Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Post-Christmas, Pre-New Year

This was me and Meg having a quiet few moments yesterday afternoon/early evening. It's been such a busy, sociable few days and I feel I've neglected my little ginger friend. So it was such a treat to sit quietly on the couch with her yesterday having a cuddle, while I read one of my new books, Death Comes to Pemberley.


Pride and Prejudice is probably my favourite book of all time. There are others I absolutely adore and champion, but Pride and Prejudice is the only one I re-read at least once a year. As a model of how to write a good narrative it is fairly faultless. Plot and character development drive on at a fair speed and there is very little fat to the story at all. And then Jane Austen's wonderful sentence construction - again, she writes so succinctly with no superfluous words. I often re-read particular paragraphs a few times as they are so well-written and so moving. 


So, when I discovered that PD James was writing a murder-mystery sequel I just had to have it. I'm almost halfway through Death Comes to Pemberley. It's an easy read, and, much as I want to love it, it isn't quite what I thought it would be. The part I've just read spent a long time repeating judicial information. And she hasn't quite pitched the characters of Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane and Bingley right. Of course it's a monumental task to take another writer's characters who are so well-drawn and develop them further.


But, I will continue with an open mind, and yesterday it occurred to me that if I was reading it as a standalone book then I would enjoy it for its own sake. So that's the spirit I'll continue reading it in.


When people asked what to get me for Christmas this year I directed them to my Amazon wish list. Part of my grumble about Christmas is that people spend a lot of money on each other buying gifts that no one wants. And when I am choosing what to get people I don't like to feel I'm wasting my money on gifts they won't get full use out of. It ripples out further to waste in the world in general BUT this isn't a post about that.


So I was very pleased to receive the above books from people who had shopped from my Amazon wish list. The Andrew Motion book wasn't on my wish list but the others were (I'm happy to receive books that people think I might like too).


I put the Julian Barnes on my wish list after reading a comment an old friend made on her Twitter page about it. She is also a writer and there is promise of a clever ending. I'm totally in awe of all things Sarah Waters so I'll look forward to reading Affinity, and The Bag Making Bible is for my creative side.
I love all things stationery, and already have Postcards from Penguin. So I was excited to see the Postcards from Ladybird series too. Although I like the concept of Postcards from Penguin, quite a lot of the 100 postcards weren't to my taste, so there are cards in the box I would never display or send anyone.


However, Postcards from Ladybird is terrific! I like every one of the 100 postcards. The above selection are the Ladybird books I had as a child. I'm sure I had more, but these are the covers I had on my books. A couple of years ago I discovered two or three of the original books in an Oxfam shop and bought them. Of course, my mother had given away all of my books! 
I love the range of subjects they cover. Educational and entertaining. And I remember the books I had were so beautifully illustrated.
A bit of gender-stereotyping going on in the 'People at Work' series but it was the 70s.
I could easily have photographed them all as examples of greatness. I particularly love the 'Fireworks' book cover. Not quite sure what is going on with the boy in wellingtons, shorts, tweed jacket and hat with that indeterminate creature in front of him! I would like to have all of these books now.
And as a final note: this piece of fabric arrived in the post for me today from my friend Angelique who lives in Denver Colorado. She has recently bought into a fabric/wool shop there and when we met up in Edinburgh a couple of months ago we discovered we are both fans of Lara Cameron's designs. 


It totally cheered me up and now sits behind my laptop so I can admire it as I work.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas

video
Well I belatedly got into the Christmas spirit. And had a really good three days. We visited Hagos's mum on Christmas Eve, my parents and family on Christmas Day and the Burnses on Boxing Day. Above is a short video of the boys playing Monopoly yesterday. It's highly competitive, and there was a Monopoly game a few years ago when the Burnses had rented a cottage near where we lived in Norfolk and once the little boys were in bed the adults played Monopoly and after 26 years of friendship we were on the brink of falling out over it! :) We laugh about it now, of course.


I've really enjoyed seeing so many people and having a good sociable time. And it's been lovely to be able to come home at the end of each day and be in our own house, with Meg. And driving comparatively short distances.


I'm keen to get onto the next round of making stuff. Lots of ideas. And maybe better planning throughout the year.


