Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Visiting a Mosque

Last spring one of the unusual things Bill and I did was to visit the Newcastle Central Mosque. We were invited to a community event by a lady with whom Bill used to work, Afru. They've stayed in touch on Facebook over the years. 

We had the impression that the Muslim community was trying to reach out to non-Muslim people in order to explain their religion and help people feel more comfortable with them. It was a fairly amazing experience. The Mosque was, to be fair, in the midst of some renovation but my first impression was that there was very little money in that 'congregation' (if that's an appropriate word). There was a variety of carpeting in different colours spread throughout the meandering halls and stairs, but no underlay, just a cover for the concrete floors. There were no luxurious furnishings at least not in the part we saw. 

That said, they fed us a delicious, more than generous meal. The starter of various Asian foods would have sufficed, but then the main course and side dishes and even two kinds of dessert came around. Before that we watched a bunch of men and boys file in and kneel for their evening worship. It was a bit surreal standing at the back of the room with a bunch of rear-ends sticking up, but the man singing the call to worship had a beautiful voice and I remember feeling I was suddenly standing somewhere in Arabia or Persia or somewhere exotic instead of chilly, damp Newcastle. The prayer ritual looked fairly demanding, physically  - lots of up and down and bending in half - though it didn't take very long. It made me think a bit of choreography, watching the unison movements. I wondered if they thought it odd we were watching, but no one seemed self-conscious; in fact it was as though we were invisible to them. Perhaps we were.

The back of the room was filled with large posters, each explaining an aspect of the Muslim faith. I was sure I had taken photos of these to read later on, but apparently not. I wasn't sure about the appropriateness of photos initially, though no one seemed to mind. I have somehow only the one. Perhaps because I was so fascinated by what I was seeing and hearing I didn't actually remember to use my camera more?

After that we went upstairs (taking off our shoes) and were served the meal. Bill's friend sat with us along with her sister and, funny enough, a friend I used to work with - name Faith (you couldn't make that up, could you?) was also there. Faith is a Quaker, an intelligent and intellectually curious woman, which makes her excellent company. It didn't seem very surprising that she would attend something like this, though I did admire her coming on her own.

After the meal we had a 'quiz' which frankly tackled some of the commoner myths and misunderstandings about the Muslim religion. I'm sorry that I'm writing this nine months later and can't remember more details. Faith got the top score on the quiz, I remember. Then we had a 'sermon' of sorts by the Imam, a young-ish man perhaps in his 30s or 40s. He explained about Mohammed the Prophet and about some of the harsher laws coming straight from the Old Testament, about their guidelines for tithing and all sorts of things. Then another man stood up and we were invited to ask questions. Faith asked the question most of us had in mind, to ask about the violence committed in the name of Islam. He said some people perverted the religion to serve their own ends, in much the way some so-called Christians do and have done. It didn't mean that their actions were representative of the Muslim community as a whole. I thought it was as reasonable an answer as any. 

I had the impression that they would let me join the Muslim faith if I wanted, but that wasn't their primary purpose for that evening. It was more about showing people who they were. Everyone I encountered was incredibly soft spoken and kind. Afru was very upbeat and fun while her sister was a bit more serious. I remember admiring the scarf the sister wore covering her hair; it was a beautiful, lush fabric. Bill pointed out to me that Afru had divorced her husband and had not been chastised by her religious community. She is a professional woman raising her two children on her own now, very much a part of the modern world.

When we left we were given gift bags containing a scented candle, some pamphlets and a copy of the Quran. I had good intentions at the time, but came to realise I was never actually going to read it. The last time I saw Faith, however, she had and reported that it did indeed have a lot in common with the Old Testament. Bill often points out the parallels between some evangelical Christian ideas and those of extremist Muslims and I can't disagree.

We were both very glad we went, even though it started out a bit uncomfortably - I was just nervous is all. Bill wanted to support his friend and I felt it was one of those things that didn't come along that often and that I would regret not going if I didn't.  If you are ever invited to visit a Mosque I would recommend you go. Take an open mind (like I take to any religious venue) and listen to their take on things. I think you might learn something interesting.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Dancing Like I Type

I've been going to a Zumba Gold (as in for old ladies) class for a couple of months now. It meets at noon on a Monday and even better than exercise, it makes me smile. The ladies there are quite friendly, always smiling and they often come over to chat. I've even run into people I already knew: a consultant microbiologist I used to work with and, once, Meriel's sister in law.

