18 months ago I was given 800g of beautifully soft natural cotton Bendigo yarn. It’s a delicious colour called pomegranate and I was sure it’d be a pleasure to knit with… but what to knit? After my usual period of procrastination, pattern hunting and visits to Ravelry, I arrived at a decision. I’ve often wished I had some sort of small, easy to transport blanket, particularly when at outdoor cinema events or sitting at my computer, so I opted to turn the yarn into a simple lap/travel rug.
knitting book
None of the patterns I found appealed to me though, and nor did the idea of knitting individual patterned squares and sewing them up. So, in the end, I devised my own idea. The bulk of the rug is worked in an Irish moss diamond stitch that I found in a great book of knitting stitches a friend gave me many years ago. I’ve used the book innumerable times when at a loss to find just the right stitch for a project – and this was no exception.

A simple corded cable (also from the book) runs along each long edge and I’m adding a plain moss stitch border all the way round to complete the design. Because sewing things up doesn’t appeal to me much, I’ve chosen to knit the rug all in one piece. It’s growing (slowly) and has been keeping me from going completely troppo whilst dog-sitting. I’m about halfway there now, so it’s also finally big enough to keep my lap toasty warm – definitely a plus.

pomegranate blanket

I started this chicken piñata on a whim a couple of weeks ago, mostly to fill time whilst puppy-sitting. But, as it progressed,  the process started to become quite compulsive. The simple balloon body soon grew a neck, another (smaller) balloon for a head, a tail (constructed in two stages), a beak, plumage and, finally, a pair of very handsome feet.  Wet weather is not ideal for this sort of project, but it can be done. Each stage involved many strips of very sticky papier mâché, followed by some time in front of my hair dryer and/or the heater to dry and harden the layers.

It took us 16 days to shape the body, apply 6-7 layers of papier mâché (some areas needed extra, for strengthening), cover it with two layers of paint, add some fine details, insert strings to hang it up, cut a hatch in the top and then finally fill it with lollies. All in all it took about 40 hours from start to finish.  A long haul, but we both had lots of fun and found it both creative and surprisingly relaxing.


pinata early stages

pinata final stages

pinata completed_7may2016




With a pair of toddlers (otherwise known as puppies, 18 months and 3 months old respectively) at home, I’ve been thrown back into the deep-end of stay-at-home-mum life. The gaps between feeding them, playing with them, walking them, cleaning up behind them, making sure they don’t chew anything important or squish each other (one weighs 25kg, the other 5kg!) are few and far between.

Puppies are fun, no doubt about it, but this stage does remind me of when my human children were small. When they finally conk out for a nap it comes as a welcome break, but it’s also quite regularly when my brain starts reminding me about the restless nights monitoring said children/pups. Sleeeep, it says, sleeeeep nowwwwww

With the children, well meaning friends and relatives – even strangers – would tell me, ‘Nap when the babies nap. Make the most of your time.’ After a while I started to wonder whether they all had home help. Or perhaps they had a secret supply of magical wee folk lurking in the background, ready to do all the nasty accumulated chores in exchange for small gifts of food…

In the absence of magical or other help, and with catch-up-sleep the stuff of daydreams, I nevertheless learned that it was possible to chunk away at various tasks while the babies napped – sometimes even while they entertained themselves for brief periods.

Similarly, the first few weeks with the two dogs together have been pretty full on. House-training a new pup takes determination and vigilance, also a goodly supply of paper towel and a bottle of clean-up spray. We’re getting there and, in some ways, it’s no worse than potty training. If anything, it’s easier as it’s taking far less time. Nunzio/Cassie’s conquered the doggy door and now usually makes it to the lawn in time (and there was great rejoicing!).

As with any toddlers, playtime can be a tad fraught – although Molly has been surprisingly patient and it’s suddenly clear just how much she’s matured over the past few months. However, the puppy has an endless supply of nippy little teeth and a good deal of persistence, and patience definitely has its limits. The trick is to leave them to it and to intervene/distract just before drama happens. That way some learning happens, but she doesn’t get chased and stomped on too badly. This too shall pass – Molly’s coping and her Nunzio’s getting bigger and less squishable each week.


Meantime, I fit writing in where I can, conquer the household chores where possible and – today, after a certain amount of procrastination, have finally started my chicken-piñata. This has already entailed a certain amount excitement. The first balloon I inflated exploded – making both dogs duck for cover and me dive for the remains before either of them could decide they were edible! Later, the second balloon – now part-covered with strips of soggy papier mâché – got knocked off it’s stand and fell on Molly’s head, pretty much confirming her notion that balloons are très dangereux 🙂

Piñatas take about 50 hours to create, from start to finish, depending on how large and how complicated you decide to make them. The process is done in stages to allow the layers of papier mâché to dry, which is just as well since nap times are fairly brief. I’m 3 hours in, having made the glue, torn up some newspaper and started to apply the first layer. With luck, by the time I have this piñata completed we should be through the worst of the toddler stage…

Over the years I’ve made a total of four of piñatas, all for special events of one sort or another. They were darned hard work, particularly the bigger and/or more complex ones, and involved a LOT of sticky mess and patience.

niks pinatas

The very first one was planned it as a surprise for a 21st birthday party. A rather ambitious project, that dragon was the biggest piñata I’ve made. It required a wire armature to create the basic shape, over which I carefully added many (many!) layers of paper and glue – allowing each layer to dry before adding the next so that it would keep its shape. I had to make the wings and feet separately and attach those – with more paper and glue – before leaving the completed shape to dry and harden. It was a fairly cold and damp time of year, so we had to have the gas heater on to help with the drying process.

