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It’s not just me and don’t pretend it is

So we’ve hit that time of the year, huh? November’s coming—you can hear it crunching down the driveway in its sturdy shoes—and that means the chances of this being the year you’ll Do The Thing are drawing shut like the mouth of the toddler you’re trying to spoon-feed.

I have two responses to this annual feeling of impending conclusion: the first is what I think of as the old French guy strategy—a relaxed, single-shoulder shrug, a ‘Euh, c’est la vie, non?’ and another glass of lunchtime wine in the sun. A useful and wholesome (if stereotypical) strategy and one I heartily endorse. The second is what can only be described as ‘I’m not scared of dying, YOU are’ and it’s where I throw myself into a series of ambitious goals.

Guess which one I’m doing this year? If you’re thinking it’s the one that involves signing up for NaNoWriMo, setting myself reading targets, and planning out the next four knitting projects, well, look at you, clever clogs.

Let’s go through these one by one, shall we? (Yep, back on the lists.)

NaNoWriMo: it’s been a few years since I did it, and earlier this year I had an idea for a novel that’s been going mouldy in my head ever since. Despite my having “learned” a while ago that the only way to get more ideas is to get rid of the ones you’ve got, I nonetheless hoard them and fear I’ll never get another—while simultaneously fearing this one isn’t actually any good. So NaNo seemed like a good way of frog-marching myself up to the Reality Wagon and…look, I don’t know where this metaphor is supposed to go. Something about facing my ideas, writing them down, and admitting the possibility that they suck but that it’s okay. I guess that’s not so much a metaphor as it is the way things are. I should try writing. Clearly there’s poetry in my soul.

Reading: it will surprise nobody that I am in possession of several books that not only have I not read, but that I have not immediate plans of reading. (It shouldn’t surprise you because (a) I’m a writerly type with a blog, (b) I like to knit, which suggests I like long-range planning, and (c) I’m a human and a lot of humans do this thing. It’s just statistically likely that I’d have a lotta books around the place.) I’ve decided to set myself the goal of finishing all the books I have acquired this year by the end of the year. This would seem moderate, but it’s only barely so. There are seven books left: one supremely technical, two long and dense (but funny and well-written, so), one emotionally challenging but rewarding (or so the reviews say), one cookbook, and the others action novels. There are roughly nine weeks left in this Year of our Dark Lord 2018, and there are seven books. There were eight, but I finished one earlier today. This seems like a tight goal for me, because, as I said, some of them are fairly dense reads. However, that hasn’t stopped me contemplating the fact that if I read all of them plus another acquired in a previous year, that will be a net win for the To-Be-Read pile.

Knitting: Oh, the knitting. I’m working my way through a sweater at the moment and it’s all I want. It’s supremely simple and satisfying and I’m really happy with it—but I am also nearing the end of it, and I can’t help but notice the absence of a black, drapey cotton spring/autumn cardigan in my wardrobe. You know the sort of thing—something you put on because you’re out having a picnic or on a boat or whatever beautiful people do, and there’s a slight chill to the purple evening air. Something to put over my casual yet glamorous tank-and-shorts combo, or my light summer dress as I walk through long grass at twilight (wtf). And I keep fondling all my sock yarns. And thinking about my handspun and how I really want to get it on my person. In short, there’s a lot of knitting to be done. I’d like to finish both this sweater and that cardigan by the end of the year—am I dreaming too big or too small or both?

There’s a lot of people who are already nipple-deep in end-of-year festivity planning and they’re bugging their eyes at me going ‘SERIOUSLY? You want CHALLENGE? In November??’ and to them I say ‘Have a cup of tea, lovey, and stop yelling at me.’ I like challenge, I like meeting deadlines, and I’m dashed good at both, so why not self-impose and see if I implode? There are also those who sigh and shake their heads at me and ask if I’m trying to prove something and what is it I’m really running from? And I’m supposed to stammer, bite my lip and say ‘I dunno man…I guess in a way, I’m just running from myself…’ And then they can get on with things and I can get back to whatever it is I do. Look, you can wave all the pop psychology at me that you like and ultimately I’m just going to say ‘eh, sure: fear of mortality or whatevs’ and keep on trucking. Let’s see what I can still wring out of the year!