The class is run by a mother and daughter, Irene and Catherine. As much as dance leaders they are almost a comedy act. Irene expresses horror at some of Catherine's burlesque-type moves, then again, Irene shakes her booty pretty well too. The idea is that if you want a gentle workout, follow the Mom, if you want to work harder, Catherine is your leader. I tend to follow Catherine mainly because she wears very bright workout clothes that make her easy to see against the black background.

When Nutbush City Limits comes on, my heart sings along, but other than that I'm not really into most of the music, pop songs I don't know, strange Bollywood type stuff, or - I don't even know what it's called - I think of it as 'gangsta' music (and the choreography matches). I'm not sure what makes me smile more: the comedy act on stage, getting to shimmy and Charleston, or being a room full of women mostly over 60 doing gangsta moves or gyrating their hips.

There is a wide range of fitness and of dance abilities of course. Not everyone understands the way dance generally works (if we do it for 8 counts on the right I'll bet money we're going to repeat that move on the left). Some of the old dears end up just shuffling around and waving their arms, which is perfectly fine; better exercise than sitting in a chair all day. It's taken me several months to get several of the routines and there are still parts I haven't figured out since I can't always see Catherine's feet to follow. 

That's the part I was explaining to Bill about dancing and typing. When I learned to type I read every word but after several years of office work I discovered that sense of 'flow' where the letters enter your eyes and come out your fingers, without reading them at all. That's how people answer the phone and type at the same time. 

After 13 years (aged 3 to 16) of dance training, I've learned to watch someone's feet and to just follow, without much thought. I figure getting the feet right is the first priority, if only not to get stepped on when Catherine says 'travel'. The arms can come later. I can imagine that if you have to think about each step as it's done on the right and then figure out how to do that again on the other side, it can be frustrating. You can tell the ones who have dance experience, they just pick things up faster, and if I can't see the leader I try to follow them instead. 

If you haven't tried Zumba but you like to dance, I recommend you give it a go. I don't think of it as exercise at all, but playtime!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A Bag for Meriel

Meriel is a lady with a lot of social capital. She runs the knitting group I attend and for a long time has been a lynchpin of a craft group to which I also go. I know she is involved with at least one other knitting group, a spinning group, and makes costumes for a local theatre. 

Her interest and dedication - not to mention her and her sister-in-law's clear outs - have provided me with many hours of pleasure and with kind and interesting acquaintances, not to mention much of my sewing stash. It seemed a shame that I'd never found a way to actually thank her. So I made her a bag.

I think Meriel may have once had red hair - it's totally white now, just guessing from her colouring and from her love of colour. Everything she makes is brightly coloured, from all parts of the rainbow. So I set out to make her a rainbow bag. 

I'm not sure I accomplished that, but I did learn about the order of colours enough to organise my sewing thread collection this way, which was fun. 

One of the things that came my way from her sister-in-law was a knitted item made from strips of brightly coloured fabrics. I took it apart and was taken with the colours as no doubt she had been. I was sure these needed to be part of Meriel's bag. I ended up ironing the strips then weaving and pinning them together, then stitching all the rows and columns. It was good fun. That became the inside pocket, which I lined with a rose coloured velvet. Over time I've come to realise that a snuggle-y pocket is a feature I like to include.

As with all my bags (so far), the inside is also a patchwork, of cream coloured muslin or linen. I must have taken this photo to show the patchwork nature but of course the raw edges are enclosed between the lining and the outer patchwork. 

I not only learned the order of colours but that I prefer a mix of bright and neutral shades myself. However, she seemed to like the bag and I felt better having acknowledged the contributions she makes to groups that benefit so many of us.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Frumpy vs Farcical

I'm a huge fan of Imogene Lamport's blog, Inside Out Style. She compiles an enormous amount of information about colour, proportion, contrast, silhouette, etc. to help women look their best. I've bought some of her e-books and one of her courses and I can tell you they are excellent value for money. 

