Vive la difference?

As Max grows, there are a whole new set of comparisons to draw   against Claudia. The one giving us grey hairs right now is that, while she was a demanding infant but super-sweet, biddable, careful toddler, he’s… not. Well, sweet, yes, absolutely; he is still King of Cuddles, cheerful and affectionate and utterly delicious. But biddable? Careful? Ha. No, he’s the kid who wants what he wants, and will move heaven and earth (or at least a whole lot of furniture) to get it, without paying any heed to risks or warnings.

“Oh,” people love to comment, “he’s a BOY. Now you see the difference.”

You reckon? Hm. Okay. You may have a point. After all… he’s obsessed with anything with wheels. (Motorbikes get him particularly excited.) Also balls. Tractors! Machinery! BOY STUFF!

Then again…

He’s also way more into dolls and stuffed animals than Claudia was at this age. And less into building blocks.

He’s better at playing by himself. And while I’ve always been told boys would require a whole lot more time running around outside than girls, I simply haven’t seen any difference compared with Claudia at this age.

And the biddable thing? Well, my friend Pip has twins. E was a placid infant, while B was a shark baby, like Claudia: got to keep moving. Very demanding. Only started to enjoy life once he got mobile – like Claudia. But then became a super-sweet, eager to please toddler, whereas E would just do what E wanted to do, regardless.

They’re both boys. And for that matter, they’re twins. You can’t explain the difference away by gender, nor by first child/second child syndrome. They’re individuals, with individual personalities. It’s as simple as that. I’d really love it if people would apply that pretty obvious insight to my kids, also.

Especially because, as Terrence Real, who’s a couples’ therapist, says, when you take the whole range of human capabilities and qualities, and you say one half is masculine, and one half is feminine, and only boys can be masculine, and only girls can be feminine, then everybody loses, because you’re asking everyone to cut off and deny a part of their humanity.

(from this great interview with Judy Y Chu, who has studied boys’ behaviour in the early school years)


I decided a while ago to let my longstanding subscriptions to Designer Knitting (as Vogue is now known in the UK) and Interweave Knits lapse. Not without pangs; Vogue in particular is very close to my heart, having been my connection to the world of Real Knitters since waaaay back in the day when I was in South Africa without access to any decent yarn shops,* knew no one outside my family who knit, and of course Ravelry and blogs just didn’t exist.

My Vogue collection goes back unbroken to 1999, plus occasional earlier issues from 1993 on. I only found Interweave later, in the UK, so that shelf starts in 2003.  I purged all my other magazines when we moved, but those two titles are untouchable. It’s not that I’ve actually knit much of anything from them, nor do I plan to. But they are inspiration made concrete – not to mention advice, education, contemplation, temptation, pleasure.

All of which – plus the vital sense of connection that drove my subscriptions for years – are now available online. In vast quantity and constantly updated; no endless waiting for the next issue to drop through my door. Oh sure, the thrill when it does drop through my door is unabated. But paying for that thrill, when inspiration and connection flow freely past my eyes every time I fire up the internet, was starting to seem a little self-indulgent. Especially with my post-move, SAHM budget being pretty darn tight. So I ignored the renewal notices; I let procrastination turn gradually into firmer purpose: I won’t renew. I don’t really need them any more. Do I?

And then today, picking up my last issue – and presumably last renewal notice –  from the postbox, the thought suddenly struck me: what if everyone allows Ravelry to replace their subscriptions? What if the magazines finally stop publishing? I’m shocked that it took me so long to think of that, especially since I actually work in publishing and have very recent, painful experience of this trend. But it genuinely only now occurred to me: that’s where we’re going. And I can’t bear to think of a knitting world without Vogue and Interweave.

Editorial standards count for something. Curated expertise counts for something. And I have no doubt there are readers who rely absolutely on the magazines… but maybe not enough of those readers to keep the mags alive. I love Ravelry so much, and the quality of many self-publishing designers is sublime. But I don’t want the whole market to go that way.

