Life

I’m at a bit of a loose end. Writing a blog post seems indulgent but when I think how little I’ve actually sat down these last few weeks I guess it isn’t. M has been really unwell. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. With him in hospital I’ve gone into house sorting overdrive, tackling jobs that have been too easy to put off whilst he’s around and not really keen on the disruption that decorating brings. The dining room had become a bit of a black hole since he made my dream table from a rescued cable drum. Not every woman’s dream I know. We now eat in the sunlounge in front of the French doors and with a much better view than the windowless dining room, but the dining room needed to be reinvented.

Since M will be out of action for a while and with Mum’s help we smashed up a huge manky cupboard with a sledgehammer and dragged it up to the bonfire. A leaky roof now fixed and a leaky shower yet to be fixed damaged the cupboard and whiffed a bit too. It was hugely satisfying to see it all piled up ready to burn. These are the jobs that M never wants me to start because he really doesn’t like helping with this kind of DIY.

Years of art and craft materials going back to when the kids were small were bagged up and donated. Lots of little notes and drawings were rescued including this lovely note from ella to jake in a jam jar with a gift of precious skeleton leaves ‘To Jake, Love you with all my heart. Love Ella.’ Proof that things were harmonious at least some of the time. A spare bookcase was reassembled, an old library table moved in to act as a desk and my new home office/library is almost ready. There are far too many books on one side so that still needs to be tackled but it’s been physically demanding work on top of hospital visits, laundry, dog walking, food shopping, cooking…

For the first ten days without our resident chef I decided it would be great to have a break from his exotic concoctions usually involving way too many ingredients for the fridge capacity. Keep it simple is my motto. Quiche and salad went down very well with the kids the first night so we ended up having it five times over ten days. You can always rely on your offspring to tell the truth when you least want them to, like the moment M asked what we had on the other five nights and E piped up ‘quiche and chips’. Not quite true because I’m sure I cooked a luxury pizza at some stage too. Cooking brings me no joy whatsoever. Left to my own devices I would have cheese on toast, scrambled eggs on toast, beans on toast, vegemite on toast and just toast. Maybe a bit of quiche and salad too. It’s ironic that I now spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen cooking up non food items and enjoying it immensely.

I had planned to enjoy the process of natural dyeing for a couple of years at least before even thinking about selling any plant dyed yarn but with M unwell it seemed like a good time to go for it. I’ve been so careful with testing the wool as I go that I was quite well prepared. Seeing how things stand up to light, wash and rub tests has been as interesting as creating the dye baths. I do occasionally forget to record something but I’ve now installed Ella’s old whiteboard in the kitchen to jot things down as I go. Sometimes it almost needs a mind map to record all the aspects that have gone into making a skein. There’s the wool type and weight, the weight of dyestuff, mordanting details, how long I’ve dyed it for, or let the dyestuff stew for and many other variables too. Once that is all scribbled down on the whiteboard I transfer it to my notebook with what colour it achieved and attach a strand or two to the book and a strand to a postcard for the window.

I can highly recommend re-connecting with nature in a new way when the going gets tough. If I thought that just walking the dogs through acres of farmland trails was enjoyable I wasn’t aware I could make it even more so. I’ve added to my book collection of old observers, nature tomes, pocket guides to wildflowers and reminded myself of some of the forgotten names of things and learnt many new ones. My most useful new addition has been a book of trees with really clear photographs, reminiscent of a Dorling Kindersely style but in fact a fusty old seventies volume. I could already name most trees and frequently used to try and pass that on to the kids but there are variations that I wanted to be precise about. Goat Willow for instance, it’s never really been on my radar purely because a lot of willows have a long thin leaf and this one doesn’t. I brewed up some bark shavings recently and was peering into my large pan with a wooden spoon when Jake came into the kitchen holding his nose, as he always does when he sees me in my old apron. I said, ‘come and have a look at this goat willow’ and he quite emphatically said, ‘jeez no thank you!’. So I was looking a bit dejected when he said, ‘what on earth are you cooking a goat’s willy for?’. He must think my recipes call for even stranger stuff than just bits of tree and weeds!

The trickier part has been embracing the technology that is inevitable for online selling. I’ve barely used a proper Mac since my design days and we certainly don’t have Quark Xpress or anything sophisticated for layout software. I only used Word for documents, so I’ve had to get to grips with that for page layout. It all come flooding back and I discovered that the keyboard short cuts I must have executed millions of in my typical working week were all the same and also stored in the deepest recesses of my memory. Sitting in front of a computer is one of the things I miss least about that line of work so I really want to keep it to a minimum for this one. I think that’s why I enjoyed furniture restoration for so long once I had left the design business, there was little computer time required. Having said that I’m going to be very reluctant to share the mac with M when he is fighting fit again. There are some things that iPads just don’t cooperate with, printing online pre paid postal labels is one of them!

Well July was perfect solar dyeing and paper making weather. August has been less so. A while back M had some training to deliver in Manchester and I went along to help set up equipment and keep him company on the journey. I had a nice day wandering round a big city feeling like an out of place country mouse as I tend to do these days. There’s a large art and craft store there called Fred Aldous. I’ve been a customer since their mail order days when I was a student. I filled a small basket with bits I’d been waiting patiently for a trip to Manchester or Leeds for and then asked if they sold paper making deckles by any chance. They did. It was a bit of an extravagant buy since my last mould and deckles were made from canvas stretching frames and net curtain when I was about 19 and may well be buried in some box in the attic somewhere.

I must have last used them when the kids were small and they were soon bored with the whole thing. Even now when Jake saw the first batch he said it would be quicker and easier to buy paper. Ella was slightly more impressed, clearly not expecting the pulp to actually turn into proper paper at all. Every now and then I find a sheet from previous ‘sessions’ but I rarely did anything with the sheets, apart from used them for the odd backing sheet in a frame. It was obviously just the process I enjoyed and still enjoy. Along with the used and dried out plant matter at some stage I will use my dye bath exhausts as part of the process but for now I seem to have run out of sunny days. It takes up quite a bit of space and drying would be a bit of a nuisance indoors.

Just when I have reconnected with gardening we will be losing two local garden centres. I’ve bought seeds, a watering can, plants, pots and compost from both this year and the garden centres we are left with are not as good. I was able to buy some of the old wooden crates that one of the garden centres used for displays and lined with brown paper they seem to be ideal for drying out marigolds and coreopsis. Time will tell of course, I’ve no idea whether they’ll be any good. I followed instructions to dry out some Weld early in the season and that went mouldy quite quickly. I’ve since gathered more and will leave it to dry out for a lot longer this time. With large wooden trays of flowers drying out in the living room, bunches of weld hanging upside down in the kitchen, jars of wee coloured liquid and old vases of willow twigs in the dining room I can begin to understand Jake thinking that there could indeed be anything in my dye pots next!

I’ve never done so much on so little sleep as these last few weeks. There was a period of three or four days when I worked out I’d had four hours sleep. I was a bit of a zombie and was ready to start burning lavender oil just to be able to nod off! Thankfully I’m getting a few more hours now, I’m no use to M or anyone if I don’t. I’m going to need a new crochet project to wind down with and also take to hospitals. I was thinking hats but maybe I’ll start something more substantial. My hankering for a summer kimono cardigan took a couple of years to get round to making and I’ve had one for a large wrap for even longer. Given that the design variables are so huge I need to narrow down my brief and try and get that one underway too. I have visions of a versatile long rectangle that is half blanket half big scarf, something that lives on the back of the chair I drag from sunlounge to deck when I light the chiminea and keeps the back of my neck and shoulders warm when the front is nice and toasty. If it hadn’t been for so much rain I’d be doing that a bit more often instead of processing household paperwork going back twelve years and wondering what happened to the ultra organised person I used to be and plan to be once more. Thank you Marie Kondo and yes my sock drawer is still shipshape and in Kondo fashion.

