I’ve noticed that many adults appear to believe that being an adult means giving up things they enjoy and determinedly getting on with the business of being an adult. Somewhere along the line, the ability to enjoy child-like fun seems to be left behind. University, courting, working, family and bills happen – and the not-very-merry-go-round takes over, often with little fun in sight. How very sad – and how very boring!

There’s actually no compelling reason not to have fun or, indeed, not to do at least some of the fun things one did as a child. Admittedly bills do have to be paid, families call for attention, meals require planning and preparation – but surely this need not preclude enjoying the simple pleasures of childhood. Building sand castles, playing on the swings in the play park, jumping in puddles on rainy days, drawing and colouring-in, wandering around barefoot – these are just some examples of things we seem to forget to enjoy.

Last week was Adult Learners Week and our local library organised a morning of colouring-in for adults. The event booked out so quickly that they had to arrange a second session – also booked out – and have gone on to add colouring-in for adults to their ongoing programme of events. It turns out that colouring-in is now widely considered to be a beneficial pastime for adults. It stimulates areas of the brain related to motor skills, the senses 47802-5-beaglesand creativity and this in turn reduces stress and improves general health and wellbeing.

22 people turned up to the first event at the library – and, yes, I was one of them. Colleen, the branch librarian, told us that this pastime apparently emerged in France, where so many adults have taken it up that sales of colouring-in books now outrank those of cookbooks. Indeed, five of the 20 best selling titles on Amazon are currently adult colouring-in books! This information resonated with several people in the group who had purchased books for themselves, although most hadn’t been game to actually put colour on any of the pages as yet. The fear of making mistakes or colouring outside the lines, combined with the long-held stigma attached to writing in books, had made them too anxious to try.

Luckily the library staff had provided printouts of a number of open-source pictures found on the internet, along with a wide selection of brand new pencil crayons. In no time at all everyone was colouring away happily, chatting and laughing, reminiscing about the last time they had used coloured pencils and about life in general. By the end of the session, anxiety – about colouring-in at least – appeared to have fled completely. All the participants left for home relaxed andfun with colour_3sept15 smiling. Those who had had their own colouring-in books said that they felt much more comfortable about putting pencil crayon to paper; others took the librarian’s advice to heart and said that they’d print free designs off the internet and use those. Most people said they’d be back the following week, both for the colouring-in and for the company.

I fell into all three categories – and am delighted that colouring-in for adults is a trend that’s here to stay, for now at least. I’m feeling pretty chilled, my colouring book is on my desk (instead of in a drawer), I’ve unearthed my watercolour pencils and I’m eyeing off some gel pens at the local newsagent… If you’d like to reclaim a little of the fun you had as a kid, why not print off a picture (from one of numerous free sites) and try colouring it in? Don’t judge – just use whatever pencils, felt pens or whatever you have to hand and enjoy the process. Feel the serenity 🙂

 

My sister and I are off to the epicentre of woollen fashion, fine food and beautiful fibre  at ridiculous o’clock tomorrow morning and my thoughts have thus turned to all things knitty. Yes, I knit – in public and in private, pretty much whenever the opportunity arises and my hands need something to occupy them to pass the time. It requires little in the way of special equipment, is portable, relaxing, sometimes frustrating, can be done in company and generally produces something that’s, at the very least, useful. An all-round winner, really.

I feel as though I’ve always knitted, but in actual fact knitting isn’t something that came naturally to me at all. My first attempts were thrust upon me by hard-hearted junior school teachers who appeared to believe that all girls could (and should!) knit. My tangled, grubby yarn and overt lack of enthusiasm eventually disabused them of this notion, but it took great diligence on my part to achieve this.

Congratulating myself on a narrow escape, I moved on to senior school. To my horror, the knitting-monster was lying in wait when I got there. The teachers ‘encouraged’ all the girls (yes, a girls school) to knit squares every year. These were then sewn into blankets (presumably by the teachers or some gullible mothers) and donated to a local age-care facility that the school helped to support.

It seemed like bad form not to participate and, to my surprise, squares turned out to be something that I could knit. Indeed, by the time I left high school, I could churn out a pretty good square over a couple of days, knitting at recess whilst chatting to friends. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this simple knitting project – and the feeling that I was helping to contribute to a good cause – changed my attitude to knitting and almost certainly encouraged me to develop a social conscience.

angeltop

Angel top 1983

Several years later, a knitting-pro friend encouraged me to try knitting again, starting with something small. She taught by example, become the then-equivalent of my personal YouTube knitting video stream. I could ask her to show me the same thing again (and again) and she’d patiently ‘replay’ the bit I didn’t get without being ‘judgey’ about it. The result is that I’ve dabbled  with fancy stitches, fair isle, used intarsia as a way to create pictures on jumpers for my children, tried socks and created toys. My latest adventure is to join a knitting group and to give interlace knitting a try.

