Countdown

If there’s one good thing about these cold and frosty mornings it is, dare I say it, the fact that a certain substance Riley seems to enjoy rolling in is frozen solid. I’ve had at least a week off showering with the dog. The downside has been defrosting my car each morning which takes quite a while and means Harvey gets to shake with fear in the boot just a bit longer than usual. The lanes we usually drive on to get to our walk are narrow one track lanes and not gritted so it’s been rather icy and treacherous recently. At the risk of losing Harvey again I’ve been using the closer place to leave my jeep on the verge and we head along the riverside path which eventually joins up with our usual route. I do seem to credit them with more intelligence than they actually have sometimes. Not only are these riverbanks quite steep but it’s been minus whatever temperature and I assumed they’d apply seem common sense and not venture in for a swim. I’m not sure what was going through Harvey’s mind when he decided to take a flying leap and dive in. Luckily he still had the use of his limbs when I called him to come out. Riley wisely didn’t fancy a subzero dip.

Riley does enjoy a few home comforts though. I will often, no make that always, find the cushions have been rearranged, usually into a mini mountain with a dog shaped impression on the top. Who can blame him? He’s been a little clingy lately and I think that’s probably due to his recent holidays with J while we’ve had a trip to Sussex and a few others prior to that. He will take any company he can get but I think he likes the routine of having me at home most of the time. Today he paced between the sofa and a spot by my feet under the table. You can see from the sneaky pic I took that his head isn’t resting on the rug and that’s because he was mesmerised by being at eye level with the many birds that were hopping about outside the double doors. The blackbirds have moved in and are finishing off the rotting cooking apples that the water voles have clearly finished with. Tiny wrens perch on the side of bamboo stems. Blue Tits are the greediest with the nut feeders. Robins are everywhere and the bravest when it comes to hopping about right in front of Riley’s nose.

M’s workload has been heavy lately. He’s been all over the country including Kent, London, Norwich, Birmingham. I sometimes gently remind him to keep a day here or there completely clear to recover and there’s nothing he likes more than to go out and have a leisurely coffee with the newspapers and crosswords. This week we managed to combine coffee with occasional bursts of shopping too. It was nothing short of a miracle that we purchased Christmas gifts for nine and Birthday gifts for two without a single heated moment let alone a row.

In a few days time E will be twenty years old which is making me feel positively ancient I can tell you! J will be seventeen this month too. I try hard to live in the here and now and not get too morose about things moving along and changing. It was definitely emotional having one child leave for uni and I can’t imagine how it will feel when they’ve both gone so it’s best to focus on creating good happy family memories of get togethers like Christmas. We also have little E now and judging by some of the videos I’m receiving it’s going to be an entertaining time.

This year I’ve enjoyed the fact that J can reach up and unhook the hatch to the attic without so much as standing on tiptoes. I usually drag a chair under it from the dining room and then climb up with my dodgy knee, then I have to move the chair and pull the ladder down. It’s all so much simpler with J’s help and while I have him out of his man cave I innocently ask him if he could just pop up and find… and this is where it all goes pear shaped because we’ve got cricket bats and pads going back to when he was seven, dolls houses, wooden trucks, playmobil, lego, you name it, it’s up there and somehow all the Christmas decorations have been well and truly buried this year. He managed to find just one box of decorations which thankfully included only the white twinkly tree lights and not the coloured ones that he and M favour. So our decorations are a bit minimalist at the moment but we have a real tree and with lights at least. I snipped one small straggly lower branch of the tree you can see overhanging in the first photo to provide a jug of something festive in the kitchen. I like the simple natural touches and the smell of pine needles.

Somewhere in the attic chaos are last year’s crochet tree decorations, I can’t even remember what they were. It’ll be fun finding those when we get round to decluttering which thankfully M and J have both agreed to help with. I bought a pack of six large baubles with every intention of covering them all. Somehow it just wasn’t holding my attention so I might have to wait six years for the set of six! Making a llama for the tree however, did hold my attention long enough despite the many parts. It was originally a free kit but come with pale blue yarn which didn’t really fit in round here. I dug out some off white merino which has a nice amount of give which I’ve learnt is a good thing for small amigurumi. I tweaked a few things mainly to avoid more fiddly stuff. I gave him a mop of hair using an unwound mini tassel of about six strands. I did a simpler tail by working slip stitch back down a chain of about eight. I almost did another tassel because sometimes their tails go bushy but decided against that. Then finally, when I was getting a bit tired if I’m honest, I made up the whole saddle because I couldn’t be bothered to follow the pattern by then. I left out the harness because I wasn’t keen on all the sequins. I’ve named him Mr Laid Back Llama because that’s how he comes across!

When E was getting things ready for uni way back in September and chatting to J about it they agreed that the most rebellious thing they’d do was buy kitchen roll and surface wipes. Initially I was not impressed that the reason I don’t buy either (I use cut up old shirts instead) was totally lost on them and then I saw the funny side. I guess it’s a bit like religion. I am grateful that none was ever forced upon me and I was able to make my own mind up about it all. Turns out I did this when I was five and decided that bible stories just didn’t add up, although it was years before I dared to say that out loud. When the children were born I also allowed them to come to their own conclusions and I can honestly say, hand on heart that I did keep my own views to myself. All three of us have had the experience of Church of England primary schools which obviously include prayers and hymns. We are unanimous in that we enjoyed the singing at least.

