Saturday, 30 August 2014

Jam and another visit to A&E...

When I make jam I always feel like I should have a floral apron on, an immaculate kitchen, an empty laundry basket and perhaps two immaculately groomed, non hair shedding, bow-tie wearing dogs behaving themselves while I buzz from stove top to fridge (a zillion blooming times) testing my jam and, God forbid, humming a merry tune.

I'm pretty sure Nigella hasn't got piles of books on her dining room floor, prairie dust balls of dog hair rolling through her hall and dirty football kit from three days ago to wash!

This is our second batch of plum jam (M made the first and got a paltry half dozen jars from the recipe he followed). I decided to use twice as much fruit which took twice as long to reach setting point, but that could also have been because the plums are really ripe now. In fact most are over and we've left it late because we've been away.

I've not been able to locate my big box of Kilner jars (in the attic somewhere with various bits of kitchen cupboard contents we thought we wouldn't miss for six months, it'll be closer to six years, trust me), so we've got all sorts of shapes and sizes of jars this year which makes it much more fun. The ones without lids have been sealed with baking parchment circles and fabric and... loom bands! They were handy and proper elastic bands were nowhere to be found.

I've made a dozen jars. We will give a few away and still have plenty for the next twelve months. I may have said this last year, but we also have a great cooking apple tree. I make a couple of apple pies and give some apples to our neighbours but that's usually it. This year I'm going to freeze the cut up apples with a view to making apple pies as and when we feel like them. It's one thing I can make with rubbish gluten free pastry and get away with it.

I'm unexpectedly home today, and not at a cricket match. J had an infected cuticle thing earlier in the week and despite antibiotics it kept getting bigger and bigger. Late last night I made an executive decision and took him to A&E, it was making him feel quite unwell.

Friday night is obviously a popular night for children having nasty accidents, there were a few bumped heads, a gashed shin, a broken toe, a gashed cheek, a couple of poorly babies. Then there were a group of men who were alcoholics. They were a bit stinky. There were a couple of psychiatric patients wandering about and one decided to pick on a random stranger and not very eloquently told him to 'go away'. I got the giggles at this point and nearly choked on a sherbert lemon!

I reassured J that they would spray the finger before lancing it and of course they didn't. The doctor just said that it wouldn't hurt, only the squeezing afterwards would. J was very brave. I'd have insisted on numbing spray! It's the longest finger on his bowling hand so no cricket today or tomorrow. He is somehow managing to operate his Xbox controller though, funny that.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Next year's crochet blanket...

Is it Friday already? This is how my weekend is looking... Picnic, flask, wool. Cricket. Crochet.

I've decided to see what all the fuss is about with ripple blankets. When I started to crochet they seemed like a long and boring task to me. I've bravely cast on for a single bed size one with next year's cricket matches in mind. That's the one with greys, blues, mustard, off white. It didn't seem too bad until I started a much smaller baby size blanket which of course is working up a little faster.

I'm in the mood for something that doesn't require too much concentration. M and I are midway through a whole stack of recorded Foyle's War repeats. I didn't see it the first time round and of course it is set exactly where I lived as a child. Frequent references to Hastings, Bexhill, Hythe, Brighton etc. Last night I had to stop myself pointing out all the places I know. It would probably annoy M. I did point out Hastings Castle though, what's left of it. So the ripple blankets, with their simplicity are ideal for multitasking with tv watching.

I've been pointing out vintage crochet too, in much the same way as Jake used to point out tractors when he was four 'look, tacter!' Look! Crochet hat!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Dogs and dust busting...

Well we may not have fields of golden sunflowers and intense heat but we do have plenty of soggy fields of golden wheat. The dogs have been reacquainting themselves with the local fields after a two week break whilst we were in Italy and a week spent in Suffolk for the cricket festival. There were piles of leftover wheat across the footpath about a foot high so they bounded along jumping every few seconds. That's not what Riley is doing in that last photo, no, he's just getting in the way of Harvey posing in the cut wheat! They had a ball.

