We’re being inundated with covid-clichés, incorporated into daily info dumps and advertising jingles. It almost seems that there’s a cliché-generator in use, providing an assortment of neatly packaged phrase combinations, such as: these unprecedented times, the new normal, and we’re all in this together. Other favourites seem to be: your struggles are shared and understood and we’re all in the same boat.

Yes, we are all in it together, but we’re definitely not all facing this crisis on an equal footing, aka in the same boat. Many of the boats from which these supportive clichés flow are really more reminiscent of yachts. They’re (at least) moderately comfortable, well provisioned (stocked with loo-paper and other essentials), and those at the helm have their employment and superannuation intact. At least at present..

But with over 700,000 Australians losing their jobs between 14 March and 4 April, the boat analogy doesn’t bring yachts to mind. It makes me think of corroded tinnies (small open aluminium boats) that are taking on water at an alarming rate.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that, in the three weeks after Australia recorded its 100th confirmed COVID-19 case, jobs decreased by 6%, with the greatest impact being on the food/accommodation and arts/recreation industries. This new reality is very much less comfortable than that being experienced by those on the hypothetical yachts.

On top of all this, the clichés go on to exhort us to smile, exercise, work (if we can), carry on carrying on, be patient with our kids… and so much more. Just watching / listening to it all is exhausting! The cheery enthusiasm and encouragement from shiny young – and not so young – actors, all of whom no doubt have their own stuff to contend with when off-screen, leaves me irritated and impatient, rather than enthusiastic and uplifted. I doubt this is the goal.

These are trying times and, not surprisingly, some days things feel hopeless. Sometimes the sky seems to be pressing down and cheerful is the last thing on the average tinnie-skipper’s agenda. But it feels like we’re not allowed to express any part of the negative emotions that we all feel at various times.

Perhaps, in place of the current round of clichés and happy-hype, it’s time to take stock and promote kindness – that quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. Not the #-type of kindness (pre-packaged), or kindness to others (although this is a fine thing), but some encouragement for people to be kind to themselves. And not just on the up-days, when it’s so much easier to do so, but on hump-days and down-days too.

What brought this to mind is that, yesterday, I decided I couldn’t be bothered to get up. It was a first for me. I didn’t feel unwell or tired or have any other particular reason for it. I thought it through, but all I could come ups with was that I just couldn’t be bothered. So I accepted that perhaps I needed some time out – for whatever reason – and put my head under the pillow and went back to sleep, emerging much later feeling more or less back to normal.

Perhaps this small act of self-caring / kindness was what I needed in order to get on with things later on. I did, after all, get up and mow the lawns! But the point is that none of us is perfect and we could all do with a bit of kindness, particularly at the moment. So: don’t blame, shame or judge yourself – or others; just accept, be kind and move on.

Please note that for up to date information on the pandemic – with or without clichés – the WA government info services remains your best source of information at this time.

The last couple of weeks have been increasingly stressful for most people. Our vocabulary has changed to include words we would otherwise never, or at least very rarely, use. Conversations over the dinner table now revolve around panic buying and what on earth people plan to do with epic amounts of toilet paper. Strange times indeed.

Our evolving 2020 vocab

It’s clear that isolating yourself if you’re unwell is both advisable and sensible. This includes limiting contact with random humans, for sure, and keeping your hands good and clean. Try to avoid touching your face and do remember to keep coughs and sneezes undercover — into your arm or into a tissue (which you then dispose of in the bin straight away & wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds afterwards!). Tedious, but necessary. It’ll all get to be a habit in no time, so don’t stress too much.

Weeding, digging, chatting and enjoying some sunshine.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Somewhere in Australia this past weekend, a bunch of friends turned up to help with a garden project. They donned gloves and sunscreen (some even wore hats) – just the usual garden precautions – then spent most of the day digging, weeding and erecting a retaining wall to keep the persistent (!) grass at bay. We had morning tea, a delicious shared lunch and some even stayed on to dinner. We took reasonable precautions in terms of contact and hand washing – and got all toilet paper related conversations out of the way early on so we could move on to more interesting topics. A good day. A smiley day.

Some words for 2020 that work for me.

Clearly not everyone wants to get involved in a random garden blitz somewhere in the ‘burbs (although you’d be most welcome!), but there is something we can all do. Basically, try to be the best person you can be – in whatever ways you have the capacity to do so.

We’re all in this together whether we like it or not, so be kind to each other – and to the people working hard in supermarkets and other areas to keep our society afloat. Empty shelves aren’t their fault.

Stay in touch. Perhaps pick up the phone and call one person every day – just for a catch up, for a ‘how’s it going’ chat to crack through the growing sense of isolation. Skype, What’s App and all the other apps – use them to stay in touch. Write a short note or draw a silly (or beautiful) picture and pop it in the post to your Nan or your friend or a co-worker — it’ll probably make their day.

