Friday, 19 December 2014

Christmas Crafting!

I'm going to make a couple of assumptions - one, that the recipients of my crafting aren't following my blog, or two, they may have opened their gifts already . . . but if you know who they are, it's a seeecret, shhhhh!  And if you work at the school and you've got a parcel from Madam to open, close your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears, and go, "LALALALALALALA!!!", okay?

So, Madam likes to give her teacher and classroom assistants etc Christmas gifts.  She often asks me to make specific things, which get changed around as I try to find stash yarn to suit - I don't want to be buying extra yarn, you know (ha!) - so this year there were four gifts to make.

Number one:

A granny-stripe cowl - pattern here - which I altered only in colour choice - I started with a black foundation chain and first row, and also finished with black, and inbetween I alternated yellow, burgundy and teal.

Number two:

I have a Zoom Loom, which I LOVE - it's a ?maybe 4 inch square? pin loom, which you can wind yarn onto in such a way that you only have to weave the last quarter of its length.  I raided my stash for a rainbow-ish selection of tonally dense yarns, and Zoom!  Sixteen squares, single-crocheted together, and edged with a dc, ch1, skip1 border . . . which makes it look a little like a film-strip, I've just noticed . . . hmm, maybe an idea for the future!

Number three:

A Spiral Scarf from Norah Gaugin's book Knitting Nature, which I made in DK instead of 4ply.  I reduced the starting hexagon from a 24-stitch side to a 20-stitch one, and knit till I ran out of yarn.  The hexagons are 1x1 ribbed, and I went up to a 4.5mm needle, so they are squishy and delicious.  It's a short collar-ish scarf, but will keep the chill out from your neckhole!

Number four:

Is a brioche stitch Faucett scarf from  I love this yarn - James C Brett Marble Chunky - and I had previously made a pair of knitted slippers for this gift, which I put on just to try them out, and couldn't take off - so I needed something fast and easy, and this was just that.  It whizzed along, and is ridiculously squishy and gorgeous.  I found it hard to give this one away too, but seeing as I have the same yarn in purple, and all the time in the world, now that the Christmas gift-knitting is mostly done . . .

So there we go.  The studio is finally done - I just need to tidy up in there and get some photos to share, and I'll get writing about that soon, I promise.

Merry Christmas!  All the best of the season - I hope you all have a great holiday!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Brown paper packages tied up with string!

I recently took part in a swap on Ravelry, with some of my friends from the fantastic Ankh Morpork Knitter's Guild (the Terry Pratchett fans' group in ??possibly the biggest online fiber-crafts community??).  Anyhoo, a swap is where we set up a group of people who all get to make and recieve gifts for each other, which as a crafter is really cool as we're always making stuff for non-crafty folks who often don't appreciate the time and effort that has gone into their gift.

Part of the deal is that we share photos and write up about what we've recieved, so I thought I'd share here too . . . plus I can share photos from here to the swap thread . . .

So, here's the parcel which arrived from my lovely friend Ilwin in the Czech Republic!

And on top of the box, when it was opened - uh-oh!

All of the things.  Presents, and postcards, and a bag of teensy seed beads, and CHOCOLATE!   MMMmmmmmMMMMm!

The first of the handmade goodies - a row-counter necklace (isn't that clever - the beads can be slid up and down and they stay where you move them to - I'll have to figure out how to use it properly), some sparkly dangly earrings, and stitch markers for crochet and knitting.

I may have mentioned my fandom . . . 

TWO crocheted scarves!  How gorgeous are these! The purple one is folded over, and has it's own wee shawl-pin.

Some acrylic yarn in jewel tones, which will be very handy - I love fancy yarns and all, but bright cheerful acrylics are what I most often find myself crafting with, and don't those colours just make you smile!

But what's this?  Who's been sleeping in MY yarn?

It's the feegle, of course!  I shall have to find a suitable containment method for this wee scunner, or he'll offski with the chocolate and any "medicinal" liquids he might find about the place!

I wonder if he has a name . . .

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Two for joy!

There is still work to do, but I finally have a working studio!

It's been up and insulated for a couple of weeks now, but on Thursday of this week Andy the electrician came and connected a new fuse box, so I now have one double socket . . . which doesn't sound like a big deal, but it so is!  It means I can get out there after dark and have a light to switch on.  It means I can leave a tube heater connected on a frost-prevention setting, so the stuff I take out there won't get damp from condensation.  It means I can put a proper heater on when I want to do a bit of work.  In short, it changes a shed into a workspace that is safe for my materials and comfortable for me.  There are more wonderous sockets and switches to come, but this first is the one which really makes the difference.

I got a bee in my bonnet earlier in the week, and bought some cheap vinyl so the flooring would be down before the electrician came, and on Friday night I decided to race down to Ikea in Bristol as soon as hubby got home from work, to get a bit of storage and lighting sorted out.  I bought myself a couple of £15 (???!) Laiva bookcases, some Kallax storage units, a Hektar floor lamp (which will live next to my table as it angles light downwards like an oversized desk lamp), and four Ranarp spotlights (which attach via a lovely big springy clamp, so I'll be able to move them around and focus light wherever I need it).

Yesterday was spent putting things together (oh, my poor hands!), and today I have been hauling every crafty thing I can find out of the house and finding it a new home.  I may have a couple more balls of yarn than I, strictly speaking, need (seeing as I have filled all the storage space I had intended for yarn already), but I also have a vintage glass-fronted bookcase and a charity-shop bureau which have yet to be brought out of the house, so I might manage without another late night drive to Bristol.  You can't see all the yarn in this photo . . . it's hiding just to the left, and in those boxes with the square holes at the bottom . . .

It's so quiet out there, compared to the hubbub of children and tv and central heating that you hear in the house.  I could hear magpies scuttling about on the roof out there earlier, and last night there were tawny owls calling each other from somewhere not too far away.

In my rummaging today, I found a piece from the life drawing class I took before Madam was born.  The tutor had said at the start of the pose to think of Egon Schiele, so my pencil moved with a nervous, jittery energy, and I drew this.

