Several years ago my husband had to undergo surgery, and I wanted to have something for him to be a sort of comfort. A blanket came to mind. It needed to be something bright, something cheerful. Different. Happy. And so the idea of the Happy Blanket was born. He loved it, and so did everybody else. I’ve made many since then, and happily given them all away. There’s always one on my needles.
I decided not to overthink the blanket. The idea came from Magic Ball Knitting which I rather enjoy, but I’d not until then made anything as large as a blanket or an afghan using this technique.
There’s something joyful about a colorful knitted piece. At least it is to me, but then I do really enjoy bright colors. And the fact that this is such easy knitting makes me all the more happy. My Happy Knitting pieces are not pretentious, they’re not sophisticated, and yet I’m greatly surprised at people’s reaction to them.
Exuberant shawls, wraps and scarves began to spring to life as fast as I could wind sunny little balls of textured color. And that’s the point of my Happy Knitting – I love the knots. I make no attempt to hide them. This is carefree knitting at its best. A dropped stitch? It’s not going to get very far, though of course it’s good to keep a count of your stitches.
Making the balls is all part of the fun. I certainly do use up leftover bits – happy memories of knitting projects – but I cut lengths from my yarn stash. This is not exactly a small one, due in part to my tendency to collect just one ball of yarn where I can as a travel souvenir. My Happy Knitting yarn balls are full of stories of where and when and how the yarn was acquired, and of fond thoughts of the people connected to them.
This is my Grab ‘n’ Go knitting – ideal for driving in the car or situations where I can’t concentrate too much. It’s trouble free, uncomplicated, and the results are most satisfying.
A Happy Scarf cheers me up instantly on the dullest day – and the winter seems to have made a point of being as grayly dreary as possible this year. It’s also a great conversation starter as I’m often asked where I got it. A few brave souls have even been given a brief tutorial!
My Happy Vest has proved very useful – it goes with anything.>
The cats have been as helpful as always while we attempted to photograph a few items here on the Pelion Peninsula. The newest rescue, Haig, is rather taken with his Happy Cat Toy, and slowly learning to trust us.
Jason did his quiet duty as always, quite unperturbed by Olly’s curiosity.
Raki – not to be confused with Olly – is slowing down quite a bit now, and prefers to spend his time snuggled in a Happy Shawl. I reckon he’s got the right idea.
Thanks to my friend Dawn Cusick who provided me the photo of the Happy Blanket I made for her; shown on her balcony in North Carolina.
Bella’s devoted to her silky little puppies, but they’re already taking a toll on her. The black one with the wide white collar – rather like a nun’s wimple – is particularly demanding, and sets up a noisy protest as soon as ma’s not doing his or her bidding. Does this mean it’s the leader of the pack? Maybe it’s just convinced of its own importance. Whatever, it’s certainly not going unnoticed, and its strong character’s sure to make it a lovely pet one day. A red collar’s going to set off that white neck fur very nicely.
We placed Sophia’s dog bed just outside the kennel, and Bella took to it right away. She’s spending a fair bit of time in it, escaping the fatly fed pups when they fall into a contented cuddle as they drop off her into puppy dreamland. Can’t say I blame her. They’re a great deal of work, and I cannot even begin to imagine how she’d have coped alone in the wilds. How do these unfortunate animals find food? I’m not going to go there because I get overwhelmed at the thought of the endless misery in the world.
To happier thoughts then. Bella’s one lucky dog, and one whose pups will surely have good lives. I’m certainly going to do my best for them all. They will be strong and fit, completely used to people, not terrified – a very good start for them indeed. Bella’s got a very sweet personality, and given her happy circumstances I’m sure her babies will be delightful dogs too.
PAWS is very supportive of our efforts. You can see Bella and her cuties here on PAWS Facebook page. PAWS does the most amazing work here on the Pelion Peninsula, under very difficult circumstances, and with very limited means.
We put the puppies into the dog bed for a little while yesterday; gave us a chance to freshen the bedding.
