The Beauty of Not Driving


Tommy, on his very first road trip (Montpellier, France, June 2014)

My friend labmonkey just wrote a blog entry describing a roadtrip (or what passes for a roadtrip: she had a baby just over a month ago, so it was a shopping trip that involved a lot of nursing in bathrooms and the car). labmonkey’s partner doesn’t drive (yet), so she needed to be there to chauffeur… but sounds like it was kind of a fun time.

I’ve been on “roadtrips” just like labmonkey’s on many occasions, and they totally felt like roadtrips. I don’t drive (I may have mentioned this previously: I have a licence[1], I just don’t drive), so there was literally no reason for me to be there: I could have stayed home and nursed baby/ies as needed and not had to drive way out to box stores in suburban hell to buy things.

But here’s the thing: I loved those trips. I think part of it is that my kids have generally slept more reliably[2] in cars than anywhere else, and part of it is that being a stay-home mum with babies gets a tad monotonous and any “event” is welcome, but part of it was just that it’s fun to drive places with Steffen. We get to hang out. It’s almost like a date.

We’ve recently started commuting to work by car for the first time ever in my life. We live in suburban hell now (not to mince words), and we initially tried taking the train/bus, but it’s more expensive than driving, and more tiring, and less convenient, and (most importantly) we get home a little later, which is actually really problematic, because our kids are pretty sleep-deprived. It’s a mad dash to get them to bed when we get home as it is. Because I don’t drive, Steffen is stuck doing all of it, and while he hates it, he doesn’t pressure me. I’d feel like I’m taking advantage of his gentle nature (I frequently do), but I don’t think he’d be very comfortable as a passenger, so I don’t think he actually wants me to drive[3].

So he drives, I knit. I LOVE this solution, needless to say. When we took the train, he did the daycare drop off and I got off the train a few stops later than Steffen and the boys, so I still got about 15 to 20 minutes, twice a day, to listen to podcasts and knit. But I like the current arrangement so much better, not because I get to knit more (just a little more, really), but because I LOVE the roadtrip feel of the commute.

We’re planning to move back to Canada, and I suppose I’ll start driving again, although hopefully we’ll never have to commute from suburban hell into a big city centre again. But for now, I’ll enjoy my daily family road trips, feeding the kids “toast sandwiches”[4] and bananas, and knitting in the passenger seat.

  1. Actually, two: I have both Canadian and New Zealand licences in my wallet. And I used to drive in Canada… I even spent a month simultaneously learning to drive manual and chauffeuring my rural-dwelling dad around to doctor’s appointments etc. after he had a stroke a few years ago. But I’ve driven in New Zealand exactly once, not too long after Tommy was born, when I felt like I really needed to get comfortable driving. Then I got over it.
  2. Also longer: I remember a trip to Europe when Tommy was about 8 months old where he slept for 5 hours in the car, woke up and nursed, then slept another 5 hours. I suspect this particular case was mostly attributable to jetlag, but there were other occasions where he slept shockingly well/long in cars, though less spectacularly so.
  3. I just asked: he has mixed feelings, in that he’d HATE being a passenger, but would like me to feel comfortable driving. Which is what I thought. And we agreed that it’s probably best for our marriage not to create a source of conflict we don’t need to.
  4. We toast english muffins, spread them with peanut butter, and cut them in eighths, which I then hand to the kids two at a time, sandwiched together. We do this mostly because Miso has a tendency to cram all the toast in his mouth at once, then spit it out when he realises he can’t chew it. He has the most disgusting eating habits, we don’t know how to deal with it! I used to give them one piece at a time, but it took forever, and they’d get very loud and demanding if I wanted to finish a few stitches before the next piece. So I started sandwiching them together to speed things up (and give myself slightly longer knitting breaks in between).

Knitting Trends: Gauge, gauge, gauge

OK, the title of this post is ridiculous, of course. How can gauge be a trend? The notion of estimating how big a knitted garment will be based on how big your stitches are is not new[1]! How can I say it’s trendy? 

Nonetheless, I feel like quite a few knitting bloggers are writing about gauge these days, it seems [2]Kelbourne Woolens recently ran an experiment where they compared gauge pre- and post-blocking from swatches knitted by several different knitters with the same size needles and yarn (they repeated the experiment with different yarns) and found pretty significant variation. The series is fascinating, I highly recommend reading it (they also include a practical application in each entry: what would happen if a particular pattern were knitted at the swatch gauge instead of the pattern gauge? Frequently very tiny or very large garments). 