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Party

We’ve just returned from a week in Sussex. It was a miracle undertaking that only my Mother could possibly have pulled off. Twenty two relatives all in one place to celebrate my Grandfather’s 95th birthday. A three storey Edwardian house on the beach rented for the week, complete with beach hut and good weather seemed to have been booked just in time too.

Since our chief dog sitters were also present at the party we had to make the 400 mile round trip with one quivering Spaniel in my ancient jeep boot and another who didn’t know what the heck was going on and refused to eat all week. Harvey has never enjoyed car travel but gets in quite willingly in anticipation of a walk at the end. Riley loved the sea, the woodland walks, the lake swims, the fox poo filled meadows but it did nothing to entice him to eat more than a few mouthfuls a day. He’s home now and absolutely fine.

As is usual when dogs are involved M and I made alternative accommodation arrangements and managed to get a last minute barn some way out from the beach house but nonetheless quite perfect for us. M slept like he had never slept before so I found myself slipping out with the dogs quite early and taking advantage of beautiful meadow walks. Lots of things made me feel nostalgic including an abundance of Sweet Chestnut trees with their fluffy catkins, cobnuts (out now but ripe next month) and Jays. I have a tiny Jay feather in a box at home and M admitted he’d never seen one. Had he been up bright and early he would have done. Not that I minded, there’s something quite magical about early mornings in the middle of nowhere, with just foxes, birds and two dogs gathering up all the dew on their coats.

I was surprised and impressed that Jake decided to have a swim in the sea the minute he arrived in Sussex. He loved the sea in Spain and Italy but here it’s bloody freezing! I was less impressed with the giant inflatable flamingo he bought to float on, having visions of him floating out to sea. Not only were there plenty of family keeping an eye on him it was also a very safe bay and shallow for quite a way. Not a spot we used much when we lived in Sussex but definitely one that is becoming more popular judging by the smartly dressed couples walking along the beach with property details tucked under their arms.

I managed to finish my inside out crochet kimono cardigan with a few evening sessions. I decided that I needed one last year but couldn’t find a pattern I liked. It’s the sort of thing you need when you’ve been wearing a linen dress all day and then the sun goes down. When I started making it with only a vague idea in my head I was full of doubts. There are quite a few factors to consider with garments to achieve good drape. Both the stitch and the hook size provide drape for this cardigan and I shaped the three panels so as not to have to join sleeves afterwards. It seems to have worked out ok. It’s probably a bit warmer than is ideal since it’s pure wool. I thought the holes would mean it was less warm but no, it’s very warm! Just in time for the mini heatwave due next week. I mentioned to anyone who asked that the colours were dyed using nettle, ivy, cherry and weld and that seemed to provoke mixed reactions, some were amazed and some thought it was a bit gross, assuming that the wool would still smell. I’ve firmly cemented by reputation as a bit of a strange one.

One of the things that happens when you haven’t seen relatives for a while is that you get mistaken for your Mother. A nod to having let my hair go back to its natural colour I think, it’s obviously ageing, not that my Mother ever did (go grey) by the way. On the one hand I briefly entertained the idea of chopping it short again and dyeing it pink just to make sure that particular mistaken identity never happens again, then I woke up and realised that actually it’s often the judgemental, societal expectation that a woman under fifty at least should keep the grey at bay. Well stuff that. There are more important things in life.

Meanwhile back at home there’s so much to keep me busy. My Madder seedlings have shot up in just a week which is a relief because I thought they’d dry up and die while I was away. I’ve transplanted a few of them and whacked stakes in with a sledge hammer for wire netting to keep the dogs off whilst waiting for M to finish fences for the remaining three sides of my ‘dye bed’. Two colours of marigolds have started to bloom. I’ll probably dry a lot of these because I’ve had fun with the coreopsis and don’t really want a massive amount of orange wool! I’m hoping the darker marigolds produce a deeper colour.

The birds moved in swiftly whilst the dogs were away and demolished the rest of the raspberries. I must have picked at least five small bowls for breakfast though and I’ll try and separate out the brambles from the raspberries and make sure they are staked well again for next year. Gooseberries seem to take forever to properly ripen but it won’t be long before we can make jam. I’m hopeful it’ll be the non burnt variety this year. The plum tree has made a partial recovery and has a useful amount of fruit once more, it clearly loved being pruned although we did that at completely the wrong time. I’ll be totally in tune with the dye plants and the seasons but it’ll be a while before I remember what kind of jobs need doing when for the rest of the garden. At least I haven’t had to hack down the right hand hedgerow this year. The beech and laurel have grown to an impressive height and block the view to the new houses perfectly. I’ve left the height and only cut back the growth that comes into the garden. Beech provided a great dye colour and seems to be holding up well on my lightfast tests. We’ve got plenty of it so I’m pretty happy about that.

M has been a bit unwell lately, we thought it would be nothing that antibiotics wouldn’t solve but after two courses we had to pop along to the out of hours service on Saturday and that led to them deciding to administer the antibiotics intravenously. It’s always tricky to know when to seek further help with something, neither of us want to waste anyone’s time. He’s stocked up with newspapers, novels and crosswords and being supplied with lots of tea.

I pack all my walking into the pockets of time M is working. The rest of the time, which seems considerable; days off, weekends and holidays it’s so frustrating to give that up. As we strolled painfully slowly along the South Downs Way much older couples were striding ahead with walking poles and back packs and I was reminded of something I am missing out on. I clearly need to work much harder on getting him to accept that we need to compromise in a different way. Currently he thinks that a few long walks around some Lincolnshire farmer’s fields whilst he’s at work should be satisfactory. He either rants or sulks when I suggest he takes a flask, a chair and a book (he loves reading) and relaxes with a view if we happen to stumble across a beautiful walk on our travels.

I did at least manage to be assertive about spending our last day visiting The Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft. There’s an exhibition entitled ‘Women’s Work’ on until October, it focuses on women who designed and created in various mediums between the two world wars. It included items plant dyed by Ethel Mairet, block printing, weaving, bookbinding, pottery, ceramics. We arrived just in time for the guided talk, delivered by a very enthusiastic man and ironically seemed to be mainly about the work of Eric Gill. He did eventually explain the relevance but for a moment it was like being back on my graphic design course with another Gill fanatic. Needless to say this exhibition and the building it was housed in created my perfect day out and I think M enjoyed the letterpress exhibits and the coffee at least.

I never say much on the 200 mile drive home and I think M is used to that now. I like to mull over the week and try and commit it all to memory. Having a 95th birthday celebration for my Grandad is a very special thing. He’s an absolute legend; so incredibly well and fit but understandably in need of a good afternoon nap now and then. He was burgled just a few weeks ago. The burglar managed to slip a tool in through the letterbox and retrieve the keys. He entered the home whilst Grandad was sleeping and stole his watch, wallet, iPad and phone. At some stage something woke him and he got up to take a look around quickly realising that the front door was open and things missing. We just thank our lucky stars he didn’t wake up moments sooner. It’s shaken him very badly and although the police arrested someone for a couple of burglaries in the same road on the same night they didn’t have enough to prosecute him. There are no words to describe the low life that did this. The one thing you should at least have in this mad world is the right to sleep soundly in your own bed.