Goodwill to all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This time of year

I struggle with this time of year. Or, I struggle with the expectations and consumption surrounding Christmas. I could go on about it for paragraphs, but I'll focus on the positives of what I do like instead.


I am only making two lots of Christmas presents this year. Possibly a third one will get made, depending on the time. Above is a necklace I made for my niece. I love the colours and think it is quite striking. I don't often make jewellery any more so it was fun to put this together. I hope she likes it. 
And these little shoes for my nephew's daughter. They still have to be sewn together but I've chosen the buttons and rose-decorations.
There are lots of things I do like about the festive season: this weekend we are hosting a Christmas singalong, where those who can play an instrument accompany everyone else while they sing. And I like Christmas Day where I get to be with my husband and parents and sister etc and play games, have dinner together and see my great-nephews and -niece. 


I find buying Christmas presents for people difficult though. Maybe because it's all done in one go. I like giving presents when I know I've found a present for someone they will actually like. And I hate that feeling of just buying anything to fulfil the expectation. And when I receive presents in that vein too. It's a waste. Yes, I dislike waste. And expectation. And duty. On that cheery note... :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Snow, bridges, rivers, birthdays, knitting and buttons

We've had two days of snow around here in Edinburgh this week. And one day of such stormy weather that we didn't leave the house after 10.30am!
Hagos and I found this little bridge across the river near where we live. It was great fun exploring the other side (more to be discovered).
Hagos on the bridge. We've both had colds this week. Hagos got his as soon as he returned from tour. And I came down with it on Friday evening. Saturday and Sunday were bad, and I expect today to be the last of it, though Hagos still has a bit of it left over.
When I woke up to the snow the other day I just had to get out in it straightaway with my camera before anyone else was out. I felt like the boy in The Snowman. I put on my wellies and my coat over my pyjamas. It was great.
Three and a half hours later our neighbours dropped in as they'd seen my footprints in the snow. Hagos and I were still in our pyjamas, trying to smooth down our hair and look semi-respectable for visitors. Their baby, Archie (6 months) had on his little santa hat and a pair of Rudolf slippers. Very Christmassy.
I love the composition in the above shot.
And this was Sunday at Pete and Lynsey's house. Lynsey had organised a brunch for Pete's birthday. Above are Hagos and Nate. Hagos is guessing what characteristics Nate's school friends may have based on their names. 


It was lovely to catch up with other friends there too and work on persuading them to join our new pub quiz on Tuesday night, resurrecting an old tradition when we used to live in Highgate, London. The pub quiz was run/frequented by people who worked at Private Eye and it was SO difficult. Our friend Kev, who is now also back living in Edinburgh was in our team, along with other regular members Mac and Janie. Good fun. 
And these are the only Christmas gifts I'm knitting this year. Little bootees for my nephew's new daughter Lucy. They're satisfying to knit as they can be done while a cat is sitting on me (anytime I sit on the couch) and are finished fairly quickly.
A second pair, which I'm hoping the mum will see as purple rather than blue. Some people are funny about gender/colour-dressing. The buttons alongside it are possibilities. 
And it was nice to go through my novelty button collection, which I haven't done for ages. 


Well, it is almost half five in the morning. I got up at 4am needing a Lemsip. I really don't like Lemsip but have had a lot of them in the past few days. Meg is all over me, trying to get me to give her more roast chicken, stamping on my laptop, biting me.


I started re-reading The Night Watch by Sarah Waters when I went to bed last night. My friend Sophie sent me a text on Saturday saying she was reading Fingersmith and described Waters as 'devastatingly good'. And it's true. She is a blisteringly good writer. Affinity is on my Amazon Wishlist, and I ordered Fingersmith myself. I would love to observe her working methods for a month. And be her friend :)

Saturday, December 03, 2011

A meditative drive

This is The Devil's Beeftub, which I drive through on the way to my parents' house. I absolutely love the drive; I make myself a cappuccino and today I listened to the radio adaptation of Jeeves and Wooster (on CD - live radio reception drops out for most of the trip). PG Wodehouse has such a silly sense of humour, he's great.  
These photos don't capture the grandeur of the hills and the sweeping 360 degrees scenery. Often, the mist is so low it skims the hills. The entirety of the drive is a sort of meditation. 
Also lining the road, which I didn't photograph, lots of Christmas trees, so very apt :)

Friday, December 02, 2011

Wool porn

I had coffee today with my friend Lynsey, who I recently knitted mittens for. I loved the dark, charcoaly-black of hers so much that it made me rethink the pair I'd been knitting for myself (one mitten finished in purple and green). So after coffee I went into town as I had to change up some Euros anyway, and popped into John Lewis while I was there. 