They talk about personal style, a separate issue from current fashion. She has explained to me why I love lace and ruffles but can't bear to think of wearing them (being fair, short and small boned, I'm already feminine enough); why highly textured fabrics make me look like an over-stuffed pillow (because I'm petite and texture is overwhelming); why I tend to avoid wearing prints and if I do, they must be small stripes, dots, paisley or the like (because my comfort zone is 'classic', not 'rebellious' or 'creative');  why some outfits feel like I'm wearing a costume (either because they are suited to a more 'dramatic' personality than mine).

She recently did a post titled "11 Ways to Style Cardigans" and as my old-lady cardi's are part of my British-winter (fall/spring) survival uniform, I read it with interest. Using my principle of 'wear the next thing in the closet', I pulled out a purple and brown print skirt I've had for 10-12 years, my brown knee-high flat boots, a long sleeved tee and a brown v-neck cardigan. 

I thought I'd give one of her tips a try:

As you can see, hers worked well and she looks great. My Edinburgh Woolen Mill cardi with gold buttons down one side and button holes down the other and the now-sideways pockets was a...different look to my usual (you should try this for yourself, you know you want to!).

I went downstairs to the dining room  to show Bill and to discuss. I'm writing to tell you I found a way to bring Bill to his knees. He laughed so hard he folded up and put his head on a dining room chair, helpless to speak. I had a really good laugh as well.

Aside from his reaction I'd already decided it wasn't going to work as it left my middle open to the cold. Besides, I'm a 'classic' woman, not a 'funky' type at all. 

But a good belly laugh is not to be dismissed. And I (seriously) can't recommend her blog highly enough. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Thanksgiving at Dent

As Bill's three children (all fully-growed now) acquire partners and make babies, finding suitable sleeping quarters in my house is an increasing challenge. 

The last time we had all three kids and families, Bill pulled the motor home up outside the house and ran an extension cord up over the sidewalk. 

Sarah and Gareth said they enjoyed that experience, though the party people on their way to and from the pub were a bit loud and scary. I never notice them anymore, but I remember when I did.

So, just for fun, last year I rented a holiday house in Dent, which we judged was fairly central to the three coming from the NE (Edinburgh) and  SW (Chester). 

As it turned out Sarah and Gareth didn't make it but I knew enough in advance that I only got a three bed house. 

It was an end-terrace house square in the middle of Dent, along a narrow cobbled road. The terrace ended at the pedestrian entry into the church yard, which was the view from all the north facing windows. 

Oddly, the grass of the cemetery came up to the level of the window sills, providing a rather unique perspective. In the front, just across the narrow road was the George and Dragon pub. I had the feeling that folks leaning out of the windows there could just about touch anyone leaning out of ours. 

That was one of the downsides, the noise from the pub.  I'm all for people enjoying themselves, but pub closing time is past my bedtime. Also, there was no parking place outside the house, not that this bothered the tradesmen doing improvements next door or unloading goods for the pub. They parked so close to the front door it was hard not to take it personally. Then again, that was because (I think) they assumed the place was vacant. One of our entertainments was watching drivers edge past each other or inch around the corner (we were at the top of a t-junction), particularly the lorries doing deliveries. Online shopping was clearly the main resource for the villagers.

The ground floor of this house was just a large kitchen and a sitting room with a wood-burning stove. 
One of the oddest roof lines I've seen, or is it a roof within a wall?

The first floor (what would be the 2nd in the US) had our en suite bedroom, another double bedroom (for Simon) and a full sized bathroom squeezed into an odd place under the eaves. 

I've lived with double glazing so long that single panes in sash windows
(as in houses where I grew up) are unusual now.

The 2nd/3rd floor was probably an attic at some point. It had a large room with a telly and a child's bed which opened into a very large bedroom (for Helen, Martin & Charlotte). The views over the hills were lovely from up there.  

I loved the funny little niches in the wall, with stone 'sills'.

In addition to having a cemetery straight out the window, there was a cat flap that opened onto a stone shelf next to the sink. Thinking of food hygiene and resident dog, Daisy, I made sure it was locked. The kitchen was reasonably well appointed with an American-sized fridge, but I just managed to squeeze the turkey into the oven, located strangely at floor level.

I learned about the hazards of south-facing windows, which was a good thing to know. I sometimes envy the neighbours who face north/south but the glare from the sun isn't always a welcome thing. Never mind taking photos, I sometimes couldn't actually see what I was doing. 