Since I started this post we’ve had a mini heatwave and also things have got a bit grim for M. It’s a case of having to make you feel worse before they can make you better, so he will be in for a few more days at least. I’m exhausted juggling everything on top of visits, not to mention I really don’t like going out on my own much. I’m a liability just buying groceries. Apparently yesterday a cashier told me she’d saved my loyalty card points and I said, no don’t bother that’s ok. Oops. I thought she’d asked me if I wanted to save them. Poor E, she gets the brunt of the problem sometimes, whereas I’m only embarrassed when she later tells me my mistake. It feels very much like being a single parent again even though the kids are old enough to look after themselves and help out. In practice E has a working week and J has a social life, sport and sleeps a lot but they are both helping in their own ways.

Natural dyeing is a bit of an all day affair so it’s been difficult to fit in around visits at the moment. I’m missing it. I’ve started off three solar dyeing jars and they seem to be working well. I’ve used three wool bases and they react quite differently. All have been mordanted with alum but one of them is more sensitive than the others so the colour absorbs more where it is in contact with the plant matter, whereas with the other two yarns it seems to be dyeing more evenly. I don’t think I’ll ever stop discovering new things about plant dyeing.

Dyeing

Last month we travelled down to my native Sussex so that I could attend a natural dyeing workshop. Once upon a time I’d have happily driven myself but these days long periods of driving just aren’t feasible. I caught M in a good mood and he was happy to make a short break of it by having lunch on the way, staying overnight and travelling back after the workshop. He had plenty of work to do to kill the time and installed himself in the lobby of the hotel with WiFi, lunch, newspapers, coffee, his laptop.

Attending a group event of any sort is completely out of my comfort zone. A short time is not enough time to be able to tune into each persons distinct lip patterns, so the best I can hope for is to just get by without making myself look stupid. I chose my home county because I don’t have to work quite so hard to figure out the many regional accents I come across living in Lincolnshire. I’m always very optimistic when I do something like this but the reality is that it’s a massive pain in the neck not being aware of when people speak let alone what they are saying. I used to hide the problem and bluff but that is tiring, soul destroying and slightly pointless. It is what it is, in general life goes on and I don’t give it a second thought.

Anyway, problems aside, I had a great day. It was relaxed and easy to keep up by the very visual nature of it all. I knew this would become a passion the minute we set off with a basket and snips to collect some hedgerow plants for our dye baths. Even though I did every sport imaginable when I was younger, walking is the one thing that creates that feeling you get when you’re deeply immersed in a good book. Dogs bouncing around and diving into anything vaguely resembling a stream just adds to the joy.

The workshops are run by Mother/Daughter enterprise Deborah and Gala, both equally lovely, interesting and inspiring (details on my Instagram posts) or have a look at plawhatchfarm.co.uk. If I hadn’t already studied my one and only natural dyeing book over and over I think I’d have struggled to keep up. I had all the basic facts at my disposal but it seemed too overwhelming to contemplate doing at home. At the end of the day, as I got in the car, I said to M, it was like suddenly being able to understand Egyptian hieroglyphics!

We made four dye baths; nettle, bracken, madder and silver birch leaf. With mini skeins dyed in each we also had a chance to experiment with modifiers to produce a further range of colours. The workshop yarns are above in the first photo. I made them up into a small drawstring bag to remember the day by. I also attached the leftover scraps to a couple of postcards. One postcard has been placed out of daylight and the other taped to a sunny window. Several weeks on only the madder exhaust has faded from pink to beige which was expected.

I wasted no time in rearranging the bookshelf in our kitchen to hold jars, pans, sieves, bowls etc. By day I’ve been brewing readily available dye matter from our wild and unmanaged garden hedgerows (I knew all that ‘ungardening’ would pay off one day!) and by night trying to read up on plants. I’m lucky enough to know someone who totally gets natural dyeing and she kindly popped a couple of books in the post the same day I mentioned I was interested. I must photograph some of the beautiful illustrations in one of them for my next post. I’ve been so obsessed I’ve been carrying them with me everywhere. Ideal for coffee dates with M and his phone.

That same week in May had less fortunate events but I’ll also save that for another post. Jake has a few more exams to go before he is finally a school leaver. A Levels have been hard work and he’s done well to keep his cool and get on with it, despite everything. E had a bit of a dramatic end to her academic year too but she’s home for summer now and I’m really looking forward to some sunshine so that we can sit outside, have the odd barbecue, take the dogs to the lake and most importantly move my natural dyeing operation outside! Both E and J enter the kitchen with t shirts pulled up over their noses complaining loudly but laughing too. I won’t repeat what they think some of it smells like.

In between the rainy days we’ve had some good weather. Summer evenings in the twenties are the best. Who could possibly watch tv on an evening like that? Not me. Riley is probably only midway through his six month advised knee rest period, but try telling a Springer Spaniel that. We tried to stick to a short walk but he rolled in fox poo within minutes of setting off which meant walking much further to a deeper stream to wash it off. I quickly discovered that bending down to collect a few nettle tops would be an open invitation to them both to gather round and stick their wet faces in mine to ask what was going on.

I’ve also been planting anything from seed that wasn’t too late in the season to start. Madder was probably a little late but I’m keeping my fingers crossed, it takes a few years before they will be usable. With J’s help I dragged four unused railway sleepers from behind the kids treehouse all the way down to where the lawn starts for a raised bed. It won’t be very raised at all but the sleepers are handy to sit on whilst tending plants at least. I did the same for where I grow gooseberries, raspberries and a few herbs but with shorter sleepers. M had to build small picket fence panels to keep the dogs from digging everything back up so he will have to do the same for my woad and madder. It won’t be pretty but it’ll be functional and that’s fine by me. With reclaimed wood and containers we’ve started off a million Marigolds and some Coreopsis. I’ve given Mum some indigo seeds to look after in her greenhouse.

One of the first plants I tried after the workshop was Weld. We had seeds lined up but I’m not sure I need to bother with such a plentiful supply at local building sites. They like disturbed ground and our garden is very undisturbed! I gathered only enough to make one dye bath. A week later when more of the flowers were out and ideal for the dye bath the builders decided to get a huge hacking tractor thing and mow the whole lot down! They even collected the hacked down weeds and grass! Luckily I have a husband who doesn’t mind sweet talking builders into allowing him inside the fenced off site to access a big untouched patch and fill a basket with enough to dry for the winter! Since I took that photo of the drying Weld I’ve bundled up some much larger pieces with the flower heads intact.

I’ve started a dyer’s journal to record my dyeing sessions and recipes. I get carried away with the process of it all and with skeins drying here and there I completely forget which dye baths created which. Eventually I think I might get organised enough to take photos as I go and record some of the sessions here. For now though I’m actually concentrating far too much on what I’m doing!

When I can tear myself away from the dye pots I’m going to find some suitable crochet patterns to try these plant dyed yarns out. One of the bases I’ve been trying out should cope with a thirty degree wash cycle although normally I would still wash woollens by hand. So it’ll be a few simple makes only while I see how they perform. I previously said that slow living wasn’t something you could achieve overnight but rather a journey to the level that suits you. A few years ago I couldn’t have imagined ever being able to take a sheep fleece, process it, spin it, dye it naturally with plants and make it into something useful. Admittedly my spinning needs more practice but I’m finally where I want to be, close to nature, creating something from natural materials.