Listless (or listful)

I’m completely convinced that if I just had the right list I’d be able to pull my life together into the shape I imagine I want and deserve. Every now and again, usually when I’m over-tired, over-committed, over-caffeinated or over-stretched in a general life sense, I try to make that list. It usually has things like “finish my French workbook” and “write a really good novel—a tour de force” and “get all the washing done”. Then I read over it and realise that I’m not doing all that today, and I get discouraged. You wouldn’t believe the number of pens and notepads I have right here in front of me, right now, just as part of the ambient clutter of my life, except you totally would believe it because you do it too. Admit it. If it’s not notepads and pens, it’s their digital equivalent. I see you.

Anyway, the greatest thing I ever did for my mental wellbeing was start writing ‘done’ lists. I try to avoid ‘to do’ lists now, but I will admit I will write a ‘reminders’ list. Things that, oh, you know, it would be great if I got around to doing, but they don’t have to be done, the world won’t end, etc. The best part about a ‘done’ list is that you look back at all the shiz you got up to over the day and you’re like “holy nuts, I’m busy!”, even when you don’t feel like you’ve achieved much. On bad days I include things like “cups of tea: 4” and “made bed”. Because sometimes my level of ability fluctuates and it’s nice to have a list that cheers you on accordingly. Watered the desk plants? Great job! Jot that motherfucker down! Wore pants? Kudos! That’s going straight to the list! Remembered to do your physio exercises? STAND BACK, LIST!

It’s taking all my willpower not to pepper this entry with lists. I wanted to write a list of things I never do lists of, and a list of things I compulsively do lists of, but in the end the whole thing got a bit to meta-listical and I had to go lie down. Plus, if I’m honest, there’s a lot of things that I don’t necessarily write lists of, but I record in a pretending-not-but-actually-is a list way—spreadsheets for everything but knitting; Ravelry for everything else. Sure, they’re more complex and involved, so at first glance you might not even realise they’re lists, but they are, my friend, and you’re in their tender grip.

Turn it around

Do y’all remember Knitty’s pattern Cheesylove? It was published in 2002, which tells you all you need to know about my ability to react to inspiration.

Anyway, after having it on my to-knit list for some fifteen years, last year I finally cast it on and dedicated myself to it with an impressive degree of monogamy (socks don’t count, I think we can all agree). I even used some of the deep stash: the black Merino Supreme that Cleckheaton discontinued a long long time ago.

The fact that this isn’t an FO report post should hint at something. Yep, the whole thing was a bit of a dud. As I knit, I was struck with how heavy it was. Well, I thought, at least the yarn is nice and soft: I can wear it with just a t-shirt underneath and it’ll be fine. I noted how long the sleeves were becoming. Well, I thought, they’ll shorten as they stretch around the arm. It’ll be fine. Of course, it wasn’t fine.

The jumper was small enough that I was encouraged to try it on, but large enough that it made me look like a loaf of bread with a teeny weeny head. “Are you going to unravel it and redo it?” Asked M, after the weeping and stomping had subsided. No. Absolutely not. I thought about it, but in the end decided I no longer wanted a Cheesylove.

Here’s what we learned:

  1. A pattern does not age, but a knitter does. What I loved when I first put Cheesylove on my to-knit list is no longer my jam. It’s to be expected when you take fifteen years to act on something: my tastes, knitting skills, and wardrobe have all changed.
  2. Bulky is as bulky does, and even if a ball band suggests it’s Aran-weight, if knitting at Aran gauge takes aching hands and bent needles then you’re forcing a bulky yarn to act as an Aran. And bulky yarns make bulky fabric. Bulky fabric does not flatter me.
  3. Sometimes companies discontinue yarns for a good reasons, not just blatant perversity. Merino Supreme has long been my darling, but I see now that it’s bulky, you only get like 3 metres of yarn per ball, and it pills like a mofo. Farewell, Merino Supreme, and don’t let the yarn cupboard door hit you on the way out.

Here’s how we responded to the whole situation:

  1. I will resolve to turn patterns around faster. When I see a pattern I want to knit, I’ll try to do so ASAP. This means less languishing in the queue, less putting things off, and more importantly, dedicating myself to knitting a thing instead of just doing more socks. (There will always be socks.)
  2. I will turn yarn around faster. When I see yarns I badly want to make something with, I’ll do it, instead of saving them for some as-yet uninvented perfect pattern. The sheep are always growing more wool, and the yarn companies are always coming up with new things, so there’s not much risk that I’ll never have anything so lovely again. Get it out there!
  3. I will stop dismissing things just because they’re hot right now, and acknowledge that I want to knit them immediately: this is to safeguard against the trap of only deciding to make something about five years after it’s fashionable and then wondering why it doesn’t look as cool on me as it did on everyone else. Current case: fades, speckles.
  4. Oh, and I’m going to stop knitting garments that are heavier than DK weight. I’m small, and I don’t have the curves to flesh out a heavy-weight jumper, so when I wear something heavy-weight, my head looks weirdly small and my body strangely mountainlike. Nothing quenches the creative ardour faster than realising you’ve laboured for two months on something that makes you look like mashed potatoes with a pea on top.