Bella took advantage of the opportunity to wander off through the grounds for a bit. It’s quite humbling how much she trusts us with her babies. She sat calmly watching us as we put them back into the kennel, then followed them inside.
Bella’s relaxing in her sunlounger as I write this morning. It’s quite funny really, rather like a mum’s day out for her, or perhaps spa time.
Her ear looks a lot worse than it is, and is responding well to treatment.
I’ll keep you updated as the pups grow. It’s certainly getting even more hectic around here!
August has gone. It came in stifling hot, and went out on a slightly cooler note. As the locals say: “At the end of August, the lights are turned off.” And it’s literally so. The lights across the Pagasitic Gulf from us, at the very end of the Pelion Peninsula, didn’t come on last night. They won’t come on again until late April or early May. Holiday homes are in darkness. The tail end of the holidaymakers left in long convoys yesterday, heading to various parts of Europe, some of the vehicles towing boats.
The little boats that bobbed about in front of the house until yesterday are not there today. As I write, in mid-afternoon, the only boats I’ve seen all day are those above – the one slowly and carefully towing the other across the Gulf. I waved to the boatman. He waved back. Perhaps both boats are his. Perhaps he rented them out through the summer. Perhaps the boat on tow needs repairs. Something about him and the two little boats seemed so forlorn, though I hope all’s well. Those two little boats and the solitary boatman said it very firmly: “Summer is over.”
Today is the Labor Day holiday in America, a day that celebrates the workers of the country, and has come to mean the unofficial end of summer in the United States.
Transportation is the movement of people, animals or goods from one location to another.
Here on the Pelion there are many areas which are difficult to access, and some can only be reached on foot. Donkeys are still used although they aren’t seen as frequently now as they used to be. In many instances it can be much quicker to get from A to B by way of the waters of the Pagasitic Gulf. Anything that floats, it seems, can be used.
There is a network of paved roads, most of which are single lane and require great caution on the part of the driver navigating them. We joke that the driving term ‘overtaking’ can be defined variously as taking your life in your hands, and your life being effectively over. That’s not to say the drivers are bad though of course many are, rather too many actually, but because there are multiple hazards on the roads apart from drivers.
Flocks of sheep and goats are frequently encountered once you’re out of the city; there are drivers with an alarming tendency to stop in the middle of the road, usually around a blind corner if the fancy takes them; strange vehicles of every kind puttering along in a fog of fumes; motorbikes and cyclists seemingly intent on early arrival at the Pearly Gates; horses; dogs darting this way and that; trucks and lorries; tractors towing trailers full of livestock/olives/hay bales/barrels, and just about anything else you can think of; cars towing boats or other vehicles; goods of every kind tied and teetering on top of cars.
Getting stuck behind a slow moving vehicle on a narrow road is a nightmare in itself. The death defying manouevres of those who insist on passing – very often slap in the face of oncoming traffic or along some precipitous drop into sea or ravine – do nothing for one’s blood pressure.
The road from Volos runs out along the Peninsula right up to Trikeri village now and is generally quite good, barring the odd pothole. The nature of the terrain ensures that practically any type of roadway here will twist, turn and coil back on itself like vines in a rain forest. Many of the so-called roads are little more than tracks through the olive groves, and are unpaved, badly rutted and occasion all kinds of challenges in mud, ice and snow. That’s when tractors trundle to the rescue, or sometimes your only way out is by boat.
We were lingering over our caffeine this morning, and were discussing how quiet the Gulf has been – scarcely a boat have we seen this season – when Ron said: “What’s that on the water?” I looked out at the Pag and saw three canoes, in fairly close proximity to each other, heading across in front of the house. Each canoe was escorting a swimmer.
“Must be some kind of training exercise,” I suggested. “For the Olympics perhaps?” A fourth canoe appeared around the headland to our left, with its accompanying swimmer moving along at an impressive clip.