I always feel so unsettled around Christmas time and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s less about the religious aspect and more about the excess of it all. Although I’d dearly love to have a modest small occasion that isn’t too much more than an average day I do manage to simplify things in small ways each year. The gifts, whilst the same budget as usual, are simpler. Obviously I can’t say more than that until after Christmas. I haven’t bought wrapping paper or tags this year. I’ve used brown paper and a large reel of red and white string I bought quite a few years ago now that seems to magically last forever. When I opened my box of tags I was really pleased to find I’d already stamped quite a few with a pine cone design.

Tomorrow E will be home from uni, M will start to think about baking (he always does at this time of year). The dogs will take advantage of anyone offering extra walks. I will be figuring out what crochet project to start next. J will be dreaming up one of his special birthday cards for his big sis, it’s become a thing now and we are all looking forward to seeing what kind of character he will superimpose E’s head onto.

I’m already making plans in my head for next year. Nothing revolutionary. Just more small changes, the type that eventually lead to the one big thing I wanted to change in the first place. The attic is on my mental list, as are crochet plans, travel plans, house plans, even garden ones although I wouldn’t know where to start. Nothing is set in concrete but I like to dream, I like a loose flexible plan and I like to learn from what didn’t get done when it was on a mental list from the year before!

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Goodies

The best laid plans and all that… I didn’t actually make it to the one wool shop in Madrid I researched and liked the look of. There was some kind of mishap when I copied the address into a message for M to navigate to the following day and we ended up somewhere entirely different. It wasn’t all bad, we walked up the equivalent of Fifth Avenue past Champagne Shops, Jimmy Choo, Michael Kors, Chanel, Gucci… it was quite jaw dropping.

There was a more central yarn store which seemed to have less than enthusiastic reviews on Trip Advisor but I always take those with a pinch of salt anyway so we bravely entered even though I felt quite intimated by the floor to ceiling arrangement of yarn and two enormous weighing scales at the far end. ‘No tocar’ signs were everywhere, which means don’t touch! Kind of tricky when you’re considering buying yarn! In the end, after watching several Spanish people purchase yarn by the weight we stepped forward and asked for their dk cotton in five colours, 100gms of each. Our Spanish is rubbish but we googled a few handy phrases just to get started and then resorted to gestures. The woman was quite patient and polite. Messy hanks were pulled off each pile and slapped onto the big brass trays and then popped into paper bags with a ticket. At this point I really wished I was local because you’d just pop in, buy your exact requirements and leave. The customer before us came in with two bag handles, said a whole load of Spanish we couldn’t follow at all and then, with a lot of arm waving from her and the server, with example crochet bags held up to talk about sizing, weighed out what she recommended she’d need for the bag size she wanted. At this point I was extremely impressed.

We had a similar experience in the indoor market type shop which has slightly creepy looking models in the window and bizarre displays of neon zips tacked to the display boards. Once inside there is one of everything you can buy tacked to the walls or displays and you tell them what you want and they retrieve it from a wooden drawer. You then get a ticket and take it to a cashier and they give you your goods. It’s absolutely bloody amazing. At the start I chose a raffia bag base, got the ticket, paid for it, received the goods wrapped in brown paper. After that I was feeling quite confident so I chose some buttons, some silver charms, a couple of embroidered patches (cacti). Everything got wrapped in paper.

I came out of there in quite a daze, for a start there must have been every button ever manufactured in there on rolling drums, organised by colour and/or material. I suddenly couldn’t think what I needed buttons for and then remembered a little person project that requires the type of fastening shown above in red. Two little leather triangles, loops and a toggle button, the perfect finishing touch. I can punch some small holes with my leather tools to sew it on. The natural leather version I thought would make a nice clasp for a crochet bag with a flap.

Along with buttons, silver charms and a huge selection of embroidered patches there was every type of trim imaginable, parts to make your own bras or underwear, paper mache blanks, polystyrene shapes, string, rope, wool, embroidery thread, knitting needles, crochet hooks, embroidery tools, embroidery hoops, tapestry frames, bag handles, rug making supplies, lace and much more. Everything you could possibly need. It made our haberdashery departments and Hobbycraft look extremely lame.

Some of the products on sale at Almacen de Pontejos were available in the U.K but mostly the prices were cheaper than the U.K. T shirt yarn for instance, in a shop round the corner from this haberdashery place was €4 or €5 depending in whether it was plain or patterned, for a big fat roll of it. There was about a hundred different designs to choose from. Choice is very good in Spain!

I always buy crochet magazines whenever I travel to another country. I’ve never come across a French, Italian or Spanish crochet magazine that hasn’t got diagrams in it. I love the ones with just crochet fabric patterns in them or crochet edgings. These two Spanish ones have a lot of fine crochet in them but one is mainly garments and they are quite different to anything in British magazines which is always interesting.