Spring

Putting all the evidence together I am convinced that we are born with most of our tastes and ways already in place. According to family observations I have never liked pink, frills and dresses and that goes right back to the beginning. Lately though I wonder whether an inbuilt need for solitary time was also in place from the very beginning or whether that’s just something you crave when life has been busy for a while. Today is the first such moment for what seems like a very long time. E is back at uni, J is out with friends and M is working somewhere roughly 125 miles away.

We’ve had a busy month or two. House selling has been a priority. Fingers crossed all is going ok so far. E has been home from uni and we’ve done all sorts including buying a second hand bike from an RAF base using a secret password to get in and visiting the moon. The latter was a six metre wide affair at the local museum. I wasn’t that excited to be dragged along but found it quite mesmerising once in this darkened room trying to figure out where the ‘invisible’ wires suspending it in mid air were.

Somewhere amongst of all this excitement E decided she would like a pink and slightly fluffy cardigan. Leader of the pac yarn was chosen from Hobbycraft and the Bobble Heart Cardigan pattern from a previous issue of Mollie Makes. I’m not going to lie, this much pink has been a challenge to see through. It will look amazing on her but I will be glad not to be working on pink once it’s finished.

Meanwhile I’m having a crisis of confidence with another crochet cardigan. I’ve got the pattern size guide and the intended four year old recipient’s measurements but I think I’ve worked it up a bit too close to the latter. It’s only a matter of days now until they travel North for a visit so I’ll be able to try the one sleeve garment on her and see how it’s working out size wise. I’ve only been using dk from stash so if it’s no good it’s no big deal, we’ll call it a useful practice run. The pattern is from The Crochet Project’s latest book called Pick and Mix. I love the concept of choosing a colour work stitch and a main body stitch in order to customise a garment to your taste. I chose the ‘getting Ziggy’ colour work option for the yoke and a simple offset half treble for the main body. I would definitely choose the main body stitch for an adult version in the future, it works into spaces which means it is pretty quick.

The last month has been a blur so I’m not quite sure how I managed to whip up a modified version of the Fronds Shawl for my niece and start a full size one too. I think I started the adult one first to see if I could finally use up that annoying cake of yarn that just didn’t seem to feel nice for anything else. It’s got four fine threads that all have a mind of their own and ugh, I’d never buy it again. I dug out the first Fronds I made and wore it out and about for a few days and eventually conceded that I would never be the asymmetrical shawl type of person. I frogged the new version and started again using the same adjustments I used to make little E’s colourful one. In a nutshell it increases more gradually to give a shallower depth. When I’ve got roughly half of the cake left I plan to start decreasing in the same way for a symmetrical result. It worked nicely for little E’s so fingers crossed it works out for the ‘grown up’ version too!

At some stage before E came home from uni we had a few days that were mild and sunny from early in the morning. M had been leaving at six a.m. and if he turns lights on and jogs the bed it is as good as alarm clocks going off for me. He can make as much noise as he likes without lights and jogging the bed and I will sleep on happily undisturbed for hours. So, I had a spell of being up and about a bit earlier than usual and on one of those mornings I put my crochet fisherman Aran jumper on over my red tartan flannelette pj trousers, made a large mug of coffee and decided to go for a walk up the garden and into the field in my wellies. We still have a building site for 31 houses in the side field but what you can’t hear can’t hurt you so I decided to ignore their very existence. Harvey’s shoulder injury is playing up in his old age and Riley seems prone to sprains most probably because he’s not as well built and sturdy as he should be for a Springer. So they were both limping that week and not up to our usual 3, 4 or 5 mile hikes. If we didn’t have builders to one side and a grumpy, nosey old man who hates the dogs to the other I think I would take my coffee up the garden more often. The field was full of fresh smells, dew, birds, insects, buds everywhere. The sky was an incredible blue. Definitely worth being up at 7am for.

I’m still longing to get back into our usual walking routine but events seem to be conspiring against us. I had an ordinary cold that was into its second week before suddenly turning into something much worse and knocking me right off my feet. I very rarely stop and rest for a cold. In fact there is something nice about wrapping up and taking the dogs out regardless, as if I’m beating it. This time though it was some kind of viral chest infection thing and with just a hoarse whisper I said to M, ‘I don’t think I’ll be getting up today’. He said, ‘God no, it doesn’t bloody sound like it!’ and went out to get cough mixture, flu capsules and Lucozade! Unfortunately it didn’t stop anyone leaving me to sleep all day and I can only assume I didn’t have the necessary strength to shout go away when I was asked where the salt was, where’s my blue shirt… do I look like I give a —- where they are!? The annoying thing about the salt was that not only was I finally in a deep sleep, the damn salt was eye level in the food cupboard! Not to mention that we have seven different types of course.

I’ve been slowly recovering but it’s taken a lot longer than I’d like. My rib cage has been incredibly sore and I’m absolutely wiped out by 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I know better than to do too much too soon so I’m still pacing myself. There’s so much to be getting on with. I have a tin of dark grey chalk paint ready and waiting to transform an old chest of drawers. I may well finally get round to painting our four dining room chairs the same colour if it’s a nice shade. I think it’s called charcoal. We have plans to completely gut the dining room and replace the bulky cupboards down one side with just rustic open shelving. There’s already bookcases either side of the double entrance into the conservatory but it seems we can never have enough book shelf space. Open shelves force you to be organised and tidy whereas cupboards, here, seem to be for shoving it all in never to be seen again. There’s the added bonus that our shower leak may have ruined the wall behind these cupboards so that’s our main reason for tackling the whole room. We need a new shower too. I see all these jobs as potential camper van funds being spent but that’s life I guess.

We’ve started to discuss ideas for a short break in October on the basis that it would be nice to have something booked ahead for once. It’s a round number birthday for me and although that’s depressing in itself it’s also an excuse to choose something I really would enjoy. I need to do battle with M’s love of creating surprises. I absolutely do not like surprises, they are never really what you’d choose yourself. I’ve already mentioned that I’d like somewhere completely off the beaten track and he’s already asked me why on earth I’d want that. This chat happened on a car journey and naturally a little voice piped up in the back, God Dad, you really don’t know Mum after all these years! So let’s just say I may have to convince him accordingly. Barn, cottage, hut, I’m not fussy as long as it has a fire, scenery and no human neighbours for miles. Sheep neighbours are fine!

Pace

No I haven’t suddenly had carpal tunnel surgery and whipped up a little hand knit Icelandic number! I wish I could say it was all my own work but I did move pretty quickly when I spotted it on a vintage rail in Brighton! I’ve been watching the second series of Trapped set in Iceland and there are quite a few of these in various patterns, both cardigan and jumper. They seem to be quite expensive to buy new so I think this one was a bit of a steal for £10. I’ve given it to E on account of her feeling the cold quite easily. She’s in her second year at uni and having moved from halls to a house with a fixed bill deal was quite surprised to find they’d used nearly all their annual allowance in just a few months. The radiators have been turned down and appliances unplugged. There was talk of candlelight but with three boys and three PlayStations on 24/7 I think it’s obvious where the electricity allowance is going!

