Thursday, 31 December 2009

reading list 2009

For the first time ever I decided to record what I read this year. As part of my 50 before 60 manifesto I set myself the task of reading at least two books a month, with the additional challenge of making one in five of them something a bit harder – non-fiction or maybe a classic I’d never got round to before. The first part was fairly easy, but I’m not sure that I actually achieved the second part. Although I’m a fairly prolific reader, I’m basically lazy – preferring a story to an intellectual challenge.

It’s a fairly hotch potch list – some of which is almost embarrassing to publish! There’s a fair amount of crime fiction in there which I always turn to when I don’t know what else to go for. There’s at least one book in the list that I can no longer remember reading and a couple that were accidental re-reads, discovering partway through that I had been here before, but couldn’t really remember how it finished. I acquire my reading matter in several different ways – presents, occasionally buying new, sometimes buying second-hand from GreenMetropolis or charity shops, sometimes borrowing from the library. I belong to a reading group, so 8 or 10 books each year are read for discussion; I follow up recommendations from friends and reviews I’ve seen, but charity shop books can turn up some unexpected treasure (as well as a lot of trash). Kat Pomfret’s Paradise Jazz was one such jewel, read late in the year – I’d never heard of her, but found myself beguiled. Others that I enjoyed enough to recommend are highlighted below:

Barbara Kingsolver: Prodigal Summer
Muriel Barbery: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Penelope Lively: Consequences
Kate Atkinson: Case Histories
Anne Tyler: The Accidental Tourist
Melvyn Bragg: Credo
Anne Tyler: A Patchwork Planet
Tom Wright: Surprised by Hope
Stef Penney: The Tenderness of Wolves
Sebastian Barry: The Secret Scripture
Whitney Otto: How to make an American Quilt
Peter Robinson: Playing with Fire
Lillian Harry: Dance Little Lady
Iain Pears: An Instance of the Fingerpost
Barbara Vine: The Chimney Sweeper's Boy
Stieg Larssen: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Gail Godwin: Father Melancholy's Daughter
Dan Rhodes: Gold
Barbara Trapido:
Brother of the More Famous Jack
John Drane: Do Christians Know How to be Spiritual
Sophie Parkin: All grown up
Barbara Trapido: The Travelling Hornplayer
Jill Dawson: The Great Lover
Cecilia Aherne: Thanks for the Memories
D S & M Linn:
Sleeping with Bread
Libby Purves: Shadow Child
Bella Pollen: Chasing Unicorns
Joanne Harris: The Lollipop Shoes
Rob Bell: Velvet Elvis
Debra Adelaide: The Household Guide to Dying
Bella Pollen: Midnight Cactus
Michael Dibdin: The End Times
Guillermo Martinez: The Oxford Murders
Iain Pears: Giotto's Hand
Jamila Gavin: Coram Boy
Lauren Weisberger: The Devil Wears Prada
Sebastian Faulks: Engleby
Chris Sunderland: The Dream that inspired the Bible
John Irving: A Prayer for Owen Meany
Paulo Coelho: The Pilgrimage
Rosie Thomas: A Simple Life
Sarah Harrison: Heaven's on Hold
Kat Pomfret: Paradise Jazz
Ian Rankin (Jack Harvey): Bleeding Hearts

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

birthday boy

Dan had his second birthday while we were on holiday so we were able to give him his presents in person. This little tank top was a quick knit I made for him.

You can't see it clearly, but it has a cross stitch detail around the neck and armholes. Had to do a bit of fudging as the pattern was for four-ply and I had double knitting. After some higher maths with the calculator I knitted it as if for the three-month size as far as stitch number was concerned. I'm not sure if it's the pattern or the modifications, but the neckline seems rather deep - giving a slightly "off the shoulder" look. Anyway, he looks gorgeous.

And no, I didn't expect him to be excited that Granny had made him a lovely handknit - we did give him a little trike too!

Photo credits - Alice

Monday, 2 November 2009

st ives

Just back from a week in our favourite place – a wonderful apartment overlooking Porthmeor Beach in St Ives.

On the first Saturday of half term four households converged to become one big family. This was a trip to celebrate Steve’s and my 60th birthdays. Our ages are actually separated by just over a year, but this was a convenient mid-point in time to get the tribe together for a lovely holiday.

Everyone took turns to cook, so we ate well and copiously! According to our tastes we variously, walked, played on the beach, flew a kite, dug in the sand, visited the Tate, read our books, played Scrabble, did crosswords, lounged about, knitted, baked cakes and bread, shopped, photographed and blogged. The latter was Steve, who photographed and blogged obsessively all week and can be read in more detail here!