I've brought it out to the studio, not as  pin-up, but as a promise.  I can do this.  I can make things worth looking at.  This is my special talent, and dammit I'm going to USE it!

Thursday, 16 October 2014


It's UP!  Up up uppity up!  (happydance)

It was actually properly up this time last week, but Mr Gary-the-gardener took ill and so the glazing didn't go into the french doors until Friday (when the window fitters took pity on me, and popped it in, bless them), and today Gary is back on the job and sealing around the doors and window.

So as of now we are watertight!  The guttering is ordered, Mr Andy-the-electrician will come by soon to look at getting power out there (and to check out the fault in our upstairs wiring in the house), and there's a bit of paving outside to finish off . . . and then we'll be on to insulation and OSB board, and chipboard flooring, and I'll have a workable space!

The new windows in the house are all finished too, and it's like having a whole new house.  It's warmer and quieter, there are obscured glass panels where we need them instead of where we don't, and the difference in the amount of LIGHT is astounding.  I can stand in the back garden and see clear through the house, between the guest bedroom and the landing window!  It's bizarre how much it changes a place, having the right windows and doors . . . and doors that close securely with a click, and open happily without a shove!  Oh it's so lovely!

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Christopher Wave

When I was little, I was in the Girls Brigade (one of my Great Aunts was involved in running the local troops), and at one of the annual show thingys they sang a song which went,

"Riding along on the crest of a wave and the sun is in the sky!
All of our eyes on the distant horizon, look out for passers by!"

(which, of course, I misheard as "Christopher wave")

And that's how this weekend is feeling - on the crest of a wave - on a high, zooming along, with the slightly stomach-churning possibility of the wave breaking and crashing around us at any point.

The studio is here!  In many very heavy and unwieldy bits!  There are also a fair amount of bits of playhouse which, having been bought from a third party by the shed-building business, need a thorough soaking in wood preservative before we figure out how to put them together, and so I have been preservative-ing this afternoon when really I ought to be clearing windowsills and shifting furniture away from them because on Monday morning, the new windows are coming too!

The weather forecasters are saying that Monday will be wet and windy and cold . . .

Hubby has taken a holiday day on Monday, and our lovely gardening guy will be here too, hopefully getting the studio mostly up (I've been lobbying for Hubby to work from home on Tuesday just in case he needs to take 5 minutes to help with any heavy lifting to get it finished off), and I've bought one pack of polystyrene insulating boards and one pack of lovely-smelling sheeps' wool eco-friendly insulation stuff so I can start figuring out what the next steps will be.

So by this time next week, the house will look different, the rooms will be brighter (and hopefully warmer), and sitting quietly in the garden there will be a space just waiting for me to fill it up with creativity.  The thought of it makes my heart sing, and if we get the words wrong, my heart and I don't give a stuff!

Friday, 19 September 2014

Radio silence!

Apologies for the delay in service!

As has been the running theme for this year, I've had another breakdown - this time my laptop, hence the blogging hiatus.  A replacement doesn't appear to be on the cards just yet as internet searches have led Hubby to believe that it can be fixed by means of some disassembly and application of a heat gun.  I am not convinced.  In the meantime we have bought Madam a Kindle Fire (they were on offer), so a mild addiction to a free Boggle app has also been causing distraction.

Things Have Been Moving on the Studio front!  The foundations are gently curing in the late summer heatwave, and the shed will be delivered next Friday, with a view to putting it up the following week (or possibly the week after, as we're hoping to scam some advice from the double-glazing fitters who will be there then).  I'm beginning to wonder whether I ought to paint the outside of the shed before we put it together, if I get the weather for it . . .

Here's a shot of the foundations and the tyre-terracing on the slope behind which has been obligingly swallowing up topsoil as we dug it out.

I sourced the tyres from a local auto-repair place, which was more than happy to have them taken away.  I found that the lower-profile tyres (the ones with a shallower side wall) are much sturdier for building with and climbing across.  We've been drilling holes through the treads and bolting them together horizontally, and my gardener, Gary, has been packing the topsoil in and keeping them level across the slope, which is trickier than it looks because the sizes of tyres vary so much that finding similar sized ones to keep the rows even is nigh on impossible.  If you're doing landscaping work or mixing concrete (or removing about a cubic meter of compressed bamboo rootball that's been growing through gravel), I can thoroughly recommend getting yourself a Gary.  He's been awfully handy . . .

Oh, and I've found that cleaning the tyres, and spray painting them in situ is easier and more economical than painting them first then assembling them.

I tried to find a picture of what it looked like before we started, but the only one I could find was taken so long ago that the full horror of the overgrown bamboo and trellising collapsing under the weight of honeysuckle and brambles had not yet occured.

Perhaps the wide view might help -

Where the tyres start is where the garden virtually ended before - we own up to the center of the old railway track at the top of the slope, but over the years it has become so overgrown, and the slope is so steep, that with kids and pregnancies I just couldn't get it back under control.  There were trellises making a fence at the bottom of the slope, stopping me from being able to access even the lower edges . . . so we're hoping that now we'll be able to safely climb across the tyres and we've got at least a chance to keep the brambles down.  There are four apple trees and a pear in there too, which I'm hoping will start to produce more edibles once I can reach to prune and harvest the poor things!

Well, that's all I've got time to say just now - Little B is watching Cebeebies from the baby-cage (which is what we've been calling the playpen) downstairs, and I've got to go fetch Madam from after school football in a bit . . . and I haven't even mentioned the shed design, and the cheap windows I sourced, or even the fun I had at the Bristol Wool Fair . . . and I can't tell you about my current crafting because I'm doing a SWAP BOX (excitement)!  I'll fill you in soon.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

So tyred!

In order to get my studio built, the next stage in the process is going to be digging out a section of the back garden to lay a concrete slab.  Hopefully by this time next week I'll have a big old pile of lawn-ish and slightly weedy topsoil . . . and I have a plan for that!