Brighton wasn’t on the agenda for our five day getaway. As is usual with all our time away it was combined with jobs for M in various parts of the country. Knowing that we’d be clocking up the miles either side of his free days I suggested we just stay close to the hotel we’d chosen for the trip. M had other ideas though and I must admit it is quite nice to see him go from ‘very reluctant to be in the South at all’ to ‘let’s go to Rye again, let’s go to Brighton again, let’s sit on the balcony at the De La Warr Pavilion again…’

It was only a flying visit and we headed for the same places we enjoyed last time. A coffee place with a great atmosphere and great coffee, which just happens to be a short walk from a very cool yarn shop called Yak. I visit many yarn shops because M’s job is all over the country and they vary hugely. I think they must be a blend of stock that is mainly commercially sensible and also partly just the owner’s taste. Yak is pretty much on my wavelength so it isn’t difficult to spend a bit each time we go! They also stock things like PomPom magazine and The Crochet Project booklets. which I don’t get to see very often.

We took the scenic drive home and the meandering water pic you can see above is part of the Seven Sisters Country Park. I’d have loved to have parked up and gone for a hike but it wasn’t something M could have done so I’m hoping I can return in the summer with a dog or two and negotiate leaving M in the car with coffee.

I’ve been subconsciously working on the basis that the less you talk the more likely it is that you’ll be heard. I’m not sure it works well with M but he certainly heard the silence while I took in the sea, the views, the hills and the forests and said he understood why I might be sad when we got home. I honestly think I’m coming to terms with Lincolnshire but I can’t face the idea of living there forever.

Shortly before our trip South we tried to find a place for coffee in the car with a view. It’s surprisingly tricky. There are hills but they aren’t local. We settled for a car park overlooking a small reservoir. I found it incredibly funny that this was the best we could do for a viewpoint and even M thought it was pathetic but we got the Kelly Kettle out, boiled water in no time thanks to the wind and retreated back into the warmth of the car to drink our tea. When the fog started to clear and the sun arrived it didn’t actually matter where we were. I crocheted a coaster for E (a request) and M did some invoices and had it not been for the large amount of tea and the lack of a wc we’d have stayed a lot longer.

There has been some crochet going in but it doesn’t seem like very much or very often. I had a hankering for a proper granny square cardigan / jacket type thing and did plenty of browsing online to see if what I had in mind was already out there. It wasn’t but it did help decide what I didn’t want. I eventually settled on a square that looks vaguely like a sunflower but that wasn’t really the intention. I’m doing plenty of squares without the yellow clusters but I think in the end it will probably look like sunflowers anyway. I can live with that. I’m using my Irish yarn which was intended for something else but I think I will wear this jacket a lot once it’s made. I like big knits for wearing in the house and when a coat is too much for outside but an average jumper isn’t enough.

I’m less than half way trough the number of squares required and I’ve abandoned the end weaving in part after twelve squares but I’m sure I will find the mood strikes me one evening and I’ll have a whole weaving in session. I did say on Instagram, ‘am I even a crocheter if I don’t own a granny square cardigan?’ which some found amusing, but it’s true isn’t it? Such a classic, every crocheter should own one.

In pretty similar colours I made a granny cowl as a quick, stash using up project. I made the linen stitch border one evening whilst watching a Jason Statham film. Not my usual choice but I’m always open minded when M suggests a film and it was pretty gripping (and cheesy too). Somehow I managed to crochet the border a bit tight and it wouldn’t sit flat nicely no matter how much I tugged it into shape. If I’d checked my work as I went and in good light I think I’d have spotted the problem, as it was I had to frog rows of fluffy yarn and one colour rows and chuck all that yarn away. When I redid the border with a bigger hook it was yarn chicken all the way! It was a nice quick make but with lots of ends, well worth the hassle of weaving in though.

Behind the scenes there have been lots of trips over to my old house. There have been a million trips to B&Q (or B and bloody Q as I like to call it!). A few more trips are required and then the for sale sign will be going up. This was supposed to be the year of getting things done to the house we live in but that’s all been shelved for now, though I am itching to blitz the hall with paint again and get M to build a new shoe rack. Currently the shoes are far too accessible for the dogs who like to greet anyone who comes to the house with a random piece of stolen footwear!

The pace this year was supposed to be slow and thoughtful and funnily enough it still seems that way in between the frantic DIY sessions and travel. Prioritising has long been a favourite word. In a nutshell that means coffee first and then everything else afterwards. We found a new coffee shop in Hastings this visit. We’ve been regular visitors to Hanushka Coffee in the Old Town for a while now and we were quite pleased to see they’d opened a second one in my childhood shoe shop. Another customer remembered the stock room being down the spiral staircase where they disappeared to find whatever they had in your size…usually a choice of two styles. It wasn’t a happy experience, it was, however, always an amazing building. As with the Old Town cafe the walls are lined with books. They aren’t for sale but people seem to read and then leave them anyway. M was very happy with the Sunday newspapers and crosswords while I watched the world go by.

A little bit of that contemplative time was spent remembering how much I used to enjoy photography. I would cycle the seven miles from home to Hastings Old Town and take typical photo’s of fishing huts, groynes, seafood shacks etc. The best bit was developing my black and white films at home inside a huge wardrobe and in my bedroom sink. I can’t remember what I used as blackout material for the window but I do remember a ‘do not enter’ sign I made for the door. It was only ever a hobby but the skills were later useful for a week spent with the local paper and the one and only photographer they had at the time. He was a great guy to shadow for the week but what it really taught me is that you need an outgoing, bolshy and confident personality to get the photo’s you need for press photography; the polar opposite to what I was comfortable with. Now that E has long since finished her A Level in Photography I’ve dug out her proper cameras and I’ve been trying to familiarise myself with the DSLR format. I don’t want to get into anything too seriously but I like the idea of taking slightly better quality images than my phone is capable of.

Today I seem to have a rare day off from loading the dogs into the boot of my car, driving a few miles down single track lanes, negotiating tractors, agricultural lorries and groups of Lycra clad bottoms on bikes. Not to mention shouting at Riley every time he drops his shoulder into a fresh fox poo for a good old roll around. Shouting makes no difference whatsoever. Then traipsing round many fields never quite getting the amount of clothing right for the weather and having to put up with dodgy cartilage in my right knee. Loading the dogs back up into the boot where they growl under their breaths at each other, only on the way home, for some strange reason. Shower with Riley. Clean up the flooded bathroom (unavoidable) and collapse with a hot coffee. Yep, I’m secretly glad they are both out of action today! Harvey’s long term muscle injury has good days and bad days. Riley developed a mysterious limp on the way back from the last walk, he’s been known to fake it when I pack a suitcase so we’re never sure. Meanwhile I walked six and a half miles round a large city with castle walls and riverside walk yesterday and my knee is suggesting that crochet would be quite satisfactory today. There’s the small matter of having to perform a housework miracle first. It’s always a bit worrying when a new ‘friend’ has been invited to dinner. I told J that I can’t do miracles and that we have two permanently muddy dogs so the kitchen floor is never going to sparkle! He seemed more concerned about M being home in time to cook his special chicken and pea risotto. Typical.

Coasters

I’ve had a request for the pattern for these simple coasters and whilst it’s easy for some to knock up a simple circle, it often saves time to follow a quick guide. As always with crochet there are some little things that help make a neater join or finish.

I have used a coarse unknown brand yarn thrifted years ago, it was quite tough to work with but ideal for coasters. Most yarns would work but it might be useful to experiment first if you’re making a set for someone.