A highlight was the evening surprise when we were taken down to the beach after dark. Once there, little nightlight lanterns which the children had helped to make were lit, cava was popped open and drunk and two fantastic sky lanterns were sent sailing over the ocean taking all our prayers and wishes for the future with them.

A lovely week, to be savoured in memory.

photo credits: Steve and Felix

Saturday, 17 October 2009

another finished object

I have finally managed to take some pictures of the little cardigan I made for Iris’s third birthday.
I am pleased with it.

These terrible pictures were taken on my phone in a café and I was also being entertained by a story about how her two little mice hop into her cup of tea. This was dramatised with much expressive eye-rolling, nostril-flaring and general "well-would-you-believe-it! the-things-they-get-up-to" facial gymnastics. No wonder I couldn’t hold the camera still.

And by the way – my hair was that colour when I was little. I was never allowed to wear pink because it "clashed".
Knitting statistics: Pattern "Hawaii" by Sublime Yarns, recently reprinted in Let's Knit July issue. I used Patons Diploma Gold DK, which is inexpensive and machine-washable.

Monday, 21 September 2009

gothic melodrama

Finally another finished object to blog about.

This shawl was a secret as it was a 50th birthday present for a good friend. I had pursued one idea for a while before realising that I was making something that I wanted rather than what would suit my friend D, so had to do some hasty pattern-trawling on ravelry and hunting for lovely yarn. I reckoned that crochet would make it quicker than knitting, which is probably true, but lace-weight yarn in a complex pattern grows pretty slowly whatever technique you use!

Eventually settled on Annette Petavy’s lovely Arrows pattern and chose 100% silk yarn, Glister, from Skein Queen in colourway "Gothic Melodrama".

I started it mid-July and presented it when we all met up for a birthday lunch in September. D is someone who really appreciates handcrafts and I was pretty confident that the colours I had gone for were "her", but it’s always pretty nerve-wracking handing over something so personal. She would never be so rude as to let me think she didn’t like something I made for her, but I think I got it right!

The photo colours are a bit hit and miss. The picture of the skein of yarn is pretty accurate of how it looks in daylight. If I were to do this pattern again I would use a semi-solid coloured yarn rather than the multi-colours as it would show off the pattern motifs better.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

change of plan

Last Thursday Steve and I set out to visit Hidcote Manor Gardens – I was hugely impressed by these beautiful gardens when we visited years ago and we fancied a return visit now that we have rejoined the National Trust.
However, as we approached the M5, electronic signs were warning of long delays between J15-14 because of an accident. With only minutes to re-plan the route we stayed on the M4 and found ourselves well on our way to the Severn Bridge. By the time we stopped at Aust Services to look properly at the map together, Steve suggested that we’d come so far that we might as well carry on and visit Cardiff, which was one of the destinations on his list of things to do this summer.
So it turned into a different kind of day out – a city day instead of a garden visit. We had heard lots of good things about Cardiff’s regeneration particularly around the seafront, so headed for Cardiff Bay. I’m afraid we found it decidedly underwhelming and after wandering for half an hour headed for the city proper. There we visited the castle - with some trepidation, fearing that touristification would have spoiled it. We loved it and felt we really got our money’s worth (with his over-60 bus pass Steve went in as a "senior" teehee). The entrance price includes an audio-guide (narrated by the lovely Huw Edwards) which I used liberally but Steve refused to touch with a bargepole. The castle has roman walls (only rediscovered in the 19th century), a medieval keep and baillie and a newer castle block. The latter has real wow factor when you climb the stairs and find yourself inside a Victorian gothic fantasy of the romance of the middle ages – one of the small dining rooms with its gilded angel mantel-supports felt like being inside a fairground pipe-organ!
After that there was only time for a cup of tea in Howell’s Department Store before setting off for home. Ironically we then got caught in severe traffic delays because of roadworks at the Cardiff end and the Balloon Fiesta at the Bristol end and took the best part of three hours to get home! Maybe we’ll try Hidcote again this week.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

what would banksy do?

As we queued for the banksy exhibition in bristol this morning I watched a cheerful big issue seller working his way along the line. He was met with the usual range of reactions from tolerant amusement through being completely ignored to irritation. (To be fair, this was a fairly genial queue and there wasn't any animosity.) I was suddenly struck that anyone in the queue or watching it, including the big issue seller, could be banksy - we could be entertaining banksy unawares! And then I thought, um - sounds familiar...

