a desert island. They also talk about their reasons for having chosen the pieces so you find out some details about their lives. 

The Rough Guide to Everywhere 

It’s a travel podcast with special guests who discuss places they’ve traveled to, their lives at specific points when travelling and culture. I’m not listening to all of them, just the ones I find interesting.

Kermode & Mayo’s Film Review 

Basically a run down of the latest films, both on TV and in the cinema, complete with reviews. Listeners can write in and contribute and there’s usually a celebrity interview linked to a film out at the time. Another one that’s good to listen to in the background, but I quite like the debates they have about the different films. 

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

The notion of this is an interesting one: looking at Harry Potter as though it was a text like the Bible or another sacred text. It’s really fascinating how if you read the chapters with a specific theme in mind, it changes the way you view the story. I’m not re-reading the books along with the podcast because I did that quite recently, but I really like how they pick apart certain elements of it, and how actually a lot of the morals of the story are the same or similar foundations of other religions. The presenters use examples from their own lives to illustrate their interpretations as well, which helps you think about aspects of your own life. 

There are some other ones I occasionally listen to, like some meditation ones or the documentaries and long reads on the Guardian and BBC channels, but these are the ones that I look forward to listening to. The West Wing Weekly is by far my favourite, but I’ve almost caught up with them and they only record once a week! Let me know if you have any suggestions of others to listen to 🙂 

Learning How to Crochet

I like to think of myself as a proficient knitter:

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but crochet seemed like a strange form of witchcraft in comparison. I tried to learn with a friend last year and it felt like I was just waving a stick around in the air, occasionally catching some wool and expecting it to magically form something that resembled crochet. It was fun though!

I recently started knitting small animals for charity and writing stories about them (check out this blog) but was getting incredibly frustrated with the amazing and cute crochet patterns available and the distinct lack of knitting equivalents. So I decided last week to learn how to crochet properly.

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Lou the Lion on his animal adventure

Another friend told me about some really easy crochet videos by a guy called Mikey on the Crochet Crowd YouTube channel. I’d looked at videos before but got nowhere but this was a whole series of videos with slow and clear instructions. He even tells you when to pause the video! So I started practising the basic stitches: single crochet, double crochet and triple crochet.

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The one thing I will say is the way he tells you to do a slip knot is unecessarily difficult, in my opinion. But I knew that from knitting anyway.

I spent a few days learning and practising these. My venture into crochet last year helped a lot because I already knew how to hold the hook and how to yarn over. But I got to the point where I was bored of doing stitches and wanted to do something that was recognisable as crochet and not just a series of random knots. So Mikey helpfully taught me how to make a Granny Square.

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I was pretty proud of my achievement, but a friend said they’re supposed to be different colours. Well, Mikey didn’t tell me how to change colours, so I didn’t. And Mikey is the Crochet Master! So I went on YouTube and found a different channel by a British lady.

This is where I got confused. She was saying the word single crochet but she was not single crocheting. Had Mikey been lying to me the whole time?! Then I remembered that American and British crocheting are different, although Mikey is Canadian I think, judging by the way he says ‘about’. I switched video and found a different British lady who does ‘the American way’ and managed a colour changing granny square:

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I felt like I was cheating on Mikey a bit though, he’d got me further than anyone else so far through his idiot proof lessons, so I went back to his channel and picked up the next lesson which was circles:

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I’m absolutely appalling at maths so I was grateful for Mikey and his helpful rhymes telling me how to do it. However, this is where my knitting knowledge came in handy- I might not have been able to immediately do what Mikey was telling me but I was able to work out what I should be doing, which is half the battle.

The next thing I wanted to learn was how to make a flower. Mikey’s channel taught me a simple flower and the British lady taught me how to make a rose.

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I felt like I was getting the hang of it by now, so realised that I should probably stop relying on Mikey and work out how to read a pattern. Thankfully Mikey also had a video for that too! I also decided to buy some crochet hooks, because I only owned 1 before.

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I needed an animal for someone to take to Italy for me and gecko was one of the suggestions. So I found a pattern online pretty quickly, so much easier than trawling through the knitting ones! I had issues working out what a magic ring was. Correction, I knew what I was supposed to do – you wrap the yarn in such a way that you don’t have a hole in the centre of your work – but Mikey’s video was overly complicated, so I found a different one. Working this out took the longest but once I’d got that, the rest of the pattern was pretty easy to decipher by using what I already knew or by using YouTube videos. Again, knitting knowledge came in handy.