I’m not big on shopping so there wasn’t much else that I planned to buy. I did buy the grey star bag with leather straps that I posted on Instagram last week from the huge El Rastro market on Sunday. To be honest it was a nervy experience because they stepped up security with police barracades at the end of every street and there were armed police everywhere. It was too hot and too busy and we were all glad to leave and get back to the apartment for our swimming gear. I also invested in a couple of Turkish towels to keep the sun off in between swims. They were in the sale at El Corte Inglis which is a very handy chain out there with branches everywhere.

I now need a week to get over the week we had away. I’m absolutely shattered. So much walking and swimming. Ironically I think it’s actually helped my sore back so I might keep up with the swimming now that we’re home. I haven’t minded the rain and patchy sun since we got home either. Seven days of thirty degrees plus is quite enough for me. We all look as brown as berries and I’ve even got sore shoulders which is highly unusual for me. I don’t burn very often.

Holidays always feel slightly surreal and then it’s back to reality with laundry, housework, dog walking. J gets his GCSE results tomorrow and starts in the sixth form in a week or so. He spent all of his holiday money on clothing and will probably be the best dressed sixth former they’ve ever seen, he has been meticulous in his choices and has bought all sorts of items he knows are much more expensive in the uk. He couldn’t get his coat jacket thing in his case so he had to wear it on the way to the airport and through to the plane. He was very warm but very glad of it once we picked up the car at Gatwick!

Ready

I blame my mother for this recent blitz on the house. I swear it must have been her influence that has made me dash round like a mad thing doing all kinds of trivial diy and cleaning this week. I know we had ‘the Queen is coming to tea’ level cleaning whenever we had visitors (not that it was ever messy in between) but I’m pretty sure we also left everything spotless whenever we went away. I have no idea what the logic is behind this except that it will be nice to come home to. No doubt the dogs will undo a lot of it since they are spending the week here with ‘babysitters’ who will spoil them rotten.

I’ve just managed to stop short of grouting the kitchen tiles. That was just a bit too messy to contemplate. Thanks to a bit of a back problem (that I really don’t want to make worse for next week) M was encouraged to get the lawn mower out this morning and take over my mowing duties. J concocted a make shift ironing board (we don’t have one because life is too short to iron) by placing a large bath sheet sized towel on our kitchen island and clamping it in place with M’s DIY clamps. I’ve learnt never to question J’s logic because I’m just wasting my breath so I let him get on with ironing everything he’s taking on holiday. I can only assume he’s decided that life is not too short to iron by following my Dad’s example (since he retired he’s done all the ironing, including underwear and tea towels!)

My little crochet radial bag has turned out to be just what I needed to hold my new coin purse and mobile phone for evenings out when I won’t be needing my Kanken bag. Although it was 63% wool it didn’t felt very much but its round about the size I wanted. I used dk rather than the Aran suggested. I’ve used 2mm thick pure wool felt sheets that I bought in Barcelona last year and cut two circles and a gusset, sewed them together with strong cotton and then just tacked the top edges to the bag itself. I used one of those magnetic clasps since I had somewhere to hide the backs; between the felt and the bag. It’s made just the right level of firmness for a bag but without being too boxy. Apart from still having the stitch definition that I was hoping to lose with the felting I’m quite pleased with it. It wasn’t the most exciting make but it will be useful.

Over the weekend I’ve been spending the evenings sitting upright in a chair that doesn’t aggravate my back which led to the beaded bracelet session. I gathered a few jars of wooden and felt beads, elastic, big needles, chose an iPlayer film and had a couple of happy hours just threading beads. I made a few smaller ones for E who has tiny wrists compared to mine. Since I don’t wear patterned clothing or bright colours it’s a nice way of having just a small splash of something colourful.

I ordered yarn on Wednesday (for my previously mentioned holiday crochet project) and paid for Express Delivery. I’ve always received goods this way with two or three days at the most so I’m quite concerned that it hasn’t arrived yet. There’s just one more business day left so in case something has gone wrong I’ve quickly decided that I’ll make another Sunday Shawl as a plan b. In fact I started this one last year and I’ve no idea why it wasn’t finished. It’s a really enjoyable pattern and the double trebles and bigger hook guarantee good drape no matter what dk yarn you throw at it. I’ve made two as gifts and one for myself, the latter in a grey alpaca mix yarn for the main body which is ridiculously warm. I think this yellow version was an attempt to make one not quite as suitable for minus temperatures! I was obviously also contemplating a less colourful border. I can’t remember whether I was going to do the whole border in grey or alternate them or make it up as I go along and since I’ve long forgotten it will have to be the latter! I’m trying to leave it alone but I keep doing a row here and there and it’s growing and I’m in danger of finishing it before we’ve even left the country!

One of the best things I decided to do when we started having holidays abroad was to have everyone name just one thing that they wanted to see or do. The conditions were that we all had to cooperate politely and patiently with each other’s request no matter what it was. This guarantees at least four visits, events or whatever with everyone being nice to one another. So in Italy M wanted to visit a big food market, J wanted to visit a water park, E wanted to go to a general market and I wanted to try the outdoor thermal springs. When it came to the clothes market shopping for example the men were forced to be polite and patient and all went well. The kids and I don’t find food markets in the slightest bit interesting unless we are actually buying to eat so we suffered in polite silence while M looked at dead fish and smoked meats. The water park was slightly more family friendly but I have to be honest M and I are amazed that we survived some of the slides… and the thermal springs? Maybe next time.