Anyway, the series has gotten me thinking more about my own gauge. Like most “lifestyle knitters” I pretty consistently swatch before starting a project where fit matters (I might not bother for a shawl, particularly if I have plenty of yarn). But I’m not sure I swatch properly. I never swatch in the round, although I’m not sure my knit and purl gauge are the same, and I never swatch continental, but sometimes I knit continental if my eczema is bothering me[3] or if my fingers need a bit of a break. I do block my swatches, but I don’t always reswatch when my gauge is off on the first try (I just go up or down a needle size or two, and hope for the best). I also don’t always swatch with the same needles I plan to work with (I might swatch with bamboo DPNs then switch to metal for the actual project). 

Swatches on 3 mm (recommended) and 3.5 mm needles. I got gauge with 3.5 mm.

I’ve been working on a sweater for which I actually did swatch twice, and my second attempt was bang on. Then, after knitting several rows, I became convinced that the sweater was going to be enormous. I’d swatched flat: the sweater was worked in the round. So I transferred the stitches to some scrap yarn, blocked my work, and checked the gauge: again, bang on. So maybe I actually don’t need to worry too much about swatching in the round, at least. 

A seemingly enormous sweater fragment. It’s not, though: it’s just right. The blocking pins are just there to keep things a little flat, not to stretch anything out.

Still, I’d like to run my own swatch experiment. I’d like to compare knit and purl gauges, and continental and English gauges. Watch this space! 

  1. Elizabeth Zimmermann ranted about gauge in Knitting Without Tears (1971). I don’t know if the idea was revolutionary at the time, nor do I know if she was the first knitter to write about the importance of gauge (I move around too much to have the historical knitting library I’d like).
  2.  It’s also possible I’m just reading more knit blogs. 
  3. When I’m knitting English, I wrap the working yarn around my pinkie. This is a spot that sometimes gets scaly when my eczema is bad… So Continental provides a bit of relief.

Grammar Lessons: Pronouns

I’m more than a little pedantic. I want my kids to speak well, but I also don’t want to be unkind about the whole thing (I remember a girl at summer camp whose mother sent back all her letters home with spelling and grammar corrected in red: may I never be that mother). The result is some of our “grammar lessons” sound a bit Dr. Seuss. 

Tommy: Is Anika she? 

Me: Anika is her and she  is Anika. 

Tommy: Is Poppy she? 

Me: Poppy is her and she is Poppy. 

Tommy: Is Nikhil he?

Me: Nikhil is him and he is Nikhil. 

Tommy: And I am he. 

Me: You are you. And I am me. And Tommy is him.   

Tommy: I am he. 

Me: You are you. And I am me. Can you say “I am me”?

Tommy: I am he. And you are you. 

I tried again later…”I am me” seems too weird to him. I’m ignoring the fact that he was almost certainly asking about gender… Usually this conversation ends with a discussion of vulvas and penises, but today it stuck to pronouns. 

So I think I’m allergic to mould

The worst welts, subdued somewhat by double-dose antihistamines and steroid cream

We’ve moved, more or less. That is, we’re done very little unpacking, and we still have some odds and ends at our old house, but all the toys are in the new house. 

I’ve had “eczema” to varying degrees since I went back to work full-time in May. I’ve had occasional patches of dry skin on my hands that can’t be tamed by moisturiser my whole life, but didn’t really start referring to it as “eczema” until right after Tommy was born, because it briefly got really bad then (I also briefly had a sun allergy at the same time, which was bizarre, but very real, but hasn’t come back… Postpartum hormones are crazy, man). 

Anyway, it got bad again when I went back to work. I’ve read that stress and diet can cause flare ups, and those were definitely relevant, so I assumed this was just my new normal. But then once we started packing (frequent contact with musty-smelling clothes from the back of the closet, constantly stirring up dust, and going through old papers) my hands started looking like they were having an actual allergic reaction: insanely itchy, with big, angry welts [1], despite regular use of steroid cream and daily antihistamines (I’ve since gone up to twice-daily antihistamines, which are supposed to last 24 hours, but I just can’t go that long between doses). 

Which I ignored, of course. It’s just the added stress of the move. Not an allergic reaction, which it clearly was, almost certainly brought on by our mouldy house, even though we keep talking about how glad we are to be getting away from the mould. Even though the flare ups consistently came after serious packing evenings (I suspect now that my “eczema” might have just been a lower-grade allergic reaction, given that it became an issue last autumn, when our house really started getting significantly mouldy). 

I should have seen a doctor when it first got really bad about 3 weeks ago (when we started packing, surprise, surprise). But I avoid doctors generally, and being Canadian, I find New Zealand’s two-tier health care system confusing to navigate[2]. I actually made an appointment at one point, but missed the ferry I needed to catch to get to it in time, and then that was that.

So here I am, just now realising all by myself that it’s not normal to be this uncomfortable (and therefore needlessly cranky with everyone and everything) and that I need to just DEAL WITH THIS, which of course I won’t do, because I’m too busy  unpacking, and cleaning, and dealing with the usual tight schedule of work and kids, to actually deal with anything else. 

But I’ll try to be less cranky, at least. 

