Thursday, 18 December 2014

Silly stuff...

Tomorrow I will be the mother of a seventeen year old. Hell, how did that happen? There are a few things that go with the territory and one of them is laughing at their quirks, even if they are 'not amused!'

I find the whole selfie thing absolutely hilarious. It doesn't matter what you weigh, what shape face you have, what you're wearing... They all come out looking like the top photo here. Pouty alien faced. OK it took me a few goes and I was being silly, in the end I remembered the feature that let's you swivel the camera round. Duh. I blame the mirror I was standing in front of, it confused me. Apparently taking a selfie just got easier this year; those telescopic arms are set to be on millions of Santa wishlists this year. (You can give mine a miss Santa.)

Anyway, after much faffing with hat and iPod I realised I could have just taken a photo of the pattern cover! She's much more photogenic, bless her. Still looks like an alien to me, but a pretty one.

I love this hat I've made for E. It's a beginners knitting pattern by Erika Knight. Worked up on 10mm needles using just two balls of super chunky. They didn't have the colour I wanted in her own range of wool so I used Sirdar's Big Softie which turned out to be ideal, extremely warm and a bit cheaper. It didn't take long at all which is just as well because even with this I had to keep stopping for a bit of wrist rubbing. I don't know why I can crochet for hours but only do short spells of knitting. Very annoying.

I like this pattern for several reasons. It has a very generous amount of ribbing which makes the whole issue of fit a walk in the park. Previous hats, whether knitted or crocheted always seem to be just off the mark when it comes to the fit. Secondly it was quick and easy and not fiddly knitting in the round stuff. Finally, you could knit everyone you know a hat on Christmas Eve and still have time for a nightcap with mince pies!

Thursday, 4 December 2014


I've had my first week day off from the charity shop since we first set it up three weeks ago. I had to take Ella to an appointment that was bang slap in the middle of my day so it wasn't worth going in before or after. In fact a day off was long overdue. It's been pretty full on work at the shop. Lots of bending, lifting and climbing up and down stepladders, with little time to stop for coffee or lunch. So much so I had to make a return visit to hospital. I never did have gas and air whilst in labour with Ella or Jake and now I know what a waste of time it is. It didn't take the pain away as such but it did turn the inside of the ambulance into a very weird shape with very weird sounds. In fact it was just plain old weird and after a while the pain was the last thing on my mind, so it does kinda work.

So I'm having a few days of rest. Mainly to keep the nagging husband from...well, nagging. The trouble is that now I've got the bug for rearranging junk at work all I want to do is come home and rearrange my own junk. Just a glance in the direction of a stepladder and he looks at me with ridiculous disapproval. Lucky for me he's off to work nice and early tomorrow. I need to go up into the attic to find those elusive Christmas decorations!

That wasn't all the drama that's happened around her lately either. I woke this morning and sleepily went into the conservatory to pull up the blinds. I saw what I thought was a bloody white tissue on the floor and wondered who'd had a nose bleed... It wasn't a tissue. It was the mangled little body of Lorelei; Ella's white Roborovski hamster. It was quite an unpleasant shock. I've never had to pick up a dead animal in my life but with M not home I had to get a wodge of tissues and pick it up and pop it in a box quickly and quietly (I was breathing extremely fast and puffing and ok, swearing too) before Ella woke up. I wasn't looking forward to breaking the news. 'Oh by the way, the cat has murdered your hamster'. What I have to say about the cat right now can't be said out loud.

The culprit was an external tube that she must have a managed to dislodge. Needless to say that cage is being donated to the charity shop and a cat proof replacement has been purchased along with a new addition to take Ella's mind off the loss. She really gets attached to these little fellas. Batman and Flash are about to spend their second Christmas with us. They are girls but E didn't let that spoil her plans for their names. Lorelei had a completely different personality and was chosen because she was on her own, with all her chums purchased. Daisy is the new girl in town. She came with that name. She was not for sale as such, but up for adoption because she was too old to sell. They sell them at 8 or 9 weeks and Daisy was the grand old age of 12 weeks. It was suggested we make a donation to the charity, so we did.