Before too long, more and more swimmers came by, each one with his or her helper in a brightly coloured canoe. Quite eye-catching. Some of the athletes were superb – scarcely rippling the water – and beautiful to watch. Others were perhaps a little less graceful in their strokes, but all were obviously very strong swimmers. We couldn’t tell from where they’d come, but it was from some distance further down the Pelion Peninsula. Milina perhaps?
We watched for some time, moving from window to window to take photos. Raki, as you’ll note, was bored with the whole thing, and made it quite clear.
Mythos watched our antics at the window from below, but showed no inclination to join us. I think he was keeping an eye on Grappa who was hiding under a bush – he torments her horribly. He’s old and cranky and resents the youngsters.
Dolphins appeared a little further out, and kept pace for a while with the canoes and swimmers. I was expecting them to come closer – they often follow a boat – but they weren’t as curious this morning as they usually are.
I checked the local newspapers online, but could find no reference to this rather fascinating exercise. The participants must be in very fine shape for they covered a considerable distance before disappearing beyond the headland into Afissos. Marathon swimmers, I would guess.
I wasn’t asked to participate – they probably feared the competition.
Many of you know that Raki is a much adored, much indulged cat who genuinely doesn’t appear to know he is a cat. We fancy that he believes himself to be one of us. Like us. He certainly has no idea how to interact with the other cats of the household, and holds himself aloof from them. Perhaps this is because he was hand-reared, but it also has to do with his personality.
Cats have been part of my life, all my life. There’s a photo of me sitting up in my pram in Scotland – one of those gorgeous large carriages, all wood trim and huge wheels – with a tabby cat asleep at the foot of it. I adore cats, I like to think I understand cats, my childhood home was filled with cats. I was enthralled by the stories my Mother told me of cats she had owned, of cats she had known of, of cats which had featured in tales she in turn had been told in lands far away and foreign to me at the time.
Raki is unique. Not because we are besotted with him, not because we are slowly going dotty, but because of his behaviour which enchants all who see him, even those who are not typically lovers of cats. It’s often said that cats are standoffish, that they aren’t faithful and companionable like dogs, but that can never be said of Raki. He’s deeply affectionate, has the most delightful quirks, and is devoted to us, particularly to Ron. He’s always very close to us, following us everywhere; we never have to search for him.
A few weeks ago, Costa’s daughter came down from Albania to visit her husband who is working here on the Pelion Peninsula, and accompanied him daily to assist with his work in the fields. Marieklena speaks little Greek, but she speaks the language of yarn. Fluently. Her workworn hands were busy every spare moment in the evenings; crochet is her thing, and she’s an expert.
Marieklena was charmed by Raki, and told us of other Van cats like him in Albania, for of course these cats came to Albania from Turkey as they did to Greece. She returned to Albania with hubby Freddie last week – a few days break for him to see his children. Freddie came back last night, bringing gifts from the family – Costa’s extended, generous and gracious family – but the most important gift is for Raki. Mariklena made it, and sent it with explicit instructions that it is only for him so that he might sleep on bedding fit for a sultan, which is what we occasionally refer to him as.
Freddie explained that Mariklena made the pompons* so that he’d have something to play with. I admit I was overcome, and clearly so was Raki for he wasted not a minute climbing on it when I spread it out, and fell instantly asleep.
* Apparently the pompons are created on a wooden device, hand carved for the purpose, which is traditional in Albania. Mariklena uses a very old one made by an ancestor of Costa’s family. Such an item is new to me and I can’t wait to examine it.
The south wind, that most unwelcome bearer of Sahara dust, has been blowing wildly most of the week, yielding occasionally to the rages of the competitive west wind. So choking has the dust been that the elderly and those suffering from breathing complaints have been strongly advised to remain indoors.
Newspapers the world over run banner headlines to the effect that the weather is nuts, has gone mad, is weird, strange, odd, ominous. To hear some tell it, the end of the world is upon us. So must the Ancients have believed when Aeolus, heeding the command of the gods, opened his bag of tricks and let loose the four winds.
