Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Riot of African Flowers

Work progresses on my stained-glass African flowers, but I'm not entirely sure what I should do with them. At the moment, I'm leaning towards cushion covers for the sofa I'm going to have when I'm all grown up. (Mr Gingerbread and I have yet to find a sofa we both like: he's a good foot taller than I am, so the sofas he likes make me feel like Goldilocks in Papa Bear's chair.) I used to think I wanted enormous beanbags, and the idea is still vaguely tempting, I must admit, but we've established that napping is a priority in our lives. Not that we get to take as many naps as we would like to, but when we do, a sofa is more practical than a beanbag. A nap on a beanbag would probably find you spreadeagled on the floor at some point - and rudely landing on the floor, limbs akimbo, is a definite sign of a failed nap, I'm afraid.

Epic Battles in the Gingerbread House

Greek Hoplite in battle against the Amazons (30BC - 200AD?). Detail from sarcophagus of Roman Imperial epoch. Vatican Museum

My husband's mild-mannered, gentle sort. He's quite tall and muscular, with large hands and feet. Most of the time, he's easy-going and happy-go-lucky and quite content to potter through life without much drama, except when he's faced with some challenge for which he is quite obviously too big - for example, threading a needle. After a couple of minutes of watching him trying to get a piece of thread through the eye of a very small needle with his banana-like fingers, I suppress my mirth and do it for him. (Come to think of it, I usually end up sewing on the button or hemming the trousers that required the threaded needle. A clever - if somewhat sneaky - man, my husband.) But he's a kind soul, so I love him.
Most of the time.

As I write, he's playing some online game next door. His character is a green Orc-like creature that goes around killing fairies, wizards and other Orcs. Occasionally, his character meets up with a rag-tag band of weird-looking creatures and they all gang up on a dragon. Or a monster. Occasionally a ghost. Balls of fire are thrown and spells are cast, and a great time is had by all. Now, I don't claim I understand what the attraction is - after all, he could say the same for me when he drags me away from the yarn shop window, my nose and fingerprints still fresh on the glass, - however, my crocheting rarely involves rage. His Orc-ery, on the other hand, seems to involve a lot of shouting at fellow players, much sighing and a lot of exasperated snorting. As I type, he's calling a pox upon the house of the Night Elf that has just dealt his Orc a fatal blow. It's almost Shakespearian in its tragedy.

Now, I could deal with this because it's a bit like being at a sporting event, but the sad thing is that - thanks to the vastness of the World Wide Web - he's probably playing with a bunch of 12-year-olds in Tokyo.
"He just can't shoot straight!" says husband, pointing at the screen.
"Because he's probably a child," I answer.
"But he keeps running across the line of fire," husband cries.
"Well, it's probably a child," I say reasonably. "He just doesn't have enough practice or coordination."
"Why does he keep shooting at the dragon's leg?" he says, exasperated.
"Because. It's. Probably. A. Child," I enunciate. "A child."
"Well, it's a stupid child," says husband petulantly, folding his arms across his chest. "He's stupid and I don't want to play with him any more."
"Fine," I say (as though it made any difference to me.) "Go and play with the other ... umm ... grown ups."
And as he switches servers to another game, I can hear him mumble things like "Stupid poopoo face..."
Oh dear.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cathedral Windows

Why, Gingerbread Lady! You're an artist! That has to be one of the most spectacular afghans I've ever seen!
Thank you, thank you. Just knocked that one out over the course of a couple of evenings.

Sigh. I wish.

No, no, it's not mine. This is the Cathedral Rose Window Afghan (pattern available here from Annie's Attic), a pattern that (rightly) won a ton of accolades and prizes. An image search on Google will show you many colour variations of the pattern, each one prettier than the next. Inspired by this, I thought I'd try something with a hint of stained-glassiness (just invented that word. Nice, isn't it?) and decided to try a few African Flowers.

(just a heads-up - I was going to make a tutorial for this lovely pattern, but it has already been done here. Great, isn't it?)

The wonderful thing about these little flowers is that they're made using the leftovers of my leftover sock yarn. A 50g skein of sock yarn goes a long way: you get several 13g baby Advent socks and the remaining little nub of yarn creates a beautiful little flower. This has become my new on-the-go project, now that my little socks are finished (sob) but I have as yet no idea how I'll put them together.

Watch this space. We'll figure something out together!