So I guess this means that, whilst I’m certainly not a pro-knitter, I’m no longer a rank novice. This is oddly satisfying, considering the rather rocky start. I’m looking forward to meeting some extreme knitting-nuts, perhaps learning a new technique or two and seeing (and buying) some beautiful yarn.

Bendigo, I hope you’re ready for us!

dungarees1982

Much-loved dungarees 1982

reindeer coffee cozies 2014

reindeer coffee cozies 2014

My best friend flew up from Brownies to Guides when we were about 11 years old. I wasn’t a fan of Brownies – the one time I went along they’d seemed to spend all their time doing what I considered frightfully ‘girlie’ things. Guides, on the other hand, apparently went camping and did lots of outdoor activities, which all sounded much more fun. So I joined up. The only downside turned out to be that I had to polish my shoes on Friday afternoons before going to meetings, but I soon learned to offset that by not polishing them on Friday mornings before school 🙂

In no time I’d mastered reef knots, sheet bends and that most useful of knots, the bowline.  I learned basic first aid and was taught how to raise, lower and fold a flag. We did indeed go camping and we also played endless variations of Kim’s game. In the version we played, 24 different objects were placed on a tray and covered with a cloth. The items were then revealed to the player for a limited time, say one minute, after which they were covered up again and the player was asked to list as many as s/he could remember. It was fun – and good training in observation and recollection.  We also learned what has turned out to be a most useful skill, namely Scout’s pace – a method of covering distance fairly quickly by alternating running and walking 50 paces. This gives one time to recover somewhat in-between bursts of running and is much more fun that jogging or running flat out!

One of the most interesting aspects of my time as a Guide was getting involved in the international pen pal scheme. Our troop established contact with a troop in Canada and a few of us started corresponding with girls of similar ages in Toronto. This wasn’t my first encounter with correspondence, as my sister was living in Angola at the time and I would occasionally exchange postcards with her. In both cases I learned a little about how and where other people lived and, as importantly, started to write for pleasure.

In later years, I began to keep journals, corresponded with friends via snail mail and email, wrote a lengthy work of narrative non-fiction and, more recently, a memoir. Last year I job-shared for a while and ended up with my other half (of the job share) as an office pen pal. We left descriptive and informative notes for each other so that we would both know what needed to be done. It was surprisingly entertaining and I found that I missed that more than any other part of the job when I left.

All of these writing experiences have been influenced by those early pen pal days, by learning how to express myself in ways that a reader might find interesting. I was therefore delighted to receive a card in the mail a few weeks ago, sent to me by a friend who also lives here in Perth. She chose to post a physical card rather than send an email or a text message. It was a lovely surprise, as was the follow up package I received a couple of weeks later. This contained an eclectic range of goodies, from a vintage magazine to a beautiful drawing of a teacup. The magazine includes a pattern for a knitted poncho and a recipe for a no-bake Pavlova. Win!

I’ve sent a physical reply (in the mail) – and have created this to augment it. Enjoy, dear Pen Pal 🙂

postcard1

Dogs have been part of our household landscape for as long as I can remember, from my faithful childhood hound (Gypsy) to our current puppy many years later. At various times we’ve shared our home with a range of Heinz-57s (mixed-breed dogs), a Border Collie (briefly), a Welsh Springer Spaniel, Labradors, German Shepherds – and now have a young Doberman. I’ve spent years dog wrangling: from feeding, grooming, exercising and training to planning holidays around their needs. None of these things has been particularly arduous – indeed most of it’s actually fun, but it’s an ongoing commitment. In a blogpost last year I introduced you to Miss Molly, the most recent addition to the family. Seven months on, she continues to take great delight in showing me in various an assorted ways (every day) that a Doberman poses a few challenges I’ve not encountered with our other dogs.

Until MissM joined the family, I firmly believed that dogs should sleep in their own beds, ideally in the laundry or kitchen. I still believe that… but it turns out that my bed is super comfortable and my pillows especially so. Indeed, if my head happens to be on my pillow… well… heads are apparently pretty comfortable too. It turns out that Dobermans are very people focused. What this means is they don’t much like being on their own. In fact the closer they are to you, the happier they seem to be. If you stand still for more than a few seconds you end up with a large lump of dog leaning against the back of your legs. You move, she moves – and leans. I’ve discovered that the all-time favourite Doberman zone appears to be a lap – pretty much any lap, really. MissM fitted in mine quite comfortably when she was 12 weeks old and she got the idea that this was a thing.

weekthing2

A lap dog right from the beginning

At 10 months she’s quite a lot bigger and ends up draping herself across me when I sit at my computer, which definitely doesn’t work for me – although she seems perfectly happy with the arrangement if that’s all that’s available. This up-close-and-personal attribute of Dobes has been both my biggest challenge (not what I’m used to in a dog) and surprisingly enjoyable and companionable.

