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!

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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!

Hut

I often use the term ‘shoe horn’ when I’m referring to a few days away. With M’s job we can’t really look too far ahead so we shoe horn our short breaks into pockets of time when we can. Even this time it was touch and go whether he’d actually be free once it was booked and he had a morning assignment on the very day we were due to travel. It worked out just fine and gave me plenty of time to make sure I’d remembered everything. Let’s be honest now, that was all yarn related.

I had to dedicate a small suitcase to yarn related activities this time. I seem to be in the middle of lots of smaller projects as well as having a few more smaller ones I’d like to make. Amongst other projects I took the cotton and beads with me so that I could finish the other half of our bedroom string of bunting. In fact it was my choice of car crochet because I know the pattern off by heart. I crocheted the grand sum of one flag and then managed to fall sleep for approximately 75% of the journey. M usually really hates this on the basis that if he can’t sleep then why should I, but not this time. Recently I’ve started to throw in random conversations a few days in advance, along the lines of… I’m sure my Dad used to prefer it if Mum fell asleep on long journeys, you know, peace and quiet and all that. This was mentioned over coffee a few days before our trip and he still hasn’t twigged it was intentional.

On our journey home we could have chosen a route that was 125 miles or one that was 155 miles. The latter involved more motorway so that was M’s choice. It was also his choice to ignore the Satnav when it looked like it was going to take us North of Manchester and he didn’t think that was a sensible route. I kept strategically quiet while the Satnav recalculated the route and announced that the new one would be an additional twenty miles long. ‘Bugger’ was M’s choice of word at this point as indeed it was mine, but silently in thought only. Why drive 130 miles when you can drive 180 instead? It wasn’t too much of a hardship because I managed to make an envelope back in crochet trebles for a cushion (which I’ll post next time).

We have been to this particular hut before. It was slightly strange finding our previous entry in the guest book from three years ago. We tried a couple of other huts in different locations on the basis that we wanted to see other areas. One was an ok experience in that the hut was nice but all the cooking and bathroom facilities were in an adjoining barn and the hut was close to the owner’s cottage. The other one was in a beautiful setting, again, quite close to the owner’s house but she was not a people person and that was verified by the trip advisor reviews which we only read after our stay.

So, it seems this one has everything we would choose from a tick list. The owner’s live further up a small track and we never see them. The bathroom is within the hut which is amazing and ideal. Everything is basic but you have everything you need. We chose to cook once on the provided bbq outside and once inside using the two ring hob. We walked down to the local pub on the third evening which was also nice. M and I aren’t big drinkers at all but it did mean we could have a drink without a designated driver. I don’t think huts like this are everyone’s cup of tea but for me it’s absolute paradise. It’s a totally pared down break. No television, no Wi-fi, absolutely rubbish phone reception, absolutely wonderful views!

So much for just chilling out at the hut all day though. We both wanted to repeat the scenic drive that we’d taken last time. I don’t know how long it is but it involves climbing a very big hill then holding tight to the car door handle whilst pretending that the sheer drop isn’t making your knees turn to jelly. It’s funny because after you’ve done it a few times it’s only a few patches that seem dangerous.

We also revisited a couple of other places we’d enjoyed last time but the pace seemed slow and relaxed and there was no pressure to find anything new. We were back at the hut by late afternoon and the evenings were fairly mild and dry. M lit the small chiminea and read his book or did crosswords while I preferred to stay in the hut with the doors wide open and my crochet to hand.

On our last morning, with just a hint of protest M agreed to visit the Ruthin Craft Centre. Its always hit and miss with exhibitions. Anything with wood is sure to go down well with M, in fact sometimes a little too well because he loves to read every single placard and pause and ponder for ages over some pieces. This is entirely my fault for introducing him to the whole art and craft scene in the first place. He still talks about the various exhibitions that have stayed in his memory including one where the ‘viewer’ was encouraged to hug a tree trunk. He did and we all just casually wandered off and left him to it. Don’t get me wrong, I love wood, I love trees, I’m just not the sort to hug a cut down tree trunk in the middle of an exhibition. I did love him for engaging with the current artist’s work at Ruthin though. He could so easily have said rubbish and spent half an hour on a bench with his phone for company. It wasn’t immediately captivating (for me) but it was thought provoking. He even sounded like an art critic whilst chatting to one of the staff. He didn’t look like one though, he was sporting three day stubble and worn for four days shorts (including to light fires and bbq’s) because he forgot to pack jeans too. Three bottles of body spray and deodorant though. He’s consistent, I’ll give him that.

On one fine morning we didn’t want to travel too far for coffee and a bite to eat so we bought garage coffee (Costa), fresh croissants and bananas and drove up to the highest point of the scenic drive. With curious sheep all around and eventually a curious farmer too (he rode up on his quad bike and seemed satisfied that we weren’t going to unload a load of household rubbish like some other idiots had done not far from there) it rated as one of the more surreal breakfast moments I’ve had in my life.

I usually have a million ideas rattling around in my head when I’m inspired by this kind of break. A lot of them involve going home and chucking out huge amounts of our belongings. I’ve had these thoughts so many times and I do indeed go home and have massive sort outs and offload yet more to charity but this time I feel satisfied that if I just keep plodding on I will get there eventually. The important thing is that despite seeing lovely welsh blankets, handmade willow baskets and several other things I could easily have ‘acquired’ we actually bought nothing. M was happy to buy one of the lovely baskets but I said I had more than enough and that’s true.