Actually this plan has been bubbling under for a year or so, you see I have a section of old railway embankment at the back of my garden.  It's steep and originally it must have been a stone construction, and it's covered with a shallow layer of topsoil and a thick layer of scrubby weeds and brambles.  Aside from some narrow steps, it's nigh on impossible to navigate the slope, and keeping on top of the weeds and brambles has been beyond us for a while.

Then last year I saw a picture of a recycled tyre climbing thingy in a kids playground on Pinterest.  The tyres were painted and piled up, and filled (I think) with bark chippings, and I thought, "I could do that up the side of my slope!".  So the plan is to clear the weeds down to the ground along the bottom edge of the slope, lay down some old cardboard to kill off any remaining roots, and start with a row of spray-painted tyres, bolted together for extra security.  They'll then mostly be filled with the topsoil as it gets dug out, and I'll plant into those tyres.  I've got a big bag of slate chippings from a previous garden re-jig, so some of the tyres will just be filled completely with chippings to make pathways to climb across the slope as the layers of tyres build up, and on dry days they'll be nice spots to sit too.

So . . . on Saturday I picked up my first stack of old tyres from the local garage.  I've been washing them down in a paddling pool, with a trug full of soapy water and an old dustpan brush whose pan got stepped on.  Madam's been enjoying de-gravelling the treads with a screwdriver for me, and once the first lot were dry, they got sprayed pistachio and daffodil.  I can tell already, this is going to look good.

I'll take some pictures soon!

Saturday, 2 August 2014


Since I set out my mission statement (however many months ago) to get myself a studio, life has been a series of hurdles.  Quotes, then more quotes.  Things dependent on other things.  Could we afford this if we also needed that?

We've had unexpected expenses, like needing a new car and dishwasher, and expenses we knew about, but which grew on closer examination, like the mending of the roof.  We've had altogether too many tradespeople come and look at jobs, who then couldn't manage to provide us a price - I thought this was a recession, aren't people supposed to be looking for work?!

But this week we've managed to set one of our lines of dominoes up, and give it a little push!  It starts with one of our "would like to achieve" goals - new windows.  Our windows in the house are currently old, narrow gauge, wooden framed double glazed units.  They have pillars and arches and fiddly gubbins, and a dark wood-stained finish which diminishes the amount of light coming into our rooms.  A couple of them have also lost their integrity and fill up with condensation in the wintertime, and there are draughts from the edges, and cold air rolls off them onto the back of your neck.  They're a job that has never been urgent, but getting them replaced will make the whole house look and feel nicer, especially when it comes time to put the central heating on again.

When the old windows and doors come out however, there will be a reasonably good large window from the kitchen which will work on the side of my studio-shed, and a nice solid lockable door and window combination which will fit on the front.  I'll be able to paint them to match, and they'll be secure and provide a decent amount of insulation for a working environment . . . so my name is down with the shed-building company, and when I have a date confirmed for the windows (4-6 weeks according to the sales guy), the shed company will swing into action and as the windows come out of the house the studio can go up.

In the meantime we have been getting some help in the garden already, and the space for the studio, plus a little extra patio, have been marked out and are starting to get cleared.  Some black bamboo has been causing problems, and we may have to attempt a slow burn to break up the mass at the center of the rootball which is maybe half a square meter of solid bamboo which has grown through a bit of weed-supressing membrane and incorporated some rather attractive blue slate chips too at some point in it's history.  Helpful Tip - if you are planting that stuff, don't put membrane and gravel around it, and Be Sure you won't want to move it.  If anyone needs canes, or wants a bit of more co-operative rooty stuff, please come get some!

So this is it!  The studio is on its way!  It may be a while before I manage to get it all insulated and into a useable state, but the wheels are in motion, and the dominoes are starting to fall!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

In praise of things.

In our current quest to Sort Out All The Things, we discovered a week or so ago that the reason the drain outside the kitchen was chronically overflowing was not a break in the pipe, or any kind of strange system whereby rocks were being pulled into the tubes, but a very hard to shift blockage.  We had some help in this realisation - the father-in-law of a friend who does general garden odd-jobbing had a look at it for us, and perservered past the point where several times in the past we thought it had been sorted.

Rods went up and down, the hose was shoved in from several directions, and maybe an hour and a half after it had first appeared to run clear, a semi-solid plug the diameter of the pipe edged its way out.  I would never have guessed that undissolved dishwasher tablets were the problem, but it seems that the powdery mass plugging the pipe was just that.  Huh.

So, you know where this is going, right?  Yep.  Today was dishwasher shopping day.  To be fair, the old one had lasted maybe 8 years, and it was some random non-brand machine which the kitchen company installed for us.  It had recently stopped washing well, and spares weren't going to be a straightforward purchase, so knowing it was causing this problem as well pushed us over the edge.

I never realised there would be such a range of decisions to be made though!  We needed a built-in model, which narrowed our selection to begin with, and we didn't want to spend in excess of £700 which took a couple of the flashier models out of the picture (though the one which projected little icons on the floor when it was washing was pretty cool) but I did want to find one with a cutlery tray rather than a big basket that takes up a wodge of space on the bottom rack . . . not slimline . . . not too concerned about running a half-load . . . auto-dirt-detector (really?  Who puts clean dishes in the dishwasher?) . . . fancy extra jets, foldable racks, adjustable-whilst-filled top basket, blue interior lights, silent-running nighttime mode, teacup shelves . . . you can imagine my spinning eyes, and the little tweeting birds circling my head.  But we managed a decision!  We've gone for a Maytag which isn't a company we were particularly aware of, but it's owned by Whirlpool, and whilst I quite liked the Whirlpool model next to it in the shop, the Maytag is virtually the same but with a cutlery tray.

So I'm just waiting for a phone call from the installation guy in Monday, and in a week or so I'll have my new machine.

Which is all great, but as with the new car and the roof repairs, more money is going out for things which won't bring me closer to getting my studio.  There are things in the pipeline though (no, not the blocked one) and I'm hoping to have better news in time for the next blog post.  Fingers crossed!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Fallllink in lof again, never vanted tooo . . .