There isn't a lot to see or do in Dent if you're not into walking (and when they say 'walking' in Britain they mean as in with boots, in all weathers, more like what you might call 'hiking' in the States). We did enjoy a visit to the museum and tearoom. That said, I had to get back to supervise the turkey so didn't see much of the museum on this trip. Helen surprised me at Christmas with a video about the 'terrible knitters of Dent'.  

Dent is a place Bill goes regularly and I've been a couple of times. The village needed funds to pay for a teacher and so they organised a race, the Dentdale, a 14 miler up and down hills. It's a tough one that Bill did regularly with running buddies he's known 40 years. I've even done it a couple of times. I remember the first year he introduced me to Wensleydale cheese, definitely one of life's greatest pleasures. Bill's the only one of his gang still running, but they meet up every year around that weekend. 

But I've digressed. When you read 'terrible' knitters you should be thinking 'awesome'. The people - men as well as women - knitted as a livelihood and they turned out quality products quickly. It wasn't unusual for people to knit as they walked to the next village, go to a friend's house and knit with them, to knit well into the night. It can't have been an easy way to make a living. 

As with up here in the North East, knitting sheaths (called pricks in Yorkshire) were common. This device tucked into the knitter's belt and held a needle so that the hands were free to manipulate the other three or four (socks being knitted 'in the round'). A wooden sheath was often made by a man as a betrothal gift and they could be quite ornate. The one I remember had a notch, sort of a hook, to keep it from sliding down into the belt. Clever stuff, being able to carve and knit with such skill.

If you Google 'terrible knitters of Dent' you'll find all sorts of stories/videos.

We also visited the historical church and found it attractive. I love the 'box stalls' - I'm sure that's not what they are called - made of wood. I gather there would have been a thermal advantage to gathering all your family into this enclosure, a desirable thing sitting in an unheated stone building.

The food turned out alright and there was plenty of it. As I figured, it was easier to cook in a strange kitchen than to cook at home and clean house from top to bottom in preparation for guests. We stayed up past Charlotte's bedtime playing various games. It was a good weekend as I recall, well worth the rent I paid. 

Sadly, I couldn't get a firm commitment from everyone in time to rent a house this year, so Thanksgiving will be here. The cleaning schedule is on the fridge, next to the shopping and cooking lists. {sigh} Perhaps I should have just grabbed a 4 bedroom house earlier on?

Have you ever gone away for a change of scenery (and to avoid housework?)

Monday, 13 November 2017

More Granny Squares

Were you taught as a child 'not to ask for anything'? I certainly was. It seemed that if I asked I would likely be denied, but if I expressed appreciation without expectation, I might just get lucky. I'm not sure I disagree with this practice, I do dislike a demanding or whiny child. Then again, I've never broken the habit of not asking for much. Bill tells me off for not stepping forward more, for settling for the leavings. 

I would say that in addition to being shy of asking, I do find a rather perverse satisfaction in making something nice from what others have disdained. Like maybe I'm smarter/more creative than they are, which is certainly a false conceit, but there you are.

I tell you this by way of explaining how I ended up crocheting a blanket from thread. Because our knitting group functions mostly from donated 'wool' (the British term for what I would call 'yarn'), we take whatever we can get. The most popular stuff is double knit. Chunky wool or aran weight get used pretty well, but 'novelty' yarn gets left to the last. The cones of very fine wools used in knitting machines aren't very popular either. Meriel has a windy-up contraption that will wind several cones together, but I thought I'd give it a go to use up a few without that. I seem to like my colours like I used to eat my food: one item at a time. Rather than have variegated wool, I selected a fluffy, chenille-like pale green and a more staid navy to work. 

This was also last winter. One weekend Bill had a Long Distance Walkers' meeting down in County Durham at the village of Bowes. I didn't get out and explore but he led me to believe that the Ancient Unicorn Inn (a pub/B&B) constituted the business district of this place. I knew that the spectacular Bowes Museum and Barnard Castle (the name of the town, with a ruined castle) were nearby, but they didn't appeal on my own. 