So far so good. She seems to be settling in well. They are best kept in pairs but Ella has a soft spot for the ones that end up alone. She's got a little strawberry house, a brand new wheel, a chinchilla dust bath and some natural fluff for her bedding. It's practically a penthouse suite!

Happier news includes the presentation night at E's school tonight. She received her GCSE certificates shortly after we listened to two of the most dull and rubbish guest speakers. She also received a special award for excellence in Art. She was chuffed to bits. Along with the wooden shield she also got a book voucher. She's going to buy a clothbound edition of a novel that is slightly art related and then she can attach the bookplate they also gave her (this book was awarded to...). Such a nice touch I thought. Made up for the dull speakers.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Cats sleep anywhere...

So you get the general idea that Mollie has a few choices when it comes to places to sleep? Yep. So I think you'll agree that sleeping on top of my Dairy Milk Oreo bar was bang out of order? Yes. I knew you'd agree. M swears cats don't get senile dementia, but I disagree. I may have mentioned ringing her scrawny little neck. A bit of an overreaction said M. Have you seen the state of my Oreo chocolate? This isn't just any old bar of chocolate you know! It was melted into a wafer thin version of its former self. Let's just say the cat had better stay out of my way from now on!

She is probably about 14 or 15 years old. She didn't come with an exact age. The paperwork just said between approx three to four and a half years old. That was about eleven years ago. Roughly. Either way I think she's going senile. We've started on a grand tour of places-to-sleep-that-will-irritate-the-heck-out-of-mum. A few days ago it was on top of a bookcase in the kitchen. This special spot meant she could leap from there to the top of the tall fridge just at the precise moment you entered the kitchen scaring the hell out of you. Next, she decided to sleep in the middle of the kitchen island. This follows years of never, and I mean never, allowing her to jump up on any of our kitchen work surfaces. She just brazenly decided to plonk herself in the middle of one. That night I covered every square inch of that worktop I with obstacles. Ha ha I thought. Sleep on top of my cake stand if you dare. Make yourself comfy on my set of saucepans why not? Never fear though, cats are always one step ahead. Where did she sleep that night? On the blinking oven hob of course!

And so it went on until the night of the Oreo bar. When I mention that I've had enough of scraping up black fur and mud from inappropriate sleeping places everyone says, 'but you'll miss her when she's gone!' Mmmh, debatable.

So what delights have I had today at the charity shop? Oh yes, the pushchair. In wheels a little old lady with a pushchair and I immediately realise it's going to be a donation. How nice I think. She probably has grandchildren that have outgrown it. 'Is this any good to you?' she says. Yes, thank you very much I say, looking it up and down and thinking to myself, this is a good quality pushchair with rain hood and foot muffler. Perfect. Off she trots, off I trot with the booty. 'Oh' she says. 'I used it for my dog. Until he died that is.' On closer nose inspection yep, it smelt like a stinking dog bed. Lovely. It's surprising what a good Hoover and a bottle of Febreze can do!

I love making friends with the decent regulars. By decent I mean the ones that aren't shoplifters. One such regular is in his eighties but as fit as a fiddle. He cycles by most days and if we have any clock radios he always buys them. I've no idea what he does with so many of them. Today he came by and bought a tape deck and whilst he was paying for that he noticed I had unpacked a couple of watches. I said they weren't working but might do with a new battery. He went home with his tape deck and a bit later he came back with a big knife and a handful of tiny little batteries. The knife was to pick the backs off. Anyway, two of the four were working and the other two we had to throw away. We know who to ask if we get any more watches in!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Secret confessions of a charity shop volunteer...

Pssst! It's me! Have you ever tried to photograph yourself wearing a cowl whilst trying not to get your 'just woken up' face in? Well if you have, it probably looks something like the above photo!

