Thursday, 27 February 2014

Elmer Blanket Ta-dah!

Two blogs in one week - get me! Well, it's finished; my lovely attic24 inspired Elmer blanket is complete. This has been a lovely project - perfect for a beginner like me. The squares were relatively quick and also easy to transport about. In fact, most of them were done in the car waiting for E to come out of school - I do spend a lot of time sitting in that car park; if you don't get there early, you don't park! - and then joining them on later at home.

I must say a special thank you to 2 people. Firstly, Lucy at attic24 for her fantastic colour sense. I have absolutely none, so shamelessly copied her choice of colours, apart from 2 which I had left over from when the girls made scarves (denim and matador). Her brilliant, easy to follow and free(!) tutorials made it problem free. Secondly, bunnymummy for her pattern for the first row of the border which enables it to lie flat and ruffle free - the maker of this blanket accepts full responsibility for any kinky bits! So, thank you ladies - you have taught me to crochet and made me very happy!!!

Anyway.......time for the photos:


This was taken with me perching precariously on the coffee table. Sorry, the light isn't brilliant in these - it was alternating between being briefly very sunny and then dark and dismal.

Trying it out on the bed.
 I love the colours against the duck egg blue walls which, unfortunately, appear a rather dingy grey in the photos! Please excuse the books all over the floor - I need to learn about styling too!

Focusing on Lucy's 'Spot on Edging'.

More photos on the bed....

Now, trying it out in the living room. I love the fact that it covers our dungy brown sofa - not my choice - but please excuse the ragged curtains; they appear to be biodegrading in the sun (Does anyone else have this problem?). We are planning to decorate in here soon, so I can live with threadbare curtains for a while longer!

I said I needed to learn how to rotate photos!

A corner shot...

More of the border....

Trying it out folded up...

Now on the other sofa - yes, we have 2 of the wretched things!

Some draped shots.....

And back to the Ta-dah!

Personally, I'm really thrilled with it. My family, however, not so much! I made the mistake of telling E that they were called granny squares and she now thinks crochet is just for grannies, as does my husband. My friend, C, who came to lunch yesterday told me to tell them to keep up - it's all the rage and I'm the trendy one. When I mentioned this to E over dinner, her response was 'Yes, but how old is C?'!  Also, I think that my elder daughter seems to think that it's a bit too colourful - she's more of a calming blues girl but is, however, less open with her ridicule, for which I am grateful! I love it anyway; bring on that predicted snow, they'll be fighting over my blankie! 

Now I just have to plan what to do with all that left over yarn - I feel stripes coming on!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Mindfulness, Oxford and a rather sheepish 'Ta-dah'

Good morning everyone, I hope you are having a lovely day. I just thought I'd take a moment to share this week's 'new thing' with you. Just before Christmas I read a library book by Ruby Wax who talked candidly about her battle with depression and how taking a course on Mindfulness changed her life. Coincidentally, a friend then recommended a book which had helped her to remain calm throughout a period of ill health. She is now, thankfully, well but still finds the techniques helpful with everyday stress. The book was written by the the people who ran the cognitive therapy course which Ms. Wax attended and, curious, I managed to find a copy on Amazon.

It is an 8 week course and contains a set of simple practices which can be incorporated into daily life to promote 'joie de vivre' and combat anxiety. This mindfulness based cognitive therapy is, apparently, as effective as drugs for preventing depression and also works for those who aren't actively depressed but who wish to remain calm and happy in everyday life. Well, I for one could do with being a bit happier and, as I have a strong family history of depression, I thought I'd give it a whirl. The book comes with a CD of guided meditations which I have downloaded to my ipod (following L's written instructions!) and I am currently on week 3. If I am seen sitting in the car with my eyes closed, ipod plugged in, breathing deeply, this is what I'm up to! I'll let you know how it goes. 

I went to visit daughter number 1 at Oxford this weekend. I was actually bringing her back home so she and daughter number 2 could catch the train to London together to watch the final episode of John Finnemore's 'Cabin Pressure' being recorded. For those who haven't heard of it, it's a Radio 4 comedy programme, about a small airline, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephanie Cole, Roger Allam and the hugely talented John Finnemore.  There was fierce competition for tickets and enormous excitement in our house when we were lucky enough to win some. Anyway, I thought I would arrive early in Oxford and L and I could spend some time together before going home. It was beautifully sunny, so much so that I couldn't really see the screen on my camera and the photos below were taken rather blindly on my walk to her accommodation. This one shows a bit of yarn bombing on an old lamp post - it had obviously been there some time as it was rather weathered.

We had a quick stop at G&D's ice cream place. Mine was called 'Smelly Bee' - a lavender and honey flavour - and L's was 'Oxford Blue', containing not the cheese but  blueberries - yummy!

We then trawled the charity and ethnic food shops on Cowley Road. I bought this for 20p. I love Joanne Harris' books and Chocolat is one of my favourite films. I also bought 2 green papayas to make a Thai salad when my friend comes to lunch tomorrow and a jar of vine leaves, so quite an interesting haul. L had already bought me a beautiful bottle of rose water and I used it later to make almond macaroons from a Moroccan cookbook, bought by the girls one Christmas after we had been to Marrakech.  They look a bit like Nigella's 'Snickerdoodles' but with a lovely, subtle rose flavour.

Finally, my rather sheepish Ta-dah! My Elmer blanket is now too large to carry with me for sneaky hooky moments in the car, so I thought I would use some yarn left over from my crochet cushion to make a pair of wrist warmers a la Bunny Mummy.  Unfortunately, I under-estimated the size of my hand and over-estimated the stretchiness of the yarn, so it was far too small. Undeterred, I transformed it into a phone sock! Not the most brilliant example of crochet work on the internet I know, but I'm easily pleased and secretly rather proud!

