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.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Happy kid...

Who got Under 13s County Bowler of the Year Award? Yay! The big smile says it all, he's chuffed to finally get this one, and to be selected for the Emerging Players Programme (EPP). Happy boy.

It's a rubbish photo (taken on M's phone) but he's difficult to pin down for a serious shot. We have what looks like scribbling on the wall by his head. It is in fact where we have measured the kids height progress for the last few years. Ella has stopped at 5'6 much to her disgust. Jake is currently at 5'11. His latest cricket shoes are size 11. Insane.

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Knitting & Stitching Show 2014...

Well, I survived The Big Smoke! Only just though, I can barely walk today. Not a usual reaction to a day out in London but probably par for the course at the moment. I think I need some vitamins, or a gin and tonic, or both.

The journey itself was remarkably straightforward. Announcements are sometimes a worry, especially when the other passengers stop what they're doing, listen intently and then frown. For me the announcements may as well be in Dutch. Years ago, on a train journey, an announcement was made and everyone started getting off! I didn't have a clue what had been said, it could have been a bomb scare for all I knew. I started to look for someone in uniform and then realised that they were all getting onto another train. So I just followed. Then half way through that journey they started talking amongst themselves about which half of the train they were supposed to be in! Oh bother! Actually that wasn't the word I was thinking of at the time. Through sheer luck I was on the right half of the train. Phew. It's probably about time they started using those running light display things for important messages. Equal access and all that.

It was a relief to be meeting up with friends for the tube part of the route. It's been a while since I was last in London and Kings Cross has changed beyond recognition. The last part was in a red double decker bus especially for Alexander Palace shows.

I know this is slightly un-pc but when I return to my native South I always gain a little hearing back. I no longer have to struggle to both hear and interpret an accent that I have not grown up with. It's so much less tiring on my brain and my eyes. Having said that, groups and with shed loads of background noise are always pretty tricky.

Anyway, on to the show stuff. Wow! This was my first visit and it was so hot and busy that I abandoned any thoughts of taking photos for my blog. I took one or two and then realised it was going to be hard work. I may post those yet if my iPod starts communicating with my iPad like it is supposed to do.

I didn't plan what to see or what to buy. For a first visit I thought I'd just wander and see what caught my eye. It was so nice to see familiar faces. Things I've read about on blogs or seen in magazines. Toft for instance, and Edwards Menagerie, they were all dangling down from the stand waiting to be squished and admired. Very expensive though!

Locally I don't think we are well set up for wool. It's easy to get hold of the run of the mill stuff but I'd have to go to another major city to see more British Wools and undyed wool. Thankfully there were lots of stalls selling British Wool at the show. Some of the show prices didn't look very inviting so I jotted down a few names and will order from their websites as and when I have a requirement.

Jamiesons was a lovely stand. Lots caught my eye and they do woven fabric too. I now have one of their crochet bag kits on my wish list which I think could be lined with one of their tweedy Shetland wool fabrics.

Piiku was a name that I'd not heard of before. The name of the company is an old sheep calling, to bring the sheep in at the end of the day. They are based in Finland and the two women serving were very friendly and polite, they were rushed off their feet too. They sell roving, felt pieces, felt... They have a website that needs clearer photos of what they sell, but it's lovely stuff in all colours of the rainbow. I chose three undyed shades of fleece suitable for spinning (only £2.30 each). M thought I might like a drop spindle for my birthday but it turns out I may be able to borrow one just to see if I can get the hang of it. I bought some of their little felt pieces too, they look like pebbles. One of the women was wearing a necklace made from them and they also had a lovely mat made using the pieces. You could trim a scarf with them, use them for fake buttons, all sorts really. I like the idea of bracelets, because bracelets go with everything!

Drops was another name that I've known about for years but never actually seen or handled. They had a modest stall with several lovely people serving. Such reasonable prices for such a lovely product. By this time I'd seen some lovely shawls, triangular scarves, wristwarmers etc done in beautifully understated stitches, in natural tones with gorgeous colour combinations. The wools displayed with them though were hideously expensive so I gravitated to the Drops stand to buy equivalents. Hence my purchase of just two of their alpaca four ply balls. Only £3 each and all that was required for a triangular scarf made using a slightly larger hook than suggested on the ball band, a simple stitch and fat and thin stripes. I hope I can pull it off!