Buckets and Blankets

Tsk, tsk, you naughty enablers. I only have to write a little post extolling the virtures of the indestructible Red Heart Super Saver and I receive offers galore to send me some. (finger wagging) Don't be so wicked!

In all seriousness, thank you to everyone who offered me some of your luvverly American yarn. I would LOVE some, really I would, but I am going to virtuously stashbust for a little while. My heart sobs even as I turn you down, but I really, really have to be good. Why? Well, we celebrated our first anniversary in the Gingerbread House recently. To celebrate we had a blocked kitchen pipe and, following record amounts of rainfall, a leaky roof. We didn't have bouquets of flowers, we decided to go with buckets of dirty water instead. It was very avant garde.

In any case, in the midst of this madness, Little Sis - the recent bride - was due to turn up with her Young Man for a little holiday. While rooting out our spare pillows and duvets, I discovered a bag of yarn that had ... well, ahem, gotten lost. Its disappearance had puzzled me for a while - I mean, I knew it was around somewhere. But where? And then, after a year of living in the house, it turned up in what I thought was an empty suitcase. (Yes, yes, I know: the shame - I know how bad that sounds. It reminds me of those stories of alcoholics who hide their bottles in the toilet cistern.) It was swiftly removed from the case and the skeins were scattered among the rest of my stash.
I think I got away with it.

I spent my evenings on the sofa beside Little Sis, flying through skeins of yarn in an attempt to finish my Wicklow Blanket. I'm almost two-thirds of the way through and my RHSS stash is now teetering on its knees, well and truly busted!

This blanket is so muted and demure, quite unlike a lot of what I do. Even the pattern - worked lengthways and in rows, not strips, - is very calming. The only problem is that as it grows, it becomes bigger. And heavier. And warmer. Anyone sitting near me as I work on it gets covered by blanket. Mr Gingerbread - always sensitive to heat - keeps pushing it away, but no matter what I do, he seems to end up entangled in this blanket, like a cat. I don't know if the blanket possesses some kind of static property that sticks to him, but if he sits beside me for a couple of minutes, he'll find himself with a lap full of crocheted blanket.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Boo hoo. What now?

I'm finished.
All done.
What will I do now? I feel a bit bereft: all my lovely socks are finished.

Advent Socks - Kit Giveaway: The Winner

Today's the day...
That's right, this is going to be a socky day. First off, we need to do the drawing for the Advent Sock Kit giveaway. I made a list (Did you have to make a list? you ask. Yes, of course. Few occasions do not call for a list. I love lists) and I cut out the names and made a little pile of contestants - those who entered by sending me a comment (published and unpublished) and those who contacted me via other crafting forums on the web.

Then I had Mr Gingerbread lend a manly hand. We had a minor kerfuffle with regard to the actual receptacle for the draw, as the bowl I'd selected was too small for his enormously unGingerbreadman hands. Finally, we settled on my salad bowl and without further ado, he drew a winner:

Congratulations, Marie!

Thank you to everyone who entered - I had more than 30 entries, which surprised even me. The good news is that as I tidy up, I'm winding up quite a few little balls of yarn ... so we might have another one of these again soon. I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Getting there ...

The Wicklow Blanket

One of my earliest memories is telling the Gingerbread Daddy that I didn't like purple and yellow together. I didn't think they ... matched. My father explained how the colour wheel worked and how colours complement each other. I still wasn't entirely convinced. Then he told me that if the colour combination works in nature, then ... well, then it works. And nature seems particularly fond of the purple/yellow combo, so who am I to disagree?

It seems that Mother Nature has a pretty whacky sense of colour, though, and a lot of my crochet work reflect the type of colour combinations that you see in the hothouses of a botanic garden. But I've gone back to my roots (cue corny Irish picture):

a old cabin in the woods

This is the Wicklow blanket, because the greens and browns and blues remind me of the landscape, the purples remind me of the heather that grows in the stoney Wicklow Mountains (well, they'd be hills by Alpine standards, but they're still big enough.)

Yarn Snobbery

If you're not a crafter, look away. This post is all about yarn and blankets: exciting stuff for us, not so much for you.