I am not, by nature, a spontaneous person. Those of you who think you’ve seen me do something spontaneous, trust me: whatever it was, I’ve mulled it over as a possibility for some time. Probably months, possibly years. I’m working to improve this. I’m also chronically indecisive, which doesn’t help matters. These aren’t necessarily bad traits, but they do come with trade-offs: you miss out on stuff while you’re dithering!

In light of all this, I bought a LOT of yarn and three new patterns. It only took me three days to choose the colours, too. It’s going to be amazing.

 

 

 

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Of mice and me

Content warning: This post contains discussions of small dead critters my cat brings in.

Brown Cat is no athlete. She’s short of leg, plump of pudding, and square of bottom. When we play games, she runs after her string panting like an overweight toddler. So colour me astonished when one morning, some fifteen months after their adoption, I awoke to find a stiff dead rat on my office floor. We had been out late the previous night and noticed nothing wrong, but first thing in the morning: burial duty.

A few weeks later, we had friends over for dinner and a yowling announced the entry of a cat. “That doesn’t sound like one of mine.” I said to my friends, assuming that one of the neighbours’ cats had made its way in for a sneaky treat. (Again.) It was Brown: this time the rat was not yet stiff, but was definitely dead. And we learned that Brown has a tell—a very peculiar trio of meows that announce her triumph and return.

Shortly after that, we were awoken early one morning to the sound of running feet. “How nice,” I thought, laying in bed at FIVE IN THE MORNING, “that they’re playing together for so long without fighting.” M arose with the dual intention of shouting at the noisemakers and making a cup of tea. Brown looked up, made her triumphant meow, and lifted her foot off a mouse that immediately ran under the couch. “Heck,” said Brown. It took us some twenty minutes of trying to figure out how to lift up the couch to catch the mouse without letting Brown run under it and risk squishification (all the while Brown flailing her arms under the couch trying to reach the mouse) before we realised the mouse had snuck out and was crouched in the far corner of the room. It was then a simple matter of popping it in a container and transferring it outside—except it was so very much still alive that it kept trying to leap out of the container and I had a bit of a job just getting it outdoors.

Just a couple of days later, we were awoken in the middle of the night to the triumphant meow. “Oh no.” Said M. We switched on the bedroom light and Brown immediately lost her mouse, which vanished behind the bedside dresser. Shutting Brown out of the room, where she scratched and yowled, we spent fifteen minutes unsuccessfully pursuing and eventually losing the mouse. We reluctantly let Brown back in and she found it (after a while), and we were able to catch and evict once again.

We started closing the cat flap overnight. Now, Brown has many sterling qualities, but figuring out cat flaps is not one of them. She can exit; she cannot enter. In closing the cat flat, we reasoned, two things could happen: she would have to meow at the door, thus forcing us to vet what she was attempting to bring in; or she would figure out the cat flap and simply keep bringing things in.

The grisliness of all this was getting to us, and we couldn’t work out why she was suddenly Master Hunter. The sound of a concrete jackhammering clued us in: the next-door neighbour was pulling down their old deck and turfing out a lot of mice and rat nests, showering our chubby enthusiast with ample opportunities. So at least this doesn’t appear to be the New Normal: it’s just taking advantage of the mouse harvest. That means the process should settle down soon.

In the meantime, we know she has a tell. The trio of howly meows that announce her victory and generosity is a unique event. On more than one occasion, we’ve ignored it only to discover something grim the next morning. So last night when we heard her tell, we both sprang out of bed and started switching on lights to find her and her treasure as soon as we could.

She wasn’t on the front step. She wasn’t in my study. She was, it turned out, snug in her bed, blinking confusedly in the light.

She talks in her sleep.

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MMXVIII

Hello and Happy New Year!