If you have some food to spare for community members in need, this weekend would be a good time to roll it out. Foodbank is pretty desperate for donations right now and will take whatever you can part with. We’re taking a drive out there on Saturday 21 March at 12.30pm to drop stuff off, so feel free to drop some random tins/cereal/flour/rice/UHT-milk at our door or just inside the gate – or come in if you’re feeling brave (we have soap and paper towels to keep you safe and grok how to stand a metre away from visitors!).

We’ll get through this – even if we’re all in our own little hutches for the next while. And if anyone needs a hand with shopping – or a meal dropped off – or a batch of cookies to cheer them up, you know how to reach me – I’ll be in my hutch, crocheting another blanket!

A knitting cabaret? As knitters, how could we possibly resist!? Last weekend some of our craft group trotted off to see Stitch in Time – a knitting cabaret, in which Canadian performer Melanie Gall explores all things knit (and crochet).

Excitement! Drama! Romance! And… knitting? A scintillating cabaret, featuring the lost knitting songs of WWI and WWII from Canada, Britain, America and France. Bring your knitting (or crochet) and stitch along to these funny, poignant, toe-tapping, needle-clicking tunes. Come out and have a ball! Stitch in Time presents over a dozen historic songs, including More Power to Your Knitting, Nell!, The Knitting Itch and Knocking at the Knitting Club.

It was a hoot! From her sensible heels, to her spangled dress and adorable knitting hat (!), Melanie rocked the room with rollicking tunes  and entertaining tales on the history of knitting. Most of us had brought along a knitting (or crochet) project and, between bouts of laughter, the needles flashed in and out of yarns of glorious colours and projects as varied as could be imagined.

My own knitting (and crochet) journey has been a rather bumpy one at times. From my first attempts in primary school – an epic fail that left me quite convinced that knitting was something other people did – to the community craft group I now help to facilitate, it’s been quite a ride.

My mum had knitted for us on and off our whole lives and, by the time I was making my first foray into the terrifying land of knit, she had acquired a knitting machine. This speeded up her production significantly and reinforced my notion that hand knitting was a waste of time. At about that time, my ever-busy mum taught herself to crochet. Unbeknownst to me, she bought yarn in four shades of green – from pale moss, though to the deep forest green of pine needles – and set about about making me the most amazing poncho.

This was in an era when ponchos were all the rage and many a mum, gran or aunt was conscripted into making one (or more). As often as not, the homemade creations were made from granny squares pieced together – very trendy! But not my mine. I’ve no idea whether Mum had a pattern or just made it up as she went along, but she crocheted the poncho in the round in alternating rows of trebles, popcorn stitch and clusters of trebles. The neckband was double crochet in the palest of the greens, with the tassels to match. It was perfect! The right length, perfect tassels and fabulous colours that showed how well Mum knew me. It also convinced me that crochet was yet another dark art that was beyond my abilities to conquer!

When I got to high school the following year, I found (to my horror) that students were expected to ‘volunteer’ to knit and/or crochet! At various times we were tasked with creating squares that would later be assembled into blankets and donated to a retirement home, and outfits for little cupie-dolls. The dolls were also for a good cause and many beautiful outfits were created – just not by me!

Not my work!

My output was slow and the quality highly variable. I did eventually conquer knitting a simple 6″ corner-to-corner square, but remained convinced that handcrafts weren’t  the best use of my time – or limited skills! What I didn’t realise it at the time was that these community service projects were aimed at teaching us the value of volunteering and to develop a sense of social responsibility. In my case what it really seemed to be doing was reinforcing the notion that knitting and crochet weren’t my thing!

A good many years passed before I decided to give knitting another try. Unlike me, my BFF has been a pro-knitter from an early age and I’ve always been unfailingly impressed by her fabulous creations. From time to time she’d offer to show me how, but I always protested that I was a hopeless case… until Dearest Daughter was on her way.

Then BFF (and DD’s godmother-to-be) suggested that I might like to try knitting something for the baby. She said that if I aimed at making just one small thing I might find it wasn’t so bad. I was dubious, but she convinced me that it was achievable. So yarn and needles were purchased and, although the project took ages and there was a fair bit of unpicking involved, by the time DD was born I had created a rather cute sky blue angel top for her. She did grow into it eventually… and it was passed down to BoyChilde in due course, so it was well worth the effort.

1983: BoyChilde & angel top.

It was also the foundation on which all the rest of my knitting adventures were based. With ongoing encouragement from BFF I learned to be more forgiving of my knitting mistakes and to not take it all so seriously. Gradually – and without me realising it –  knitting turned into more than a practical skill, it was fun! More than that, I felt ridiculously proud of my creations and of the that I’d become somewhat competent at something I’d always thought out of reach.

As the kids grew, so did the size and variety of jumpers. I experimented with Fair Isle and cables and intarsia – using multiple colours to add pictures to the jumpers. Hats, gloves, tea cosies, socks, toys, scarves and wraps all emerged from my needles at various times over the past 40 years – and I’ve enjoyed every knitting moment of the process.. even the undoing and re-knitting parts!