Talking of considered purchases, the men have been at cricket today so Mum and I met up at the local junk/antique place. It’s perfectly located exactly half way between us. I had long given up my search for what I call science lab stools for our kitchen or anything metal that came in a set of four at the correct height really. Today we found just what I’ve been looking for since we first knocked the kitchen through and made a bigger space three years ago! M made some roughly knocked together wooden ones which have lasted this long but are pretty good for giving you splinters. I kept seeing them for silly money and couldn’t justify a big outlay on them when the house needs more urgent things, so today’s find was all the better for being an absolute snip at £8.50 per stool. Good things come to those who wait. I’ll take some photo’s when I’ve swept the dog mud and leaves up and post next time!

Next week M is back in court on an away trip followed by training days and a second week in court, I think I’m about to get some serious DIY and crochet done! It means I can paint chairs at ten o’clock at night if I feel like it and I probably will. I’m a night owl and that’s when I do my best work!

Ready

I love winter. Autumn was colourful, beautiful even but you know you’re alive when it’s winter. Everything about this half of the year seems to go so quickly and maybe that’s to do with keeping busy. E and J both have December birthdays so it’s imperative to think ahead. J’s birthday a couple of days after Christmas is particularly awkward and if I forget anything it would mean a mad dash on Boxing Day. This year we’ve had to split E’s birthday celebrations over two occasions to suit everyone. Tonight we had a family meal and games much the same as Christmas Day really. E has a razor sharp memory so I held back from reminiscing about her early years lest I get repetitive in my old age.

Earlier today we took the dogs to a slightly wooded place for a walk to try and wear them out for the day. It was fresh and crisp and the winter sun was blinding. A freshly cut tree smelled absolutely divine and further on the smell of decaying leaves under foot was wonderfully earthy. M and I have been here, there and everywhere lately running errands such as dry cleaning M’s suits, fixing small things in the house, posting parcels, shopping little and often for Christmas food. This week however, everything seems under control and so the walk was relaxing, with time to just breathe it all in.

Sure enough M did feel like baking. The scene in the kitchen was more mad scientist’s laboratory than pastry chef but the results were amazing. I really do like gingerbread and it was absolutely superb. We had a standard sized gingerbread man cutter and a tiny one. The larger ones are not pictured because quite a few of them were rudely decorated with boobs. I blame M for suggesting we all chip in with the icing set. Two at least were not obscene and were given Spaniel ears, paws and an ‘H’ and ‘R’ on their chests to represent the dogs. Cute but they got eaten first.

I haven’t found much time for whittling crochet hooks this last week but I did find a small block of balsa in my recently sorted craft cupboard and it’s a lovely soft and easy material to work with after the hard, brittle beech. It would be ideal for tree decorations because it’s light so that’s on my list of things to make well before next Christmas rolls round. If I can tear myself away from crochet long enough I could get quite addicted to balsa carving. It’s easy to lose yourself in the process and the possibilities are endless.

I’ve got a couple of chunky crochet cowls on the go at the moment. Neither is quite right so there may well be some frogging about to take place. Whilst I’m stewing over those and hoping that ‘sleeping on it’ will help I’ve started a small amigurumi that looks a lot like a seal at the moment but will eventually become a bear once he has ears. The flecked brown yarn is so dark I’m having to make him during daylight hours only. I seem to go for long spells between making animals and forget how much I enjoy seeing a little character come to life. Like the llama I’m also changing the look of this one as I go and just hoping he will turn out ok. I watched a good film on Netflix recently called Winter People, based on the book by John Ehle. It’s quite an old film and stars Kurt Russell amongst others. There’s a scene with a bear that’s quite distressing but even in the late eighties which is roughly when it was made, I’m sure they wouldn’t have harmed a real bear in the making of the film.

I really should have made Mr Laid Back Llama look unmistakeable Christmassy. When E arrived home from uni a few days ago she examined him hanging on the tree and said, I think I’ll take him back to uni with me because he will look nice hanging above my desk. Never one to be shy about asking, that’s my girl! We’ve agreed that he has to come home every Christmas though and I’m going to make a Mrs Laid Back Llama to keep him company next year.

There’s been an easy going atmosphere in the house, with only a few snappy moments… some from me when I feel too tired and too incredulous to explain something that I feel should be blindingly obvious. Communication tires me out enormously. Some from M when he immediately assumes the worst case scenario before working through the possibilities, like for instance assuming we will have to purchase a new dishwasher because ‘someone’ has broken the door (it was just a bowl sticking out!) Those silly occasions aside it’s been good to have the four of us in one room watching tv or having a meal together. Even the dogs look well and truly chilled out, especially Harvey who waits on the hard tiled floor in the hall if anyone is missing.

There’s a big pile of brown paper parcels and some cheerful red and glittery ones for a small person. The tree still smells of fresh pine (even though it’s drying out a little). There’s a large supply of fresh coffee to see me through the longest days and there’s crochet in wooden bowls or baskets in several places. I think I’m ready for Christmas.

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!

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!