This year the requests have been pretty similar. Food markets for M, swimming of any kind for J, art and craft markets for E and mine is of course, a visit to a yarn store, just to add to my collection of ‘bored family whilst waiting for Mum to choose yarn’ photo’s!

Travel


Turns out that a few days at home before our next caravan escape is no bad thing. I’m particularly enjoying our power shower daily instead of the caravan shower which is pretty compact and not at all powerful, or the site showers which give you precisely ten seconds of water before you have to press the button again. They are hot and fairly powerful though so that’s something.

It’s quite nice having wifi too although I hate to admit it. I prefer to blog when the mood strikes or there are a few new photo’s. I also use my iPad for research and since I finally braved the whole drop spindle thing I’ve been wanting to read up on it. M ordered two great books from Amazon for me to do just that so I’m saving them for our next trip when wifi will be patchy once more. I also spotted an article in Country Living that looks interesting and talks about natural plant dyes too. I’ve already got a good book on this but as I mentioned, I need some space in which to get messy.

Talking of messy, I decided to go with the butler sink for the washing of the raw fleece I was given at the Sheep Festival. I studied an article on the internet first and bought Ecover Delicate for the cleaning agent. Despite all doors and windows being flung open it smells pretty strong! The dogs both came and lifted their noses to the sink, they obviously know it’s an animal smell. The male occupants however, both remarked, ‘pwoar, cow poo!’ Not very discerning noses!

The fleece is drying in the sun as I write. It still has a fair amount of foliage in it but I’ve managed to get most of the straw out. I’m really not sure what to do next except spin it as it is. I’m still keeping up my half an hour a day with the drop spindle. M is always very supportive of my creative pursuits but the kids have barely acknowledged the new skill I have acquired! I say that with some sarcasm actually. The yarn is still very lumpy and I’ve got so much to learn. I suppose it’s completely off their radar of interesting things to comment upon. ‘Wow, Mum, you’re spinning sheep fleece into yarn, that’s amazing!’ No I can’t see it somehow.

All this handling of fleece and spinning lumpy yarn made it feel quite strange to handle commercial yarn again! I finished the campfire cardigan albeit in totally unplanned colours. It was meant to be a prototype but I’ve been wearing it, and in public too which I never thought I would. I’m clearly working towards that eccentric crochet woman look. It looks a bit longer on E and a bit looser too but you get the general idea. I didn’t enjoy crocheting Aran weight yarn with an 8mm hook because it felt so loose but I can see why it would work better with this ratio. It would be so much heavier with a denser fabric. It is still a warm garment to wear which is surprising since it’s full of holes!

M is away in London next week. He’s not very happy about it. Yesterday we went out for a stroll round the Bailgate area of Lincoln and to have a nice coffee somewhere. Most unexpectedly when we were wandering down towards the cathedral M spotted the oak leaf and acorn necklace in the window of a wonderful little handmade jewellery collective kind of shop and before I’d spotted it too he dragged me inside and asked if I could try it on. I have a bit of a thing for oak leaves and acorns so although I said he could wait until my birthday I didn’t need much persuading.

This morning we took Harvey and Riley to one of their favourite riverside places. They darted straight for the river. Harvey stands in the middle and waits for a stick to be thrown. Riley tends to run up and down, including under the concrete farm bridge. For some reason Harvey has never been under the bridge. It was a great way to cool down because it’s been pretty muggy and hot today. I’ve mowed the lawns, tended E’s sunflower plants, chopped bamboo foliage down by a foot, trimmed all the overhanging ivy and honeysuckle from our side path, swept it all up and stacked the bonfire with cuttings for later. I’ve got washing drying, fleece drying and I’m sitting here wondering if I can fit in a quick Harvey hair cut (yes I probably can).

We’ve finally made some decisions regarding a family holiday before E starts university and J starts A Levels. J wanted somewhere hot and E voted for Prague but that was only after we’d discussed possible destinations for weeks and finally came up with Copenhagen. So J might well be disappointed with the temperatures in Denmark but I think there will be plenty that will win them both over. They were unsure about Barcelona but loved it. The main thing is that M can cycle so much better than he can walk. Don’t ask me how or why. Once we’d hired bikes in Barcelona we were able to get around at a pace slightly faster than his usual 0.002mph. It’s not his fault of course, he had an accident a long time before I met him and is lucky to be walking at all.

I tend to dread the whole travel part on the basis that it’s hard work making sure everyone has everything they need and that we all get where we need to be on time. Yes, they are old enough to pack for themselves but for J last year that meant packing more footwear than actual clothes. Not a scenario I am keen to repeat this year. I’m probably the queen of travelling light, at least that’s what M calls me. It has the added bonus of being able to fill my suitcase with yarn if I happen across any on my travels! Does anyone know of any good yarn stores over there?