Thursday, 16 July 2009

star chart - final instalment

Here's the update on the rest of my 50 before 60 manifesto:
33. Continue to explore faith and doubt with my spiritual director: still doing this regularly; in fact I saw her today.
34. Do work filing once a month instead of a marathon when life becomes impossible: have definitely got better at this, but there's a bit of a pile at the moment - this is a good reminder.
35. Make a simnel cake: Yes, did this and reported on it here.
36. Go to cinema once a month: started well on this, but have lapsed of late. There hasn’t been much that appealed to me and there’s no point just going for the sake of it.
37. Finish my "cortona" quilt: I’ve been working on this.
39. Make a range of "earth friendly" cotton shopping bags for the Arts Trail: Yes, did this – reported here.
41. Have a pedicure: this didn’t turn out quite as planned, but Ruth suggested that we should have mutual footcare evenings. She’s having difficulty reaching her feet because of advanced pregnancy and I struggle too because of stiff joints and avoirdupois, so it’s worked out well and means that my feet are getting regular treatment rather than just a one-off.
42. Write up detailed job notes for my successor at work: not started this, but have started talking and planning for the changeover.
48. Reawaken my interest in wildflowers and foster my granddaughter’s existing interest in flowers by teaching her the names of wildflowers and collecting some to press: we have done a little bit of this and started a scrap book.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


Recently I’ve been taking morning walks based around the Avon New Cut. It’s a sort of wildlife corridor in an otherwise urban piece of Bristol and there’s a choice of foot and road bridges to vary my walk.
On one stretch of the walk along Cumberland Road I have been puzzled to see several of these:
Plants with little plastic bags placed over the flower heads. I’ve notice four or five of them I think and the bags are on several flower heads on each plant, but not all of them. They seem to be identified with numbers and red dots. What are they for? I’m guessing some kind of research, but what and why?
I think the plant is ragwort, which is highly poisonous to cattle and horses. Not a particular problem where this is situated, but I’d love to know why they’ve been bagged. It could be groundsel which is the same family apparently; I'm not sure. However, I am very curious. Does anyone have any ideas? (Poor quality photos from my phone, I'm afraid)

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

star chart two

OK, here's the second instalment of my 50 before 60 progress:
15. Increase loft insulation: this is definitely on the shopping list.
16. Grow some vegetables and herbs: YES! This has been a great experience and we are eating salad leaves from the garden and strawberries and generally watching everything get green and lovely.
17. Take part in Earth Abbey’s GrowZone: I reported on this in May. It was just brilliant and such a great kick-start for the garden. It also means that I’m not being too discouraged by the things that are failing. Quite a number of things have just been demolished by pests and in the past I would just have gone – oh, I can’t do that then, but the group is providing encouragement to put that down to experience and plan for the next harvest.
18. Start a wormery: not done yet, but I have talked to one son-in-law about creating one and am also hoping to do a permaculture course in the autumn which includes stuff about creating wormeries.
19. Make bread once a week: I’m not up to speed on this one, largely because the bread I was making with the Magimix wasn’t turning out that well. A hand-kneaded loaf last week was great, so I’ll have to do a few more of those.
20. Take grandchildren on the miniature railway at Ashton Court: not yet, but maybe when Alice comes down with Dan in August.
22. Read two books a month: This I have achieved quite easily and have very much enjoyed giving myself permission to read lots. I have been recording titles and authors and already looking back can’t remember some of the books I’ve read. Does this mean they were unmemorable, that my memory is bad, or that I should be writing "book notes" as well?
23. One book in five to be a challenge of some kind – maybe a non-fiction book or a classic I’ve never got round to: I’m just about achieving this, but as I said in no. 9 I struggle with anything that isn’t a "story".
26. Conquer lace knitting: this is on my needles at the moment and I’m loving it.
Decided to start with a straightforward rectangular shape rather than the triangular shawl with complicated stitch markers that I was trying last year.
27. Use the screen printing equipment I bought two years ago: well I’ve got it out of the box and used it, but can’t claim to have done anything very special.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

star chart

I’ve had really rather a rubbish week, which has left me feeling bad about myself. I don’t cope well with hot weather and although I’ve been dutifully sitting at my computer most days with the intention of working, I’ve got to the end of each session with very little to show for it and a sense of failure. I therefore decided that I needed to review how I am getting on with the 50 before 60 challenge to give myself a sense of achievement (stars on my chart!).