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I’m pretty impressed with myself because my first attempts at crochet last year were terrible. Getting the right YouTube videos was definitely the main reason for my success- I’m quite good at copying someone but not very good at verbal instructions. The Crochet Crowd videos with Mikey were good because he repeated the exact same phrase over and over and didn’t talk unnecessarily while he was doing it, which helped when trying to repeat the stitches in a different context. Truth be told, I still don’t have a clue what the differences between all of the stitches are, but it doesn’t take long to go back to the videos and work out which ‘rhyme’ I’m supposed to be using. I’m looking forward to the different patterns I can now explore! Thanks Mikey 🙂

30 Foods Before 30: Spring Update

My birthday in May seems a lot closer now Spring has sprung. I’ve started a new diet, low carb high fat, which slowed me down a bit with finding some of the foods on my list. But now I’ve got to grips with it, I’ve been able to take a few breaks from it to make sure I complete my list!

1. Biscuits and gravy

2. Musakhan jajj

3. Freak shake We went to the shopping centre where I got the Freak Shake last time and it took a lot of will power not to go in and get another one!

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4. Wood ants I’m not looking forward to this one… The friend who suggested it was talking about this place the other day. The restaurant sounds like an interesting place so I’m up for trying it, even if I don’t feel excited by the prospect!

5. Lobster I had steak and lobster in a steak house.

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6. Khachapuri

7. Ceviche Texture was weird, but the taste was good!

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8. Kleftico

9. Nutella Krispy Kreme Many, many times…! So good! Sadly, Krispy Kreme definitely isn’t low carb, and one doughnut would be approximately 2/3 of a day of carbs for me. So I shouldn’t really sample anymore of these 😦

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10. Raclette I’ve had lots of Racelette now. Especially as it’s a very low carb meal, which is an added bonus! Here’s our most recent one a few weeks ago:

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11. Afternoon tea While on holiday in Wales we had a lovely afternoon tea out.

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12. Tapas I’ve had Spanish and Italian Tapas since starting this list. My brother now owns a Tapas bar, so hopefully I’ll be able to sample his soon too!

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13. Alcoholic ice lollies We tried making these over Christmas, but lacked the alcohol to put in them…

14. ‘Proper’ loose leaf tea I’ve had this a couple of times, once at a friend’s house and also with afternoon tea

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15. Tartiflette I can’t believe I’ve not had this yet! We even have the cheese in the freezer ready to go! It’s become slightly more difficult with my latest diet, which rules out potatoes. I’ll make an exception for this though 😉

16. Dosas

17. Tagine My husband made this for tea one night. It was alright- something I’d eat, but not something I’d really look forward to having again.

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18. Real steak Steak is now a regular feature in my diet. Here’s my favourite one- philly cheese steak

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19. Gelato I’m happy to continue sampling flavours with this, despite it being ‘done’😉

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20. Pecan pie In an american smoke house- very, very good pie.

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21. Mississippi mud pie I didn’t eat it in pie form, but I did have it in a sundae the other day. It was pretty good- quite bitter but I like some desserts like that.

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22. Ice cream float Also in the smoke house, had this a couple of times now.

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22. Hot dog This was ‘alright’. I wouldn’t pick it again, but I can say I ate it!

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23. Octopus We had this as part of the tapas meal I had ages ago and it was ‘alright’. But then my friend (the one who’s the really good cook) made it for us as part of a meal we had before Christmas and it was really, really good.

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24. Thai food I’ve had a Thai Green Curry at a pub and at home and Thai Red Curry Mussels but haven’t eaten in a Thai restaurant or eaten authentic Thai food. So this is kind of done, but not quite

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25. Chowder My good chef friend made us chowder a few weeks ago. It was amazing! Definitely something I’ll have again

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26. Mussels We had these this week on our anniversary meal out for our second wedding anniversary. They were also unlimited so we could eat lots of flavours. Korma and red thai curry were the best.

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27. Wood fired pizza Pizza is the opposite of low carb so takes a bit of planning. But that won’t stop me! 😉

28. Churros I’ve had these a few times now, still really good, especially these ones with nutella and dulce de leche

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29. Jerk chicken This was an amazing meal out for my husband’s birthday.