For some reason (planets aligning perhaps) I feel an overwhelming urge to sort and spring clean. I'm not counting on that feeling lasting too long but I have completed the first room in our small abode. I've sucked up the million spiders that moved into the conservatory whilst we were away. I've thrown a large number of diving dvd's in the bin (don't tell M, but honestly who sits through ten films of diving exploits? not m anymore, that's for sure!) I've cleaned all 28 panels of window. Boring.

I've hoovered all parts of the sofas, and discovered chocolate wrappers down the side of M's spot, which he strongly denied were his. Seeing as the children rarely join us for tv these days I think his denial has weak grounds. I've cleaned both sofas with some special leather spray cleaner thing. I've washed all cushion covers and donated the large floor cushions to the dogs so that the sofas are spared. Riley loves his and Harvey is not so sure, he prefers to stretch out rather than curl up.

I've donated films and cd's to charity and I've emptied the tonne of Brio train track that was stored in our coffee table/pine chest so that we now have somewhere for the board games we mainly only play at Christmas. In short, the room now only has stuff that we need/use in it, plus the cobwebs have gone. It was the easiest room in the house to start with but still took a whole day. The dreaded dining room is next. Two million books need sorting through (well give or take a few).

I may need to start a new crochet project just for the tea breaks.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

All things cricket..

Another year of county cricket comes to an end. J has had a good season. He's enjoyed himself and I think the pressure he put on himself in previous years is a little less now. He still gives it 100% but at thirteen years old he should be enjoying it too. He got a good number of wickets overall this year but didn't see much action with the bat. I don't think he minded much, he batted at club level and retired pretty much every game (they have to retire at 25 for under 13 club cricket).

He's also played one heck of a lot of men's cricket this year; most weekends for the firsts and seconds. He's got quite a haul of wickets for them and a few runs too. He's most probably learnt a few other things whilst playing for the men's teams too, I dread to think. He played for the Saturday seconds today and got three wickets and he's playing again tomorrow. Is the end of this cricket season in sight? I hope so. I love it but boy does everything else get neglected!

The team photo above is blurred intentionally. It was taken at Culford School, the venue for this year's cricket festival. I have to say that M and I much preferred Holbrook by comparison. Culford School were not very helpful with directions to toilets for the spectators, and for Lincolnshire that is parents and grandparents, siblings and friends. From pitch one the walk was considerable so we ended up having to drive! The only on site refreshments were vending machines, which was poor compared to how hard Holbrook worked to provide tea and coffee all week long. Luckily I received a tip off that I'd need to take extra flasks (thanks J!) and so we were well equipped.

We stayed at a lovely caravan site which was about a fifteen minute drive from the school. E joined Mum and Dad at a cottage for the week, which meant M and I had a lovely peaceful week! Well almost peaceful, we still had to get up and walk the dogs of course and they were rubbish at settling down on a picnic blanket while the cricket was going on. They ended up sleeping in my boot and having lots of frisbee sessions when the breaks were on. Harvey is obsessed, be it frisbee, ball, stick. He would fetch all day long. Riley has a short concentration span and soon gets sidetracked, and this meant trotting casually off to see if anyone had left any picnic food behind. Little devil.

Embarrassingly J had to wear his green training tracksuit trousers on one day because it was a little chilly. I had no idea they were so ridiculously short! He really should have worn his new training shorts and shoved the trousers back in his bag. He has grown yet again and we need to get new school trousers, his current ones are suddenly well above his ankle, how did that happen? I got him to try on his jacket and that looks a little silly too, why they don't invent stretchable uniform that grows with you I don't know!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Yarn bombing in Italy...

Just a brief holiday post. I took these in Turino on our way back to France. It was the only place we did twice and the second time I wanted to look up a certain palazzo to see if the yarn bombing mentioned on the Internet was still there. It wasn't but this bicycle with bronze cats and crochet mud guard was. I've no idea whether the bike and cats were there and the crochet was yarn bombed on to it or whether it started off like that. The nearby sign was all in Italian and the translation just said something about recycled materials.