So here’s a report on the items that have made some progress. I’m doing a few at a time to make the blog posts a more manageable size and the numbers are the numbers used for the original list.

1. Visit Cambridge: this is booked! We’re having a few days in Cambridge and Southwold in August.
2. St Ives holiday with all the family to celebrate our 60th birthdays: this has been booked for about two years! Everyone’s really looking forward to it although we know it will be a challenge with so many small children in unfamiliar beds.
4. Make a daisy chain: I did this for Iris recently and here’s the picture to prove it!
5. Increase exercise to 10,000 steps per day: I haven’t quite achieved this, but I have started doing a 40-50 minute walk 4 mornings a week and increasing my exercise generally.
6. Reduce BMI to a healthy level: Again, not achieved (it’s a long-term project), but I am working on it. I had got really quite worried about my health – not really feeling "well"; breathless, head-achey, hips and knees very painful, funny lights and flashes in front of my eyes – so took myself off to doc and got tested for blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid function, sticky blood, cholesterol. Everything came back fine, but still left me needing to lose quite a bit of weight. As a veteran of WeightWatchers and Slimming World I’m very familiar with the yo-yo scenario – lose weight, put it back on again, lose weight… (you get the picture), so I presented rather a defeatist face to the GP. She was just lovely! Very encouraging; talked about "cycles of change", changing one or two things at a time and encouraging exercise. So I’ve been trying to control my portion sizes, have joined an online diet forum and getting out on the aforementioned walks.
7. Find a tai chi, yoga or pilates class: Yes. I’ve joined a yoga class at the Community Centre around the corner and I’m enjoying it.
8. Practise meditation every day: not every day, but I’m trying
9. Learn more about meditation and other spiritual exercises: One thing I’m doing towards this is going on a conference next weekend organised by Stillpoint in Oxford. Martin Laird has written a book about Christian meditation called Into the Silent Land, which I have tried and failed to read (I am so bad at reading anything other than fiction), so I’m hoping that the man in person will be inspiring.
10. Keep a thankfulness diary: hmm, I do this in fits and starts.
That's the first little chunk. It has already had the desired effect of making me realise that I do get things done one step at a time and sometimes life is rubbish and you have to go with it.

Monday, 18 May 2009

gasworks choir

Steve and I don't normally make parallel posts, but we've done it two days running now! We went yesterday afternoon to listen to the Gasworks Choir performing at St Michael & All Angels Church in Gloucester Road. Our friend Gareth was singing and that was our reason for going, but I think I can say that we will be Gasworks Groupies from now on! It was exuberant, colourful and joyful and importantly for me I could hear and understand what was going on. In recent times I have had some very disappointing experiences at concerts because of my hearing loss so it was wonderful to go to something that I could completely engage with.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

like ground force - but much more fun

Our garden got the growzone treatment today! Growzones are an initiative of Earth Abbey to encourage a group in our area to start growing food in our back gardens and allotments. Steve has previously blogged about growzones and so has Gareth and today was our turn. Some of the gardens we have visited are quite substantial; ours is tiny – about 5m square and I would never have thought we could grow veg in it until I started to hear about permaculture.

In the space of three hours this morning eight people did a huge amount of work. A large pyrocantha bush was cut down and shredded preparatory to creating a veg bed just outside the back door.

On the other side of the garden pavers were lifted to expose the soil and then re-laid to create a small wall edging for a raised bed. This was then filled with manure, compost and topsoil ready for planting.

Three strips of guttering were attached to the wall to create salad beds.

And down in the basement light well a water collection system was set up.

It was all enormous fun and we enjoyed a very sociable lunch together afterwards. This would simply never have happened if it had been left to Steve and me, but because we all got together to help each other we have all benefited. I can’t express how pleased and excited I am by it all. I have planted up the raised bed with stuff I have grown from seed: peas, courgettes, tomatoes, swiss chard and have popped some shallots in there as well.
There are still some tomatoes and chillies to go in and our bag grown potatoes are looking very healthy.

Thank you Bruce, Chris, Bobby, Sara, Alan and Elaine!

Friday, 1 May 2009

copy cat

I'm such a copy cat! I noticed that Roobeedoo was making the Simple yet Effective shawl and she directed our eyes here to the one that Soulemama made. I loved it. I wanted it. I asked for the yarn for my birthday. Hey presto! Here's my Simple yet Effective.
It has to be said, that it's on the small side - dainty really, but gorgeous yarn and lovely to work.
And while I'm doing show and tell, don't you just love that acid green euphorbia?

