2017-01-21-09-23-03smI’ve been in a veritable frenzy of pickling the past couple of weeks. Before that, there was a good stint of jam-making. I’ve had a brilliant run. I’ve been able to run a full canner-load almost every time, every jar has sealed, and the jam has been the perfect consistency.

Until two days ago, when a jar of dill pickles exploded when it was lowered into the canner. Then yesterday, I ran fifteen jars through the canner, and FIVE of them didn’t seal. What? FIVE? I never have that sort of failure rate. I did what I always do though, upon reflection, maybe my lids or jars weren’t quite as hot as they should have been, because I was doing two batches at once, and my attention was divided.

Today I reran the five unsealed jars, making sure they were nice and hot, and they all dutifully sealed.

But it made me think about failure and my response to it.

I fail a lot. I have hundreds of rejections of my writing from agents and publishers. I’ve thrown away entire rounds of cheese that just didn’t work properly. I’ve made loaves of bread that could be deadly projectiles. I’ve made birthday cakes that didn’t look anything like what they were meant to be. I’ve taught lessons that have flopped completely. I’ve made clothes that have gone immediately into the rubbish upon completion. The list of my failures goes on and on.

When we fail, we have a number of options.

Option 1: We can pout, blaming our failure on the weather, the phase of the moon, the person next to us, the wrong tools, millions of illegal immigrants, or whatever. This might make us feel good, because it allows us to pretend our failure was not our own fault. But it doesn’t make us likely to succeed next time.

Option 2: We can get angry, blaming our failure on our own stupidity, clumsiness, incompetence, or lack of innate ability. We can believe that, because we failed, we are a failure. This is an easy response, because it allows us to justify not trying again. “I’ve tried that, and I can’t do it.”

Option 3: We can critically analyse what went wrong. Maybe it was poor tools–I’ve had cheese fail when a thermometer was inaccurate. Maybe we got sloppy–I’ve ruined garments by rushing to finish them. Maybe we didn’t understand enough about what we were doing–the first time I taught preschoolers, they chewed me up and spit me out, because I had no idea how they related to the world. Analysing our failures takes time. It requires a willingness to critique ourselves in an honest and constructive manner. It requires us learn new things. It requires us to get back on that bicycle and try again.

It’s hard.

But it’s the only option that leads to success.

Homemade Gifts

100_2135smMy daughter’s birthday is fast approaching, and I still felt I hadn’t come up with a gift idea that was truly from me. I have often made special things for the kids for their birthdays, but they don’t always go over as I’d wish. Three years ago, I made her this awesome jeans jacket. I found an okay commercial pattern and modified it to fit my daughter’s tastes and frame. I spent ages searching for the perfect cool hardware bits to decorate the front. Then I had to order a zip from overseas, because I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted in country (because it had to match the hardware, of course). In the end, I was quite pleased with the results.

She has never worn the jacket. Not once. Not even for a few minutes.

The same thing happened with the skirt I made her four years ago (because the girl needed something other than shorts and T-shirts to wear). She’s worn the skirt…once or twice when I forced her to wear it to a formal occasion, and every time it’s led to tears.

That’s okay. It really doesn’t bother me. I had a blast making every homemade gift I’ve given the kids. If the kids don’t like them, I know that I’ll be able to give them to someone else who will. And some of them have gone over extremely well (all the stuffed animals, the jerseys and parkas, the zip-off pants, the slippers, the fuzzy bathrobes, the wizard costumes…).

I’ve received my fair share of awkward and excellent homemade gifts from the kids too. Because we all give and receive homemade gifts, we all understand and appreciate the time and love that went into each item, even if we wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it. It makes each gift special, regardless of what the item actually is.

And we learn from past mistakes.

This year, the homemade gift my daughter will receive is something I’m pretty certain she’ll appreciate and use–a list of 500 writing prompts, written just for her and categorised by genre. As usual, I’m having a fabulous time making it, and if she doesn’t end up using it, I expect to find it handy, myself.

Christmas Aspirations

2016-12-25-17-10-50-smAnother Christmas down. Another Christmas in which I feel like I received far better than I gave.

It’s a double-edged sword, at this time of year, to have a husband who is so good at gifts. He puts me to shame every year.

This year it was the two hand-made wooden vegetable baskets (the ones he whipped out in the last couple of days since he finished work for the year) that made me feel wholly inadequate as a gift giver. Add to that the lovely and thoughtful garden tools and kitchen equipment he bought, and I feel like I need to go back and try again on my gifts for him.

I’m not really complaining—how could I possibly complain about a husband who makes gorgeous baskets for me? But I think I need to start preparing for Christmas a whole lot earlier in order to even come close to matching his gift-giving. It is truly something to aspire to.

Christmas eve eve…

img_2742Surprisingly, a day of calm. It was overcast and rainy. The garden is reasonably well weeded. The berries and peas were picked yesterday.

Tomorrow I will clean the house (because Santa doesn’t visit dirty houses—I’m sure my mother taught me that one), and the peas and berries will need to be picked again, but today there was remarkably little on the to-do list. I’m not sure what happened, because usually the lead up to Christmas is a frenzy, just so I can feel free to take the whole of Christmas day off.

So, I gave myself an early gift—a day of sewing. I managed two new desperately needed t-shirts for myself, and did the finishing by hand while listening to a recording of my far-away family reading A Christmas Carol. Then I picked roses, and played a game with my daughter.

Such a lovely, relaxing day, I hardly need Christmas at all…

Spindle vs Garden

2016-10-09-11-01-27My husband presented me with this beautiful drop spindle that he turned for me this week. It’s practically a work of art—beautifully weighted and smooth as glass.

As if the pressure wasn’t already on.