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time (hi Mum!), you’ll know that I love New Year’s. Christmas is cool, but I love waking up on New Year’s Day and feeling like there’s a fresh new year waiting for me. One full of wonder and potential; one I haven’t fucked up yet. It’s like the feeling you get when you open a brand new blank notebook, times a million. At the same time, I like looking back over the previous year and thinking about it, finding a way of looking at it that brings it into sense. I like to spend NYE cleaning up and making the house immaculate so that when I get up on NYD, I’ve maximised that feeling of freshness and newness. Then I spend NYD doing a little of all the things I want to do a lot of in the coming year: music, spinning, knitting, reading, writing, cooking, and this year, even travelling! Ah, New Year’s.

I don’t even care that it’s an entirely made-up concept—all human things are made up, once you get beyond the basic four Fs—I like it. I like knowing that a lot of other humans are doing a similar thing, too: they’re thinking about the year that was and the year that is to come, and we’re all secretly hoping this will be the year everything goes perfectly. We’ll all finally learn Portugese and write that dang novel, get fit, lose weight, become stylish and suddenly know how to cook. And we’ll all (well, most of us), do something entirely otherwise. Some people will have that year: they’ll zero in on something they’ve long wanted or worked towards. Some people will not have that year: they’ll have a year of disruptions, heart-breaking phone calls and white-knuckle medical appointments.

Then in twelve months’ time, an approximation of one orbit of the sun, we’ll all meet back here and compare notes about how it went. It won’t be at all what we expected, and nor should it be, because what kind of a story would that make? And then we’ll all toast the year that was, and take the wrapping off the next one and do it all again. I love it.

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Feel the felting, felt the feeling

Ever save something up for yourself, secure in the knowledge it’s going to be an unequivocal delight when you get around to it?

A braid of Corriedale top, prepared for spinning

Plums and Wine Corriedale tops

I’m calling it Plums and Wine. It’s a braid of Corriedale I bought from the local markets when they were having their fibre day. And damn, it was BEDLAM. You’d swear nobody had a chance to buy anything even slightly sheepy the rest of the year. It was kinda sucky. But this braid is so goldang pretty, I’ve been saving it. I promised myself I’d finish up all my other spinning before I started it.

And then I just started it anyway. Hah! Take that, me!

Ever save something up for yourself, sure you’re going to be delighted, and end up utterly disgusted with disappointment?

An undyed centre!

The pale secret at the heart of the braid!

As I began spinning, two things became apparent: the first is that the dye hasn’t penetrated to the heart of the braid. I was pretty smitten with the braid as it appeared, so I’m pretty disappointed to see that you end up with a lot less of the coloured fibre than you originally thought! The second thing is that it’s borderline felted. Yup. Somehow or another, the dyer has semi-felted the fibres into a dense, tangled mass. It’s kinda heartbreaking.

But I am nothing if not persistent. And I’m also downright indignant that some poor Corriedale sheep had to suffer the indignity of being sheared only to have their lovely fleece turned into a matted, poorly-dyed tube of felt! I have resolved to create something beautiful out of this, to restore justice to that poor sheep, wherever they are.

A sample of the spinning from Plums and Wine

Well I’ll be.

And to my astonishment, it’s coming out beautifully! I’ve had to figure out a sort of pre-drafting technique: instead of smoothly easing the fibres from the braid as I spin, I have to prep about a foot or so of fibre, tearing the semi-felt apart, untangling the fibres, thus making it easier to draft while spinning. It’s made a big difference to the single I’m producing. It’s consistent and fine, and the toothiness of the fibres has made it generally less slippery and less prone to breakage. The lack of dye in the heart of the braid creates a heathery, muted effect, and I must admit, I kinda like it!

Wherever that Corriedale sheep is, I hope it’s sleeping easier tonight, knowing that I’ve saved its fibre and brought it to beautiful fruition.

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Shifts

This has been an…interesting year. You would have to put in some pretty hardcore effort to not notice what kind of a year it’s been in the public sphere (in the Western world, which is really the only part of the world I’m qualified to speak about). Various political monstrosities have happened internationally, and Australia went through the pain-in-the-arse of the postal popularity poll on marriage equality—a bullshit process that was somewhat redeemed by having the majority of Australians put their foot down and demand equality, bless ’em.

And it’s been an interesting year Chez Spoonfully, too. I’ve had this and that going on, health-wise: lots of annoyingly vague symptoms that are hard to pinpoint, like periodic nausea and crippling fatigue and general blahness. I’ve had recurring eyelid infections (gross), salt problems (ugh), and a weirdo lump on my shoulder that I have decided to embrace as part of my unique brand of beauty.