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

learning to love you more

I need to start this post by explaining that several months ago I did something I had never expected to do - I joined the WI. A friend mentioned that a new group was starting in my area and did I fancy going along to see what it was like. I mentioned it to daughter R and she had heard about it too and decided to come along as well. It turned out to be a very well attended and lively meeting, with a committee of enthusiastic 30-somethings. Having been very much a rural/market town sort of organisation it seems that the day of the urban WI is dawning.
Anyhow, that preamble is to introduce the fact that Malago WI are taking part in the SouthBank Arts Trail and to make it easy for a disparate, not necessarily arty, group of women to take part they have adopted the Learning to Love you More website. This is the brainchild of artists Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher, who have put together a series of assignments that anyone can carry out. I have chosen the task "Make an encouraging banner"and have had a lot of fun putting it together using hand-made felt. After the exhibition's over I may actually hang it on the garden fence to encourage all the veg growing I'm planning to do!
The heading picture is a close-up of the lovely soft, woolly, felt

Sunday, 19 April 2009

earth friendly bags

Over the past few weeks I have made a pile of "earth friendly" shopping bags as an alternative to the plastic that is offered to us in most shops. These are my (so called) "artistic" offering for the SouthBank Arts Trail this year. The work stems from my desire to do my tiny little bit for our tired abused planet and is part of the aspirations set out in my 50 before 60 birthday manifesto. It also means that I have to become better informed about the environmental impact of plastic on the planet and, indeed, the environmental impact of making bags from commercially produced fabrics.

To this end I have been looking at the website of Modbury in South Devon, where all the town's traders have committed to being plastic bag free. The campaign is inspired by Rebecca Hosking a wildlife film-maker who has seen for herself the damage that discarded plastics are doing to marine animals. There's a lot of interesting stuff in there, but particularly relevant to me is her warning that the alternatives to plastic bags are not necessarily environmentally friendly either.

I can’t guarantee the environmental credentials of all the fabrics I have used, but all the bags are made from remnants, offcuts or recycled clothes/bedlinen which has to be a tiny step in the right direction.

Friday, 17 April 2009

simnel cake

As planned, I made a simnel cake for our Easter celebrations. I haven't made one for years and was pleased with the result from this Good Housekeeping recipe. I cheated with ready-made marzipan which had been in the freezer since Christmas and was probably the inspiration for the whole thing. It was rather a lurid yellow, but after toasting under the grill that didn't really matter. The layer of marzipan in the middle of the cake stayed in the right place during baking and provided a delicious layer of unctuous, almondy stickiness. As I had been off cake, biscuits and puds for lent this was quite special for me! (It has all been eaten.)

Friday, 10 April 2009


Yesterday we went to an exhibition in Oxford organised by Stillpoint. 14 contemporary artists had been asked to make their own interpretation of the stations of the cross. The result is a strong, inspiring exhibition. It's at the Jam Factory until 16 April and I recommend it.

I was particularly taken by a piece by Alan Ramsey, which consisted of two panels completely covered in London Underground tickets and incorporating the artist's words about Jesus's silence under trial. I copied down the words and later realised that they work as a poem in their own right. I hope the artist will not object to me reproducing them here.

(Jesus on trial)

If you hadn’t stayed silent
I’d never have grown up
I’d never have asked a single decent question
I’d never have seen that woman quietly sobbing
I’d never have laughed about my new coat with those Spanish girls
I’d never have obeyed the tannoy on 7/7
I’d never have heard my darkness on Old Street
I’d never have talked Bonhoeffer with that friendly American
I’d never have tasted the claustrophobia on my tongue
I’d never have hummed that lame little chorus to myself
I’d never have gone to meet her at Sloane Square
All the journeys
would have been
the same
We’re always telling you to speak up
We’re always slapping you around
Explain yourself
Bet you can’t guess who hit you?
I like it that you’re a quiet sort of person
Word and no word
I can’t imagine you babbling on and on
If you hadn’t stayed silent
I’d never love your kiss
more than prophesies or answers
I’d never want to keep playing
this brilliant hide and seek faith-game
I’d never ache
to see the light again

Monday, 9 March 2009

birthday list

No, not a list of the presents I want! This list is about a different kind of hope.