I didn't find a proper yarn shop during our two weeks in Italy, or France for that matter, but I didn't really look very hard. I have enough yarn and I'm pretty sure I can lay my hands on whatever brand is  out there thanks to the internet. There was evidence though that the Italians like their crochet. I spotted a woman with a bright red crochet cover on her walking stick style umbrella. It was a mesh design with a more dense stitch for the handle and there were small pom poms hanging off the fastening. I imagined it would undo at the handle. It was fabulous! I only wish I had been brave enough to ask for a proper photograph! (Yes I know, it's only crochet, I do apologise for speaking very loudly in the car about the umbrella cosy, yep, sorry.)

Friday, 22 August 2014

Italy road trip #9 Rome to Florence via Orvieto

To break up the long drive from Rome to Florence we stopped at a couple of points asking the route. The most memorable of which was Orvieto. I think this is the type of mountain top village that many British people go to Italy specifically to see. It was wonderful. Second and fourth photos are the view from the little cafe where we stopped for coffee. It was a courtyard with nuns and Italian postmen going about their business. Orvieto was a long way up, and has striking stone wall defences and quite a history that I only read about once we were home.

Had we known what an interesting and pretty place it was we might have spent a night here instead of pushing on to Florence. There were quite a few pottery shops but the prices were a but high. It's also a wine region so we did manage to choose a couple of bottles to bring home.

If you take a wrong turn in Orvieto and find yourself in a street that is just one car width you get shouted at big time, with fists waving! Bloody satnav is all I can say!

We loved Orvieto but were excited to get to Florence...

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Results day...

Gorgeous daughter of are awesome!

GCSE results today. A M A Z I N G !!

You can be anything you want to be.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Italy road trip #8 Rome - Hydromania!

You can call me many things but chicken is not one of them. You see that orange topped slide in the top and last photo? Yep, that's the one to avoid if you're over forty and with a delicate derrière. Ouch. You hit the water at goodness knows what speed with the full force on your bottom. It hurts. I did it twice thinking that I'd be able to cross my legs for the second landing, nope. E didn't like the look of it and M wouldn't have survived it. So Jake and I climbed the many stairs to get to the top not once but twice, in fact Jake went a few more times after I stopped.

We were lucky to catch foam time. A klaxon sounds and everyone starts running to a certain spot and foam is sprayed onto everyone below. It was quite good fun. That's Jake on the right, not wanting to open his eyes in case it stung. It did. There was an annoying little rule that you couldn't go back in the pools without rinsing it off, and the only showers were icy cold. We learnt that the hard way!

We also went on the wiggly blue one and the wavy yellow one; quite tame compared to a green and yellow one that started off quite nicely being able to see where you are going but totally encased in a tunnel, the latter half is completed completely blind while you are being thrown around in the tunnel at high speed not knowing when you're going to hit the water. Yuk. We sat and watched people's faces coming out of that slide for a while!

After all that excitement J and E were happy to go and join the wave pool sessions (second photo, E and J centre). I was happy to snooze under one of the red parasols on the extremely comfortable sun beds.

If you are ever in Rome, it's a lovely water park. Lifeguards everywhere and quite strict. Clean and tidy except for the toilets which I'm afraid seems usual for Italy. In particular, the toilets nearest to all the slides and pools was just a ceramic hole in the ground. Yup. Bring your own toilet roll.

Tips we picked up from the Internet before going (toilet roll wasn't one of them but should have been), take your own picnic and go after 3pm when it gets a but cheaper. We made a day of it because it was on Jake's wish list but we did take our own picnic. Fresh plums, nectarines, huge apples, water melon, grapes and a few other bits and bobs!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Italy road trip #7 Rome

Gelato, gelato, always gelato. J insisted on it every day. It was good. Always home made. This one in Rome had thirty odd flavours. Pistachio, melon, Nutella, vienetta, wild cherry, limoncello, espresso, lime, after eight, coconut...

We had a wonderful apartment in Rome for a few days and nights. Air conditioning! Phew. Four floors up but with an old fashioned cage style lift and a great view. Once again I was up very early and sat by the balcony looking for signs of life. There were some beautiful window boxes. An old man came out at 6am and dead headed his red geraniums. Red geraniums seem to be very popular in Italy.