We met 2 summers ago, and you know, he wasn't what I expected.  Strong but slow, big, dependable.  Steady.  I felt like he lifted me up, and kept me safe.  I thought we would be together for the long haul, but it wasn't to be.

A month or so ago the grumbling started, and when I tried to put the brakes on a little it only got worse.  If I could have ignored the grumbling, perhaps we would have had a little longer together, but I had to find out what was wrong - he just wasn't making me feel safe anymore, so I checked . . . and things were worse than I thought.  The grumbling was just the tip of the iceberg, and underneath things had corroded beyond repair.  I guess I could have tried harder, but sometimes you've got to know when it's time to cut your losses.

I was devastated.

And then I met Holly, and she's everything The Beast was not - smaller, faster, definitely prettier, a little younger, and she just smells good, you know?  She makes me feel safe again - and I feel like I can trust her around my kids, which is always a good sign, isn't it?  We just fit, and it's easy and fun, and she's not going to cost me so much in the long run . . . and I hope it really is a long run this time, because I've fallen in love again.  What can I say?  I can't help it.

Farewell Mazda Tribute, it was good while it lasted.  Hello Citroen C3 Picasso, I can't wait to have fun with you.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Not a dress!

I wrote this blog post maybe 2 weeks ago, today is the first day I've had time to upload photos to the computer.  Apologies for the delay!

We visited with some good friends in Cornwall back at Easter of this year, and whilst there I found some Sirdar Smiley Stripes yarn in a sale bag at Cornish Market World.  There were 6 balls in a purple/pink/blue/red colourway and I decided that this was meant to be something for me to wear.  A proper garment!  Not just a scarf, mind!

After a little searching, I found Splash, a lacy swimsuit-cover-up dress.  It's designed to be knit from a slightly finer and more drapey yarn than the Smiley Stripes, and I suspected I didn't have the yardage for a full dress, but I fell for the off-the-shouldereyness and the rippley feather and fan stitch, so I thought it had to be worth a try.

It was.

As I suspected, 6 balls wasn't enough to get it past my butt, and having made the mistake often in the past, I decided to knit the large rather than the small-medium size (even though I am medium.  Definitely medium.  No sniggering!).

It's knit from the top down, and after the bulk of the yoke shaping, the yarn started to pool a little, so I added a second ball of yarn and knit alternate rows from each ball.  As you can see, it's pooled at the bottom too, but by then I was on my last ball and couldn't do anything to avoid it.  I don't think it looks too bad . . . certainly not bad enough that I'm about to rip anything out to try to fix it!

The armholes are a little gapey for my liking, probably just because of my body-shape, and the extra depth of the yoke (for the larger size) makes it feel a little restrictive around the upper arms when it falls off the shoulders, but I will forgive it these small faults!  I'm so pleased with my slinky new top!

Saturday, 31 May 2014


It's been half term week, so I've had both Madam and Little B to look after at home.  For most other folks I imagine this would be a time of creativity - fun and games, and little projects - trips out and visits and . . . and . . . and we haven't.

Madam mostly wanted to have pajama days and watch episodes of My Little Pony recorded from one of the kids channels, and Little B needed feeding and changing, and changing again, and I just didn't have it in me to fight the inertia.  I just about had enough fight to make sure Madam's teeth got brushed - which was made marginally easier by the arrival of her first grown-up tooth.  It's been sneaking up behind the tooth it will replace (which is only very slightly wobbly), and she is so pleased at the idea of having shark teeth that she's been brushing voluntarily since we noticed it.

We did manage to get out of the house once, on Thursday afternoon, because I decided that I needed to get a doctor to look at the eczema on my hands.  It's been there on and off for about a year, but being pregnant had prevented me from getting any strong medication, and as it happens I still can't have anything with much oomph because I'm still breastfeeding Little B.  So I got a script for a HUGE tub of emollient ointment which came with two A4 sheets from the chemist warning about how flammable it is . . . which kinda makes me want to see if I could make a candle out of it . . .  We had a quick hunt around the charity shops before we came home - Madam found a couple of books and a brooch which has fallen apart already (I will glue it for her in the morning), and I found a bundle of maps which I'm planning to use to draw or paint or print on at some point.  Pinterest has a lot to answer for!  I did not buy the impressive art-deco-looking sideboard for £20 (which we wouldn't have had room for in the house) from the Sue Rider shop.  Yay me.

I have been managing to get a bit of knitting done in the evenings.  I'm working on a top-down dress (though if I run out of yarn too soon it'll just be a top!) in a lovely feather and fan pattern, link here - - which I'm making from some Sirdar Snuggly Smiley Stripes, which I bought on my Easter holidays at Cornish Market World.  I'm hoping 6 balls will reach at least to my butt!

And here I am, blogging past midnight.  I'll be tired tomorrow, and all un-motivated.  Again.  I need to shake myself out of this rut!

Sunday, 18 May 2014

I hear you knocking (knockknockbangrattlescrape)!

This week chez Mippitt has been marked by the presence of scaffolding (and random noises from the roof).  Our house was built in the seventies, and the concrete which is supposed to seal the edges of the roof to keep the damp and the birdies out has been failing.  And falling.  Mostly making holes in the corrugated plastic car port, and once nearly making a delivery guy poop his pants - he thought a gun had gone off . . . I'm eternally grateful the car port held on that occasion, and the concrete didn't fall on his head.

So we've known for a while that the roof needed mending, and amongst the quotes for garage upgrading and double glazing, we'd been asking about getting the roof fixed too.  Then one day, a couple of weeks ago, Madam asked if we could walk the long way home from school (which isn't very much longer than the normal way, just along top road and into our road from the other end) and I noticed one of our neighbours was getting exactly the same job done on their roof.  It turned out that the husband of that household owned a building company and it was his own contractors who were doing the work, so it made sense to us to ask them to do ours too.

The scaffolding went up just over a week ago, and I've been being a good builder-employer and making cups of sweet tea ever since.