  1. I’ve had a true acute allergic reaction to something once before. I went swimming in a lake and the next day everything that had been covered by my bathing suit was covered in a rash like I currently have on my hands. I was given prednisone, which did the trick after a couple days of agony.  
  2. The most ridiculous part: I actually have excellent private insurance through work, but that just adds to the confusion, so I’ve just been paying for doctors’ visits that I’m pretty sure are actually covered.

No, I’m Not. 

… Pregnant. Not at all. Not accidentally, not on purpose, not even trying. Not planning to try in the future (I’m 38, so putting something like that off wouldn’t be very sensible). 

However, I AM moving to a new house[1] and found this picture in a notebook I was about to throw out (notes from a German class I took when Steffen and I were first dating and I had time to learn German… Which I really need to do at some point). The date was 3 April 2013. Tommy was about 13 weeks old (dating from conception). 

I’ve pinned this shot to the whiteboard, so Steffen will probably come home and freak the fuck out. 

A friend of mine IS pregnant, with her third. My two pregnancies both overlapped with hers, so I feel a strange mixture of emotions about not being pregnant again. I feel like I’m getting my life back now that I’m working again, and I feel like our resources (emotional, financial, and just general energy) are pretty much stretched to the limit. And two kids always felt like the right number. But newborns are so nice! 

I think what I actually want is a grandchild. Or a niece or nephew that lives nearby, maybe. Or maybe we should just offer to babysit for the pregnant friend (who we will soon live much closer to! Who also occasionally reads my blog… So I guess this is an offer?)

Two babies due early next year! I’ve had a quiet year for newborn knitting, but it’s time to get started. 


  1. Unexpectedly, but not unhappily. Our landlords want their house back and have given us notice. Initially this was stressful and annoying, but once we came to terms with it we started to realise we kind of hate our house, mostly because it’s damp and mouldy. And we’re moving to the other end of the city, near to a few good friends and nearly everyone we know with kids, so now we’re excited. 

On the subject of Ganseys… 

Gansey Kids / Meg Roke (& A Giveaway!) –

This reminds me. I read somewhere that contrary to popular belief, “Gansey” is not derived from “Guernsey”. [1] The story I read was that “garn” is an older spelling (or more likely pronunciation) of “yarn”, so Gansey really means yarnsey. 

The argument goes on to point out that Jersey fishermen also called their traditional sweaters Ganseys. I’ve never been to the Channel Islands, nor have I discussed sweaters with anyone from the area, so I can’t confirm that. Here in New Zealand, they call all sweaters Jerseys (I think… Perhaps just pullovers, though), but I assume that’s totally unrelated. In Canada a Jersey is what you wear to play organised team sports. 

I’d love to hear more about the history of sweater nomenclature, if anyone cares to enlighten me! 

Tommy’s Gansey, still in progress, on the dashboard while we were driving

  1. This may be bullshit, but I’m fond of stories that allegedly contradict conventional wisdom.

Great idea for an identity theft scam! 

… Real estate agent. 

OK, when you’re selling or renting out a property, you can do a bit of research and choose a real estate agent you think is trustworthy. But if you’re hunting for a place to rent, you’re sort of stuck dealing with whoever is representing the places you want to rent. And you have to give them a LOT of personal information. I’m not an especially paranoid person, but it’s a lot more than I’m really comfortable with. Given that real estate agents aren’t bonded (not sure if that’s just a Canadian term: they aren’t officially certified trustworthy people) I feel like they shouldn’t legally be allowed to ask for bank account details/driver’s licence/passport number/pay slips, etc, etc, etc. 

Yes. We’re looking for a house/flat to rent. We’re being kicked out of our current house (we haven’t been bad tenants, our owners just want to sell their current home and move back into ours). This is an expensive inconvenience that we don’t really have time or energy for, but now that it’s happening we’ve started to hate our house and can’t wait to move. 

So here’s my thought. You could target a real estate agent and steal their identity. Not their credit card or anything they’d actually ever notice, just their name and a list of a few former clients that you could use as references over the phone. Then start working as a real estate agent, and THEN steal identities from people who fill out rental applications, using addresses that are empty to send credit cards, etc, to. It’s a good plan, no? 

Maybe I’m just cranky because we’ve now been stood up by two separate real estate agents (not to mention the many more who don’t seem to answer the phone or reply to email… If they’re running identity theft rings, they aren’t trying hard enough). 

Trendy knits: The Gansey

Has anyone noticed this? Over the last year I’ve seen Ganseys everywhere. OK, I might be greatly exaggerating, because when I looked back to see if I was completely making that up, I could only really remember two examples. Do two influential knitwear designers count as a trend? Probably not. But anyway. Courtney Kelley of Kelbourne Woolens designed the beautiful Seascale, which actually out-Ganseys the traditional Gansey, with a little short row shaping around the sleeve cap and the newly-invented Channel Island bind off (of which I’m a huge fan… I’ve been looking for excuses to use it in everything since she blogged about it). 