The yarn I’ve used is roughly dk weight and I wanted a tight fabric so I’ve used a 4mm hook. 4.5mm might have been a tad easier on the hands.

U.K. terms

Start with a magic circle (picture 3) and chain 2 (does not count as a stitch).

Round 1. Into the circle make 12 htr’s and join with a slip stitch to the top of the first htr (not the chain 2).

Round 2. Ch2. 2htr in each stitch around, join as before.

[check your stitch count here, you should have 24 stitches. It’s important to ignore the ch2 at the start of every round and don’t count it as a stitch. With the joining slip stitch into the first htr it should push the ch2 slightly behind your work and therefore create a neat join.]

Round 3. Ch2. *2htr in next st, 1htr in next st* repeat from *to* around, slip stitch as before. (36sts)

Round 4. Ch2. *2htr in next st, 1htr in each of the next 2sts* repeat from *to* around, slip stitch as before.

Round 5. Ch2. *2htr in next st, 1htr in each of next 3sts* repeat from *to* around, slip stitch as before.

Round 6. Ch1. Crab stitch in dc around (picture 6) and slip stitch to join.

Weave in ends. If necessary, block or press with a cool iron.

(In rounds 3-5, you are simply increasing the number of single htr’s between 2htr in the same stitch, using this formula you can make a whole place mat too!)

Although not terribly exciting, this is the ultimate simple travel project. There’s nothing worse than a traffic jam and not having your crochet with you. One random ball of yarn and a spare 4mm hook has now been tucked into my glove compartment just in case!

Moving on

I’ve met some lovely people through blogging and Instagram. Some have become close friends. Good friends understand boundaries. If any of these friends wanted to share a burden I would most certainly be there for them. Hopefully life cruises along without too many burdens. Every now and then in life I come across someone who doesn’t understand boundaries and that has recently been the case. Someone who wanted more and more from us as a couple and when I politely said ‘too much’ that greed was fed through manipulative secretive measures. What can I say? Givers are sometimes that way so that they can take. Men are sometimes weak. Lessons have been learned all round. It’s OK to support someone professionally but when it becomes emotional and behind your back it’s inappropriate and extremely hurtful.

The cliche, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is most definitely true here. At least in some ways. We’ve had some long chats and reflected on everything. I think we are communicating better than ever and that’s often the key. M is typically a head in the sand person and I’d just rather discuss and solve. Ironically, having your head in the sand doesn’t mean you don’t speak much. Oh no, here it means you talk about everything at great length, in great detail, but you never talk about what really matters. So we’ve been working on that and it’s been great. In turn I’m trying to be generous with my listening.

We’ve been able to discuss some of the big decisions that we’ve been putting off for a while, mainly because there’s shouting every time they are mentioned. I’m not standing for any more shouting so I’ve plugged on and eventually we’ve come up with solutions to things that have been causing stress. One of which is the house I owned when we first met over twelve years ago. It’s been a huge burden, letting is an ongoing nightmare. I’m so relieved that we are finally selling it. Today we have someone starting the huge job of painting the entire house. M and I will be doing other kinds of repair work and cleaning. I can’t wait to see the back of it.

In the meantime at home, although I largely lost all interest in crochet (and life) whilst that crap was going on over Christmas I think I can feel a slight enthusiasm slowly returning. I finished a small blanket using the corner to corner method which is incredibly relaxing and easy going. I did rough lengths until it was a good proportion for a blanket and then straightened off the strips before joining with the final colour I’d held back for the job. All the yarn was part of a knitted blanket kit and whilst I would have loved the knitted version I really couldn’t have done that much knitting with my useless wrists. It’s lambswool and incredibly warm. It’s been used daily since thanks to the cold weather and our conservatory/living room which tends to be tricky to keep warm.

I treated myself to a new pair of boots just after Christmas having failed to find any in country stores or any other bricks and mortar shop for that matter. I risked ordering an Aigle pair on the basis that the kids had a whole succession of their classic navy and white wellies when they were small and they lasted well. I already have a navy pair myself but whilst they are fine for walking round the paths in the village (which I rarely do) they are hopeless for trekking around muddy fields (which I do every day). They were a tad on the pricey side but having had a pair of Hunters in my twenties which lasted a good twenty years I figured these might also be a good investment. I don’t buy very much these days but when I do, I’m very much like my Dad, I want to buy it to last. So far they’ve done miles and they’ve been comfortable, warm and waterproof. I’m extremely happy! There were a lot of years of suffering some old men’s walking shoes that leaked and had worn smooth soles.

In other news I was prompted to watch the Marie Kondo series on Netflix and was immediately hooked. I tried the folding method on M’s sock drawer and loved it so much I Kondo’d all our sock drawers! I asked the teen boy if he liked his new look sock drawer and he said, ‘very much’. I’ve yet to Kondo his entire wardrobe. Riley wasn’t that impressed when Kondo fever hit. He waited patiently most mornings while I chucked clothes on the bed in favour of an early walk. I don’t like routine so it sometimes pays not to get the dogs too used to a set time for walks. The look on their faces when you switch it up is pure guilt trip stuff.

I had a few hours in a city not too far from here last week. It should be a shopping treat but I tend to head for the charity shops, have a good coffee and then browse a book shop. That was pretty much my routine this time. I was happy enough to find a large bag of tapestry wool. I almost didn’t buy it but figured the low price was too good to pass up. Just a couple of pounds for eighty of them! I might make small crochet motifs with them and then join using a neutral from my supplies. I’m still pondering.

We’ve had some lovely cold and frosty days. I haven’t taken many photo’s, preferring instead to keep my hands firmly inside two layers of mittens! I did have one very pleasant day in the garden tidying up all the things that should have been tidied up before the onset of winter. It was surprising how much scrap or rotten wood was still lying around and although it was day time I risked lighting the incinerator to keep warm and get rid of the smaller stuff. The proper bonfire is about six feet tall and waiting for another dry day to be lit. I love a good outdoor fire. Harvey is so helpful when it comes to gathering firewood, he’s definitely the sort of dog you’d want if you had to survive in the wild!

It’s been so long since the last post I can’t remember what I’ve already written about, I apologise if I repeat myself. This year I am sticking to a using up policy. Yes I know I’ve just bought 80 tiny bundles of pure wool but at ten metres each and only costing a couple of quid I am not going to count them as new purchases. I’ve got various wips that need to be tackled, several kits that I’ve been saving for a rainy day and there is even a blanket that I would really like to finish off and start using. I don’t think this using up year is going to be much of a challenge to be honest. I haven’t Kondo’d my yarn stash yet but I really need to. I know there’s quite a bit more that I can donate.

The jar cupboard got the Kondo treatment a few weeks ago and it prompted M to bake. There may have been a hint in the shape of a book left open at the Victoria Sponge page. Let’s not mention the first one came out flat. I think I may have muddled the plain and self raising jars! The second one though, amazing! Yum.

So, we can all testify that the KonMari method is truly life changing. The surprising result, apart from chucking out loads of rubbish you didn’t know you had, was actually finding that you had more of most things you do want to keep. Mind blowing stuff.

I’ve written this post over a two week period, or rather, left it unfinished it and gone back to it. I’ve pondered about over sharing and come to the conclusion that if it helps process life then I’m going to go ahead. My Mum was a contributing author to a book about writing therapies and I do firmly believe that pen to paper does put things into perspective in a way that talking sometimes doesn’t. Occasionally an Instagram comment that suggests everything must be perfect in my world will concern me greatly because I know that there’s no such thing and I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to think life can be perfect. I’m not even striving for perfect. I’m aiming for content, a bit like one of my chilled out dogs lying beside my leg right now and dreaming of chasing rabbits.