I was really pleased with this quick and easy cowl. Pattern in Simply Crochet fairly recently. It was cheap and cheerful too. Less than £4. It's very warm despite being done in v stitch. I used a basic aran weight wool (Boyes own) which has a lovely light and airy feel, with a bit of give, perfect for this project.

It looks nicer when not worn like you want to hold a bank up!

I've drafted several blog entries since I started working at a charity shop. They all end up mentioning unmentionable type things. If I write about any one particular day it will have references to things which would make you question why I'm still there!

I'll give you an example, or two. A cute kid of about eight years old, pushes an overloaded pushchair to the shop door and politely asks if we would like some donations. He's a little grubby and the pushchair is a little grubby. Alarm bells should have been clanging in my head. I thank him as we unload the last of the black sacks and bits and bobs. The donations go straight through to the back of the shop, but hang on, a smell is following me through. It seems to be the smell of human wee. (I make a distinction between human and cat here because we've already been there with the cat variety). Sure enough, upon opening a bag of baby shoes the stench of human p*** hits me full on. Oops. Maybe some little kid was caught short (here's a handy carrier bag full of baby shoes I can pee into!) I try the second bag.... I don some rubber gloves and shoot the entire lot into our mini skip of a bin.

I did a local delivery today. A lovely old man, a regular. He speaks with a very hoarse voice. He helped me unload the car and we lifted the cabinet into his flat (ground floor thank goodness). I'm not sure how he could see where he was going with the grey fug that hung in the air (cigarette smoke). I got back to the car and it took me half an hour to stop coughing.

On the plus side I sold a pink Christmas tree to a young woman who was debating whether to part with five whole pounds for it, when I asked if she would like to see it lit up (it had pre fitted lights). 'Its got lights on it?' She was beside herself with excitement. I got out our demo batteries and fitted them and sure enough it all lit up and she clapped her hands together and said it was the best tree she'd ever seen. Sold.

A small boy of about five or six, with the filthiest face and shirt I've seen since I last saw the film version of Oliver, purchased a 10p matchbox truck. He said something like, 'Ine gunna drive one when Ine bigga!' Yeah and you'll probably be one of those filthy devils who pee into a coke bottle and chuck it out of the window!

A man came in and purchased an electric can opener. He looked around and realised he was the only customer and decided to be chatty. His opening line was, 'I've just got out of prison, yeah, two days ago, actually, yeah, I got fifteen years, yeah, I done ten though, yeah.' Was it wrong of me to wish we had a panic button at this stage of the conversation?

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Ted and Rufus...

I'm back and I'm glad to report my absence wasn't anything to do with hospital visits for a change! In the absence of interesting photos about the goings on of the last few weeks I've used a recent picture of Ted and Rufus who have been boxed and are finally making their way up into the attic.

Note that I intentionally only use the names Ted and Rufus despite the fact there are two teds. Mothers everywhere will be familiar with 'The Chosen One' which in J's case was this £1 teddy from IKEA. I went back at a later date and purchased another just in case the special Ted was lost or left behind somewhere. There were, however, obstacles to overcome with the stand in. For a start he was honey coloured compared to the pale and interesting shade of the original Ted. Ella, who was in on this conspiracy, decided we would say he's been away on holiday and now he is... 'Suntan Ted' yay! In the event we never had to produce Suntan Ted. Phew.

Rufus, on the other hand, came to live with us when he got dropped into a shopping trolley by the cunning nearly two year old Jake. I saw him out of the corner of my eye and planned to drop the dog straight back where he came from before checking out, hoping that he'd be long forgotten. Never underestimate the brain and memory of a nearly two year old is all I can say. Thence followed years of taking Ted and Rufus e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e!! Most heartbreakingly to stay with his Dad on occasion but let's not go there.

I should add here that they weren't recently relegated to the box. That was actually some time ago. They weren't allowed to leave the room though, that is a recent thing. At nearly six feet tall I've had to teach J it's time to let go! I guess I have to learn the same lesson. If there's one thing motherhood has taught me it's that it's not so much to do with looking after and nurturing, it's being there while, bit by bit, you actually let go.