I took a travel crochet project with me to Barcelona but I didn’t get much of it done. A little on the flights and not so much in the evenings. It’s tempting to go without this time but knowing my luck I will regret that as soon as we arrive. M has recently revived his kindle habit and E has been reading a lot too. J listens to music through his phone as a way to relax. So I can see me needing my own form of relaxation. One of my favourite memories of our tour round Italy a few years back was waking up very early one morning, it was about five a.m. and I tiptoed out to the balcony with a chair and some crochet. There was a beautiful warmth that you only get abroad and the smell of the sea. I watched a few locals going to and fro with bread. Across the street a woman was watering plants on her balcony, she spotted me and motioned with her hands that she was a crocheter too. I nodded and smiled and couldn’t think what the heck else I could convey. Language didn’t matter because the distance wouldn’t have allowed conversation. She disappeared and brought out a white crochet throw, wiggled her hands again and then pointed at herself. It was obviously that she had made it. I signed that it was beautiful, an understandable sign in any language. She nodded vigorously and smiled broadly and that was that. A brief exchange but one so touching.

Magic

If winter was long and monotonous then summer is most definitely making up for it. We’ve been away for less than a week but it felt so much longer with all that we packed into six days. Last Friday work took M to Norwich and I decided it was a pleasant enough city to spend a day wandering around so I went along too. I shopped for the few bits that were needed and then noticed just how many clocks there were in the town, I posted one on Instagram but my camera roll is full of Norwich clocks! It was hot and I was a bit too laden down with books with three hours left to kill. I wandered a little more and spotted more clocks and eventually found a shady spot just off the market square and settled down with a book and a coffee. It was what I’d describe as a peaceful afternoon despite the two Native American Indians playing pipes and drums for the entire three hours.

A long and slow journey across country took us to our caravan in Derbyshire. M moaned about the Friday traffic and pretty much every driver on the road. I tried singing loudly over the top of him but that annoyed him even more so I took up my usual position which is to stare out of the window and concentrate very hard on my own thoughts. He does have the odd day when he tries to be charitable and patient but they are quite rare.

It felt extremely odd not to have Harvey and Riley with us this time. Not only would it have been tricky to drag them round Norwich for a day we’d also planned to attend a Sheep Festival. If it had been a hot day we wouldn’t have been able to leave them in the car and walking them close to sheep wouldn’t have been fair to the sheep, though plenty of people did just that. It also meant we could explore Matlock on Sunday and have an ice cold beer in a trendy bar (I never drink beer but it was nice!) rather than trying to find the nearest point of entry for the river to cool them down and give them a walk. We were also able to browse the junk and antique shops together rather than one of us standing outside with the dogs. Even so, we did keep saying, funny without the dogs isn’t it? J sent us various phone messages with Riley fast asleep on his bedroom rug in one and another where they are just two specs in the distance with the message, ‘they will come back won’t they?’

The Sheep Festival was just a small affair in the local market square with rare breeds and talks about their characteristics, wool types, etc. There were hand sheering demonstrations and drop spindle demos too. I’m naturally pretty shy and wary of talking to strangers knowing that a heavy accent or a quiet voice will render the attempt completely futile. M on the other hand will chat to anyone so he dragged me over to the drop spindle woman and she convinced me to try even though I said it looked a bit tricky. We went home with a Turkish drop spindle and bundle of Southdown sheep fluff and I dropped it about fifty times before passing it over to M and suggesting he had a go. He got it straight away which was a bit annoying and then proceeded to make up technical jargon to explain how it was done. Eventually the penny dropped and I found a rhythm and I’ve been doing at least half an hour every day (about how long my arms will cooperate for). The spun yarn is definitely improving, as is the speed and the ease of joining in new fluff. I told M that he can call me Rumpelstiltskin from now on. I might not be spinning straw into gold but it’s the next best thing! It feels like a similar sort of magic.

A quick google and I can see that there is a huge amount to learn and so much choice about what to spin. I’m happy to keep it nice and natural and rustic with bits of straw still in the fleece and lumps in the yarn. I’m hoping my first attempts will be suitable for plying together so that I can crochet a small lumpy bowl. Humble beginnings!

At the sheering demonstration, with M being chatty to the very friendly sheep farmers, I was given a large armful of fleece straight off the sheep! It whiffed a bit and it’s full of lanolin but it’s entirely possible to spin it and wash the lanolin out of it later. I tried a bit but found it a bit greasy so I’m going to follow instructions to wash it a bit first. If it works out ok we’ve got a farmer near here who has offered fleeces in the past, but I’ve always said I wasn’t ready for spinning yet. I’ve also put off having a go at natural plant dyes too. It’s the sort of thing I’d have done by now if we had a bit more space to be messy. The workshop that was supposed to be my space and mine alone got rather taken over when M’s workshop roof started to rot and cave in. We had to salvage all his tools and wood which have totally filled my workshop to the rafters. A new roof is on the to do list for this summer with J having already spent the money he would have earned helping M!