We’ve recently had a few days in Oxford. I lived there for a while and it feels like going home. I didn’t take many photos but I’ll share those in my next post. I’ve also finally found my next project which will use my Donegal wool from Dublin. I’m swatching today so I’ll have some photos of those soon too. It’s gloriously sunny today and mild so I’m contemplating popping the dogs in the boot of a rather smart and very clean 4×4 that has been loaned to us while my front bumper is repaired. Never mind Bexhill where they park in shop windows from time to time, beware the older driver who reverses out of a car parking spot without looking at all. Crunch!

Festive

There is a survival technique, one of many, that I’m not alone in adopting for situations that can’t easily accommodate multiple uses of the word ‘pardon’. Throughout my whole childhood well meaning friends, relatives and strangers all offered the advice that surely it was better to say pardon than to bluff and hope that you were smiling and nodding in the right place. It’s terrible advice! Completely and utterly impractical. Not only do you wear yourself out, you bore the pants off everyone else too. I’m reminded of the time I took a week long course in cued speech and met other profoundly deaf people for the first time. Jeepers, it’s really hard work making yourself heard! I got a taste of what it’s been like for those around me for years so I’m actually glad I spared them all the extra ‘pardons?’ A well placed nod or verbal agreement simply buys time until you’ve picked up sufficient clues and worked out what the heck everyone is talking about. No harm done.

Christmas Day was always about bluffing so that I didn’t spoil the occasion. The only problem being that after years of this it eventually became a day I dreaded. I found that I was actually bloody annoyed that I couldn’t properly take part in the chat and annoyed with myself for sitting there for years having this rather empty experience with my own family. When the kids were small this came to a head and I resolved never to pretend again. Nothing changed as far as keeping up with the conversation went but inside I felt free from the social obligation to smile and nod as though I was part of it. Instead I enjoy the dinner and I observe facial expressions and if I do follow a thread of conversation then it’s a bonus.

So, the festive feeling may have been late arriving this year but it’s beginning to creep in. M has another week in London to endure and I’m tying up loose ends here, walking the dogs and feeding the teenager. I finally got round to making candles. This always seems to be a Christmas activity these days. Some years I save all the leftover bits and throw them in the pot to make new candles but this year I’d ordered soy wax flakes because they are a bit more environmentally friendly.

They seem exactly the same to work with as wax pellets but I did notice that they sink much less in the middle whilst cooling and only needed one top up to level out. Normal wax sinks a lot and needs several top ups to get a flat top surface. I used a blend of three essential oils, including the pine oil I found in Dublin. Although I felt I was being extremely generous with them it turns out you can’t be generous enough. Next time I will double what I used, the scent is a bit subtle.

Half way through pouring the wax into the rusty baking tins we picked up earlier this year it occurred to me that they might not even be leakproof anymore but luckily they were all ok. I already had several packets of short wicks to use up but next year I’d like to try those wooden wicks that crackle, despite the fact the kids think it’s funny that I’d want a crackling wick I can’t hear. I just need to remember to look out for some interesting containers throughout next year, these rusty tins were fun but a bit small.

I didn’t take on too much gift making this year. I decided to focus on making only things that I know are needed. M only has a tatty old fleece hat he used to wear for fishing and it’s a shape that he can just about get away with so I made a new beanie using the same proportions, ie a big chunky turn up, and in a colour that I think he will really love. Likewise J doesn’t wear hats anymore but suffers with cold hands so plain ribbed wrist warmers seemed like a useful thing to make. He has one pair from when he was ten so he wouldn’t see the need for a new pair but the thumb was so badly made on those I’m hoping he will find the new ones an improvement. I have other gift makes I can’t share here yet!

I still haven’t done anything useful with my crocheted snowflakes from last year. I should really string them up and pop them on our tree I guess, or maybe make a garland. They were supposed to be made into cards but I’m not great at repetition so I must have given up after six and concluded that making 20 was too dull for words! I could make another six this year I suppose but there’s so much else to try too! I’ve got my eye on a few Christmas makes but I shall only start something once all the wrapping has been done and the cards sent off.

E has been having a good time in Edinburgh for her 21st Birthday treat. It’s been a bit cold, wet and windy but it sounds like there’s been plenty to see and do. A highlight being pandas and penguins at the zoo. It’s funny how I can remember the day she was born so clearly. When she was finally placed in my arms she clamped her big dark eyes on mine and seemed oblivious to all that was going on around. Non verbal communication right from the start. In contrast her little brother was probably just wondering when his next meal time was!

We are planning a Christmas Eve family craft session this year, with my niece and the kids. If all goes well and the glue actually sticks, we may have some log Father Christmas’s to show for it. M cut some logs especially and they’ve been drying out in the hall for a few weeks. J hasn’t batted an eyelid, he’s used to strange things lying around waiting to be made into something!

Dublin

A few weeks ago M was asked to cover a job for Facebook in Dublin. We discussed arrangements for me tagging along but I never get too excited until flights are booked. I’ve learnt from previous experience that it isn’t happening until it’s actually happening! A few days after accepting the booking it fell through. Neither of us are were too disappointed, the timing could have been better. Then fast forward a few more days and Dublin was back on!

We booked flights on Friday and flew out on Sunday. I barely had time to pack, it usually takes me three days just to decide on a suitable travel crochet project! I love spontaneous and over the years I think this has rubbed off a little on M who has always been a bit more of a routine guy. Of course, he is slightly more motivated when a pay check is involved but even so, this was a quick turnaround.

I’ve never been to Ireland and had no idea what to expect. I once had a good friend from Cork but that’s about as far as my dealings with Ireland go. Dublin was a very pleasant surprise. We had all of Monday to explore. M did well despite mobility problems. Our plan was to walk a little and have coffee often and somehow this worked for us both on this occasion. I’m usually frustrated that we can’t walk at a normal pace for a decent length of time but cities are quite overwhelming with things to see and do and there’s not much point in covering a lot of ground in a short space of time. Also on the plus side we found several nice places to eat or have coffee that I logged for future reference, knowing that I’d have two more days to myself in the city.

Bewley’s coffee and hot chocolate seemed to be everywhere and we sampled a lot of the former and just one of the latter. M wanted to catch some live music in a pub so we visited the famous Temple Bar and he listened to some live music. I can’t tell you very much about it because I can only really hear and make sense of music I already know and is stored in my memory bank. M enjoyed it briefly and then decided we should leave on account of a group of men having one too many pints of Guinness.

We were lucky to have stayed in a lovely hotel which was walking distance to the city centre. It also had an adjoining restaurant which was extremely good. Beef stew with Guinness was very tasty indeed. I clocked up a lot of walking miles over the three days and everything was beginning to ache. I walk much more with the dogs but somehow pounding concrete rather than mud seemed to make a difference. I was rather weary when we had to go through all the airport checks on the way back and they decided to choose us to scan everything from the palms of my hands to the soles of M’s feet. Every single orifice of our cases and bags were opened and checked too. I was half asleep which probably helped get through that mini ordeal. We have nothing to hide and I’m glad they are thorough but I don’t think we’ve ever been through an airport without one of us having this level of check. Neither of us have a criminal record.