With letting go in mind I have at last had proper thoughts about becoming more than just a housewife, mother, chief dog walker, chief dog bather, one woman Chinese laundry...etc. I had fun being a graphic designer before the children were born and for a little while afterwards. I bought and restored and sold on, both antiques and tatty old furniture, for quite a long time. Now it's time to do something less taxing and less risky perhaps. A quick glance through job websites told me that I don't really have any up to date skills that I can market. I can only capitalise on the ones I already have. Being able to talk to people on the telephone is not one of them which does seem to rule out a few things. (Type talk, or type relay or whatever they've renamed it will always be a rubbish substitute, for me anyway).

So to cut a long story short, and still wanting very much to work in an environment with tatty old things :-) I've been setting up and now volunteering for a new charity shop! So far I think the setting up was more fun than the day to day running but it's had it's funny moments. The local community has it's fair share of colourful characters.

I've been able to put to use the knowledge I've gained from a decade or so of attending and buying from auctions. I know my Moorcroft from my Meakin! We don't get much of the former but we've got piles of the latter. I've been able to price things according to current values which has gained us a few more pennies than they would have got. I've used my arty flair to design the window displays. The china and glass window, which is the smaller of the two, gets lots of comments. I've also discovered the power of the window display for selling. We sell so much of what is in the window. When I sold my furniture it was a space within an antiques centre so the whole pitch was my window so to speak.

The larger window is more clothing and household. I aim for a family appeal. So we have a male grouping to one end; a male mannequin, our delightful collection of old radios (they come in just as fast as they fly out), manly things like messenger bags, crime books, taps, drumsticks (yes really). The female side has clothes, shoes, bags, mills and boon (sell like hot cakes believe it or not!) and the central area is dedicated to our best toys and cuddly toys. I'm hoping we can get some child mannequins eventually.

Other skills I've had to brush up on; how to collapse a pram or pushchair in order to demonstrate it to potential buyers! I haven't lost a finger yet. How to put up a travel cot (when the last time you had to do that was at least 13 years ago). Mostly though it's how to stop people stealing things which has been the really disappointing side of it. Just recently we had a price sticker swapping expert. It only came to light after we were discussing sales and an antique jug had been sold for £2.50 which is not what I priced it at all. On inspection we discovered a smaller jug was missing it's £2.50 price sticker. We have a good description of the man and surprisingly he was quite smartly dressed.

I could write a whole book on the goings on behind the scenes in a charity shop. It's been a real eye opener in many ways. I had never imagined how hard it was to get volunteers who are capable of putting clean clothing on hangers with the right size toggle. Not rocket science is it? It is for the ones we've had apply. Most want to volunteer so that they can get jobseekers allowance without having to travel into town or do other mind numbingly boring schemes like make greetings cards. They see the shop as an easy option.

Just don't get me started on the quality of the donations. Especially if you're eating or about to eat. I could put you off your food quite easily.

The perks? There aren't many. A staff discount of 50%. Socialising with the local community which include drunks, drug addicts, neglected filthy children, lonely old people (my favourite kind of customer). Getting home before the rush hour is a good thing. Collapsing in a heap feeling you've provided a useful, vital service for the community, not to mention the charity, which is Relate by the way.

In the meantime, all crochet has been on hold. Quite a bit of the housework has been on hold. On the plus side carpet and surfaces have been appearing where I've taken stuff in to donate! My perfect job!

Christmas is creeping up on me! Can't wait until 1st December though, I've got my Christmas window all planned! Must remember to take a photo for my blog!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The experimental pair...

We had quite an eventful week last week. I turned a year older. Briefly toyed with the idea of never dying my grey out again, got a frightening response from E and banished that idea. She did mention that I'd need to be at least 90 before grey would look right for me. 45 years and counting. Note to self; add this one onto the long list of things to do when children leave home!