I was immediately drawn to the above wool, mostly because of the yolky-ness of the yellow ball, but also because it is so amazingly soft (75% wool / 25% alpaca). And I knew I just had to have it! And of course, there was no point buying one ball of yolky-yellow wool, so I bought two black balls too and will knit them into my new winter scarf.
I also bought a ball of the charcoaly-black Pure Wool 4 ply to use with my leftover, similar yellow 4 ply wool and will knit them into my new mittens, to match the scarf.


I'm not sure what I'll use to make a new hat, but I have some leftover wool in my stash that might do. 
And this is Meg tonight. She is so sweet. I think part of the reason I'm drawn towards those gorgeous honey-yellow colours is because Meg's colouring is in that part of the spectrum. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Must Try Harder


I make my own bread from Dove's Organic Wholemeal and White Strong Bread Flour. I do a 50/50 mix. Yesterday I went to the cupboard to make a new loaf only to discover I had run out of the wholemeal and only had 250g of the white flour. So I made these lovely rolls instead. There were four of them but they were so delicious that two got eaten before I thought of taking a photo. I'm the type of person who thinks I can work stuff out by myself, with only the barest of instructions, so though I knew that kneading the dough is an integral part of bread making, I only ever kneaded the dough for a minute or two because, well, it turned out okay like that.

It's only very recently that I've started kneading the dough for the full ten minutes (after watching one of the baking programmes on TV), and what a difference! It really is much lighter and airier. And more delicious.
 
"Paula will get an 'O' grade without too much effort. But more effort would get her a V good pass."

My mother is completely unsentimental when it comes to keeping stuff from the past. She's constantly on at my dad to go through drawers and cupboards with her to throw stuff out, and will list items that have been in their bedroom walk-in cupboard for 30 years that they've never used. My dad is the complete opposite and keeps everything just in case it comes in handy. This means that when I left home my mother disposed of most of my childhood toys, which I find quite shocking because, eh, well, I thought they belonged to me, and I never got the opportunity to say whether I wanted to take them with me or not. This included board games, dolls, and books! A few things survived, and when I realised what had occurred I would rescue any remaining items I could, mostly books (though very few actually made it). The last time I visited my mother she said she'd come across an old school report of mine, which she gave me. 

The above report sums me up pretty well. I get by in most things without much effort. I pick information up pretty quickly and managed to be in the top sets at school (except science, which I was in the second set for) for all subjects and managed to get a 'B' or an 'A' pass fairly easily, only having to cram for a day or so before each exam.

But recently I've been thinking a lot about what I could achieve if I put actual effort into my work. My friend Janie recently completed her BA in Music and got a First; she then went on to do her Masters in Music and got a distinction in that too. I know exactly how much effort and application is required to achieve this. I got a 2:1 in my first degree and I also have a Masters degree (each without distinction, though I did get a distinction for my final piece of work in my BA and was chosen as one of the four top students out of the whole year - something I've just remembered). 

But anyway, the point is, I am aware I need to apply myself to my work with the hope that I will achieve more. Though I know I work better when I have a deadline to hit.  
And onto more frivolous subjects: Meg had brought a mouse in just as I was making lunch. She set it under the table (where I was working) and wasn't too interested in eating it. I disposed of the poor wee thing in the bin and then sat down to eat poached egg on toast. She then jumped onto the table and kept trying to nose her way onto my plate. I fended her off until the last couple of bites, then I had to push the last of my egg on toast to one corner while she licked the rest of the plate. She likes the butter, but I think she likes egg yolk too.
And this is an amazing tree root near where I live. It's taller than me (I like scale) and is so impressive close up. One of my favourite things is to be outdoors scampering about the countryside. I like having a purpose (collecting kindling, looking for the river) but just being outdoors in this beautiful Scottish landscape with the colours and the light is amazing.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pay It Forward