An afternoon at the Colloseum was only slightly spoiled by the weather. It was so hot! When we left the air conditioned car it hit us like a blast of heat. A short walk down a street and we were all struggling with the temperature. It was well over thirty that day. Just walking round the Colloseum we chose the route with shade. We stumbled into a nice cool cafe on the way back to the car and had two large bottles of water between us.

The children were very impressed with the number of orange trees in Rome. We picked a couple in a quiet side street, not knowing whether this was the done thing! Seemed a waste otherwise!

We weren't finished with Rome. Next stop, a tourist attraction of Jake's choice. Hydromania!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Italian crochet magazines...

A break from the many holiday related posts and photos! OK these are slightly holiday related because I bought them in Italy but I'm sure my crochet followers won't mind!

Uncinetto! Italian for crochet! There's  a mixed bag here. Two of the larger magazines have a lot of stitches for crochet fabric (fourth photo down). I thought they might all be in my crochet stitch bible but it seems not. I love the fashion illustrations scattered thoughout. I've google translated some of the captions and it seems that they are suggestions for what you can do with the stitches rather than specific patterns. I like this approach, it encourages you to be creative. There are some specific patterns too.

I've swatched one of the crochet stitch patterns and the diagram symbols were identical to the ones we'd use in the UK, that is to say that my swatch came out like the picture!

The large blue magazine has intricate flowers at the beginning which would make great brooches, lots of motifs, edgings, fabric stitch patterns and some item patterns too. A really good value magazine for less than five euros. I can't wait to try out some of the motifs.

One of the magazines is mainly filet crochet and fine table wares. Doilies and mats etc. I wanted one of these as a contrast to the others. It's fascinating to look at but it remains to be seen whether I can crochet that finely without hand ache!

I threw a macrame magazine into the selection. It's my guilty secret, macrame. I'm sure I've logged it in my blog somewhere before, how I got thrown out of a sewing class because I was so terrible at it. The teacher plonked me in a corner with a macrame pamphlet and a large cone of string. Boy was I happy with that punishment! Such a useful skill macrame. I've made light pulls, bucket handles, jewellery, plant hangers... long before it all became fashionable again. It may well be a challenge to follow the instructions but there are plenty of photographs and I have prior knowledge of the techniques.

The second to last photo shows my raffia hat in progress. I haven't captured the colour correctly at all. Hopefully a photo of the finished thing in proper day light will do that. It's easy enough to crochet with. Held double I think I could have made a nice basket instead.

Finally, the purchases made from a market in Rome. Two large balls of t shirt yarn and some bag handles. By this stage in the holiday we were getting used to the haggling and getting better at it too. M did the deal for me and the yarn and two handles cost less than £12. I was quite happy with that as bag handles alone can be pricey in the uk and also hoopla yarn or similar is £8 plus per cone. One of the balls is charcoal grey and the other is cartoon strips. I'm not sure what to make with them yet. Bags and rugs seem popular choices.

The Rome market was our favourite. It was a mixture of clothes and goods. J was able to get various Italian football tops and shorts. All had 'official merchandise' on them with holograms but we told him that for €8 a piece they were definitely not. They were great quality though. He bought Milan and Juventus tops. They look and feel just the same as his expensive football and cricket official merchandise shirts. We did see one stall selling football gear which was such poor quality it looked like tissue paper. J just laughed and walked on.

There were only a few stalls selling ribbon, cottons, small amounts of novelty yarn, small pieces of fabric, buttons, lace trim etc. I may not have had the choice that J had with his football t shirts but I was very happy to have found something creative to bring home.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Italy road trip #6 Principina La Mere to Civitavecchia

Despite the lows of having a blazing row and not threatening divorce but promising it (me) we were in that funny position of having to carry on for the sake of the children.