As is usual with our house, once the builder had had a look, there were further things to be done - several tiles were cracked (some had been glued back together goodness knows when), and the ridge tiles were all loose, so the job has taken a little longer than was expected.  We should be all done tomorrow, and then I guess the scaffolding will come down pretty soon.

I'm hoping to get up there and have a look before it disappears.  I'm curious to see how the village, the garden, and the roof look from up there . . . and I'm curious to see if I can manage the height without feeling too wobbly.  The ladders are secured to the scaffolding so I just need to find a minute whilst Hubby's home to mind the girls . . . wish me luck!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

A sprig im by steb.

I hab a cold.  Uuuugh.  My nose is stuffed, my throat is ticklish, and I feel like my brain is stuffed with cotton wool. 

It started with a migraine on Saturday evening, which was so severe I thought I was going to lose my lunch.  I decided that, seeing as I was still feeling poorly on Sunday morning, I would have to miss out on my trip to Wonderwool Wales - it would have been a 2 hour drive each way across some pretty empty countryside, and with Little B (as I'm still feeding her) it would have been too much of a risk.  !Sigh!  I have being sensible sometimes.  Hubby has been kind to me for the last couple of mornings, taking Madam to school so I could have a little extra rest, and I'm glad that Little B doesn't seem to be feeling poorly too.

So, whilst feeling pretty yuk, I've been trying to get the house back in order following our holiday.  I'm on top of the laundry (sort-of), and the dishes are getting cleaned, but there are still things in bags that I ought to have put away.  The home-made dolls house that Madam and I started is gradually burying itself under a pile of cardboard boxes, and there is an Easter egg backlog which I'm doing my darnedest to get through.  Drat that chocolate.  It'd be cruel to force Madam to deal with it all herself.

The saga of the home improvements is still rumbling on - after they tried to convince me I didn't want a studio (because they didn't want to convert my garage) and that I ought to just have some new windows and a conservatory instead, I finally gave company #1 the boot.  Company #2's representative has been poorly, but has promised a detailed quote by the end of this week.  Company #3 never got back to me so I assume they don't want the job either.  One of my neighbours runs a construction company, and they recently did some work on their own roof, so I've asked them to come and fix ours - the concrete under the edge tiles of my roof has been degrading and dropping out, so that just needs doing - and they have a contact who is going to come and look at my garage for me, so I might just manage to get two quotes to choose from.  At some point.  Eventually.  I had thought that this recession we're supposed to be having would have made people keener to find work!

The sun is shining though, and the bluebells are arriving in the forest around our village.  Little B is sitting up and playing happily . . . I really ought to go get that laundry out of the washing machine . . .

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

There and back again . . . and there too and back again, again!

Aaaah holidays!  Y'know, you get time off and relax with friends and family . . . or at least you do once you've gotten yourself there . . .

I've been away twice over the Easter break, first to Northern Ireland to visit my family, and then to Cornwall to catch up with some good friends.  It's been lovely, but GOSH, why is everything so far away and different-directiony?

Ahead of the Easter break, Hubby's employer changed (different company took over the contract, same work ends up being done by the same people), so to be sure of getting the holiday days we wanted he booked off the whole 2 week period when Madam would be off school.  We had planned that once we'd managed to get the travel details together, he'd trim his days off accordingly, but we booked the Wednesday overnight crossing on the Birkenhead - Belfast ferry, returning on the daytime Wednesday crossing the next week . . . and then we arranged to visit Cornwall from the Thursday after that till Easter Monday, so it ended up that actually the whole two weeks was a reasonable amount of time to take.

The first day of travelling was a nightmare.  I'm guessing that whoever is in charge of motorway maintenance has been given a time limit to use up their budget or something, but we were totally unprepared for the number of different sets of roadworks between Gloucestershire and Liverpool.  The journey ought to have taken us 3 hours - check-in for the boat closed at 9.30pm so we left the house at 4pm.  We did have a brief stop for dinner, but we just barely made it.  The ferry company phoned us at 9 o'clock to check we were still coming!  Luckily we were on the last (and mercifully clear and roadwork-free) section of motorway, so we could reassure them that we'd be there soon.  We got there at 9.35, and once we got our tickets we were waved straight to the end of the queue of cars which was already moving towards to boat.

I do love that you get your room keys at the docks now - we walked straight from car deck 6 into the deck 6 family cabin, and straight into bed.  If Madam hadn't continued to bounce off the walls for the next couple of hours it'd have been ideal!  But we managed, finally, to sleep.

From Belfast docks to my Parents' house is no distance, and the week there was lovely.  Madam played well and often with her cousins, Little B was tolerant of being passed around various relatives and friends, Hubby and I managed a rare night out (Granny was very brave, babysitting all four of her grandkids at once), and photos were taken of the whole family by the guy who did our wedding photos.  I'm looking forwards to getting copies of those!

The daytime journey back to Birkenhead was pretty calm weather-wise.  Hubby is not a good sailor, so he had a brief wander around the boat to begin with, then he claimed one of the beds and did his best to not feel ill.  His strategy was not a brilliant success, poor thing, and we were glad once again to have a cabin with it's own bathroom.  In the meantime, Madam, Little B and I went a-wandering and managed to get ourselves a meal.  Did you know that, if you offer a 6-month-old a cooked baby carrot, she won't chew gently on the end?  Nuh-huh.  She'll suck that whole doozer in, in one go.  Don't worry though - after a LONG 3 seconds of choking-face, she'll probably cough the whole thing out again, leaving you feeling like a bad parent on the verge of a heart attack whilst she gurgles away as if nothing went wrong.

Driving home through the roadworks, in the opposite direction in the dark, was no problem at all.  We slept, we laundered, we re-packed, and by 5pm on Thursday we were on our way again, this time to visit some good friends who (very conveniently for us) live near Fowey.