I also bought some of their aran weight wool, Alaska. I really love 100% wool! It smells divine and like I've said before I'm lucky to be able to wear it next to my skin without a problem. I bought four in mustard and two in charcoal with fingerless mitts in mind. I haven't made any for a while and yet we all wear them. Ella was particularly approving of the mustard colour! They were only £1.60 each!

I like the fact that Drops have such an enormous online resource for free patterns. They have some great designs. Most probably something for everyone.

Collinette do the most amazing arty yarns and are hard to find up here. The two hanks I bought are aran weight again, this is the weight I find most comfortable to work with. The shade is called 'Thunder', it's hand dyed and made in Wales. I'm thinking linen stitch cowl for these. I wouldn't normally be so extravagant but it was a birthday treat and there was no point coming home with armfuls of acrylic!

I bought a Tunisian crochet hook from The Knitting Gift Shop. I've never tried Tunisian crochet but I fancy a go. They also had ceramic yarn bowls and wooden wool stands. There weren't any (as far as I know) stands dedicated to crochet alone but that didn't matter because the whole show was so inspiring and full of wool!

Texere Yarns had quite a bit of crochet going on for their display and they sold Axminster wool for making sturdy crochet bags. Tempting but I thought it would be a bit unkind on the hands.

It was fascinating to see student work from a textile course too. I wished Ella had been able to come because I think she would have been interested. It was more art than textile and that's what I think she would have been inspired by. 

I would have to write for hours to explain who else was there and what else was fascinating. There were lots of oversized knitting needles and crochet hooks. I fancied one of the broom handle sized hooks but it was £20! What a wool eater too! The rugs they made were fabulous though.

I haven't been able to make these company names into links using blogger on an iPad but they are very easy to find by googling. It was so valuable to go and see ranges of wool I'd only seen on websites. You get a feel for the product (thank goodness I didn't buy nettle or hemp online, it was so scratchy and yet the description used the word 'soft'!) and you also get a feel for the people behind the names.

If I were to go again I might go with a shopping list. Some of the prices were clearly a good deal whereas others were not at all. It would pay to do some research on product ranges/prices beforehand if you have a shopping list. I would also jot down all the names I particularly wanted to see. I know I missed a few yesterday just based on bags I saw with company names. If you have never been and are going, take plenty of bottled water. It's crowded, it's hot and there are not enough places to sit down and rest. If I hadn't taken water I would have passed out, I'm sure! A small rucksack is the perfect way to carry your essentials and even better if you can put your purchases in it. I took my own food mainly because I can't eat certain things but the food queues were long and mostly the cafes were expensive.

I forgot to mention that there was plenty of fabric for sale, sewing machines, displays of quilts, dressmaking supplies and patterns, embroidery, cross stitch and tapestry. Buttons, threads, appliqué, you name it, it was there for the stitching side of things. Thank goodness I can't sew!

I'm buzzing with woolly ideas. I've made loads of new discoveries. I had a lovely day out with friends. I came home with some goodies. It was one of the best birthday presents I've ever had, thanks Mum!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Granny squares and more granola squares...

Well I'd like to say this wonderful blanket was the result of many a winter's Eve spent hooking up left over yarn from a basket beside my comfy armchair. (Throw in a wood burning stove and you have my dream scenario). I'm afraid not. I spotted it from across a crowded charity shop and quite frankly I moved pretty fast to check it out. It's another whopper (see the one Harvey snuck onto in the header collage above). My last one cost just £3. This one, is rather more expertly put together and I'd say it was done with a 3mm hook, the stitches look quite fine. I love the joining method! All that work and history and they still only wanted a tenner for it.

In other news we have made a tiny tiny bit of progress with the kitchen. We have a new windowsill! It's an old scaffolding plank sanded and sealed. In my attempt to photograph this lovely piece of wood I spotted Mollie on the windowsill outside and in my attempt to capture her I completely forgot to make sure I was also photographing the windowsill indoors!