It was cold and snowy and our room was in what used to be a stable. This meant some nifty arched windows. The pub was across the 'yard' (remember that term?). I asked the landlady to keep the heating on all day for me so I could stay cosy in our room (I may have threatened to make a mess in her pub if forced to hang out there for warmth). I spent the day walking back and forth, stringing the navy thread out around the room and rolling up a triple-stranded yarn to work with. The green I doubled up later at home. 

Bill just pretended he didn't know how I spent the day, he thinks I'm pretty mental sometimes. Which is OK, I think he's crackers going off in the wind, wet and ice to walk the moors for 20 or more miles. He came back from this to a hot shower and then we went off to the pub for dinner with the rest of the crazy people long distance walkers. So we both got to indulge ourselves. 

The blanket took a very long time to complete, but since I loved the colours I didn't mind a bit.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Things I've Made

Looking back, it seems there were times I practically lived on / through / for this blog. Clearly that hasn't been the case recently. I'm ambivalent about that. It's good to just live / do / be; then again, I have no record to look back on. So I'm trying to strike a balance. I'm more imbalanced by nature, however, so we'll see how that goes.

Anyhow, I realise I've not shared many of the things I've made this past year. I pretty much always have something on the go (not even counting all those UFOs - UnFinished Objects). 

Remember the rows and columns of Smoothie hats I knitted for AgeUK? I did another batch last winter. We'd taken down some pictures from the wall for decorating (oh, about a decade ago) that never got put back up. So I used the little nails to hang the hats.

I gave every 10th hat a pom-pom to save me re-counting them a million times. I think I ended up giving them something like 203 of the silly things. Mind, our knitting group - 15 or 20 women - produced something insane like 6,000, so my 200 is hardly anything.

I tell myself I'm sick of these, but months have passed and I find myself collecting the odd little pieces of wool into a large ball to knit more of these with. Even Meriel thinks I'm crackers, but I do hate waste (everyone should visit a landfill at least once in their life). 

I was over the moon to discover that my sewing and yarn scraps (like less than an inch in size) could go to the charity shop. They sell it on by weight to companies who make things like mattresses and carpet underlay. 

But for now, 'Winter is Coming' and I'm gearing up for more Smoothie hats...

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

The Art and Science of Gardening

What a grandiose title! Especially since I know next to nil. I'm a longtime wannabe gardener, this being one of Mom's passions but also because, well, a beautiful garden is a joy. I complain the weather here isn't conducive, but I've always been able to find an excuse. In Oklahoma it was the creepy crawlies in the soil, in Salt Lake watering was a hassle. That said, I still dream of the home grown tomatoes I produced in SLC.

Anyhow, our WI had a talk by folks from a local gardening centre. I took copious notes with little understanding. It's not just the Latin names, it's the simple terms that trip me up. For example 'herbaceous border' is a phrase you hear a lot here. Initially I thought this was something to do with growing herbs, though I wondered what it bordered.

American-British 'English' strikes again. In childhood, the large green (brown-ish) areas in front and back of our house were the 'yard'. In Britain, the 'yard' is an area of hard-standing (bricks, concrete), usually at the back where the sun rarely shines in the narrow strip between house and wall. If they hate green stuff, the whole of the front area is covered, with perhaps a potted plant. 

Mom's garden was the area with flowers and bushes in it, bordering the yard, or lawn. Suddenly it dawned: the herbaceous border was what we called 'the garden'. It borders the grass (or hard-standing).

As to what 'herbaceous' means, apparently even Brits struggle to define it. I'll go out on a limb (as it were) and say it's plants that aren't trees.

Bill and I were running errands and went to find the Greenwold garden centre down at Royal Quays: an outdoor mall, normally the coldest, windiest place on the planet. I don't often go. That's about to change. They're about plants, not kitsch. A leaflet listed some coming workshops, most for free (you pay for what you use). I signed up for several.

Fiona found this sweet little nest on the ground during a woodland walk.

Last Friday I got a lecture from Fiona on bulbs vs corms, the dormant periods, and of course, how to 'plant' bulbs in a pot (they pretty much sit on the surface). We started with breaking some crockery for drainage, which is always great fun. I brought home two shallow clay pots and saucers, one with blue hyacinths, the other for white narcissus (everyone knows the mythological story, right?).

I'm calling this 'winter gardening indoors' and counting it along with the dill and basil I grew in the back porch as baby steps towards practising... [see title].