Our second holiday was much more laid-back than the Northern Ireland trip.  We had a couple of lie-ins, bought Little B a second sleeping bag (guess what we forgot to re-pack), and were treated to some marvellous home cooking.  Unfortunately, during a trip to Cornish Market World (seriously, it has to be seen to be believed) on Saturday, Madam started to feel ill.  She had a headache and a temperature, and what turned out to be some sort of upset-tummy bug . . . which, we're now suspecting might have also been the cause of Hubby's being ill on the boat (he usually feels seasick, but isn't often actually throw-uppy) . . . so after a less restful night, on Sunday morning we decided to cut our trip short and head home that evening.  This turned out to be a Very Good Plan, as the roads were extremely quiet, and our journey home was quick and uneventful.

Of course once we were home, the central heating refused to switch on.  !sigh!  Our regular repair guy was due to service the boiler next week anyway, but he managed to get to us early on Tuesday morning.  Apparently it's not going to be an easy fix, and he's got to order some parts, but hey!  At least the drone of the fan heater sends Little B to sleep!

We were supposed to be watching our friends' copy of The Desolation of Smaug after dinner on Sunday . . . looks like I might just have to buy the blu-ray for myself now.  Shame, that.  (snigger)

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The snip.

I love cutting my own hair.  LOVE IT!!  It gives me an immense feeling of satisfaction, that I can take a pair of scissors and just sort that bloomin' problem out without having to fuss with appointments and salons, for NO MONEY AT ALL!

Every part of the process is fun - I stand at the mirror in the bathroom, feeling like the girly heroine in a film who has suddenly realised that her worth is no longer tied to her looks.  You know the bit, when she gets angry, or she's had a tragedy, or maybe she's being hunted and she needs to change her looks, and so she takes things into her own hands and hacks off her locks.  Granted, it's more often a knife or some huge dressmaking scissors, rather than the hairdressing scissors which came with the clippers I bought to cut my Hubby's hair . . . there is such a thing as taking things too far!  So I start at the front, pulling my wet hair down to straighten out the curls, and I take maybe 3 inches off all over.  It needs to be a little shorter at the front to allow the curls to bounce up by my face, and longer in the back. 

My hair is fine and naturally frizzy (I use a dry oil from The Body Shop to get the curls to hold together) so cutting it blunt rather than layered suits best, and if it's loose the curls hide any small mistakes.  I usually wear it pulled back in a pony tail at the moment to keep it out of Little B's way, so of course then it doesn't matter at all if I've messed it up . . . but the thing is, mostly I don't.  I pull it a couple of different directions once the bulk has been trimmed to make sure there aren't any long stragglers, and I check that I haven't made one side of my head longer than the other, but it's really not that tricky!

Today I was distracted by an unscheduled nappy change, and Madam, who stood in the bathroom doorway repeating variations on the same question for the duration . . . so I inadvertently cut a little more off than usual.  So now I'm sporting a nice brushing-the-shoulder-length hairdo.  Just like "Baby" from Dirty Dancing, except maybe a little grayer.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

To add a little sparkle!

I finished crocheting my lovely sparkly shawl a week or so ago, but it's taken me this long to manage to get it blocked and photographed - stretching it out with a bazillion pins long enough for it to dry is tricky with two wee ones in the house!

So here it is finished:

It needed blocking - which is washing, and then pinning out the item whilst wet in order to even out any tension in the fabric, and in this case to accentuate the points of each hexagon and to open out the lacyness of the pattern.  So I washed it with gentle shampoo, put a little conditioner in the rinsing water (fabric or hair, it doesn't matter!) and rolled it in a towel to get most of the moisture out - it only needs to be slightly damp.  Here it is pinned out to block, note the dodgy rearrangement of the foam jigsaw - I could really do with a larger one:

I lied, not a bazillion pins, but 124 I think.  It was every pin I had, plus a couple of sewing needles too.  Some day soon I'm going to try to get some blocking wires - I've heard that you can use "welding rods", but I've neither seen nor heard of these for sale . . . but then I've never asked either!  I intend to investigate!  It needed to sit there until it was dry.

And in action - traditional:

and bandito style:


I love the circular pattern formed by the holes around each motif - the blocking really improved that, and made the whole thing relax and drape so much better.  I LOVE blocking!  Well, to be fair I love the effects of blocking - actually finding the time and space to pin the whole thing out can be a bit of a bugger - but it's so worth it!

So to recap from my previous post - this is motif 38 from Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs by Edie Eckman, made from two balls of  rico creative reflection yarn in pastel using a 5mm crochet hook.  I started with the center, back of the neck hexagon (the dark purple one), then made the five in an arc around that one, then eleven in a larger arc around that, and then thirteen around the outside edge.  They were joined as I went, by slip-stitching into the corresponding chain spaces and picot stitches on the neighbouring hexagons.

I'm so pleased with my new shawl!  I don't often make something so frivolous for myself, but the colours and the sparkle are just the ticket to lift my mood through the last of the chilly weather.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Fridge Raider Veggie Soup

This is more of a "theory of soup" post than a recipe, but it's one of my favourite methods and seeing as it's grocery day tomorrow and I wanted to clear out the fridge, I thought I'd share some veggie soup with you.  This is what I had in the fridge:

A couple of carrots, a couple of parsnips, an improbably long leek (seriously, that bad boy was wider than the veggie drawer, had to bend it to get the fridge closed), half a swede (turnip, rutabaga, y'know the fat purpley-yellow one), and half a celeriac.  There was also half a red onion which I forgot to photograph, some Marigold Vegetable Stock, a splash of oil and some recently boiled water.  The oven was turned on to about 130C.

I used my big old Le Cruset casserole because it can go from the hob to the oven, and my stick blender won't scratch it.  So I heated up a little oil in there, roughly chopped the onion and chucked that in first.  Whilst that had a little sizzle, I peeled the rest of the veg and cut it into biggish chunks, chucking it into the pot as I went.  I totally remembered to turn the heat down a little after a while so the onion wouldn't get burnt (nods).

After the onion didn't burn, I poured in maybe half a kettle of water, finished off the veg, and added a couple of teaspoons of the stock powder and some salt & pepper.  The pot had come to the boil:

so I put the lid on and bunged it in the oven.