Who has angered the gods this time? No idea, but someone up there on Mt. Olympus was certainly livid enough earlier this week to demand that Aeolus really let rip. Unpleasant as the south wind is, it’s no match for the west wind in full throttle. All through the long Monday night it ranted and roared, pounded the coast, sent shutters shuddering, surely terrorized many creatures, and kept us awake. Nor was Aeolus instructed to bag his west wind again come morning, with the result that it grumbled along, squabbling with the south wind until late yesterday.
Wind is hardly uncommon here on the Pelion Peninsula where the many islands and inlets of the Pagasitic Gulf, together with the hilly and mountainous terrain, interact to influence the weather patterns. The Pag is beloved by sailors, its merry breezes with their sudden shifts in intensity and direction providing challenges to amateur and pro alike.
The locals have a delightful vocabulary of expressions to describe the effects of what Aeolus is offering: kapelato, kareklato, trapezato being among my favourites. Kapelo is a hat, karekla is a chair, trapezi a table. Well, what he unleashed on Monday night had no difficulty lifting tables, none at all, as was soon obvious to us in the morning when we set off for Volos. We took the coastal road which is practically deserted at this time of year and shortens the trip by a good 15 minutes. West wind’s temper tantrum had littered the beaches with debris. Branches, rocks, stones are objects of nature,
but the heaps of plastic and other examples of man-made items hurled up by the sea are an eyesore, though in fairness some had clearly been dislodged by force of wind and wave.
Parts of the road had sheared off in the violence, making the narrow road more challenging still,
but what brought us to a complete standstill was the large tamarisk tree, torn from its position between the beach and the road, blocking any further passage.
Hubby was unfazed, stopping the car to get out and survey the situation. I carried on knitting.
“We left with plenty of time to spare,” he reassured me as he returned to the car. “I’ve a handsaw in the back – soon take care of this.”
I continued knitting; he appeared to be rummaging about longer than I’d expected.
“Rats!” he announced (or something similar). “I must’ve forgotten to get it back when I lent it to Costa.”
Well, that put a spanner rather than a saw into the works. I abandoned the knitting in favour of documenting the incident for posterity.
Ron moved on to plan B. “I’ll use the tow rope to pull it out of the way,” he said, uncoiling it from the collection of hydraulic jacks, oil, jumper cables, tire pump, and sundry other items apparently essential to our survival when traversing the Balkans. (I might mention here that my emergency supplies typically run to plenty of knitting and chocolate.) “It won’t take long.”
He worked at securing the cable to the tamarisk and then to the car’s bumper, yelling at me to get well out of the way as he climbed back in to start the car.
Waves crashed, spray spat, tires screeched, stones crunched but the tree budged nary an inch. Again he tried. Again the collection of sounds filled the air. Again the tree resisted.
Ron climbed back out to retrieve the cable, I climbed back in. There was no option but to retrace our journey and take the upper road. Now considerably delayed we were grateful for the cell ‘phone though it was some time before we could get a signal and let it be known we were running late.
We stopped at the first inhabited property to advise of the obstruction which would need a chainsaw to clear away completely.
Missions in Volos accomplished – which included hubby purchasing a handsaw – we returned via the coastal road. The tamarisk had meanwhile been chopped up and stacked at the side of the road by some public-spirited soul; Ron had missed his chance.
Persephone has wrought her wonders once again this spring, thrilling the vegetation into exuberant displays of colour, waking the sleeping leaves from winter-dormant trees, encouraging the buds to open, and enticing tiny fruits to peep out at the warming world.
The olive flowers have given way to teensy olives – pale green beads sheltering tightly in little clusters as though fearful of what the unpredictable storms of the season might yet do to them.
The olives are not looking promising this year, though. Much of the blossom was torn from the trees by very strong gales throughout May, so the olives are already greatly reduced in number. Add to this the myriad of pests which attack all parts of the olive tree, the leaves, the bark, and particularly the fruit itself, and I fear the olive crop might be a poor one. I do hope not, for olive revenues are vital to the local farmers.