MissM’s big chest, sleek head, strong legs and narrow waist (not to mention rather pointy claws) make her a very elegant looking dog. This is misleading, as she’s actually all paws, legs, claws and very wet tongue – and is keen to share all of them. Doberman pups are happy, friendly, waggy-tailed and will do anything for food – and for attention. They are jumping dogs – both on and up. Ours jumps to my (not insignificant) shoulder height with all four feet off the ground when she’s excited. She’s very excitable…

Dobes are also stubborn, wilful, tend to be mouthy (and by this I mean both barky and chewy) and need firm, consistent behaviour modification. This means grabbing the pup gently but firmly by the shoulders or collar when they transgress and telling them NO in a deep, firm voice. Every time they transgress. They learn fast, but will push your limits until they’ve figured out that they won’t win that particular little battle. Reinforcing the NO with eye contact helps, but it takes consistent (and exhausting) repetition on some fronts.

In MissM’s case, we have two particular challenges. One is her tendency to jump up on us (and visitors) and the other that she grabs our hands in her mouth. In a small pup this may seem cute(ish), but in a big dog it’s no fun at all and needs to be nipped in the bud – or as soon as plausible. Despite all suggestions from friends and family on this front, Dobermans really don’t respond well to physical punishment, such as a rolled up newspaper swat to the bottom, and are particularly mood sensitive to their owners.

Boxes make good chew toys – and you can nap in them too!

So, to solve the jumping issue, we’re getting her to SIT before being greeted or patted by anyone. In a matter of days we saw an improvement – although training some visitors is almost as challenging as training MissM! With regards to the ‘mouthing’, we’re trying object replacement. When she grabs at hands, first comes the NO, then offering a replacement – an appropriate chewable item – and placing it in her mouth if necessary. When she chews on the toy instead of the hand, she gets praised immediately. If she tries chewing hands again – then it’s rinse-and-repeat: more of the NO – more of the replace with a toy, etc. Repetition and consistency really are the keys to success, along with patience. Bucket loads of patience…

What I don’t get is how this breed got such a scary reputation. They’re definitely super protective – and a stiff-legged, deep-chested baying bark resounds around the neighbourhood every (every!) time anyone walks past the house. Actually, car doors shutting, the chickens scrabbling in the hutch and a wide range of other sounds also initiate a Hound of the Baskervilles response. Loud? Definitely. Scary? Well, I’ve an idea that popular culture has a lot to do with these perceptions.

Having said that, I’d say that taking your Doberman (or any puppy, really) to training should be mandatory. If nothing else, it trains the owner/handler in how to manage themselves, which makes it easier for the dog to be compliant. Eventually.

Snuggles

It’s been a while since I ran any sort of workshop – but I’ve elbowed myself some creative space, both mentally and physically and it’s all systems go. With the cooler weather here at last, it’s a good time to get stuck into some mosaic. In addition to this, my outdoor (undercover) area no longer has three kittens living in it, so there’s abundant space in which to have some messy fun.

The plan is to run this workshop as a tester to see how it goes. If it’s a success, I’ll do more of them and get Perth mosaiced to the max 🙂

In this workshop the group (aka my willing guinea pigs) will make mosaic trivets, rather like one of these.

trivetsYou’ll learn about the basic tool set, select or draw a design and transfer that onto a backing board. Then we’ll all spend some time getting used to the tools and practise cutting and laying mosaic pieces. After a tasty morning tea you’ll all get stuck in and each a create trivet to take home with you. We’ll break for lunch and probably end the afternoon with a glass of something to celebrate our mosaic adventures.

Because the grouting has to happen at least 24 hours after the mosaic pieces are glued down, this step can either happen in your own time or you can pop back to do it on another day. I’ll also give you some tips on how to finish off the piece with some sealer and felt backing.

Details:
Date: Sunday 7 June, 10am – 4pm
Venue: The ex-kitten outdoor area, my place
Cost: $0 for my test-run guinea pigs 🙂
Bring: your lunch, apron or work shirt, an ice-cream container and an Artline 200 marking pen (if you have one).
Provided: morning tea, backing boards, some simple designs, tiles, glue, grout, tile nippers, safety glasses.
If you have spare ceramic tiles you’d really like to use, bring them along. Likewise, if you own or can borrow a set of tile nippers, bring those too.

To book: contact me directly – spaces are limited, so get in quickly.