Now, this is the variable bit - you can cook it for as long as you like (the longer the better, I've found).  I've put this in at about 4pm, planning to eat it at 6ish, but if I needed it earlier I'd put the oven temp up a bit, if I had longer I'd just leave it in there (checking, and adding a little water or stock if it was drying out).  I usually turn the oven off about half an hour before I want to eat because the residual heat will keep it cooking for at least that long.

I'm a lazy sod, so I love my stick blender.  I took my casserole out and set it on a tea towel on the work surface over by the free plug so I could just blend away until I was happy with the consistency:

If you don't have one of these handy wee doofers, you really ought to let the soup cool a little and blend it in batches in a goblet blender.  I'd advise against a food processor - I've had soup go up inside the blade, down the spindle, and out through the bottom of the motor housing, which is not healthy for you or the machine in question!

So here it is - Fridge Raider Veggie Soup:

If you have some nice crusty bread, dunk it in!  I also like to dunk plain white sliced bread made into a sandwich with a thin slice of cheese.   Mmmmmm!

Other veg I'd chuck in would be celery (the leftover leafy bits are the best for soup) potatoes or swedes, and I have no worries about altering the ratio of the veg I use depending on what I've got left in the fridge.  It's also really good with cheese grated over the top, or crumbled in if it's my favourite Lancashire.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The path of least resistance.

Oh, I had plans!  I had things upon things I was going to get done over the last 7 days. 

I was going to parcel up and send off some yarn that a ravlery friend wants - I need to get to the post office to ask about the most efficient way to divide the weight of it, or whether I'd be better just sending it in one big package.  If I didn't have Little B with me, I could take some packing materials and spend twenty minutes at the post office sorting it out . . . but I've always got Little B so I put it off, and then it doesn't get done.

I finished my crocheted shawl from my previous post, so I was going to photograph it, and then block it and take more photos - there was going to be a whole blog post about how I planned it and put it together.  It was going to be a pretty one!  But to get some space to photograph it, I really ought to tidy up a little, and maybe I'd better hoover the living room and sort out the coffee table, and really that  bathroom needs cleaning too, and, and, and . . .

And double glazing company number 2 came again last Monday for a second look at the garage, and company number 3 (who where the no-shows week before last, I'm not sure about then at all) had a look around on Tuesday, and company number 1 came by again on Friday "just to remeasure because the new sales-chap who measured last time made such odd notes" . . . and I still have no firm figures to plan around . . . I did realise, however, that one of my neighbours owns (or is a director of, not sure!) a company which might be able to sort out the falling concrete from the edges of my tiled roof, so that might be a more reliable route to getting that job done at least.  I shall investigate!

One goal we did manage to achieve is that we've sold the motorbike, thank goodness!  It used to take Hubby to work, back when his commute took him over the Severn bridge twice a day.  It saved time and money for a good few years, but then he changed jobs, and it didn't get used at all any more.  It's impossible to arrive in a smart shirt and tie after travelling in an armoured bike jacket for any length of time!  So the Honda went on ebay and we've been nervously watching the price wobble up over the last seven days, to roughly what we thought it ought to have cost.  The buyer seems sensible, and he wants to pick it up next weekend, so that's a weight off our shoulders (and a big old bike out of our garage).

This week I've got one goal.  Get more stuff done.  Yep, that'll definitely work!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Current crafting!

My first blog post with pictures!  And the uploading process was easy!   Whoop!  Here goes . . .

I've been breastfeeding Little B through a chilly and gloomy winter, and when I got the chance to treat myself a couple of weeks ago (during a rare baby-free visit to the shops), I picked up a couple of balls of something pretty, and I knew just what I wanted.  Something to keep my neck warm!

So this is what I'm working on at the moment - it's a shawl based on motif 38 from Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs by Edie Eckman - I mapped out a plan for a fat crescent-ish shape made out of hexagons and am joining as I go in the ch3s and the picots in each corner, see?

 The yarn is rico creative reflection yarn in pastel, and I'm using a 5mm hook.  Isn't it lovely!  It has a lurex strand running through it, and has a lovely soft halo.  I'm finding it a little splitty, and the lurex seems determined to catch against the plastic crochet hook I'm using (I'll maybe use a wooden hook next time), but I think the results are worth it. 

I took these photos a couple of days ago when I still had a full ball of yarn to show how it looks in the ball vs in the garment - the first photo has one ball's worth of hexies already made.  I'm halfway around the last row of motifs now, another 6 hexies to go, and then I suspect the whole thing will benefit from a stern blocking to flatten out all the little points around the outside and open up those lovely oval-shaped holes in the negative space between the motifs.  I'm going to need a LOT of pins!

The dolls house I'm working on with Madam is still in it's infancy.  The largest box, which will be the main body of the house, has been divided into six rooms.  We've used kids shoe-boxes (from the local scrapstore, we didn't go on a shoe shopping spree!), and a couple of food packaging boxes to make the divisions, and to reinforce the whole structure.  We've been cutting spare corrugated cardboard to size and packing out the floors so we've got a flat surface to put the actual floor coverings on (that's what's being held down with the bulldog clips in the photo whilst the glue drys), and we'll do the same with the side walls soon.

Then I guess we'll have to have a think about doors, stairs, windows, wallpaper . . . not to mention the attic, garage, and stables which Madam is planning on adding on to the outside of this box.  I'm trying not to be too "in control" of this project.  Madam has a lot of her own ideas, and whilst I'd be happy to be noodling about with chintsy scrapbook papers and fancy shabby-chic style stuff (and it'd definitely end up looking lovely), that's not really the point of making stuff with your kids!  If we end up with orange furry walls, so be it!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

A week of ups and downs.

We ran out of oil last weekend, so we had a pretty chilly start to the week.  I'm always reminded of just how lucky we are to have central heating most of the time, and to be able to switch to using portable fan heaters pretty darned easily if needs be.  

So we had a regime of keeping the living room warm most of the time, with the smaller fan heater warming the smaller areas as needs be - bathroom in the mornings, kitchen in the afternoon, bedrooms at night.  A minor hassle, and to be honest Little B seemed to appreciate the white noise.  Glad to get our delivery on Tuesday though, and to get life back to normal.