The fig trees are laden with fruit, dark green and shining new. Shall I call them figlets? They are bigger, brighter, bolder than the olives as they are of course a much larger fruit, but I have to keep a wary eye on them. The wind is not so much their enemy as are the worms and moths that infest the leaves at every opportunity, spreading cobwebs all across them, under which the worms thrive, and munch, and mature, and start the whole cycle all over again.
The lemons always do well, not surprisingly, and are quite indispensable for all sorts of uses.
The grapes are making an effort, but the birds do love them so, and the ants are wild for them.
Speaking of ants, look at them feasting on these fat buds.
We’re green here on our property, not just in Nature’s brilliant hues, but also in the ecological sense. This piece of land was in the possession of a local family for many generations, several hundred years in fact, and so its history is well known; they have never used any form of poison. No herbicide. No pesticide. And we most certainly have not, nor will we ever.
And yet, somehow, it balances itself out. We have abundant bird life, which we encourage by providing fresh water at several spots. The insectivorous swallows do a fine job of zapping various pests, as do the cheeky flycatchers. And while our fruit is not perfect, it’s delicious and most certainly organic.
Jason got into the spirit of things, sporting a new hat, and making no objection to being photographed.
Several of the furry and hairy ones stuck their noses in, as they invariably do, cavorting about like kids let out of school.
Raki is either absolutely convinced of his superiority, or else he’s too self-absorbed to comprehend that all the others regard him as just another one of the pests!
The weather’s been very unsettled, rather like Greece’s political and economic situation at present; brief periods of brilliant and heartwarming sunshine readily give way to gray cloud and rain. The weather forecasters have been speaking of yet another really cold snap to hit us before spring arrives, and plenty more rain which we certainly do need. These prognostications may of course be wrong, and it can’t be easy to predict conditions for the Pelion Peninsula, as we really do have the most mini of micro climates, given the terrain – gulfs, gullies, headlands, hills and pinnacles. The rain nymphs, known as the Hyades in Greek mythology, might be chucking it down hard on us, while Helios, god of the sun, is beaming benignly on our friends up the hill. Does make life interesting!
This morning brought a sunny dawn, fairly warm with only a little cloud.
Anemones and daisies, always among the first wildflowers, have begun appearing, but I was thrilled to see a poppy – one solitary little poppy on the whole property.
Poppies typically begin their exuberant displays in March so perhaps this enthusiastic loner augurs well for the coming days. We’ll see.
Mythos and Raki, never ones to miss any activity, made the very most of the sun which sadly decided to make itself scarce come midmorning and by noon sea and sky had settled into deep pewter, this season’s prevailing colour.
The temperature has fallen quite sharply, and now the rain clouds loom, leering darkly down on us, while Mt Pelion has begun to vanish from view.
But life is busy in the garden – spring is coming for sure!
Lafkos is a beautiful village with a long and interesting history, high on the southern Pelion Peninsula. Its old stone buildings, strongly fortified against invaders, showcase traditional building methods, featuring intricate stonework and wood carving, much of it still well preserved.
Beyond the immediate hilltop huddle of historic buildings around the church and village square are more modern structures, built as the village expanded. Most are now constructed of brick, but are still designed in the Pelioritic style as required by the building regulations which seek to preserve the character of the Pelion region.
One such new building is the Lagou Raxi Country Hotel which occupies a beautiful spot overlooking the Pagasitic Gulf, on land which would have been well outside the safe environs of the village in the earlier period. Tracts of land here on the peninsula still carry the descriptive names they were given long ago, and the hotel takes its name from the area on which it’s built: Lagou Raxi, pronounced Lagou Rachi. This refers, so I’m told, to the shape of the ridge or spine (rachi) of ground which resembles the back of a hare (lagos). It’s also been suggested that this had been an excellent hunting ground for hare in former times, and may have contributed to its being so named.