Jake got upset and refused to believe that M had been 'snotty' as I was calling it by then. Jesus, where had that boy been? Plugged into his bloody iPod, that's where. E, who had also been plugged into her iPod but misses nothing agreed he'd been snotty since Dover. Mmmh, split family. I was just hoping for M to do one of his famous lines, 'well that's it then, I'm walking home!' That would have been absolutely hilarious and I think it would have cleared the air (though it would have been too much to resist just driving off and leaving him!)

With M sulking like a four year old who'd dropped his ice cream I took charge and we arrived at Principina La Mere. God only knows what the other families in the car park thought as we all spilled out, red eyed and banging doors and arguing even more. It was quite comic when I look back. M kept telling everyone to stop making a scene and I kept saying I don't give a f. We dumped our stuff on the beach and quick marched into the sea, leaving M sulking with the towels. The water was such bliss we were all soon laughing and splashing and floating and forgetting the nightmare of a morning. Eventually M joined us and all seemed calm. The problem with unfinished or unresolved arguments is that they don't quite go away.

On to the good stuff; Principina La Mere will always be a favourite spot of mine. You drive down a long avenue of pine trees before reaching the beach car parking. True, it is probably the windiest beach on the Italian coast but that didn't seem to spoil things, quite the opposite actually in 31 degree heat.

There were markets stalls along a section of the avenue and cafes and gelaterias. E and I bought leather sandals, mine natural and hers in red. Instantly comfortable they have walked miles round major cities and not rubbed or worn out. Oh and the penguin. Yes the penguin. E is still quite fond of penguins so on our way to the next hotel she made M stop in the middle of madly busy traffic so she could buy him. Normally this would have been out of the question and we'd have had an earful for even suggesting he stopped in the middle of what looked like rush hour just for a blow up penguin but since the big bust up M suddenly started being much nicer.

Jake bought himself some flip flops in the colours of the Italian flag and while he was faffing about trying to find some big enough, I happened to spot a whole shelf of crochet magazines! Jackpot! When they eventually found me in this little corner of the shop I was flicking through my tenth magazine with a big smile on my face. The vast majority had diagrams rather than written instructions so I chose the most interesting five of those and resisted the temptation to buy the whole lot. I now wish I had because they weren't so easy to locate after that. La Stampa's were everywhere but I just didn't fancy asking the newsagent to get a selection out from behind glass so I could browse and choose.

J was chief hotel booker whilst on holiday. We gave him the location, budget, and essential things like, en suite bathroom, wifi etc. He surfed, pondered and eventually came up with accommodation which was absolutely spot on. He was also determined to try and book as many hotels with swimming pools as he could but only managed that in Cecina (where he had a late night and early morning swim on his own). The room he booked in Civitavecchia was an unusual arrangement. It was above a railway station! It was absolutely brand spanking new and after some old crumbly bathrooms we were glad of the modern IKEA decor. It had a fantastic bathroom, bunk beds for the kids, a comfy double for us and the view that Jake is looking at in the picture above.

We arrived at about 8 o clock at night. It was still extremely warm. We had a really nice evening in Civitavecchia because everything was within walking distance. We started off along by the sea, where there were more stalls, cafes etc. There was an entire cafe just devoted to water melon. You could have a drink with your water melon but that was the only thing on the menu apart from water melon. Had we not stuffed our faces with pizza we might have tried it out. Dinner was at a rustic bar/cafe pizzeria. Plain wooden tables outside and in. Homemade pizza made on a stone slab in front of you. A half carafe of white wine, mostly to myself. By now the children were grading their pizzas from one to ten and Civitavecchia scored 10. We had sweet and salted corn on the cob afterwards from a stall by the beach, it was very cheap and very tasty.

Everywhere you go in Italy at night there are men selling complete rubbish. The most popular thing was a lit up missile that was fired with a bit of plastic and an elastic band. Quite effective I must say, they were landing on statues and balconies and lost forever. One little boy of about three was standing alone outside an open air cafe while his parents ate and chatted and drank wine. He flicked it up several times reasonably successfully and then managed to flick the band up in the air and not the missile. We heard a shrill wail of 'papa papa papa' then a whole load of Italian that we could only guess was, 'I've lost my elastic band and now I can't fire my lighting up thing'. Oh his little face was so cute. So the four of us set about trying to find his elastic band and I found it down by the wall. I gave it to M who gave it to the boy who promptly accused M of hiding it all along! The Father told him to say sorry and thank you. Then he said thank you in English to us (we must look English by the way) and the boy was happy once more. Is there anything cuter than 'si papa'? Yeah Dad just isn't the same!