Some time ago my friend Gai blogged about the 49 things she wants to do before she’s 50. I found it a very inspiring list - a mixture of treats, challenges, resolutions and plans; things that can be ticked off in one go and things to incorporate into regular life. I thought I’d have a go at my own list. Trouble is I’m ten years older than G, so I decided to make it 50 things to do before I’m 60. It’s my birthday this week, so I’ve got a year to do all the things on my list.

I well remember that after I passed my fiftieth birthday I got a bit gloomy, feeling that there wasn’t much to look forward to, just the downhill slope towards old age. In fact that was untrue, the past nine years have brought lots of wonderful experiences, including a major move to a different part of the country, a lifestyle shift and the birth of three grandchildren. But I know that in my low moments I can lose sight of the good things and forget what it is that I enjoy doing. So this list is to remind me of all the stuff I have to look forward to and remind me that I can still make a contribution to the world.

  1. Visit Cambridge
  2. St Ives holiday with all the family to celebrate our 60th birthdays
  3. Walk (part of) the Kennet and Avon canal
  4. Make a daisy chain
  5. Increase exercise to 10,000 steps per day
  6. Reduce BMI to a healthy level
  7. Find a tai chi, yoga or pilates class
  8. Practise meditation every day
  9. Learn more about meditation and other spiritual exercises
  10. Keep a thankfulness diary
  11. Plan a retreat
  12. Take some kind of pre-retirement course or life coaching
  13. Reduce the amount of waste we send to landfill
  14. Where reasonable, avoid buying plastic
  15. Increase loft insulation
  16. Grow some vegetables and herbs
  17. Take part in Earth Abbey’s GrowZone
  18. Start a wormery
  19. Make bread once a week
  20. Take grandchildren on the miniature railway at Ashton Court
  21. See theatre regularly
  22. Read two books a month
  23. One book in five to be a challenge of some kind – maybe a non-fiction book or a classic I’ve never got round to
  24. Go to a couple of major exhibitions (maybe in London)
  25. Give myself a weekly treat
  26. Conquer lace knitting
  27. Use the screen printing equipment I bought two years ago
  28. Take an art or textile course
  29. Get my Central Park embroidery professionally framed
  30. Get properly fitted for a bra at Rigby & Peller
  31. Clear cupboards and recycle junk
  32. Learn how to make an egg custard with confidence
  33. Continue to explore faith and doubt with my spiritual director
  34. Do work filing once a month instead of a marathon when life becomes impossible
  35. Make a simnel cake
  36. Go to cinema once a month
  37. Finish my "cortona" quilt
  38. Research what I need to do to complete my OU degree
  39. Make a range of "earth friendly" cotton shopping bags for the Arts Trail
  40. Finish my mother’s florentine canvaswork. This was started in the 1960s. It’s never going to be the rug that was originally intended as some of the wool has run out, but could be a substantial floor cushion
  41. Have a pedicure
  42. Write up detailed job notes for my successor at work
  43. Start an Etsy or Folksy shop to sell my handmade items
  44. Apply for my bus pass, so I can go on jolly jaunts on local buses around the country
  45. Get an indigo vat going and do some dyeing
  46. Invite someone else to join in the fun of indigo dyeing
  47. Try to save up some money to get my grandmother’s old armchairs reupholstered
  48. Reawaken my interest in wildflowers and foster my granddaughter’s existing interest in flowers by teaching her the names of wildflowers and collecting some to press
  49. Sort out the hopeless tangle that is my "jewellery box" and put things neatly (if temporarily) in nice new boxes in tidy little compartments
  50. Make another list ready for next year!

Friday, 27 February 2009


I have been pondering the cousin relationship for a while.

My first cousins were very important to me when I was a child. Although they were quite a lot older, they lived in the same town and we saw them regularly. They obviously enjoyed having a younger child to take care of and we remained close throughout my growing up. As adults we all moved to different parts of the country (different parts of the world even) and my middle cousin died of cancer when she was 35. These days we only seem to meet up for family events - weddings and funerals, but they are still family and those ties remain.

Steve also has a wide extended family of first cousins who were much the same age and has memories of Christmases where they all bunked down on the floor at his grandparents' house, family trips to Wales, cricket on the beach.

So we were sad for our own girls growing up without cousins. Eventually Steve's brother and his wife had twin daughters, but our girls were well into teenage and we only saw them once or twice a year, so although they are fond of them they regard them as a different generation and don't really feel they know them well.