All of this is only mildly interesting in comparison to the astonishing shifts that have taken place in me. The first big one was travel. I love, love, love travelling. I have, in the past, been known to have something of a small contained hissy fit if I feel I’m not travelling enough and the world is passing me by, etc. etc. But this year, on the cusp of a trip to the US, M and I both kinda felt that we would really not be at all bothered if one us, say, broke a foot and we couldn’t go. Nobody really wants a broken foot, of course: but both of us felt such extreme reluctance to leave that we had to privately admit it seemed the superior option. Neither of us broke anything and the trip was a complete blast: we saw friends and family, explored a new city, caught a fancy train, and chilled out reading books in Brooklyn. It was glorious. But man, both of us were just completely desperate to be at home, with our own kitchen and bathroom and cats and things. This is a strange development for me, and I think it’s indicative of two things: the first is, obviously, fatigue. The year has wrung me out with Things To Be Worried About (legit things, too, not just my usual laying-awake-thinking-about-zombie-axe-murderers worrying), and the comfort that comes from familiarity and your surroundings is not to be sneezed at. Travel is wonderful: it opens your mind, offers a new way of seeing people and the world at large, and has a thousand ways of delighting you. But travel is hard. Long flights (i.e. anything from Australia) are demanding; having to go out and be socially on for all your meals is demanding; even sleeping in a strange place and figuring out the public transport system in a new city are demanding. And when the year has already placed considerable demands on your resources, that’s no small thing. The second thing behind my travel fatigue is a lot happier: I think that I’m just happier in myself and who I am as a person. I don’t need to have a list of countries I’ve visited so that I can have proof of how great I am. That impulse has been buried in my love of travelling: among its many rewards, travelling lets me prove how tough and cool I am. Now I don’t need to prove it, because, well, I simply am.

The other surprising development that’s taken place this year is my sudden frenzy for gardening. Almost every spring, since I was a teenager, I’ve had bursts of interest in gardening: I’m sure it’s just a response to the frenzy of growth that is springtime here. But it lasts roughly one hyperactive weekend, and then I get tired and frustrated and just give up. This year? This year I’ve had so many ideas and things I want to try and garden jobs I want to do that I’ve had to start a spreadsheet and schedule things weekend by weekend. I’ve started paying a nice person to come around and mow my lawn, and that seems to have made a big difference: I don’t mind lawnmowing, but I must admit if I don’t do it every week, it takes hours and is exhausting (fast lawn growth around here). And then I’m too tired and annoyed for any further gardening. So removing that chore from my list has freed up my time and energy to rededicate myself to the rest of the garden.

There’s something deeper at play here, too, as there is in the travelling thing. It’s that I’m suddenly unafraid to feel my roots growing. I have, in the past, been reluctant to commit to physical things that I’m scared will stop me travelling and living all over the world.  It’s one of the reasons I kept my office so minimal for so long: I needed to prove to myself that I could work in the scantest conditions, so that I could work anywhere. I still have a deep-seated reluctance to own a food processor because I feel like that will somehow mean I will never live in Canada (I don’t understand it either). But I’m suddenly aware of how deep my love for my place goes. My home, my surprise cats (one of life’s curveballs right there), my garden, and my sense of self: my affection for it all is suddenly deeper and more nourishing than I’ve ever realised it could be. In part, it’s because I’ve lost the need to point to my ability to travel and say ‘see, that proves how free/great/brave I am!’, because I feel a much stronger sense that it’s so self-evidently true I don’t need proof. And in letting go of that impulse, I’ve been rewarded with so much joy—well-rooted, secure joy—than I ever anticipated.

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A consummation devoutly to be wish’d

Friends, the most fantastic thing happened. Now, to stop everyone getting all excited, I want to make this clear: this is about knitting and knitting projects. We’re not talking life-changing events or meteor showers or anything else that gives you a new perspective on this sparkling rock upon which we’re all spinning around the sun. But I’m excited and it is a most fantastic thing that happened.

I went away on a holiday for a little while with the trusty and valiant M. While travelling, I worked only on a single project: a sleeve to M’s sweater, which has been on the cards since, oh, March. (For the record, let me clarify: this was in August.) (Actually, now I write that out, it isn’t as bad as I thought.) When I got home, all I wanted—and I mean this most emphatically—all I wanted to knit was that jumper. And what’s more: I was burning to finish it.

Finish it I did.