At this time of year, crafts have to take a back seat to the garden, but with the goats newly shorn, I’m dying to actually work with the mohair sitting in my office. I picked up a pair of carders last week and have been slowly learning to use them. I have enough carded fibre to start spinning.

But the garden beckons—weeds grow rampant, seeds need to be planted, seedlings need potting up. And worse still, my hands are garden-rough; every time I touch the mohair, I end up with tufts of it stuck to the dry cracks in my hands.

So I may have to be content to just admire my new spindle for a while, until the spring garden rush is over.

Creative Combinations

2016-07-08 13.14.04 smOne of the cool things about having teenaged children is their increasing ability to combine ideas and skills in new and exciting ways.

Last weekend, my daughter was weaving flax fronds. I noted she had the Fun with Flax book out, and assumed she was making one of the projects in that book.

Some time later, I saw her with a wide cylinder of woven flax and a stick. She was using the stick to spin and toss the flax cylinder into the air.

I thought the idea must have come from the book, but no–she’d used weaving techniques in the book to create a unique shape, then used new skills in plate spinning (learned in PE in their circus arts unit) to manipulate the woven shape at the end of a stick.

How awesome is that?

Functional and Meaningful

2016-06-28 16.00.01The pattern weights in the slick sewing magazine were tempting, for sure—sleek brass cylinders that screamed ‘professional sewer’. Just looking at the picture, I could feel their delicious heft and smooth finish.

But my life is not one of polished brass. Though the fancy pattern weights were elegant and undoubtedly fit for the job, my beach rocks are, too.

Smooth greywacke cobbles I collected myself from the beach just 4km away beat out the fanciest weights. They belong here. They fit my hand nicely, come in many sizes and weights, and they speak to me of waves and water, sun and sand. Nothing purchased can do that.

My pie weights come from the beach, too, and work just as well as a fancy set of ceramic beads. More so, because they make me smile whenever I use them.

Objects that are of a place. Objects that belong.

In our global economy, with the products of the world just one click (and a credit card number) away on the Internet, it’s easy to forget that what is in our back yard may be just as useful, and far more meaningful, than anything manufactured and stamped with a brand name.


Sew Lovely It’s Raining

2016-05-24 16.22.48One of the best things about finally getting some rain is the excuse to spend my weekends and evenings sewing, rather than working in the garden. Not that I don’t enjoy working in the garden, but I enjoy sewing, too.

And with all the nice weather, the sewing projects have been piling up.

2016-05-24 14.07.14With the help of the wet weather this past weekend, I managed to complete a garden holster (to hold the hand tools I’m always losing among the weeds), and a new set of curtains for the office.

Next up are some new clothes for me—some jeans, a couple of shirts, and probably a new jersey…

Here’s hoping for more rain!

DIY pot handles

100_4014 smA good stainless steel pot can last pretty much forever.

Problem is, the bits that aren’t stainless steel don’t.

We inherited two glass-lidded pots when we bought our house. They’re not the greatest pots, but they do get used a lot, as they’re very convenient sizes. Unfortunately, the lid handles have broken off both of them.

Enter my ever-resourceful, creative husband, who carved new handles for them.

These delightful knobs are far more interesting than the ones they replaced. In fact, they’re so nice, I’m thinking about breaking some of the other pot handles…

Getting over the hump

knittingI am not a knitter. People have been trying to teach me to knit since I was seven years old, to no avail. I’m very crafty in other ways. I weave, sew, quilt and embroider; I was once quite good at macramé (when macramé was “in”); I’ve done quilling and scherenschnitt, basketry and rug braiding, beading and jewellery making. I’m proficient at all these crafts and more, but put knitting needles in my hands, and suddenly I’m all thumbs.

But I’m also stubborn. When my mother tried to teach me to knit, and failed, I tried again. When the neighbour tried to teach me to knit, and failed, I tried again. When a friend tried to teach me to knit, and failed, I tried again. I bought Debbie Bliss’ book How to Knit, and forced myself to knit and unravel, knit and unravel, until I could manage to knit a row without dropping or adding stitches. It wasn’t pretty, and it was a stressful process. I’d finish a knitting session with a sore neck and tense muscles. I made myself a pair of slippers. Then I made another pair, and another, and another, and another. Six pairs of slippers later, I was thoroughly sick of slippers, and still struggled with knitting. I took a break…a ten month break. When I came back to knitting, I had to learn all over again. I tried out some different stitch patterns, attempted knitting in the round, and ended up unravelling most of my work.

Another year passed. My slippers wore out, and winter came. My feet were cold, so I tried knitting again. I had to pull out the knitting book in order to remember even the basic stitches.

But something had changed. After the first clumsy rows, I began to relax. The stitches came naturally. My fingers didn’t cramp. I finished the first slipper in a day. I was over the hump.

As parents, my husband and I regularly have to push our children to get over that hump. Learning a new skill is hard work, and there are precious few rewards at the beginning. Playing the piano, there are many wrong notes, and the songs sound clunky, the rhythm erratic. Making pastry, there could easily be half a dozen dense, oily lumps before the first magical, flaky crust. Juggling, there are a lot of balls rolling away on the floor before they soar effortlessly from hand to hand.

For some skills, the hump is low, and easily surmounted. For others, that hump is like a steep mountain with no breathtaking views until the very top. As a parent, one of my jobs is to push the kids to get over those mountains and not quit before a new skill becomes fun. It doesn’t mean becoming a tiger mom, but it does mean enforcing some discipline in kids who may not want to practice their instrument, because it’s a struggle, and they know they sound awful. It means asking the kids to help prepare dinner, and patiently encouraging them as they slowly and unevenly slice the carrots or mix the dough. It means cheering on the child who comes last in the race, and running alongside her as she prepares for the next one.

Hopefully, if we do our job right, the kids will be able to push themselves over those humps on their own one day.

They might even learn to knit.