So I’m putting my money where my mouth is – and after all, it’s really not much money. Money is energy. It takes me time and energy to earn it; I want to direct that energy toward things I believe in. Just as I think one should never leave a yarn shop or a bookshop emptyhanded (even if habitual online shopping has one’s credit card number imprinted on one’s brain), I’ve decided, I need to keep supporting these magazines.

That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

  • That’s changed, of course! But at the time…

Week 2 in verbs/5 things

First week back at work, which was obviously not so much fun since the job is ending. But it ended on a slightly improved note, with a project to keep me busy for the rest of the month that might actually be slightly meaningful. Maybe. At least it’s a project. Meanwhile, I have been:

Reading Kate Atkinson, still. 

Knitting those handwarmers, at speed of light, and of course now Elfling wants her own matching pair. Sure, why not, I have leftover yarn and they really are speedy. Sadly I’ve also been reknitting the loop; my initial reaction to the first version was “Wow! Surprisingly awesome!” – but then a few details bugged me. Mostly, it was good enough to be worth publishing the pattern; but the pattern wouldn’t be good enough in that form. So, a rewrite/reknit. It’s irritating me. I think the result will be cool, and it’s not exactly slow, but it’s irritating and not going as fast as I’d like. Also started a pair of socks for bus knitting (not that I’ll have much bus time any more – working mostly from home till end of contract), because I’ve joined the Poshies sock challenge (7 pairs in 2014).

…You know what, I just can’t. I do kind of like recording what I’ve done through the week, but frankly that’s for a private journal. It’s so unbelievably boring. Let’s go back to last year’s favourite format. Random 5 coming up!

1. The Maximuffin is one! One year of awesomeness. Still shockingly lacking in nice photos, which is a sadness. We celebrated with Armin’s family and a rather nice (though craterrific) flourless cake. (The Dude himself has gotten over his wheat allergy, but Grosi – Swiss for grandmother – has just been diagnosed with gluten issues.) Recipe, adapted from Sophie Michell:

8 egg whites
300g ground hazelnuts and/or almonds 
(I used a mix)
300g caster sugar
Grated zest of 2-3 clementines
Handful of dried cherries (optional)
Icing sugar, some clementine segments and decorations, if required
Preheat the oven to 180C and line a deep 20cm cake tin. Mix the ground nuts and sugar thoroughly (you’ll need a BIG bowl), then stir in the fruit. Beat the egg whites till soft peaks form and fold into dry ingredients. Pour into prepared cake tin and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown on top. Leave to cool.   
Mix some icing sugar (I have absolutely no idea how much, I just tipped some into a bowl, not too much) with clementine juice (I literally just smushed a few pieces between my fingers until I could mix the icing easily – going for a fairly thin icing but not as runny as a glaze). Spread over cake and decorate. Or let your kindergartener decorate. If you’ve followed my directions, rather than what I actually did (adding the cherries too late), you shouldn’t have my problem with the centre collapsing; but if you do, stick some icing cars around the side and pretend it’s a racing track. Worked for me.


It’s good, I promise, and well worth trying for a gluten-free treat. Although not quite as good as the Queen of Sheba flourless chocolate cake, which is totes amazeballs, and no, I will not apologise for that phrase. (There seem to be a lot of recipes going by that name. The linked one is the simplest, and so good, I can’t be bothered to try any others.)

2. Christmas trees make awesome bonfires. Ever thrown a pine branch on a fire? So many sparks! 


Note the actual firemen handling the burning of trees, in manly man fashion. Couldn’t have just anybody chucking trees on the fire, no sir. Mind you… they do have those groovy gloves that let them adjust the trees in the fire when needed; and the trees do have a way of suddenly going FOOOM.



Isn’t this a much, much nicer way of disposing of trees than just leaving them out with the recycling? So much nicer. There was a sausage party, too, in the barn. (This all took place on a farm in the village; before Christmas they sold trees, after, they burned them!) Sausages and bread free, but Fr5 for potato salad. Go figure.