We are on our third batch of 'healthy' granola/flapjack squares. This time I used two slightly overripe bananas instead of apples. I added a tablespoon of golden syrup like last time but because that was nearly gone too I also put in a heaped teaspoon of set honey (runny would have been better but it seemed to work ok). It doesn't seem a lot of sugar compared to the amount of oats and raisins. This batch held together much better than the second batch of apple flapjacks (M made the second batch and refused to believe they needed squashing down like I had done for the first batch, he's obviously an experiential learner, like Jake!) I didn't heat the mixture in a pan before transferring to the oven for the banana version. They mush down without the need for heat. Yum, they taste pretty good!

I've flicked back through my baking posts and realised that these were similar to some I made before but with olive oil as a binding agent, as well as the fruit. This latest recipe proves the oil is completely unnecessary.

If you're thinking, wow, three batches of flapjack/granola in as many days then I must explain. The first batch was something new so everyone tried it and liked it. Whoosh, gone in minutes. The second batch, novelty has worn off and they were very crumbly so not ideal to put in a lunch box and eat on a train in front of people. Third batch, perfect, ideal for eating on a train journey. I'm off to London to visit the Queen! No not really. I'm off to London to indulge in some woolly inspiration! I can't wait!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Apple and cinnamon healthy flapjack...

In the last couple of years food had become a big pain in the neck (and other places too.)

It's been difficult to adjust. It's been expensive. It's been hard work and it's been dull.

It seems the gluten is still an issue but now so is fat. Goodbye butter, donuts, quiche, chocolate, croissants, crisps, pain au chocolats, sausages, bacon, sausage rolls, pork, lamb, beef, biscuits, cake, peanut butter, hash browns, fish and chips, cheese straws... Ugh, I feel sick just writing all of that.

Hello fat free marshmallows! I'm sick of these already. I've had three or four a day for a few days and ugh, I never want to see another marshmallow as long as I live. It's not a successful chocolate substitute. Never will be.

When I first realised my problems were food related M rose to the challenge and cooked amazing meals using less than amazing ingredients. Gram flour, buckwheat flour, brown rice flour, you know who you are! We are now at the stage where it might just be possible to go back to making just one meal per evening that everyone can eat. So last night, having done the rounds of Sainburys with my reading glasses permanently on to read all the labels we decided upon Quorn mince for shepherds pie. Can't go far wrong with vegetables, potato and ahem, mince. At least that's what we told the kids. Near the end of the meal we asked their verdict on the basis that M had left out a bit of oil for browning the meat. E said she didn't like the celery and J said that the carrots were too crunchy but then went on to have seconds. A riproaring success I think! Sssh, don't tell them it was Quorn.

Not only did the Quorn experience surprise me but E actually asked to taste one of my 'healthy' flapjacks. I used an American recipe which I copied down for our recipe box but haven't bookmarked on my iPad. It makes a good, moist, tasty flapjack that would be incredibly easy to adapt. You could add nuts, chocolate chips maybe, dates.

Here's how:

Chop up two large or three small eating apples (peel if you prefer, but I didn't) and heat in a pan with a little water and a squirt of lemon juice.

When it becomes a liquid pulp remove from the heat and add a cup of raisins.

When the raisins swell a little with the moisture then stir in a teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

Now stir in two cups of oats making sure they are all covered with the apple mixture and leave to stand for five minutes. (This makes sure the oats absorb the flavours).

At this stage I wasn't convinced it would all hold together and since I'm not avoiding sugar (just cutting it down a little) I squirted a tablespoon of golden syrup in. I'm not sure it made much of a difference to the final thing to be honest.

Press down into a grease proof paper lined baking dish and bake until golden brown. Mine took about twenty minutes on 170. My flapjacks were about an inch thick.

Children might not like the apple peel which does tend to separate from the apple during cooking. I like it with peel because it gives a bit of texture.

The original recipe was given without the golden syrup and I reckon that would work just as well, making it a low fat and low sugar flapjack. I used to make something similar with banana but E doesn't like banana so these will probably be made weekly from now on!