So we are home once more, very tired, with huge piles of laundry to catch up on. Two very pleased to see us dogs. Riley is of course sleeping by my side as I type. I will miss waking up amongst the pine trees, all this week the weather has been dry enough to throw open every window and roof skylight and breath in the pine smell. On the days that M attended court or police jobs locally I was able to lie under the skylights just daydreaming without having to bounce out of bed and take two excitable dogs out for a morning walk. I did take one less excitable husband out for evening walks though. Last night’s walk was absolutely magical. We got as far as a big old farm gate and leaned up against it to chat and watch the sheep grazing as the sun went down in the distance. After a little while I saw something in the corner of my eye but before I could turn and see what it was a huge snowy white and beige barn owl swooped past us at head height about four feet from my left shoulder. Neither of us moved or said anything until it was out of sight, and then only a whispered wow! M said it flew completely silently and he hadn’t heard it coming. We walked back, met two dog walkers and mentioned the owl. They said they’d been walking down that lane for seven years and never seen an owl!

(The castle is Norwich Castle. The lovely old stone bridge is in Matlock. The cable cars are at The Heights of Abraham, Matlock Bath).

Upcycling

We’ve had several gloriously sunny evenings lately. The days were nothing special but the evenings made up for that. I took the dogs out for late walks just to soak up the sunsets. Once upon a time I’d never have ventured out at such a time. I’ve described previously how a few frightening incidents made it difficult for me to leave the house on my own for a number of years. Even now the possibility of an axe murderer does cross my mind especially as this walk is so remote but I know the chances are slim and the older I get the more I am willing to take that risk! I’ve got a few years to figure out some kind of list along the lines of ‘fifty things to do before I’m fifty’. I want to well and truly leave my comfort zone. Not that I fancy jumping out of an aeroplane.

Today though our sunset walk is not going to happen. It’s absolutely chucking it down. Riley is not happy. He really doesn’t like thunder storms or heavy rain. H and R have been running up and down the garden and in the fields for most of the day. The sun was out, the doors and windows flung open. M and I wrote a fairly long list of long overdue jobs to be tackled today and we’ve pretty much ticked them all off. We’ve been to the tip, we’ve dropped bags off at a charity depot, we’ve collected under bed storage boxes (I was too impatient to wait for M to build wooden ones and quite frankly he’s too busy anyway). He’s finishing the wiring up of our new bedroom lights as I write. He would have been finished a while ago but I saw the first one and said it was far too low so with a little muttering and swearing he’s shortening it.

The biggest job however, was finally fitting the legs to our new cable drum table. I’ve wanted one of these for a very long time. Yes I’m aware this is not a normal thing to wish for since your twenties but I’ve loved upcycling long before it was even a word. I love the fact the existing holes are all the perfect size for tealights and a pillar candle I had amongst my supplies. The cable drum top was salvaged and the legs were sourced online for £50 including postage, they match the coffee table that M made last December. The existing dining room table is back in the dining room and this new one is in our conservatory/living room. I doubt we will ever eat in the dining room again. I’ll be on the look out for four metal chairs now, a good excuse to drag M into junk shops. He complains but he loves a good haggle.

There hasn’t been much crocheting lately but I took the gusset/strap part of my bag project on an hour long drive and managed to get it finished. It’s only 7cm wide but very long and it used up a lot of yarn. Currently it looks short but the cotton has some considerable give so I think it’ll be just right. I’ve found a converse cotton drawstring shoe bag which is dark grey and the perfect size for a lining, whether or not it’ll get sewn in is another matter. I will see if the bag works without first of all. I’ve got another catherine wheel stitch panel to do now which I purposely left to last rather than the monotonous strap.

I usually look forward to doing a spot of crochet of an evening but today I just want to try out our new table. J just shook his head when we told him what we were going to make with that big lump of wood with staples sticking out of it, but now he’s seen it he’s showing his mildly impressed face. No words, just a thumbs up. That’ll do for me.

Check

It’s all become a little teardrop obsessed round here. I’ve lost hours of my life talking about electrical circuits that I’m never going to get back. I keep telling M he’s on his own with the whole electrical thing but he does like to share. Fortunately we have several options for help including a friend who is an auto electrician, the good old internet and finally a fantastic old Haynes manual for caravans I picked up which has whole sections on batteries, transformers, converters, sockets (have you nodded off yet?).

I was needed briefly for the drafting of three cubby holes on a sheet of plywood today. This is more my kind of thing. I had the shapes drawn up in no time and the curves drawn with a handy tin of rice pudding. This unit is for the inside sleeping area and has a square plywood ‘conduit’ running underneath it which will house the fuse box and other interesting electrical things. I’m pretty sure I remember asking for something suitable for off grid camping but I suppose I can see the benefits of also having electrical hook up if only to charge everything whilst parked on our driveway. M couldn’t possibly go camping without somewhere to charge his phone!

Just to redress the balance and remind myself of the more exciting details I made a check list of all the camping and cooking equipment I’ve gathered so far. Most of the enamelware came from charity shops or our local antique/junk centre. Nothing has cost more than a £1 a piece except for the enamel coffee pot which was £6. The tea caddy still has its lining so that was a nice find. The other metal container is an Indian tiffin box that we’ll probably use for biscuits. I found the utensils as a set, six items for £6. The rustic wooden handles would go well in our kitchen indoors but we will need some for the teardrop so I’m hoping that we can fit in some kind of rail or inside door rack for them somewhere. After taking this photograph and packing it all back inside the blue suitcase I remembered I had another wooden box stashed away with the cutlery, aluminium whistling kettle, camping pans and a couple of enamel pans. Along with another vintage suitcase packed with washed and folded navy blue bed linen and towels (all surplus to requirements from our main caravan) I think we are good to go the minute the teardrop is finished!