3. Sunday brunch is an all-day date. Did you know? Maybe it’s a Hamburg thing. Armin always waxes very nostalgic about the brunches he enjoyed with his Hamburg friends, when he did apprenticeships there back in the day. Now we’ve started brunching with our neighbours from Hamburg (conveniently, they have two very sweet kids about 6 months older than each of our two), and the only time it’s lasted less than 5-7 hours was the time we had an immoveable date that required us to cut things short after just 4 hours. So rude of us. Anyway, today three of those hours were spent learning a new-to-us board game, Kingsburg. (I’m always a bit slow at learning games; triply slow with the language barrier.) I maintain this game should be rechristened Winterfell, because winter is coming, and it brings attacks by demons or zombies or goblins…

4. On Friday I got to play by myself, almost all day. It were amazing. Bit of shopping, including a visit to Vilfil; it’s an absolutely ludicrous shop, reminiscent of those crowded secondhand bookshops where you feel in constant danger of being crushed under an avalanche of product, with the added annoyance that none of the yarn has pricetags – you have to look them up on pricesheets swinging from the shelves. Not unfriendly, and the selection is amazing (especially compared with my local shop, the charmingly named but less charmingly stocked and staffed Wulle Huusli). But not the most browsing-friendly experience.

5. Also on Friday, after shopping and coffee and knitting, all by myself (bliss!), I finally saw Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Not the most satisfying movie. Now I’m wondering whether I would have been as impressed with the first movie if I’d read the books first – but I really think this was just a bad adaptation. Too many clumsy attempts to shoehorn in details that really suffer for it; better to have left out the “people are starving in District 12″ overeating bit, for instance. Too much emotional complexity reduced to telegraphese. Annoying. But! Amazing knitwear. So that’s something.


Week 1 in verbs

I feel like trying a new thing. (Not a new concept in blogging, far from it, just new for me.) It may well not last, but I’m trying it. A nice, nerdy, brief list of the week’s stuff. More for me than for you, frankly, because isn’t blogging all about the narcissism?

This week I have been:

Reading Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog. A Jackson Brodie book. I love these, even though I’m not much of a crime fan. This one’s a bit of a slow burner so far (140 pages in) but enjoyable. (I recently read Life After Life, which was brilliant and miserable and compelling and unsatisfying and I’m really not quite sure how I feel about it. Hoping for a better/simpler result this time.)

Knitting Armin’s Christmas socks (not finished by Christmas, nor even by year-end, but at least by the end of the holidays) – Furlough, no pics yet – followed by a simple, boring knit for me: a loop to keep my head and neck and possibly chin warm when running. Finished last night, now making matching mitts. Pics and hopefully pattern to come.

Working on assorted personal/household organisey sort of things. I had a long list at the start of the hols, and frankly have done a bit better than expected, though obviously not nearly finished.

Visiting the zoo; Armin took some rather nice pics. None of which are of the famous penguin parade, which was cute but oversubscribed, or the very impressive rainforest (it was getting dark by then). Or the gorillas. I’m not sure why. The gorillas were great (babies playing!). We’re looking forward to going back, with more snacks next time so that Elfling doesn’t get fed up so quickly. Anyway, the zoo is awesome. Gorgeous location, gorgeous design, gorgeous animals.

Spending Christmas vouchers (the Glatt shopping centre issues them in the form of delightfully heavy gold coins in velvet bags!), on a soundplate for our TV/Bluray player (also our only source of music in the lounge). Nice!

Watching The last of Game of Thrones, Great Gatsby, Pacific Rim and the start of Breaking Bad. Which is almost more than the sum total of all the TV we’ve watched since moving to CH, and not likely to be maintained at anything like this level.

And today husky sledding! Surprise actual item of note at the end there. Just to test if you’re still awake. I set this up ages ago, for a planned article in the magazine that probably no longer exists. Went ahead and did it despite the imminent demise of said publication, because (a) might be able to sell it to another publication, and (b) some evidence exists of straws, for grasping at. Anyway. Huskies! Are awesome.

2013: that was the year that was

In his Christmas card, FIL congratulated us on a “fulminanten Start” to our life in Switzerland. It struck me as an interesting choice of words. However, auf Deutsch, fulminant apparently doesn’t quite mean what it does in English: think “tremendous” or “brilliant”, rather than explosive to the point of lethality.