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30. Sweet potato fries I’m still pretty obsessed with these- every meal that comes with the option of chips, I switch them for sweet potato fries if I can!

If you’re observant, I repeated the number 22 by mistake when I wrote my list so I’ve actually got 31 things, not 30. But I’m happy to eat one thing extra! So in my Winter update I had 19 done, 1 nearly done and 11 not tried yet. Now I’ve got 21 done, 1 nearly done and 9 not tried yet. I’m getting there slowly! It’s the more obscure things on my list I have left now. So if you want to cook for me (please) or accompany me in my quest for finding the things on my list, let me know! 🙂

Banner photo: google image

Knitting Off-piste

A friend asked me if I could knit a kangaroo and joey as part of a birthday present she was making. She was sewing a patchwork blanket (I think!?)  with pockets in for small toys, so the criteria was it had to fit in the pocket. I’ve never knitted a kangaroo before and I don’t often knit toys, so this sounded fun. Plus I really like knitting for a purpose rather than just knitting random things and finding them a home afterwards. So I started looking online for patterns.

There’s a distinct lack of kangaroo knitting patterns online, I discovered. Not a problem. I’ve knitted for long enough that I know how to adapt patterns to suit my own purposes. So I started thinking outside the box and looked for patterns of rabbits and mice and other small creatures that I could change to become kangaroo-like.

I started one for a rabbit, which was a pattern knitted in the round. It didn’t tell me the dimensions of the end product, so I chose small needles and wool and hoped for the best. The start of the pattern was fine, but then it started wanting me to knit part of it like I was knitting the heel of a sock. This is where I ran into problems: with my Adrenal Insufficiency, I categorise skills into pre and post diagnosis. Basically anything I learnt how to do before I developed adrenal insufficiency, I can usually repeat now (providing I can physically manage it and albeit a lot slower). Some medical professionals encourage people with concentration/memory problems (like Alzheimer’s) to knit because it’s enough to keep the brain working but not too taxing on it. I really struggle to learn anything new now, can’t retain the information, and can’t piece together abstract bits of information. So I know how to knit and follow and adapt patterns because I did that for years before, but I’d never knitted a sock before so I was completely clueless. Eventually, the disaster that was becoming the rabbit/sock/kangaroo was turning out to be ridiculously huge, so I decided to abandon that pattern completely and try a new one.

A friend bought me this book for Christmas:

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It’s a good book anyway, but crucially for me and my criteria, it said ‘mini’. Toys are usually made up in pieces which you sew together, so I started looking through the book to see if there were any characters I could ‘steal’ and adapt to fit my kangaroo.

I eventually decided on: the body of Mary, the head and neck of a donkey, the arms of a sheep and I would make my own legs, tail and ears based on what I already know. It sounded a little bit like a Catholic prayer of some sort for communion, but I set to work.

The body of Mary worked out quite well for the body of the kangaroo. Next I made the neck and donkey head. This didn’t turn out so well, mostly because the neck was a lot longer than I needed it to be for my kangaroo- a bit like a giraffe. So I flicked through the book again and found a reindeer head, which was much better, minus the antlers. It became obvious that while I could position the reindeer head and Mary and sew those together, I also needed a base. Otherwise all the stuffing would fall out and the kangaroo wouldn’t stand up. So I knitted a circle and sewed that on, and then put some toy stuffing in before sewing up completely.

After all that, the legs, arms and tail were quite easy. The legs, tail and ears I just knitted front to back into every stitch on a knit row until I had enough stitches (and purled the purl rows) and the arms I followed the i-cord suggestion from the sheep pattern. My husband said it still didn’t look very kangaroo-like so I decided to knit him a pouch, by doing a sort of half circle similar to the base in white. I found some blue beads for the eyes and decided to knit him a red scarf to give him a bit of colour. For the joey, I did another i-cord section which I folded in half lengthways. Before sewing the sides, I embroidered eyes and a mouth in black wool, sewed up the sides, and just sewed over myself a lot of times into where the head, arms and feet would be to give them a bit of shape. Knitting a scarf for joey would have been too fiddly, if not impossible, so I tied a piece of blue yarn round his neck.

I was quite impressed with how they turned out considering I don’t make toys often and it was a bit like knitting off-piste! And considering it’s an amalgamation of Mary, a reindeer and a sheep!

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