On said Birthday evening M, E and J went to see Ed Sheeran live at Nottingham. Wish I could have enjoyed something like that too. Say no more. I did enjoy the bottle of Pinot Grigio I had to myself not to mention the remote control. The latter was so unfamiliar to me I had to get my reading glasses on to examine what each button did. Am I a doormat for not putting my foot down and insisting we share the choice of tv or am I a candidate for UN peacekeeper?

We also had a wedding anniversary. Seventh. Wool. Happened to be passing a wool shop with M that day. Chose my own wedding anniversary present while M got comfy on the shop sofa and talked about all things crochet with the shop owner. I've trained him well.

And so half term began this week. We kicked off with a train ride to Nottingham. It's been a very long time since I took the children on a train ride, just me and them. When they were small we would make the odd journey specifically just to have a ride on a train. I would make sure they each had a small rucksack with colouring things, small games, a few matchbox cars, an apple and a box of raisins... Oh boy have we gone downhill since then! Jake packed his own rucksack yesterday which consisted of one iPad and one pair of headphones. That's all he needed to keep himself occupied for two hours.

I got out my wool and crochet hook and he mouthed, 'you are kidding aren't you?' To which I just shook my head with a mad woman's grin. He turned a lovely shade of red and looked out of the window, trying very hard to look as though he wasn't with me. He was, however, a superb shopping partner. Our main task was to buy him a winter coat/jacket/whatever. We found that in the first five minutes and bought it. Boys are sooo easy! I dragged him into the wool department in John Lewis and plonked him down at the patterns table while I browsed (it was seriously rubbish!). I then suggested a couple of charity shops and he was still game. He carried all our purchases without so much as a moan. Well ok, he did say it whiffed a bit in the British Heart foundation shop but he did have a point.

I finished off one of these mock cable fingerless gloves/wristwarmers on the train and started the second. I'm calling them the experimental pair because I really couldn't remember how to do raised stitches. For some reason I ended up slip stitching them and afterwards I realised that double crochet would have been much better. I'm tempted to rip that bit out and redo it, or just leave this pair with a more subtle cable detail and do the next pair properly.

They are extremely easy to make. I didn't even take the pattern with me on the train. Just rows of trebles interspersed with slip stitch rows, sewn up to leave a thumb hole which could be made into a proper thumb bit if you wanted to. The instructions suggested sewing up the glove before doing the raised stitches... very bad idea! Much easier to do the cable bit and then sew up. I used two balls of ALASKA by Drops (bought at the Knitting and Stitching Show). That's 100g of aran wool, a very economical project. The pattern lends itself to all kinds of modification.

If anyone would like the pattern it's a free pdf which I can email. I don't have the website link.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Off the hook...Sunday Shawl

Well I seem to have photographed this on the wrong side even though it's not really supposed to have a wrong and right side. I guess the shell row stands out more as having a right and wrong side. I'm definitely not going to brave the wind and rain to re-photograph it though! Various things from the garden took off last night and landed in the field. I've retrieved them and weighted everything else down.

So, I've been doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that. I've made some Christmas gifts that I can't show you yet. I've also made this shawl for myself. It's from a pattern I bought just before we went to Italy and I was hoping to find some suitable yarn out there to make it with. I ended up not finding any but when I got back to the UK I discovered an alpaca yarn in my local yarn store and set to work. The pattern calls for 300 grammes of the main colour in DK weight, so I reckon that makes it a suitable candidate for something slightly luxurious. The border colours can be done from existing stash, though 7 colours of 50g was recommended.

I haven't blocked it; it's too much bother. It's quite large and we lack large unused surfaces at the moment. It is very soft and snuggly though. I'm not big on shawls and I've no idea when I will wear it. My guess is when it turns really cold and I'm watching a Western of an afternoon! It's also probably suitable to wear as a scarf.

It was quite an easy make. The main body is made up of double treble rows and half treble rows. The border rows were much more fun, with puff stitches, shells, trellis and a lovely picot round to finish off.

The pattern is called The Sunday Shawl and is available on Etsy.