M's sweater neckline

The neckline of M’s sweater which was, I should say, a feat of cleverness

And when that was done, the cardigan loitering in my cupboard—all done but the zipper—started nagging at me. So I got to it, and: pop. Another project done.

The author poses in her new cardigan

FANCY POSE

And then there were the other knitting jobs I had been meaning to get around to: learning the fish lips kiss heel; the beaded cuff I had been meaning to finish; the felted slippers I had wanted to make…

A picture of my new felted slippers

Slippies!

Heck, those only took a week from start to felt.

It’s finally happened. I’ve been struck with finishitupitis. It’s the rare illness that strikes the lucky knitter, and its primary symptom is a consuming need to finish all the projects that are on the go. And when it happens, you run the heck with it.

It’s slowed a little now, but I still just want to work at one thing and one thing only. It’s bizarro pants and it feels really alien to me. But it’s so nice to have finished things! I have on the needles at present: two socks. (Different ones.) And a swatch for an upcoming project. THAT’S IT. Who even am I anymore?

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Hand me that jersey

Earlier this year (July, actually) (shut up, I’ve been busy) I strapped on a helmet and clippy shoes, slotted water bottles everywhere and grabbed some snazzy wraparound sunnies so as to take part in that most noble fibre-based event: the Tour de Fleece!
For those who haven’t been paying attention, the Tour De Fleece is a predominantly online event wherein handspinners elect to spin every day of the Tour de France. You can set yourself targets like “spin my entire stash”, or “spin half an hour per day” or “spin until Australia makes same-sex marriage legal” (although that last one would obviously go far, far past the deadline of the Tour). Since it’s only my first year—I only started spinning in May—I kept my goals simple and elected to spin on my spindle every day, even if it was only for a few minutes. Some days I racked up an hour or so, others I only just squeezed in ten minutes, and every day was worth it.

I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow account of every day, but here’s my highlights reel!

Fibre stash in anticipation of the Tour de Fleece

Where we started!

This was my modest fibre stash at the start of the TdF. I assumed, since I was spinning at such a fast rate, that this would barely be enough to see me through to the end of the three weeks. You may laugh. The two drawstring bags (50g each) are corriedale, drum-carded by my LYS owner into pretty rolags. The three plastic bags (100g each) are Ashford fibre packs: the top, dark purple one is correidale and the other two are gorgeous merino/alpaca blends.

The first day's spinning from the TdF

And we’re off!

My first day’s spinning was a scanty ten minutes or so, squeezed in hastily around other commitments, and altogether it felt a bit anticlimatic: but this was the baby steps on my first stretch goal, too. Having only spun small bundles in the past, I set myself the goal of spinning a whole 100g of fibre consistently.

A full cop of purple yarn

My first personal best!

And I did it! It was the finest, longest skein I’d spun up to that point! It took a whole evening of hanging out with indulgent friends who didn’t mind my conversation was carried out with a spindle, but I did it! And it was the finest I’d spun yet.

A sample of spun merino/alpaca on the spindle

Experiments in sheeps

Now onto trying something different and novel: everything I’d spun so far was corriedale, because that’s what was in the bags at the shop. Now: a merino/alpaca blend. I’m calling it Skwisgaar. It was creamy and slippery, and I found it extremely hard to keep it consistent. You can see in the pic above the variations of thickness. Still, pretty stuff!

Spinning from a rolag

Rolags!

Another new thing! Spinning from a rolag! I chose this one because, well, it was there, but I wasn’t in love with it…until I started spinning with it. Holy cow, rolags are fun to spin! I was really into this: I just wanted to spin from it all day. So I did.

A sample of handspun to show the fineness

So fine!

Here’s a closeup of what I was getting out of the rolag—my finest yarn yet! I think the rolag was called Sunset or something? I’m calling it Poison Frog.

Two handpainted braids of fibre.

Oooh, pretty.

And then the local markets had a wool day. The markets themselves were completely unenjoyable—a victim of their own success, as you could barely move for people. I dived into the closest fibre stall that wasn’t groaning full, and snatched up the first two pretties I saw. I decided to get something a bit out of the ordinary for me: the one on the right has patches of mustard, green and pink, none of which are really my colours. But the rolags had shown me that the fibre you buy doesn’t predict the yarn you get, so here goes nothing!

A close-up of handspun to show how fine it is becoming

Fox in spring handspun!

And hot damn is it pretty. This is the braid on the right, spun into a fine single I’m calling Fox in Spring. It’s blue-faced leicester and it was a joy to work with.