A couple of years ago a nice American friend sent me some worsted weight yarn. Worsted weight is heavier than European DK - I think it would be closest to our aran weight. I excitedly unpacked the box and withdrew what looked like a woolly club: an enormous skein of yarn, big enough to whack someone with. You don't believe me? Well, then - have a look for yourself. The American yarn is the one on the top (198g) and a standard skein of German acrylic yarn (50g) is on the bottom:

Yowzers, eh?
This the infamous Red Heart Super Saver, an acrylic yarn that has been described as "virtually indestructible" - and intrepid readers will know that I'm particularly fond of household items that are "virtually indestructible". The yarn is a bone of contention for many crafters: you only have to browse through large crafting forums like Ravelry to find countless posts about its general horribleness. Yes, the mere mention of RHSS causes outbreaks of yarn snobbery, like a plague of measles. It's scratchy. It's rough. It's cheap'n'nasty. Ewww! A serious crafter would ever so much prefer to work with *insert name of Indie dyer's handspun yarn confection here* instead of this horrid stuff. Fair enough.
But ...
for afghans and blankets, I love it. It's thick and warm and it seems to come in a gazillion colours. I've actually had dreams (this is sad, I know) of being in an American yarn store, buried under a mountain of RHSS skeins. Yes, really. And believe you me, if I want a blanket covering me in the depths of a Bavarian winter, then give me the RHSS afghan any day - yes, you can keep your cashmere/merino mix. I want something with a bit of substance.

Sadly this yarn isn't available in Europe, so I've been squirrelling away skeins for the past two years. I've been waiting for the right time, the right pattern. But now - in a fist of destashing - I decided to crack open my box of American worsted weight yarn and make something nice.
Something nice ...
... for me!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Father, the Artist

This is my father's garden - or a small part of it, at least. I'm sure you're looking at this picture in admiration: isn't it pretty? Aren't those hedges nicely trimmed? Look at all of that lovely greenery! Alas, my father would look at this picture and instantly spot five kinds of weeds. This is one source of my father's pride: he has been gearing up for my sister's wedding for about 9 months. The garden ... Must. Be. Perfect. Perfect! Frankly, we're not quite sure where this pressure comes from; after all, we have yet to spot a wedding guest walking around the garden with a clipboard, taking notes and giving points for Weedlessness, Symmetry, Tidy Hedges and whatnot.

Sadly my father's definition of perfection is of a standard far higher than most mortals can achieve. I'm sure he considers his offspring's inability to identify weeds as a form of birth defect. My father believes that his children share the same knowledge that he does, a kind of genetic telepathy: if he knows what a weed looks like, then so do we. The fact that I've spent the past 15 years in city centre apartments does not matter - it's absolutely unthinkable that I might look at a pretty purple flower and not realise that it has to be yanked out tout de suite, its very existence a blight on the face of my father's garden.
"Why don't you tell me which ones are weeds?" I ask innocently. "If you tell me which ones are weeds, I'll just pull them all out."
My father almost bursts a blood vessel: "If I have to go around pointing out the fricking-fracking weeds, I might as well pull them out myself! Should I go around with a shticking red pen and mark all the weeds?"
And with a final, exasperated glare, he'll pick up his wheelbarrow and march off, shaking his head at his daughter's cluelessness. I pull out a few dandeloins - because I know what they are - and then meander back inside to watch Antiques Roadshow on the telly. Through the window of the living room I'll watch him wrenching weeds from the flowerbeds, deeply disappointed at our total lack of green fingers.

My father's disappointment brings me on to the real point of this post: cussing. My dad is a master of many media - he's a wonderful artist, he's a talented photographer. He's musically gifted, and he has a keen grasp of science. A real Renaissance man. Yet his true medium is actually profanity. He is a master of the colourful turn-of-phrase. And we're not talking about the usual, run-of-the-mill expletives - if push comes to shove (and it often does), he will simply invent something: an incident involving him calling my mother a 'donkhead' almost ended in divorce. (In fact, I'm not sure I should even mention The Donkhead Ignominy as it might get him in Big Trouble again.) In any case, he can always be relied upon to capture the mood of the minute or the character of some random individual with a well-chosen and almost spookily accurate obscenity. They're generally not used in anger or rage, they're sometimes delivered serenely, often reflectively, - occasionally, even, with a little relish, - and therein lies my father's mastery of the medium. It is the careful application of colourful language that distinguishes him; I'm pretty sure most people outside of our immediate family would be shocked to hear that he ever used bad language at all. That mild-mannered Mr Gingerbread? Never!