Crochet hit my radar only relatively recently, when arthritis started to impact my knitting enjoyment. The first step was to relearn how to make granny squares, with occasional guidance YouTube and from BFF – still my creative guru. As part of the learning process I went on to teach others how to crochet squares, dishcloths, Xmas ornaments and more.

One of my first granny square charity blankets.

In keeping with our early introduction to knitting as a community project, BBF and I started a regular community craft group a number of years ago; the group still meet up each month to chat and knit or crochet – sometimes on our own projects and sometimes making items for charity. And occasionally we go to things like the knitting cabaret, just for fun – but always armed with some sort of small project to work on!

This knitting (and crochet) cabaret of mine is far from over – although it still surprises me that I enjoy it so much (thanks, BFF!). My 12-year-old self wouldn’t recognize this version of me, but I think she’d be amused by the Loani Prior tea cosy I made this week – particularly the polo neck 🙂

Pot Sock Frock and Petticoat tea cosy.

Our household tries to be mindful about single use packaging and to reuse and recycle wherever possible. In the run up to Christmas festivities, however, this gets to be increasingly difficult. The sheer volume of packaging on gifts and food items undermines the best of intentions. And then there’s the gift wrap…

I recently discovered that in Australia alone, more than 150,000km of gift wrap is used over the festive season. Yup, 150,000 kilometres. I found that to be a mind boggling stat – and one that’s impossible to unknow now that it’s hit my radar… as is the info on just how much of that wrapping is not recyclable.

This includes: foil, embossed, glittery, laminated or plastic wrappings, tinsel, tissue paper, cellophane, ribbons and bows. Then there’s very thin wrapping paper, smaller pieces of regular, recyclable paper and shredded paper; these are also off the list as their fibres are generally too short to be made into recycled products. Yikes.

With all this in mind, Daughter Dearest and I embarked on a mission to discover ways to eliminate those wrappings that can’t be recycled. We’ve made our own wrapping papers before, using butcher’s paper or brown paper and decorating it in various ways, but this year we’re on a mission to test out other options.

Phase one was to attend a session on sustainable gift wrappings. There we learned how to make gifts bags out of newspaper or other repurposed paper, with the help of just a little glue. The bags can be pretty much any size out of whatever paper you have to hand. I had fun putting some out of date maps to good use, making surprisingly sturdy (and attractive) bags. There are heaps of online resources for this, so track them down if you’re interested 🙂

We were also were introduced to the basics of the not-too-mysterious art of Furoshiki (Japanese fabric wrapping). This is a brilliant way to wrap gifts sustainably, using fabric (recycled, repurposed or new) instead of paper.

So phase two of operation alternative-wrappings was to hunt through my fabric stash, brave a Spotlight sale and visit a couple of Opshops. I now have a box full of pretties and plan to add a wrapping instructions with each furoshiki-wrapped gift so that my people can re-use the wraps that way if they’d like to. I’ll also include a note suggesting that, if the wrapping isn’t wanted, it can simply be ‘recycled’ back to me to me 🙂

I can’t wait to get started on the wrapping! Here’s a how-to in case you’d like to try it too.

We’re once again in the throes of a re-training regime for both our dogs. This is mostly because one of them recently developed a liking for adventuring when off lead at the park. No biggie in and of itself, except that she sometimes chooses not to come back. Apparently it’s much more fun to turn the whole exercise into a game. Much sigh.

Fortunately we know some great people at the local Dobermann Club. They all know MissMolly (she has something of a reputation as a super bouncy Dobe) and one of them kindly agreed to help out with some one-on-one. This new training regime started a few weeks ago and we’ve had some great results with MissM (aka the runawaydog) so far. It’s involved going back to basics with recalls, impulse inhibition and so forth.

Cassie’s been having some fun with training as well. But since most of it’s really aimed at the runawaydog, she needs to be kept occupied whilst the high intensity focused training sessions take place.

Enter the snuffle mat. This is essentially a rubber door mat that has had a whole lot of fleece fabric strips tied to it to create a densely packed, soft and fluffy adventure mat. The idea is that it acts like a puzzle for the dog, allowing it to sniff out and hunt around for little treats in a fun way. This provides mental stimulation, slows down their eating, encourages natural foraging instincts and works to decrease their stress levels.

It was a really simple rainy day craft project to undertake and very rewarding, although it used a good deal more fabric than I expected. It also involved a lot of knot tying! My reward was to see Cassie take to it with great gusto during training time this week. She hunted and foraged, snuffled and searched for her morning kibble in amongst the fleece-forrest, tail going like crazy. Very cute. And afterwards? A delightfully calm pup – which was a real bonus as she’s usually hyper if separated from her buddy for any reason.

Snuffle mat - Cassie

If you think you’d like to make one yourself, the instructions are on my craft page. Enjoy!

ps. For heaps of other good ideas to keep your dogs occupied, you might like to have a look at this canine enrichment site.