Two skeins and one half-filled spindle of handspun

Two and a half skeins of Fox in Spring

I completely love Fox in Spring. I just wanted to spin it forever. But all good things come to an end, and this end was three skeins’ worth! (“Skeinsworth! Prepare the luncheon table, the Buttmichaels are coming for tea!”) I feel like this picture can’t do it justice: the pops of pink and green, and the shades of mustard, are so, so pretty.

A spindle of merino/alpaca

The final challenge!

My last bag of fibre from before the Tour started: another merino/alpaca blend, I wasn’t particularly excited about it, but I thought I should finish it before I started the second braid from the markets day. Skwisgaar, above, had been a bit challenging to spin, but whoa: if I had any doubts about whether the Tour had improved my spinning, they were gone. This time around, the exact same blend was so fine, so precise, and so strong. It was—is, as I’m spinning my second skein and here we are past August—a beauty.

I am blown away by how much I improved just by spinning every day, even only a little bit. I shouldn’t be. I’ve been a musician since I was a kid, and ‘practice makes perfect’ ain’t just a cliché. But there we have it! Another of life’s lessons that I’ll just keep on learnin’.

Watching the Tour itself was not required for participation, but I gave it a red hot go all the same. And I found it far too stressful: how do they ride so close together without falling over? How do they go so fast without devastating crashes? Answer: they fall over and they have devastating crashes! I did not find watching the Tour relaxing! But I did find spinning very, very soothing.

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Splish splash holy cow

So in the midst of the tumult that has been this year, I knit myself a whale shark.

Knitted whale shark smile

Smile, Whaley!

Dawww! Smiley little sucker.

But there was more than just cuteness driving me. I wanted M to get an idea of whale sharks’ gentle friendliness so that when I announced I wanted to go swimming with them, he wouldn’t be scared. I put in some time explaining that they really are more whale than shark: “throat no bigger than a dime!” I said, holding up an Australian ten-cent coin for demonstration purposes. M, who is nothing if not cheerfully accommodating, agreed that a whirlwind mini holiday to the western side of the country would be in order. “You never hear much out of Perth,” he said. “I want to know what they’re up to over there.”

One of the nice things about living in Australia (and I’ll be honest: there’s a lot) is that there’s a lot of cool wildlife just about everywhere you look. Off the north-west coast of the country is a reef called Ningaloo, from the Wajarri word for ‘deep water’. The reef itself is Australia’s largest fringing reef (distinct from a barrier reef, which we’ve also got one of), and just beyond it the sea shelf drops off sharply. So you have a long coral reef followed by a deep deep drop: it’s perfect for whale sharks. They eat the coral spawn and they like deep water.

We flew to Perth via Melbourne: full marks to the incredible Qantas staff who, when our flight via Sydney was cancelled, simultaneously rerouted us, checked us in, opened the boarding for another flight over the PA, requested wheelchair assistance for another passenger, printed our boarding passes and wished us a lovely flight. My stars, she was impressive. We touched down mid-afternoon: our arrival in the CBD was marked primarily by the absence of sunlight and people, and I had the awful sinking feeling I get when I’m scared I’ve set us off on a terrible adventure. We sat glumly in our hotel room for a while, and then three things happened: we found a restaurant for dinner (always a relief, because the vegetarian and nightshade-free thing can be a big obstacle), our cat-focused webcam confirmed the cat feeder was paying out biscuits on cue, and we had a cup of tea. Suitably restored, we decided to head out for a drink and see what we could see see see.

Well. Perth at around five pm is a very different, very pretty beast. The streets were bustling with the after-work crowd, dynamic and busy and full of people: some riding home, some in their after-work athleisure gear heading to yoga/gym/Pilates, some in their suits enjoying $35 cocktails. (We had wine instead.)

The next morning we had a very hip breakfast at a very hip cafe (as you can imagine, I blended right in), which had all of, oh, 14 calories. Delicious and stimulating, but we were headed to the botanic gardens and that involved a long and then a steep walk. Well worth it, but I immediately dragged M to the nearest cafe for second breakfast.

We spent a happy day walking around Perth and exploring it, agreeing that we liked it. The mining boom has had an obvious impact on the landscape: the city overall is old, relaxed and spread out, but the CBD is a tight knot of shiny, towering buildings blaring mining and banking company logos.