I think I’ll keep it, though. It’s hard to think of an English word that fits. I’d have to go with: 2013 has been a hell of a year. Neither good nor bad, exactly; just… hard. I feel like I should be describing it as a fantastic year, because all the things in it were greatly to be desired and basically awesome… but hard. Let’s break it down, shall we?

Thing 1. New baby!
Shock factor: Very low. Nine months to get used to the idea, not counting previous preparations.
Desired? Very much.
Challenge factor: High. Have you met babies? High. Even though he’s remarkably unchallenging, as babies go (or was until we moved, which totally broke his sleep), that’s still high on any other scale.
Long-term outlook: Excellent. Espesh as he’s sleeping again.

Thing 2. Switzerland!
Shock factor: Moderate. Hoped for, but a long time coming, and not entirely expected to happen at last.
Desired? Very much, though with some ambivalence from at least one of the family (*ahem Armin ahem struggles with change ahem ahem*).
Challenge factor: Very, very, very high, certainly for the first few months (but getting easier). Mostly because of Thing 1, but also because language, and, well, stuff. Challenging.
Long-term outlook: Excellent, though still with some ambivalence, see above.

Thing 3. New job!
Shock factor: High. Absolutely did not expect to get a job so quickly, especially not such an interesting one.
Desired? Very much.
Challenge factor: Quite high. Childcare arrangements were complicated; steep on-the-job learning curve, also, but in the best way.
Long-term outlook: Well. See Thing 4.

Thing 4. Job disappeared!
Shock factor: Moderate. Closure of the magazine was more or less expected from the start, but it still happened a bit more suddenly than we’d hoped (right before Christmas).
Desired? Not at all.
Challenge factor: Moderately low. It’s really disappointing, but doesn’t imply too much damage in practical terms (ie salary vs childcare costs; and Elf will of course be thrilled to have me home full-time again). But… really disappointing.
Long-term outlook: Well, I’m in a stronger position now than I was before taking the job, skills-wise etc. But potential employers are a small and shrinking pool. So, not great.

See: only the last one can be said to be at all badand even that hardly counts as a thing because of the shakiness of Thing 3 from the start. Overall it’s all bloody excellent. But… it’s been a remarkably exhausting year.

Still. Foundations and all that. From here on things can only get better (with the possible exception of my career, but I was never exactly ambitious anyway). We are where we want to be, in more ways than one, and ready to climb further.

Maybe we’ll just rest a little tiny bit first. I wouldn’t mind a chance just to catch my breath. 2014, do you think you could manage to be just a tiny bit… boring?


5 things (with shiny newness)

1. Elf started kindergarten last week. It’s been a long, long time coming; of course in London she went to preschool two (full) days a week, so since May she’s been cooling her heels at home with mommy and getting a bit stir crazy. Not to mention lonely. I was a bit worried that the start might be difficult none the less, what with language difficulties and all. I shouldn’t have worried.  Image

2. I bought a sewing machine. The impetus for this was that my old machine – formerly my MIL’s, and state of the art about 30 years ago – decided it couldn’t be bothered winding bobbins properly any more, and I have curtains to hem. Arguably, I could/should have just figured out how to fix the bobbin problem, but frankly? As nice as that machine is, I was itching to choose my very own.


I have this fond notion that an up-to-date sewing machine might actually make it easier/more fun for me to sew. And since I have this lifelong love/hate thing with sewing (would love to, in theory, hate it in practice), well… got to give it a fair shot, right? At the very least I’ll have hemmed curtains.

3. Switzerland seems to be remarkably good for me in an unexpected way: I’ve been losing weight steadily. When we arrived I was back to my pre-Dude weight, but now I’m 10kg lighter than that – which is lighter than I’ve been in a loooong time, although still far from skinny (or even from what I once considered my “normal chubby” size). I don’t know what gets the credit; something in the water? Altitude? The natural effects of pushing a pram around bumpy farm and forest roads, plus a weekly run? Whatever it is, I feel great. (Got muscle tone, not just less pudge.) But I need new clothes. It’s a happy problem, but still a problem: apart from the lack of cash, I don’t know where to find the clothes I like (no Monsoon!), and I don’t have time to shop. Curses. (Not a lot of charity shops here, either.)