"What kind of froggle-faced dweebnose reads this rubbish?" he'll say in despair, picking up a copy of Hello! or OK! or some other magazine that features botoxed celebrities and their glamorous homes. The froggle-faced dweebnose in question (probably one of his daughters) will wither under the recognition that her grey cells have indeed been turned to mush by pictures of Angelina Jolie's living room or Lindsay Lohan's latest drunken escapade.
Or he might be moved to exasperation:
"Who took my skiffering comb again?" he'll demand, searching the top of the mantelpiece for the comb that one of the family has absconded with. "Do I have to attach it to the frunking mantelpiece with a chain?"
Or he'll wait till a nasty customer has left my parents' business premises - the door has barely fallen closed - before he'll say judiciously: "Well, that was a flimpering plonker!"
And every single time my darling mother will shriek and say, "For crying out loud! Really! Is that kind of language really necessary?"
My father will smirk, delighted, and return to his computer with a sense that justice has been done. The verdict has fallen. Customer X is, indeed, a flimpering plonker.

Some might see my mother's knee-jerk reaction as proof of my father's creativity; after the best part of forty years of marriage, he still manages to shock my mother with a selection of innovative swearwords. But I think it's actually a true testimony to the depth of their loving relationship: she is kind enough to continue to fake outrage when she could have given up long ago.
"That fellow is nothing but a bloppering weavel-tailed shyster," he'll say, wagging a finger at the Prime Minister on the telly. "I wonder who voted for that throttling gumboil?"
"Really!" my mother will interject. "Do we have to have that kind of language at the table?"
While the rest of us try to hide our smiles and smirks, my mother will tut-tut and tsk-tsk, shaking her head in mock vexation. But if you look more closely, you will detect a glint of pride about her person. She is, after all, fully aware that she is married to an artist ... and like every art form, you do not have to be a fan to recognise when you are in the presence of a master.

A Gingerbread Wedding

We've just returned from Ireland where we attended the wedding of the Littlest Gingerbread Sister to her Young Man.

As you might know by now, there are masses of Gingerbreads but this wedding was the last of the female Gingerbreads' and therefore possibly the last wedding to be held at the Gingerbread Homestead. I remember when Littlest Sister was born ... and now she's plighting her troth to a young fella from County Laois. Where did the last quarter of a century go?

She spent three hours painstakingly applying make up: layer, layer, wipe, wipe, layer, layer, wipe. It was like watching a backwards restoration of the Mona Lisa: instead of stuff being carefully scraped off the face, it was laboriously scraped on. The final result was quite lovely: she was gorgeous. And I'm not just saying that because she's my little sister, it's an opinion shared by an unbiassed jury, made up of my Mammy, my Daddy, my siblings, in-laws and several hundred wedding guests, not to mention passers-by who sneaked into the church to admire the bride. We all think she was mighty purdy, as you'd say in cowboy terms, and I'm sure you'd agree if I were allowed to post photos.

Weddings at our house are exciting: a big marquee and banquet furniture are hired, posh portable toilets are rolled in, the caterer delivers his barbecue and an assortment of water boilers (because God forbid someone at the wedding might be temporarily tea-less). We've succumbed to the inevitable and allowed the dog to roam around unleashed. Sadly, though, he's getting on in years and has lost some of the vim and vigour he had as a pup. Readers of my blog will know that he has devoted significant amounts of energy to gatecrashing previous weddings (read up on that here), but now that he was finally allowed to attend, it just wasn't the same. He ended up on the rug in front of the fireplace in the sitting room, watching Sky News while the wedding band played. It was a little sad.

But back to the wedding (or the bride'll kill me for straying off on to the subject of the dog again): thankfully the afternoon was dry. Not sunny, not warm - I mean, we're talking about Ireland in July, let's not get too carried away here - but after a morning of torrential rainfall, it dried up nicely enough to allow us to get into our Fancy Clothes and Spiffy Shoes. We Gingerbreads do scrub up nicely (even if it involves frantic waving of hands in car on the way to the church to dry the hastily applied nail varnish) and everyone turned out in their best festive finery. My little niece, a two-year-old fashionista, was happy to have her sparkly pink shoes snapped for posterity, even though she spent the day eyeing all photographers suspiciously. She made an exception, obviously, for her footwear.

Aren't they lovely? And what about those polka-dot trousers, eh? Don't you wish you were two again?