I finally got around to painting it and applying the tissue paper scales the night before the 21st birthday party. I then had to wait for that lot to dry before filling the belly with lollies and taping it closed – and finally completed it all about about an hour before the event was due to start. The birthday boy was very happy – and very surprised – and he and his mates set to work on Mr Dragon with a hockey stick… Destruction was swift and decisive. Poor thing.

A few years later, I came up with the idea of creating a themed piñata for GenghisCon – and so Cthulu-piñata was born, with many tricky-to-make dangling tentacles. He bit the dust just as quickly as Mr Dragon. This was followed a year later by a dragon head – also a Genghis-piñata – and my final effort to date, a large fish to commemorate my eldest brother’s 60th birthday. After each one was completed – and then demolished in record time – I promised myself (and Himself, who helped out with all of them) that I wouldn’t make another, no matter what…

However, as is the way of these things – and once a goodly amount of time had passed, plans for an all-new piñata have tended to hatch. At present all I need is to decide on the shape. Perhaps something garden themed? I’m thinking a chicken-of-destruction might be fun to make. With that in mind, I’ve resurrected the notes I put together when making Mr Dragon and they’re actually pretty sensible. I hope you find them useful too.

dragon pinata collage

How to Piñata: You’ll need a couple of balloons, vaseline, papier maché glue  (made  with 1 cup all purpose flour to 5 cups cold water), lots of newspaper, some butchers paper, acrylic paints, paintbrush, crepe paper, lollies/treats & confetti (to fill the piñata).

Preparation: To make the papier-mâché glue, mix the flour and cold water in a bowl until it’s runny. For best results, simmer it for 5 minutes – this is rather like making a white sauce. Allow the glue to cool. While you wait, tear the newspaper into lots of strips, about 2.5cm wide and as long as you like. (Note: don’t cut the strips; tearing ends up with a better, smoother finish to your final piece.) Put down lots of paper or plastic to work on – this is messy! You might want to wear gloves for the next part – same reason.

Assembly: It’s a good idea to know what sort of shape you’re trying for, as this will dictate the sizes of the balloons you use, and how many. Assuming you’ve chosen a shape that requires more than one balloon, inflate a large one for the body and a smaller one for the head. Tie them together and, using a bit of making tape, secure the head to the body. Balance the balloons on an empty ice-cream container while you’re working as this makes things easier. To create a beak/tail/wings – or whatever – cut out cardboard to make the shapes and stick them to the balloons with tape. Drag a strip of newspaper through the papier-mâché paste, making sure it’s well covered, but not soggy; wipe off any excess with your fingers, and place the strip at an angle on the balloon. Place the second strip so that it overlaps the first one slightly. Continue until the balloons have been covered with one layer of paper strips. Allow this layer to dry completely – preferably overnight. Then repeat, applying layers of papier-mache (and letting them dry) until you think your piñata is strong enough. Knock on it with your knuckles – if it’s firm and sounds hollow it should be fine. This generally takes 3-6 layers. Important: make a couple of small holes in the papier-mache so the piñata can be hung up when it’s complete. Make sure the papier-mache is extra thick around the string holes for reinforcement. Note: it’s a good idea to make at least the last layer  of strips from butcher’s paper so that the newsprint doesn’t bleed through your paint.

Before painting: set your piñata aside to dry for a couple of days. When it’s dry, pencil in some rough shapes as a painting guide – then get stuck in and make it pretty.

Painting & completing: use whatever you like, but a pro-tip is that spray paint is a lot quicker to apply than poster paint, makes the structure a little tougher and provides a nice glossy finish. When the paint’s dry, cut a 6cm flap in the top using a craft knife. This will burst the balloon and leave a cavity for you to fill with lollies, etc. Remember to tape the flap closed, then do the final decoration with tissue/crepe paper, draw eyes on, etc.

It’s not hard to make one of these. It’s just time consuming and fiddly… and very, very messy: perfect for your inner-child 🙂

After endless procrastination (an art at which I excel), my deadline of 31 March is almost upon me. The fabulous Sandy Lim has completed her (very thorough) edits of my manuscript and has provided me with extremely valuable insights and suggestions. If anyone out there is looking for help with their book, I heartily recommend contacting Sandy. She’s happy to work with you to create the book you know you have in you, or to edit your existing manuscript with elegance.

I’ve been admiring the cover art for my book ever since Lisa Rye delivered it a couple of weeks ago. She even went as far as to provide me with an A3 colour print, which immediately made me feel like a ‘real author’! Such happiness. It’s really helped to keep me focused on the goalposts and able to resolutely ignore my tendency to shift them.


What’s the book about about?  Well, it’s a journey of self-discovery and transformation – an uplifting story about the transition from being a person at the mercy of medical science and high self-expectation, into someone more at ease with herself and in harmony with the ups and downs of life. It’s funny, heart warming and poignant.

I started Girdle of Bones several years ago, after a traumatic series of hospital stays and surgeries, and we’ve had an on-again, off-again sort of relationship since then. Currently we’re definitely on!

I now have a ring-bound copy of the manuscript (cover and all) so that I can do an oral edit, reading it out loud to myself to find the clunky bits and to hunt down the last of the ‘gotchas’ … those annoying things where a cut-and-paste has left something in or overwritten part of a sentence, resulting in weirdness. Then I’ll make all the changes in one go and be done. The manuscript will be traveling around with me wherever I go for the next few days and I’ll be reading it aloud (quietly) in coffee shops, parks, train stations and in the garden. I anticipate a few odd looks 🙂

Memoir is an illumination of everyday life, a slice-of-life window into another’s experiences that can be enlightening, uplifting and, often, very entertaining. I love it! Among my favourites are Autobiography of a Face, On Writing, The Liars Club, A Year By the Sea, and Shake Hands with the Devil. Each of these authors has informed my writing process, as has a deep love of story telling.

More info on release date for Girdle of Bones soon.