Now I'm wondering how it will be for our grandchildren. So far there are three of them, aged between 16 months and 3 years in two separate families. Very close in age, but separated by 160 miles. How will their cousinly relationships develop? This week Alice has been visiting with Dan and we all spent a lot of time together. The first day Dan and Iris hardly engaged with each other at all - Dan was feeling very insecure away from home and Iris was feeling very threatened by this small boy she was expected to share toys and attention with. But the second day they relaxed a little and started to play together. The photo captures the moment when they actually gave each other a hug and a kiss.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

say goodbye

This was a lovely knit and heavenly yarn to work with, but it just never suited me. This is the major disadvantage to hand knitting - never being quite sure how something will turn out. I fell in love with the pattern long before I ever geared up to the expense of buying the yarn and thought that the ribbed section at the waist would give shape and elegance. Sadly on me that waisted area fell below my waistline and the resultant effect was to make me look lumpen and far from elegant. Having persisted and worn it a few times last summer I reached the conclusion that I was never going to feel right wearing it. I felt grieved for all the work and expense that had been put into it. But then I took courage and ....

frogged it!

Then the gentle healing process of dipping the skeins into warm water and swirling them around watching the tight curls relax and give up their memory of being stitches.

Laborious hours of winding later I now have balled yarn ready to go.

This time I will probably knit the garter slip stitch jacket from February's Knitting magazine.

The shape is loose and casual - hopefully more forgiving, and with any luck should be a speedy knit.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

25 random things

The 25 random things meme has been tagging its way around facebook for a while now. After I had been tagged twice I thought I'd better give it a go. It turned out to be easier than I thought as one idea led to another. Then I remembered that last summer I had been tagged here on blogger by Just Gai to come up with six things about me and ducked it. So, in the spirit of re-use, recyle, reduce (well maybe not reduce) I am reproducing my list of 25 here. I haven't got a huge blog circle, but I think I may tag a couple of people whose blogs I read, but don't know in person.

  1. I had a very bad squint as a small child. As a result I never developed binocular vision. I had four operations to correct the squint when I was 5, 6, 7 & 8. I am very grateful that something could be done for my eyesight as reading and needlework are such an important part of my life.
  2. I’ve always been a bookworm. When I was a child my friends used to hide their comics before I went round to play!
  3. Being a mother to our three lovely daughters has been my best achievement.
  4. I grew up in a nominally christian family and made my own commitment to christian faith at the age of 15. Since then my faith has taken a variety of different forms, but has never completely deserted me. I wrestle continuously with faith and doubt. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think the whole thing is barking mad, but at others it is a source of great comfort.
  5. I have a very sweet tooth and can easily eat condensed milk straight from the can with a spoon.
  6. I’m very untidy. I think this is because my mind is dashing on to the next activity before I’ve finished what I’m doing.
  7. I wish I had carried on with A level maths. I was talked out of it because I was planning to apply to study French at University.
  8. I’m frightened of old age. My father had dementia and my mother had a neurological condition that robbed her of language relatively young. Equally, I have no desire to die young – I’m too interested in finding out what my children and grandchildren are getting up to. I aspire to being a healthy and still intelligent old woman like my maternal grandmother who lived until she was 101.
  9. I am completely uninterested in sport of all descriptions, especially team games.
  10. I did actually once win a race. It was a three-legged race with my best friend at primary school. We disproved the theory that you need to be well matched in size to do well at this event. I was a good deal smaller than her in both height and weight. Neither of us was particularly athletic, but we did practise. I tucked myself in under her armpit and we had practised starting together on the middle leg and staying in stride; so we powered up the track while all the athletic, well-matched pairs who had been winning the individual sprint races tripped over each other’s feet and fell over and shouted at each other.
  11. My mother taught me dressmaking when I was fairly young and I made a lot of my own clothes during my teenage years. We used my grandmother’s old hand powered sewing machine which stitched everything so tightly that it couldn’t be undone.
  12. I love all textile pursuits. I learned to knit when I was about six and a lovely neighbour, called Mrs Turner, taught me to crochet a couple of years later. I got to know her because she had a lovely mongrel dog called Sally and I wanted to be allowed to take her for walks.
  13. Discovering the world of contemporary embroidery and textile art in the early nineties was a real epiphany for me. In a family where I was intimidated by the considerable drawing talents of my husband and daughters it was wonderful to discover my own means of expression.
  14. We used to visit my grandmother every Tuesday. When I was little I used to get bored with adult conversation over the lunch table and I disappeared into my own dark mysterious world under the chenille tablecloth. This is where I first smelled real coffee brewing in Gran’s spirit-burner Cona machine. Although I love coffee I have always thought that the smell is better than the taste.
  15. I love the sight of allotments on the edges of towns and villages, there’s something very appealing about their tumble-down, messy orderliness and the evidence of so much industry.
  16. I was born and grew up in Lichfield, Staffordshire, which is pretty much as far from the sea as you can get in any direction in England.
  17. Over the past 37 years I have accumulated almost enough credits for an Open University degree. When I retire I’ll give it one last push and finish it!
  18. I love crosswords and sudoku.
  19. When I was 11 I wanted to be a vet. Thank GOODNESS I got talked out of it!
  20. I need to spend time alone. I’m an introvert and naturally cautious, but nevertheless I love spending time with larger-than-life, try-anything-once friends.
  21. People think I’m calm and serene, but they can’t see my feet paddling under the surface.
  22. Steve and I will have been together for 40 years in October this year. On the face of it we don’t seem very compatible (if you compare his 25 things with mine!), but we have shared values and the differences in our personalities complement each other. Clearly, love conquers all!
  23. I used to collect and press wild flowers with my mother. It’s something I would like to do with my grand-daughter.
  24. I am living proof of the theory that "Dieting Makes you Fat". Despite numerous and frequent diet regimes I have managed to gain at least a stone in each decade of my adult life. This is not something I am proud of.
  25. Self-deprecation comes to me as naturally as breathing and I have had to make a real effort not to make this list a litany of my faults and failings.