I’m on a mission to find the best camping coffee before our first trip. Today E and I tried a coffeebag. It just doesn’t sound right does it? Teabag yes, coffeebag no. It was coffee in a teabag. It was pretty good, kind of like the taste of proper coffee but without the flashy machine hassle. Most definitely a contender. Mind you, camping is all about slow living and back to basics so I had envisaged brewing coffee the slow way, not just throwing a bag in a mug and boiling the kettle.

I’ve made some good progress with the joining stage of the Last Dance blanket. It’s quite hard work if I’m honest. Our dining table isn’t in a room with good light so I’m laying it out on our double bed each day. The guidelines suggest using a hook two sizes bigger for joining which is great advice because it is joining very nicely but it’s a devil to push a fat 6mm hook through a stitch that has been made with a 4mm hook, especially when you’re working through the inside loops of two rows of stitching. Thankfully, after several back breaking days, I have only two more rows to join.

I had a bit of a shouty moment when ‘someone’ left the bedroom door ajar after opening it to say goodbye on his way out to a football match, not mentioning any names here, and Riley decided he’d been excluded long enough and took a flying leap and landed bang slap in the middle of the half joined blanket. Remind me why I like dogs? I’ve temporarily forgotten! Luckily the blanket has survived. It’s been a marathon of a project and I’m looking forward to going mundanely round and round for the border.

I’d love to send E off to university in September with a large thick colourful crochet blanket of some description but I know that I’m unlikely to finish anything I start now until nearer to the September of the following year. That won’t stop me researching design possibilities and doing mental calculations. Chunky yarn works up so much quicker right? I’ll probably see how her woven wall hanging goes first. In true, not so subtle E style, she messaged me with a photo of a weaving that she liked and said something like this would be cool for my uni room! Hint taken!

Exploring

Gosh, Sunday’s are coming round rather quickly these days. Is it really time to shut myself away from the rowdy football again? I don’t mind though, it’s been a good Sunday. The weather has been a steady and mild eleven degrees with only a slight breeze, just perfect for dog walking.

The mood at home this week, on my part anyway, has been a bit ‘cheesed off’ and irrationally blaming the entire county. It kind of sums it up if I tell you that I put into google ‘what the f*** is there to do in Lincolnshire?’ Google cheerfully replied with the top ten attractions but in well behaved language. It has taken a while but the penny has finally dropped with M and he now understands that I cannot cope with doing the same things week in and week out and part of my childhood is to blame because we went on big long hikes with our black cocker spaniel, somewhere different every weekend. His suggestions for places to take the dogs, bearing in mind he has lived here all his life and has had a dog for a lot of those years, have been uninspiring to say the least but today he totally made up for it with a new location and I was amazed that we didn’t even have to travel far.

This new to us place has been created along an old railway route, it is absolutely miles long in both directions from the free car park and you can even hire a bike for a fiver a day because the route is also a cycle path. It was ideal for M who struggles on uneven ground due to his back injury and pretty good for me with my recovering knee. The dogs soon went off course into ditches, fields and woodland so they were impressed too. Everyone seemed cheerful and friendly except for two grumpy Lycra clad cyclists who didn’t ring a bell (according to M who would have heard one) and yet expected us to know they were behind us. Presumably we were also required to immediately jump into the hedge for them too. Don’t you just hate grumpy people? The path isn’t marked into two lanes either, just in case you were thinking we had strayed!

Isn’t that mini log cabin awesome? I really wanted to have a closer look but it was down a steep six foot bank and I didn’t trust my dodgy knee to get me back up again! The dogs went and had a sniff round on my behalf.

I managed to get a brief video clip of just one of the muddy streams that the dogs jumped into and surprised myself by being able to get it onto my instagram feed (simplenaturalhandmade72). Woah, there’s no stopping me now!. Harvey is an expert at the bellyflop. I must try and get one his more dramatic launches from the lakeside into the lake, he gets a good run up for that one! He’s not a ‘look before you leap’ type guy.

Naturally we needed coffee at the end of our ‘hike’ and M needed his daily fix of crosswords. I always say that I prefer to read the newspapers but without fail I end up finishing off the clues he’s left, it’s the competitive side of me! This place is one of our local cafe nero’s. We always gravitate towards cafes with urban rustic decor. Love those stools!

So, I’m avoiding the football once more and I’ve been sitting at my bureau with this rubber stamp set. I recently bought two of these along with two ready to paint wooden boxes and made up two kits for making tags and labels. I sent one to a very good friend who also knits and crochets and makes things and I’ve kept one. I decided not to stamp as I go with mine but rather just stamp a batch of random designs from the selection ready to use at a moments notice. I made the actual tags with my Sissix Big Shot die cutter which I’ve had for years and has been a really useful thing to own. I used parcel string but of course ribbon or yarn would also be nice.