The hotel has a large conference room and it’s here that some of the local homeowners agreed to mount an exhibition of their kilims – flat woven rugs and carpets. These heirlooms were woven on handmade wooden looms by women of their families in generations past, and most of them are of quite some age.
I was able to attend the opening night of the exhibit and met Mrs Athena Biniari who has some of her family’s beautiful kilims on display. She very kindly spent considerable time discussing with me the traditional methods used to create kilims, blankets, cushions and similar soft furnishings for the home in a time when all such items were manufactured within the household, as they were throughout the Balkans and beyond. In some parts of the Balkans the practice continues, as it does among nomadic tribes in Asia and North Africa who are renowned for their woven artifacts.
Mrs Biniari fondly remembers childhood days of spinning wool yarn on a drop spindle for her grandmother, who would weave in the courtyard of the home during the summer months. Other ladies recall that weaving was more of a winter activity, when days were long. Distribution of labour within the household and the community must have meant that some had more leisure time than others, of course, but the fact remains that the production of any form of textile in these days was a time-consuming process.
Every inch of yarn had to be produced by hand; every colour was the result of hand dyeing processes. Dyestuffs had to be collected from the natural materials that provided them, and the dyepots had to be mixed. Extensive knowledge was required, and passed down from generation to generation. We should not forget that in earlier times most needlework was done after the day’s work was completed, and by lamp or candlelight. And done with such care, such pride. I am in awe.
This expertly woven rug is quite plain in that it’s woven in stripes, which is obviously quicker than weaving more intricate designs, but its relative simplicity is offset by the wonderfully exuberant edging. Imagine making all those deliciously plump pompons, and with no modern pompon-making devices to speed up the work. I hope the maker enjoyed doing this as much as I have enjoyed seeing it. It really caught my eye, and I can just imagine how delighted my cats would be if such an enticing rug were gracing my floor.
The warp threads form this very simple edging, but so lavishly coloured is this carpet that nothing more is needed.
This display makes me catch my breath, and when I think of the work involved, in addition to the weaver’s everyday household load of chores, I’m amazed.
Note the vases of flowers motif as an alternating band in the middle rug.
I’m not sure if these three rugs were all woven by the same person, but the display itself commands attention, highlighting as it does the variety of colors and motifs.
The natural materials here – wood and wool – make for an arresting arrangement. The rug on the right is completed with a fairly typical knotted edging, but the one on the left is the only example I have seen of this very unusual crocheted motif edge treatment. It’s quite striking, employing as it does a different form of textile artistry and skill. I’d like to find out more about this particular rug and whether it had one maker or was it a collaboration? The ability to combine all manner of stitching and of textiles, into a coherent whole is one of the enduring appeals of the needlearts.
These kilims are draped to advantage over hessian, on an old handmade chest, in which they were probably stored. The forests of the Pelion, though now much reduced in size by the inevitable encroachment of the centuries, still abound with hardwoods of many types from which some lovely antique pieces of furniture were fashioned. I believe this chest is made of chestnut; note the handcarved dovetail joints.
Note the crocheted and braided edgings to this woven cushion cover.
The owner has taken pains to preserve and display these damaged pieces which have the appearance of being part of a large carpet, and may indeed be, but given that one piece is edged with tassels, and the other with bobbles, I think they are in fact salvaged from two different kilims.
This beauty appears to have been damaged while stored; the blue areas are the underlay that was used to display it on. If you look closely, you will see that it was feasted upon precisely along the seam where the two pieces were carefully joined to create this large carpet. The precision with which the pieces were woven, so that the intricate pattern remained unbroken when they were seamed together, speaks to the meticulous work of the weaver. The damage suggests to me that it was folded on the seam line when it was put away, and makes the case that textiles in storage be examined frequently to inspect for unwanted guests munching away.
Lafkos is a small village, well off the beaten track, so unfortunately this exhibition hasn’t received anything like the attention it deserves, but the exhibitors I had the privilege of speaking with expressed the desire to showcase more of their textile treasures in the future. Yes please!