4. Nanny starts tomorrow, with a couple of settling in days before I start my job next week. We really like her. But it feels extremely strange (and impoverishing) to be a household with a nanny. No word of exaggeration: all my pay, after deductions, goes straight to her.* Whose idea was it to have two kids, anyway?!

5. We had a date on Friday. A date! We left the house and everything!** Such awesomeness. And get this: Elf wants to know when we’re going out again, because she’d really like Grosspapi to come babysit some more. 

That could maybe possibly be arranged. 

* Luckily I’m pretty clear on my motivation for working (things like integrating better/faster in my new country, and oh yes I’m going completely nuts at home), so I can sort of almost reconcile myself to this state of affairs. There’s also the long term to consider. I keep reading about how important it is for mothers to get back to work because of the the huge impact of long career gaps on long-term earning potential etc etc, and frankly these articles always focus on terribly high-flying women who aren’t so easy to relate to. (And check out this great response that points out the obvious: these choices usually aren’t real choices. Amazingly enough, mine is.) I’m not that ambitious and am never going to save or run the world. My chances of a six-figure salary are similarly slight. But still: there’s going to be an impact on my future if I just stay home. 
** “Everything” meaning a very rushed supper and then Before Midnight. Which is excellent, though a bit on-the-nose for a couple slap bang in the middle of Die Beschissende Jahre.***
*** Somehow I like this phrase, from the subtitles, better than the rawer English one. It’s going to stay in my personal vocabulary. Incidentally: the verb “vögeln”? Does not mean birding as in birdwatching. Just so you know.

Another day, another medieval village

In the incredibly fat file of “things we never quite get round to”, Going Places is really high on the list. Really high. It’s partly for real, practical reasons like lack of time, but mostly because we’ve never formed the habit (and that in turn has a lot to do with real, practical reasons like lack of time/money – we tend to have one or other, but never both – but mostly disorganisation compounded by hermit tendencies). And yet we always say how much we want to Go Places and Do Stuff. Weird.

Anyway so this weekend we actually did. Yesterday we headed up to a medieval village on the Rhine (and right on the German border) which was having a medieval festival – prime excuse for Elfling to wear her fancy dress, which was excuse enough for me to put it on the calendar. And today, with my dad’s partner visiting, we checked out another medieval village on the Rhine (but not the border, though we did briefly pass through Germany en route).

Not actually Kaiserstuhl, but just opposite it across the Rhine.
Not actually Kaiserstuhl, but just opposite it across the Rhine.

Kaiserstuhl, the lesser known of the two, totally wins. Small and simple as it is, it has charm and landscape and good looks in abundance. Stein am Rhein however… well. In general I’m quite okay with being a tourist among tourists. I’m not proud. If there are fun or pretty or cool things to check out, I will check them out, and naturally I expect to encounter others doing the same. But here, somehow, I found it cloying; I could only really enjoy little corners and details.

Yes yes very lovely ugh.
Yes yes very lovely ugh.

2013-08-18 17.35.29

2013-08-18 17.34.05

Maybe it’s just too Disney perfect to start with?

Funny how very picturesque places tend to translate to very boring photos (in my hands at least).
Funny how very picturesque places tend to translate to very boring photos (in my hands at least).

Or maybe it’s just that we didn’t get to go for a swim today… and ending yesterday with a splash at the badi was definitely a highlight. Dude agrees. His swimming lesson put him in an AWESOME mood.

"Yes. I am brilliant. Good of you to notice."
“Yes. I am brilliant. Good of you to notice.”

Anyway. It was a lovely weekend, regardless. Incidentally a highlight of the medifest was this band – check out Armin’s video. Especially if you appreciate hot shirtless men in skirts. (As ever, he has better pics of everything else, too.)

Bagpipes! Drums! Hot shirtless men! Fun for the whole family.
Bagpipes! Drums! Hot shirtless men! Fun for the whole family.

Sometimes I sits and knits, and sometimes I just sits.


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