I’ve written pattern and yarn details on a couple of the larger tags and attached them to two projects I’ve been working on so that I don’t forget what hook size I’ve been using or where the pattern is. This has become a bit more important since my iPad doesn’t seem to want me to use bookmarks anymore and a lot of the patterns are online. I’ll be choosing a tag and replacing the string with leftover yarn for posting the Ermeline cardigan soon too. I feel incredibly organised on that score but my actual yarn stash and wips are all over the place while M still has a yarn storage solution to build for me. We are thinking wooden crates at the moment since he’s made several that we use around the house and for camping and it’s easy to make them look old and battered. All the lovely old metal or wooden pigeon hole pieces of furniture I’ve seen lately cost the absolute earth!

It’s telling that Harvey, although technically mine, has decided to hang out with the men whilst Riley very rarely leaves my side. Harvey is a man’s man whereas Riley seems to know that loyalty is due to the chief dog walker in the family and the one who warms their towels after a cold, wet walk!

Abstract

Along with crochet I can highly recommend weaving as a therapeutic activity. I view this first piece as something of a novice sampler because I’ve thrown everything at it in terms of techniques and methods, at least everything that I could find in my book and online. I’m sure there is plenty more to discover.

In the final half I added rya knots, tried the soumak technique (the charcoal grey seams that look like stocking stitch) and unworked loops. I wasn’t that taken with the unworked loops but perhaps there are other ways to do this. I knew my bottom tassels would reveal a bit of warp and I haven’t rectified this yet. I could just weave a couple of extra rows of the yarn I started with or I could pull each warp through the back of the tassel, but that would be tricky because there isn’t enough to tie it off or knot it. Next time I will attach those differently. For now though I shall just leave it and enjoy having the thing on the wall for a while.

The photo’s are the best I could do in the poor light we had available today. Storm Doris made coastal or woodland walks out of the question yesterday and in fact Sherwood Forest which was high on my list of options was closed to visitors on that extremely windy day. Even night lights and fairy lights haven’t improved the lighting.

I must have enjoyed the process of weaving because M asked if I was finished with weaving now that I’d made a piece for the wall. I told him certainly not! I already feel like rigging up the warps again (tighter this time) and maybe having a vague plan of what to do this time. It feels like just the beginning of something and it’s such a good way of using up all those random yarns I was attracted to for their unique and interesting textures but which are an absolute devil to crochet with. Not to mention the perfect excuse to rummage through the wool baskets in charity shops without worrying whether anything I like the colour or texture of is actually a useful amount to make anything with.

At the moment it is quite hard to imagine spring like weather let alone summer. Our slightly wild garden is a black soggy decaying mess for the most part. At the end of every summer I never quite manage to ‘winterise’ the garden and so we tend to look out on dead stuff all winter. Now that I’ve committed those words to print it might be something I will remember to do this year. Somehow it all bounces back, especially with a little bit of effort and a big bonfire. I’m looking forward to setting up my loom outside with the dogs by my feet. Harvey’s frequent offerings of sticks and branches may just end up getting woven into a piece!

Random

A random selection of photographs today. One uber cool t shirt for my little niece. Bunny was one of the buzz words over Christmas and although she’s probably moved on linguistically since then who can resist a bunny with a red nose and heart shades? Not me. In aid of Red Nose Day too so it’s a win win.

Secondly, the state of my favourite Birkenstocks. Aarggghh! I knew it was a mistake to gift the dogs an old slipper each, now they think that all footwear is up for grabs. I’ve had these for years and I think they would have lasted quite a bit longer had they not been helped along by the adorable, but mischievous Riley. E said just recently, ‘I’ve never known a dog with so much personality’. Just a little bit too much personality for my liking! M, ever helpful, told Riley he’d be docking £50 from his pocket money. So helpful.

Love my little camping pan even more now that I realise it’s a left or right handed pourer. Pretty darn handy since M is left handed and I am right handed. If it wasn’t gale force wind here today we could have brewed hot coffee using our Kelly kettle in a little tucked away woodland walk spot we found last year. We drove around for quite a while (I made M drive around for quite a while) before we found a quiet spot with a space for the car, a woodland walk for the dogs and even a big old fallen tree trunk to sit on. All for the sake of trying out the new gadget. Coffee definitely tastes better when you’re sitting on a rotten log in the middle of a forest in my opinion!

Finally, an update on my weaving progress. I’m still making it up as I go along and it’s supposed to be abstract despite each family member in turn asking if it’s a mountain, or a temple or a pyramid. No, I say patiently, it’s abstract. I’m annoyed that the sides are gathering inwards. It’s not because I’m weaving too tightly, it’s because I didn’t set the warps taut enough. Lesson learnt for next time. There are two joining methods on this piece, the ‘mountain’ uses the interlocking method I believe, where the two colours are wrapped on the same warp thread. Forgive my lack of technical jargon. The other random shape uses a front and back warp where the colours meet, I have no idea what that’s called. I must look these things up! I actually prefer the fuzzy look of the interlocking method even though my counting was a bit off. I need to be brave next and dig out some roving or add some more tassels or something. I’m better at symmetry so this is a little outside my comfort zone!