Next stop Rome!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Italy road trip #5 Lerici to Cecina

That's E and J with the yellow lilo that Jake insisted on buying. I must confess we all had to fight to have a go on it. There were no worries about drifting out to sea. None of the places we swam seemed to be tidal. We spent the best part of three days on beaches and the water lapped up to the same line all day long.

I'm not sure if the Italian men all line up at the waters edge to a. Watch all the women in bikinis (this is the vast majority, in fact I don't think I saw any one piece swimming costumes at all) or b. Get a more even tan or c. Watch their kids in the water. The more I watched the more I eliminated c, and decided it was a combination of a and b. Either way it was quite amusing, especially if they were particularly muscly and stood with their hands on their hips.

We learnt about another aspect of Italian culture whilst on the evening road trip between Lerici and Cecina. The Italian Road Accident. Fairly common occurrences we were told. Traffic was slowed down by a police man waving a big red lollipop (air traffic control style) and once we had all come to a stop, lo and behold all the men started getting out of their cars. Being British we assumed they knew they were in for a long wait and would stand around chatting to each other whilst traffic was stationary. No, not at all, they got their phones out and their cigarettes and they trooped down in droves to see what was going on, who was hurt, how bad the cars were smashed up...really! Not only that but the women all smiled and laughed to each other whilst remaining in the cars. When it was partly cleared we wove in and out of men and parked cars and the poor guy on the stretcher had no privacy whatsoever.

By this time, and following the road rage incident, the vertical sunbathing and the road accident the kids had firmly decided, 'we love Italians!' Jake was in gelato heaven. M was thoroughly embracing the arm waving when drivers did something daft. E was loving the hot weather and I was making mental notes of which resort we might choose for the duration of the next holiday.

Unfortunately the following day was not a good day. M had crashed out in Cecina, into a sleep that was bordering on comatose. Meanwhile I managed to slice a finger knuckle into ribbons by shoving my hand into a wash bag with a razor in it. Man, it bled such a lot. I grabbed the nearest cloth item which happened to be a white towel and tried to wake M for some help. I shoved and shouted and he didn't even stir. I managed to rinse it, squeeze it and then got E to wrap a large plaster round it tightly. It bled all night and I used up all the large plasters we had. By morning M was of course oblivious, and instead of a bit of sympathy decided to be the husband from hell.

You know those moods where someone is short, snappy, sarcastic, monosyllabic, unhelpful... I could go on. Well that was our entire morning, right up til lunchtime. At lunchtime (and with my finger still dripping blood through the plasters) I finally ran out of patience and asked wtf was up. Irritatingly he thought he was being absolutely fine. This made my anger increase fourfold. I decided to get a few things off my chest (he had been challenging since Dover). He decided to deny everything. Divorce was mentioned. Definitely the lowest point in our entire marriage. What made it worse was driving in the wrong direction and realising too late that Grossetto was not only a town but also a region. So when the thermal spa we wanted to go to was in Grossetto, it was the region and not the town. We got to Grossetto only to realise we were an hour away from the thermal spas and our aim, all holiday was only to only spend a limited time travelling each day. Note here that one of my requests before we left England was that in the event of problems, wrong turns, bad decisions, crisis, whatever, we would calmly discuss our available options. Huh. I counted twelve naughty f words in one sentence to which I replied calmly, 'well option one is to do the extra hour drive and get to the thermal spas and option two is to drive ten minutes to the nearest beach and jump in the sea.' I won't even tell you what his response to that was. It's unprintable.

We did the latter. It was 31.5 degrees and no-one wanted to drive any further, especially not with two adults in the front seat both with murderous thoughts!