I happened to mention to M that it was just a tad stressful with the added bonus of not being able to hear what they were asking me, to which he replied, well we won’t fly anymore then. Turned out he was over tired too! Ultimately we both agreed that in future we should travel with twenty family members, get thoroughly hammered with any alcohol we could lay our hands on, make a lot of noise by shouting and laughing our heads off and get through airport checks without any bother. It worked for others on that flight.

I think we got home at two in the morning and I vaguely remember arriving but I don’t remember how I got into bed. The joys of getting older I guess. We clearly need to plan our flight times more carefully next time!

This is Knit was a highlight. I went once with M on the first day and then went back again after receiving a request from a certain someone. I decided not to be tempted by any of the hand dyed special skeins on this occasion. I wanted a jumper quantity of something, preferably aran and preferably locally produced. That turned out to be incredibly easy. Above the grey yarn pic you can see all of the Studio Donegal range which covers these requirements. It took a while to choose a colour but the sample in grey was calling my name and I knew it would be a safe bet. I did buy the jumper pattern thinking it was a basic knit (that I could do a little bit of each day despite wrist issues with knitting). On closer inspection there’s some knitting terms I’m not sure about, so many ways to cast on! I’ll either YouTube the special cast on and learn something new or wing it with part crochet and part knit!

In other shopping news I couldn’t buy too much for fear of not having enough room for my yarn purchases! The aran cardigans were hugely tempting but not difficult to order online and have shipped over if I’m ever short of cardigans, which probably won’t happen for quite a while! I did buy a couple of gifts of a textile nature that I can’t mention yet. These items were also everywhere and we both wished we hadn’t done previous Christmas shopping because we could have just bought everyone one of these!

I usually feel quite inspired and energised after a trip like this. I think it was the combination of tiredness and not quite feeling the love for Christmas this year that hit me when I got home. I used to like decorating the house and doing Christmas crafty stuff so I’m not sure why that isn’t holding any appeal this year. We’ve got some stressful stuff to sort out in the New Year that is preying on my mind but it could well be because the kids are grown up now. J will turn 18 a couple of days after Christmas and E will be 21 this week. I think that finally feels like the last days of their childhood are well and truly over. It’s a weird feeling.

Not that I’m redundant at all (even if I wanted to be)… E came home from University with a large bag of washing. We packed her off on a first class train carriage to stay in Edinburgh for four days as a 21st birthday treat. It looks and sounds like it’s going very well so far.

J came home from football on Sunday looking like he’d been beaten to within an inch of his life, his shirt was covered in blood and he informed me that the ball had made contact with his face, caused a massive nosebleed and that he’d decided to play on for the last twenty minutes anyway. Cue a Mother’s speech about how much blood and how dangerous that was. What were the coaches thinking? Thankfully his nose is fine and so is the shirt, it’s amazing what a cold soak can do.

Just to make this last week even more joyful Riley spent most of yesterday bringing up his stomach contents in random locations. Luckily we have a lot of tiled areas but even so it was pretty grim for 24 hours. Going for our usual ramble backfired by giving him chance to ingest grass which later came back up in three different piles. Today we went for another walk and he rolled in three piles of fox poo so that thing about ‘three’s’ is spot on at the moment! Harvey managed to wound his knee a week ago . A little gash that was too small for stitches or anything but has needed a dressing whilst it heals. He’s been a master at getting the dressings off and chewing the wound so that’s not healing as it should yet. The taste of TCP hasn’t deterred him at all! Little bugger.

In amongst all this excitement I’ve finally managed to make some soy wax candles using the old tins we purchased a while ago. I’ve yet to take some final pictures so I’ll save that for next time. I usually use wax pellets but I went for eco soy flakes this time and whilst a little harder to clean up spills I think they’ve turned out ok. The essential oil I used was called ‘Christmas in a Bottle’ so here’s hoping that when I burn them it smells as good as the kitchen did today while I was making them!

Sussex

We finally managed to shoe horn a quick break in between work assignments. Technology is a wonderful thing for last minute arrangements. We discussed possible plans last Friday and by the evening we had booked this little barn conversion in the village I grew up in. Although we had five days in total we lost a whole day to work running over in London so that messed Monday up a bit and on Friday we were away by late morning so we had just three clear days.

Rye was top of the list for various reasons not least because it was my closest chance of finding decent wool! It’s also home to the famous Merchant and Mills but luckily for our bank account I’m hopeless at fabric related crafts. I’d love to be able to make some of their simple clothing items but ugh, I’d be learning a whole new thing from scratch and I think I’m happy enough with my woolly pursuits. I won’t mention names but my usual spot for wool gathering seems to have gone over to acrylic worship. I did find a selection of lovely yarn elsewhere and ended up buying a few skeins of Malabrigo. Sussex born and bred sheep and their wool is what I would really have liked and could have found but I didn’t want to drag M all over the county when he really just needed a quiet week.

Coffee and cake in Rye was a real treat. Exchanges in shops are so much easier in my native accent! It’s almost like getting a bit of my hearing back. I should be able to cope with Northern accents by now but there are so many. I actually had a whole conversation with a woman who had a small dog and it’s hard to describe how such a small thing made me feel like a fully functioning human being again. I tend to get M to do the talking and listening and he hardly recognised me when I took an object in a junk shop and went to haggle with the owner.

We don’t buy much these days. There were a few vintage metal wall racks that would be useful here but we’re not quite ready for them. Major reshuffling needs to happen first! The vintage crochet scarf was an exciting find and a bargain at just ten pounds. I’ve soaked it in euclan and blocked it in preparation for minor repair work. I’ve got some thin pure wool left over from a charity shop bag of odds and ends that will be ideal for mending. I’m going to add a discrete dc row to both sides too. Ella has claimed this one and although I think I would have worn it myself, she will wear it with so much more style! I’ve been promising to do one of these intricate granny square scarves for a while and I’ve put it off all this time because of the millions of ends, so hopefully I’m off the hook now!

The barn was perfect although considerably smaller than the last one we stayed in. It had everything we needed including a lovely walk in shower. Two weeks would have been perfect! Little has changed in my childhood village. I showed M the playing field where I was allowed to play until 5 o’clock. Dad taught me to tell the time on my Tom and Jerry watch and woe betide me if I was late. One day I decided to climb one of the big trees, missed my footing somehow and was only saved by the strap on my dungarees. I was dangling high up off the ground by a mere strap but with a wonderful view and at 5.20pm I could see the top of my Dad’s head appear at the gate. I braced myself for the telling off but when he saw me of course he laughed his head off! Sadly they’ve chopped that tree down!

It’s always good to see my Grandad in person rather than FaceTime! We had some nice lunches out and chatted away. I told him I was sad not to live in the area anymore but in all honesty it just kills me that he’s so far away at a time in my life when I’ve finally got time to call round for a cup of tea every day if I lived closer.

I finally faced my fears and got the hem and cuffs of my fisherman jumper done. I had a bit of a mental block on those because I usually do them as part of each panel. I thought that picking them up afterwards might be a bit messy and awkward. I’d still rather do them as part of the main panel but I got them to work after a few false starts. I ended up doing my own thing entirely by going down a hook size and doing the rib the way I’ve done for hat brims. All the ends got sewn in quite late on Thursday and when the weather finally turned a little cooler on Friday I was able to wear it home. I fully intended to stay awake and make a hat with my new malabrigo wool but somehow the repetition of doing short half treble rows made me feel very sleepy!