A couple of years ago I responded to this offer and this week I received these lovely gifts from Caireen:
A Clutterbucket, which is a great idea for keeping current projects in. I filled it with my knitting immediately. A long time ago I bought some plain, faded green material to make 'project bags' for my many unfinished knitting and sewing projects, the idea being to line them all up, with a photocopy of the project on the front, so I could easily pick up the project at any time and continue. Anyway, I think clutterbuckets are a better idea as they are reversible, compact, and easy to see what's inside already. And they sit perfectly on the shelf.
My current knitting project modelling the bucket :)
Caireen also sent me these gift tags, which she's recycled from magazines by sticking cut out pictures onto card. I love anything stationery so these appealed to my messing-around-and-making-things streak.
It was SO lovely to get something fun and exciting in the post, and in the spirit of the original entry, I am now offering a 'Pay It Forward' myself.
So, the first three people to leave a comment on this post will receive a home-made gift from me within the year. I have a few ideas of what to make and pass on.


Looking forward to hearing from you! 

Monday, November 07, 2011

Bonfire Night! and Monday Morning

We had a great Bonfire Night this year. We always try to celebrate with the Burnses and this year it was much easier living only 8 miles away. I wanted to keep it as easy and stress-free as possible, so we stripped it right back to: bonfire :: takeaway food :: fireworks.


During the afternoon we collected firewood with our neighbours and their kids (having a truck, a chainsaw and a mini-wheelbarrow really helps!), then the three wives did a dash to the fish and chip shop (and Tesco's for wellies and dry socks) while the husbands continued to build the bonfire. After food Pete and our other neighbour Hamish (who had turned up with his one mega-box of fireworks) disappeared into the darkness and from then on the rest of us watched the lovely colours and sparks and heard the bangs. We could just make out Pete and Hamish beating a hasty retreat from the occasional larger firework. It was great fun, and so lovely to be outside next to a warm fire. I missed lots of good photo opportunities by leaving my camera back in the house after we returned with food. There was a particularly good shot of three of the kids lined up with sparklers, which I missed. It was great to see the kids getting involved in the wood collecting with much gusto! Nate and Peter and Guy threw themselves into the adventure. JJ was struck, almost as soon as he arrived, with very wet feet and was out of action until the wellies came to his rescue. 


I also enjoyed walking back to the field the following morning (bright sunshine, crisp and frosty) to collect the spent fireworks and try to return the ground to its former state. Though I did think that if a woman had been setting up the fireworks she would have carefully laid the removed clod of earth next to its corresponding hole, for ease of return, rather than what looked like Pete and Hamish's excited frenzy of flinging the clods willy nilly across the field making them difficult to find :) But, you know, boys and their toys.
This was the lovely reflection above our fireplace this morning.
My jumper progress. I'm liking it more and more. Though I feel I should stop once I complete the front, and work on Christmas presents instead.
I wanted to capture the close-up detail of the stitches but I think I need a macro lens to do that.


I'm thinking of knitting more of the capped 4-ply jumpers to use as vests through the winter. I never really knew what to do with that jumper until now, but it really adds insulation to wear it as a vest (on top of my actual, cotton vest - one can never have too many vests in winter in Scotland). It only uses four balls of wool and is an easy knit. 


I'm also thinking of re-designing my new winter accessories range and going for charcoal and purple as the colour theme. I loved the charcoal base of Lynsey's mittens, and I think purple snowflakes on the mittens would be striking. I'd also knit my favourite winter hat pattern in Big Wool charcoal, and put purple pom poms on the bottom. Then I'd just have to decide on the design for the scarf. I like the idea of chunky cables somehow, though I also thought of repeating the snowflake pattern at each end of the scarf. Lots of winter knitting coming up!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Apples on the Bounty (apart from the mittens)