After two nights, we said ‘so long Perth!’ and flew a few hours north to Exmouth, the town on the Ningaloo Reef. As we touched down, the air staff reminded us that the airport was also a RAAF base, so no photos or they blow up your camera (I guess). I leaned against the window as we touched down. “M, I think we’re in the desert!” “Yep!” “I’ve never been in a desert!!”

But I guess you want to hear about the whale sharks, huh?

We got picked up the next morning at about 8:00 by the shuttle bus for Ningaloo Discovery. Shuttle after shuttle came past the accommodation: it’s really worth knowing who your company is! We made friends with the guides: one of them described the whale sharks as ‘the labradors of the sea’. Which was far more calming then my endless reassurances of ‘they can’t swallow you: their throats are tiny’. We gathered up a few more travellers and drove out to the edge of the reef: while we went, the guides told us all about whale sharks and their wily ways.

We piled onto a water taxi and buzzed out to the boat: a big catamaran sailboat (also with a motor, so I guess a motor yacht?). From there, it was all systems go: they handed out wetsuits, flippers and snorkels, explained how to navigate them, did the safety briefing, and in we went! We had a preliminary snork over the reef, so that everyone could get a feel for their kit and see how they were doing. M and I have never really been snorkelling (like, once in a rockpool), so we were given pool noodles and a crash course in not dying. Then back on the boat, a round of toasted croissants (seriously), and we followed the spotter plane’s directions to find our whaleys!

They were pretty amazing. Our biggest one was a nine-metre male (that’s nearly thirty feet, if you think in feet) and they were universally lovely. My favourite moment was on my first swim, where the guide was gesturing and saying ‘over there, over there!’ and I couldn’t see a thing — and then looked immediately behind me a HUGE fish loomed out of the blue. I squeaked loudly.

Me, swimming alongside a whale shark

In which I make a jumbo new friend! (Photo by Ningaloo Discovery)

I could talk a lot about the whole experience: it was pretty incredible, but it was also hard. On the day, it was really hard to get past the physical and psychological stuff. I got a bit seasick: between swims, we’d wait on the back of the boat, and facing away from the way we were travelling seemed to be a sure-fire way of inducing seasickness for me. After my third swim, I decided I couldn’t stand having a snorkel in my mouth, and I was done. M had an awful moment on his second swim: his mask sprung a leak and he couldn’t breathe comfortably through his snorkel. As he emptied his snorkel and mask, the rest of the group swam off after a whale shark, leaving him feeling a bit stranded in the middle of a deep and infinite sea. He called out and they came back for him, but it was pretty scary (I, in self-absorbed delight, had swum off happily after a shark). He steeled himself and went in for a third: he later admitted that he knew if he finished on the bad swim, it would leave a bad memory, and he wanted to end on a good note.

Snorkelling is definitely hard work: it’s physically demanding, and if you’re not used to it, it’s psychologically challenging as you force yourself to trust your equipment and breathe deeply and properly through your pipe. And if your equipment fails you, that’s a big deal. Plus the water is deep and is really infinite in all directions: if you feel uneasy about that, you’ll have some mental work to do to enjoy it. After our three swims, M and I decided we were done: I was in serious peril of losing my croissant to seasickness, so we went to the front of the boat and lay in the sun. The crew brought me a lemon and ginger tea, and M and I listened to the spotter plane radioing in the locations of more whale sharks, and my seasickness evaporated. I think there were six or seven opportunities to swim with the whale sharks, but we were perfectly happy basking in the sun and watching the flying fish flit ahead of the boat’s prow.

After a fantastic lunch prepared by the boat’s crew, we headed back to the reef for a final swim: the current was strong though, so after a little while M and I returned to our prime spot on the front of the boat. We’d found a big waterproof beanbag and had a little shade cast as they unfurled the sail, and oh wow it was nice. Then the staff brought around champagne and that was also pretty damn nice. Huge props to Ningaloo Discovery for a fantastic trip.

When we got home, Mum asked if it was life-changing. I don’t know about that. It was a fun adventure, and I think I would actually do it again — there’s a lot of other wildlife on Ningaloo, like humpbacks, orcas, manatees and turtles — that we didn’t get to see, and I’d like to. But life-changing? Life-changing was quitting my job and being self-employed. Life-changing was learning to exercise and rebuilding my body after surgery and starving myself. I think we can’t necessarily pick our life-changing moments, things like giving birth or having scheduled surgery notwithstanding. The things that turn out to be life-changing are sometimes not even recognisable as that until retrospect pins them as a turning point. Amazing, fun, exciting, and an adventure? Totally. Life-changing? Not sure yet.