I'm tagging:




photo-montage of me aged about 3, 16 and 18

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


Just look at this gorgeous amber confection! I've made 18 jars of it. Bet Steve eats his way through it in about four months.

Friday, 16 January 2009

elegant ladies

I've been getting such pleasure from these beautiful amaryllis. They grow so fast and bloom so dramatically. I bought these in Ikea of all places in early December. My normal preference for colour is a definite shade like the red, but I'm so glad I got the pale one as well - that pinky blush is so delicate and lovely.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

holiday pursuits

Since returning home from a very jolly and convivial Christmas in Leyland we have had a very lazy and lovely week - the best rest and recuperation I have had in years. I realised about ten days before Christmas that I hadn't had a great deal of "proper" holiday during the year. Working part-time from home means always being able to catch a few hours work here and there, which sometimes leads people to imagine I'm on holiday all the time, but frequently means that when I am supposed to be having a break I'm still regularly checking emails and looking at the bank balance online. So I decided to take the rest of my year's holiday allowance in one shot - two full weeks from 22 December. The few days before Christmas were a bit of a scramble as we had to sort the house out for visitors staying while we were away. All the stuff from the studio was still in the dining room in the aftermath of the December Exhibition so it was quite a big deal and we were exhausted, but it did us a favour really because it meant we returned after Christmas to an immaculate house and could just flop.

This was exactly what we did and I've spent quite a bit of time on the sofa under a quilt watching rubbish telly or reading.

I've done some knitting. Mostly working on a scarf in the alpaca wool I bought back in the summer. It's quite a slow knit because it's k1, p1 rib and needs close attention to the chart for the placing of the double cable twists, but I'm enjoying the results.

Trying to make up my mind whether to leave the natural colour, or to dye it - it may end up in an indigo vat during the summer.

Also did a very rapid knit project to make myself some wrist warmers. Quite a few of my cardigans have three-quarter length sleeves or open bell-ended sleeves and I've found a chilly gap between glove and sleeve-end even under a winter coat. So, in preparation for our new year's day walk, I made these. I had 72g of yarn, so had to keep weighing as I went along so that I didn't use too much up on the first wrist. Worked well and did the job.

My other creative activity was also in the interest of keeping warm - a draught excluder for the front door made out of an old jeans' leg and stuffed with old socks and tights. It still needs a bit more stuffing before I close off the end, but is already in service. This had the added benefit of forcing me to sort out my socks and tights drawer.

Also had the opportunity to sort out all my knitting needles into the pockets on the gorgeous bag Ruth has made for me.
There are flapped pockets both sides and a ring binder inside to store all my patterns - bliss!

Then there was the Christmas jigsaw - a fiendish optical illusion from my sister. I mostly did the straight edges and Steve filled in the middle! I was a bit bothered by the fact that the illustration of the puzzle is circular and the puzzle itself is square - an illusion indeed!

It wasn't all lolling around, though. We included a healthy sprinkling of social activity as well - time spent with family on a couple of days, new year's eve with friends, a new year's day walk and meal with other friends and a walk on an icy beach yesterday.