We tried our real cider last week and it was much improved on when we put it into the bottles for its second fermentation, so now we're letting it rest some more before getting stuck in. Above is a little crate of goodies we took round to our neighbours: six bottles of 'Toe Curler' (real cider), a jar of Tomato Relish and a jar of Plum and Apple Jam. All of which has been made from apples off the estate. A good little hamper, I thought. It was fun taking it round. Our neighbours had come over the previous week with Apple Cheese (can you spot the theme?) and Apple and Walnut pudding, which was delicious. We had the pudding after dinner that night. So nice to get an unexpected present.
I love those squat jars. I haven't found an independent baking/cooking supplier in Edinburgh so far. Lakeland is okay for some stuff but heavily over-priced on others. 
I like seeing all the preserves and relishes lined up, ready to be used throughout winter. Next year I hope to be better prepared for canning/preserving.
The relish is a Mrs Beeton's recipe (as is the jam). I like it because it uses very little vinegar and sugar to preserve the fresh ingredients, which include root ginger, chillies, apples, tomatoes and onions. So it remains fresh and delicious.
And finally, the mittens I've made for my friend's birthday tomorrow. I doubt she will look on here before then. I totally love the colours. I wasn't sure when I began, but quickly loved the contrast. They are very vibrant. So much so, that I may un-knit my own green and purple mittens and knit them back up as black and purple. I'm loving this slightly-off black (Rowan Pure Wool 4 ply). 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Insomnia

For the past week I've been getting up for a couple of hours during the night, unable to sleep, even with herbal sleeping pills and Ibuprofen. I know it's to do with my caffeine intake as this happens every so often. I drink strong coffee (usually only one) about mid-morning. Then the build-up of lots of strong coffees over time takes its toll and I have to cut it out completely for a few days. I had no caffeine a couple of days ago and slept really well the night before last. But yesterday I just couldn't resist having a small amount of caffeine in my decaf coffee. Big mistake! I felt sleepy around 9pm, that passed and I was up until midnight. I read in bed for a while, put the light out, couldn't get to sleep, and ended up getting back up until 6am
I re-watched Strictly Come Dancing, AND the results show, AND It Takes Two from yesterday. I didn't feel sleepy at all
I ate two satsumas, and three squares of dark chocolate, knitted a few more rounds of my mittens, and STILL didn't feel sleepy.
I was badgered by Meg into giving her the last of her half-chicken, knitted some more, Meg got on me and we had a cuddle for a while. 
And finally I went to bed. I took more Ibuprofen and fell asleep. 


I slept until 11.30am and woke up feeling full of caffeine (though I've had none).


So, today will be a caffeine-free day, and probably the rest of the week, until I feel normal again.


For some reason, during the darkness, Elspeth Thompson came to mind. I had only just discovered her writing and books and had begun following her blog when her husband announced on her website that she had died. I felt very sorry for her and her family (of course), and sorry that she wasn't able to get through that deep depression to surface again and find enjoyment in life. Because she had so many positive things and interests. Sometimes life is about endurance, until the fog clears and colour returns. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Busy-ness

It has become a tradition of mine, every year, to make Plum and Apple Jam, roundabout now, though I am a little later this year. Part of the purpose of the exercise is to make jam from the free bounty that is around but I am short of a plum supplier now, and we used all of our eating apples to make cider! So, I went to Whitmuir Organic Farm and bought local apples and imported Italian plums. I was hoping they would have local plums, or some of the Greengages I used earlier in the year to make jam, but non.  


I must say it is one of the best batches I have ever made! It turned out really well and is as delicious and jewel-like-in-colour as ever. Two jars are for my friend's birthday, and the other two I'll keep for ourselves. I think it's very likely I'll make more very soon.


This is my little bowl of bounty that I got from the garden the other day. Not as much as in previous years, obviously, but lovely to see nonetheless.
The Great Cider Mission! I collected Hagos from the airport on Tuesday and we headed straight to the home brew shop to collect bottles and bottle tops for the real cider. It smelled a bit whiffy when we took the top off the tub (!) but I thought it tasted okay. Hagos thought it tasted like lemon juice! So now it's fingers crossed for this second fermentation process. There are so many people who are interested in the real cider, it has to be a success.
On Friday when I watched Nate and JJ we went with our neighbours and their children to the cooking apple tree in the centre of the maze. We picked a few apples, though it had recently been plundered, and I got enough to make this batch of apple tarts. They are okay. Not great as I only had butter rather than margarine for the pastry, so they're a bit heavy, but nice anyway.

I really wanted to include my latest knitting project in this update, but though I think the friend I'm making them for won't check my blog before her birthday I don't want to chance it. But, I'm very pleased with the knitting! And I was/am just in the mood to knit this particular thing, and the colours, which I really wasn't sure about to begin with, I've grown to really love, and I think they look a bit gothic! I'll update photos after 1st November when the present will be given.