And Brooklyn Tweed did a whole Gansey collection a little while ago. Not exactly full-on traditional designs, but Gansey-inspired sweaters. 

A first draft sketch (and notes) for Tommy’s Gansey

I like old school knitting that involves a lot of rules. Actually, I’m generally a fan of rules, particularly where creative endeavours are involved. I like the way that creativity becomes troubleshooting when arbitrary limits are imposed. I want to knit a Gansey! And it’s cold out, and Tommy needs more sweaters (in part because toilet training is going so poorly. ‘Nough said.)

Yarn for the Gansey. It’s Vintage Purls Sock base, but I dyed it myself: it was one of my first attempts, and not what I intended at all, a sort of eggplant with bits of greeny blue.

Unfortunately I have three other active projects on the go (not to mention the many on hold, and the patterns I should really write up). But I want to do all the knitting at once! But no. I’ll finish one thing first. And then Tommy will get a full on traditional Gansey (with Channel Island bind off. Because I can’t resist). 

This blanket is very heavy

The blanket, and my boys. Also, zombie bedding from Etsy.

Also, the winter light is terrible, and my kids wouldn’t stop playing with the lights (I didn’t actually tell them to stop). Oh, and no, Tommy isn’t wearing any pants. I tried to avoid getting any dong in the picture. 

I’ve been meaning to post pictures of my silly blanket for a couple weeks, but our health problems continued, with a case of mastitis as soon as Tommy got his cast off (my boob, not his). This was my fifth case, so it’s old hat at this point. Actually, it’s pretty horrifying. It took me out completely for a couple days, and I felt pretty lousy for the following week, until I finished my antibiotics, at which point I spent the next three days convinced it was coming back (I actually saw a doctor unnecessarily a second time… I have to be bullied into seeing a doctor when I actually need one most of the time). 

Poor Tommy. I had promised him we could all go swimming when he got his cast off, but I didn’t actually get to the pool until today, almost 3 weeks after. Steffen had taken him twice in the interim, though, so he didn’t suffer too much. 

Toilet training was completely detailed by the broken leg. I can now say with authority that Pull-Ups negatively impacted our toilet training efforts. OK, I’m completely biased by my own ideology here. But while he was using Pull-Ups (we couldn’t get cloth training pants over the cast) Tommy got way more comfortable peeing in his pants. He doesn’t seem to know when he has to go anymore, it’s really weird. We tried to keep his pants off as much as possible this weekend (as you can see above… Steffen was trying to wrestle him into training pants to go to the pool), and at this point he’s starting to catch himself when he starts peeing, but usually not before. 

A closeup from when the blanket was about half done (coffee mug for scale). The blanket was too wide for my needles. Oops.

So this weekend sort of felt like life is starting to get back to normal. Our health is generally ok (ish), we got our major chores done, and the kids went to bed happy. I even made pancakes for breakfast (which the kids won’t eat: Miso had a few bites, but he’s on an anti-blueberry kick, and Tommy looked at them and proclaimed them “yucky”). They were delicious: buttermilk, cornmeal, blueberries, and Canadian maple syrup my mum brought us a year and a half ago (clearly we need to make pancakes more often. We also have a waffle iron gathering dust). 

Is life feeling more manageable? Not really. But I’m feeling a little better about that. Today, anyway. 

Cartoonish knitting

My friend Naomi sent me a link many months ago to an article about a New Zealand company that sells yarn and needles for what they call “XXL knitting”  (Plump & Co, for anyone who’s interested). I’m a bit of a sucker for novelty, so I’ve been looking at their products ever since, as well as various similar items in Etsy.

Their prices seem pretty reasonable in terms of weight, but of course it takes so much yarn to make anything when you’re working with 25-40 mm needles. And shipping is exorbitant for anything that comes from overseas.

Now that I have an income and more ambition than time, it seemed like a good idea to spring for enough comically oversized yarn to make a queen-sized blanket. So I pulled out a leftover ball of DK to swatch some simple knit-purl stitch patterns (thank you, Barbara Walker) to see how they look together.


The swatch (which is itself overly ambitious)

They look pretty great (some of them, anyway).

Unfortunately, I realised that each stitch will be something like 7 or 8 cm wide (that’s about 3 inches for those who don’t speak metric). So for a blanket that’s, say, 1.5 to 2 m wide, I only need about 20 odd stitches. The swatch (which I worked as if it were a little corner of a blanket) was 53 stitches. Oops.

My current plan is to do a single diamond across, or perhaps a single chevron, and a little seed stitch on either side. Oh well. Maybe someday I’ll design a more intricate blanket in worsted or aran weight yarn.