It is useful to know though, that when an oil website says 24/7 phone line, what they mean is that it still rings 24/7, but outside of office hours an answer phone picks up the call.

On Monday, completely coincidentally to the heating being off, I had two friends ask me to their houses.  The morning was spent with a friend who is learning to knit, chatting about random stuff and generally having a nice time.  She was ready to try purling, so I did my best to explain whilst holding a wriggly baby.  After ducking home for a quick sandwich lunch I went to another knitting friend's house for a chat and a nosey at her back garden studio, which was rather lovely and full of yarn and knitting machines. 

I am quite determined now to get this studio thing done, by hook or by crook, and hopefully not by cowboy!

The central heating on Monday gave me an excuse to put off Mr double glazing company number one, who I feared was hoping to push me into making a decision this week (he kept telling me about how it would be cheaper if we would boost his sales figures for this quarter) so I have rescheduled his re-measure for next week.  Company number two want to bring their surveyor out next week too, to look at the garage before they finalise their quote.  There was going to have been a company number three by now, but they didn't show up when they ought to have done on Thursday (and were very apologetic about it afterwards), but now they haven't phoned back to reschedule when they said they'd call.  I don't think they're going to be my number three anymore!

Husband is of the opinion that we ought to stop asking for quotes until we've done a major clear-out and tidy - the process of having sales-people in the house is not something he enjoys - but I fear that unless I have a deadline to get things done (by having a start date for the building work) things will just keep sliding.  I'm going to try to get through some cupboards this weekend anyway . . . but I'll maybe just continue with the search for the right contractors at the same time . . .

And the ups for the week?  Well on Friday Madam's school celebrated world book day, which was great fun.  I love seeing all the kids dressed up and smiling!  This year Madam went as the Little Skeleton from Funnybones, which was darned convenient seeing as she had a skeleton top from halloween.  I did not have the time or the inclination to sew a new costume with only a fortnight's notice!  What I have had the inclination to work on is my shawl - I'm making a join-as-you-go hexagon motif shawl using Rico Creative Reflection and a 5mm hook.  It's looking lush!  Seven more hexies to go and I'll be all done bar the blocking!  I've been taking photos as I go , and I'm hoping to write up a proper explanation of how I've put it together.

I've also been listening to the wisdom of Pinterest and have gotten myself some coconut oil which, having used it only for a couple of days, seems to be doing wonders for the eczema I've been suffering with on my hands since halfway through my pregnancy.  I definitely should have tried this earlier!  Oh well, I guess you live and you learn!

Friday, 28 February 2014

Being responsible (I must be mad).

In our efforts to get all of the things which are wrong with our house sorted out (andastudioplease!) we had a double glazing company come to give us a quote a couple of weeks ago.  The process of getting a quote is such a pain in the bum!  

We had two strange men in the house for HOURS, wandering around with tape measures, telling us what we should do, bringing up other options, and generally faffing around so much that by the end of the evening it was very hard to pin down just exactly what they thought they were including in the huge quote they gave us.  It was a huge quote.  We knew it would be a lot of money, we have a lot of windows and doors, not to mention a leaking asbestos garage roof.  I hate the protocol these companies seem to have, of giving you "the quote", and then "the discounted price", and finally, "the discounted price with the further credit option discount" - you always feel that somehow you're being overcharged, the price seems so (huge) variable.

So they came, they saw, they huge quoted.  And now they've called back saying that as they're at the end of their accounting period, they'd like to give us a further discount (about a fifth off of their final with-a-credit-account quote), and they want to come out on Monday and re-measure.  But we'd need to sign up by the end of next week.  Gaaaaaaah!

So the only sensible thing to do, obviously, is to get a different company to come out tomorrow morning and do the whole dance again!

Tomorrow's company said (over the phone at least) that they could probably do the complete garage conversion, whereas the previous one could only do a straight replacement on the flat roof, and put doors in for us, so that much at least sounds promising.

I'm also wary of being overly keen to get the double glazing done, because our neighbours have recently gotten a new wood burning stove to heat their greenhouse, and I'm wondering if the new windows would keep the smell of the smoke out.  New windows would be nice . . .

I'm also wondering whether just getting tomorrow's quote will be enough, or if I really ought to find a third or even a fourth company to be sure we're doing the right thing and paying the right price.  !sigh!  Why is it that the more money you have to spend, the less reliable the work and the costs become?

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

What am I doing (what's the point)?

So, what am I doing?  That kind-of is the point!  I want to blog to document all the creative things I've been getting up to.

I'm a happily married mum of two, my big girl (Madam) is 6 and my baby girl (Little B) is 4 months old.  Both were conceived by IVF (with ICSI) so when I say that we're not planning any more, it's a pretty sure thing!  So now that my body is my own again, and I can look to a more predictable future, I'm hoping to reconnect with my inner artist who has been in hibernation (with a few brief awakenings) since I left art college.  It's been too long!

I've got some big plans for this year, we need to get several major jobs done around our house, and we're hoping to be able to put a studio in our back garden.  This would give me a dedicated work space, and also be the place where all of my accumulated arty & crafty stuff could go, which in turn will free up a fair amount of storage space in various wardrobes and cupboards around the house.  I'd like to document our progress with the building work throughout the year, and I'm hoping that blogging about it might help me to keep the motivation going, and keep my spirits up too.

Other plans for this blog:

To document my creative output - I'm hoping to move towards making more art, but at the moment crafting projects are easier for me to work on.  I knit and crochet often, and craft a lot with my big girl (we're making a dolls house at the moment, hopefully I'll have some photos soon to share with you), and I'm hoping to draw, paint, sculpt, print, and just generally do more cool stuff as time goes on.

I want to be able to publish and share my knitting & crochet patterns, instructions for arty and crafty projects, maybe even recipes too.

I don't know where I'm going to be by this time next year, or what I might have made in the meantime.  I don't even know if this blog hosting site can do all the things I want it to do.  There's only one way to find out . . .