Hopefully, there will be a slightly more impressive Ta-dah later this week. I have 2 more rounds of my Elmer blanket border to do before it's finished! Have a good week.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Donor Cards, WIP and 'Lurkey Soup'

Half Term this week and we are glad to be cosy at home, having a rest from the early morning starts and trying to recover from the awful virus that has been doing the rounds at school.

My item on 'The List' for this week has been incredibly quick and easy but probably more worthwhile than most of the rest. I have registered with the NHS Organ Donation line. I carried a donor card around with me for years, swapping it from one new purse to the next and it only struck me recently that I hadn't seen it for a while. I don't know about you but my purse contains a shameful collection of cards - only one credit card and my driving license but numerous loyalty cards, library cards etc. and somewhere along the line, my donor card had been misplaced. Initially I thought I would just get another one but that involved either a trek into town to visit the post office or trying to download a flimsy version off the Internet which would probably get lost in the general detritus again. So, onto the NHS website I went and it literally took me 2 minutes to complete the form and register: quick, easy and a relief to know that, if the worst should happen, some poor soul doesn't have to trawl through my belongings searching for a card.

Anyway, as no photos were involved with this weeks 'new thing' I thought that I would post a few photos of my work in progress i.e. my granny square blanket or 'Elmer blanket' as it is now known. Here it is a few days ago, stretched out on the living room floor:

I've added a couple of more rows since and I'm now on my last one before trying to work out how to do the border. It is already in use - E was off school with the dreaded lurgy thing last week. I dosed her up with Nurofen in the morning and we actually made it as far as the school car park before I decided that it was a bad idea and we came home again. This was a photo taken 10 minutes after we arrived back - tucked up on the sofa, fast asleep with 2 blankies and a hot water bottle! I was sitting at the other end 'joining as you go' whilst it covered her and Hamish, the house rabbit, sat in a patch of sun snoozing too.

I'm really enjoying making the blanket and have plans to start on a stripey one as soon as this is finished - well, I will have some wool left over so what's a girl to do?

I've also been enjoying the cheap daffodils in the shops at the moment and the primula bought for 80p at the market square flower stall. I plan to put it in one of my pots but am enjoying it cheering up my kitchen windowsill until I get around to it.

Finally, I'm a big soup fan and just love the Covent Garden Soup books for veggie inspiration. We often have soup for a weekend lunch as it's a great way to use up any veg left over from the weekly shop. One of my favourite recipes is 'Lurkey Soup' i.e. using anything left 'lurking' around in the fridge at the end of the week. This was this week's haul - half a butternut squash, a chunk of celeriac and a carrot. Just fry the onion, add the rest of the chopped veg with some stock, a couple of bay leaves, seasoning and other herby bits. Simmer for 20 mins and blitz. Basically, you can use anything - sometimes eyebrows are raised but I find the phrase 'delicious and nutritious' useful on such occasions! Have a good week.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Custard and flooding!

Good morning! We, along with the rest of the UK, seem to have had quite a lot of rain recently. As we back onto a river, this has been rather worrying. Fortunately (touch wood!) , the river has stayed at the bottom of the garden, although there are quite a few puddles of standing water around; we live on clay soil, so the drainage isn't great. Our island however is completely submerged as is our little wooden bridge leading to it. We have lived here for 14 years now and I have never seen the water this high before. My lovely next door neighbour, who is 91 and has lived here for over 60 years, assures me that the houses have never flooded yet. So I have everything crossed that this will remain the case. The pictures on the news of Somerset are heartbreaking, as was the poor chap who only bought his house in Datchet last week and now has sewage beneath the floorboards.

Anyway, this was a photo of our garden taken yesterday:

The trees that you can see at the bottom are all on the island - and this was the island today when I went to say hello to our chickens.

Somewhere under all that water is our bridge!

Meet the Girls. I'm really sorry but my daughters named them and the only one I can remember is 'Mrs. King', named after Helen Mirren's character in 'The Madness of King George'! As you can see, the girls' run is looking decidedly muddy but they seemed to be quite enjoying paddling in it rather than staying indoors. These chickens are our ex-bats from the Hen Welfare Trust. We also have 2 pekin bantams (Phyllis and Harriet) but they had wisely decided to stay inside. I also took a photo of a small patch of blue sky seen through our silver birch tree (please can anyone tell me how to rotate photos?!)

and a couple of the snowdrops beneath the cherry. For some reason these are flourishing, whilst those I planted in the front garden are still looking decidedly puny.

Anyway, the reason for the chicken pictures is the next item on my Fifty List - Making REAL custard. We have attempted this several times in the past but it always curdles and produces 'Scrambled Dregs'. Not this time though, the recipe was from my old copy of the Good Housekeeping book and the trick seems to be not boiling the egg/milk combination; it is supposed to be heated until it just coats the back of a wooden spoon. So, I was uncharacteristically patient and heated it REALLY slowly.

Here is the result, with and without cherry pie. Definitely one to make again as we usually have lots of eggs to get rid of and E has decided that she no longer likes an egg on its own, only in things. This, despite the fact that the chickens were HER IDEA!

Have a good day and I hope the weather is kinder where you are. Bye for now, I'm just off to eat some pie.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Front Crawl

I've been a member of a local leisure centre for a while now and usually try to go twice a week. Initially I went once to the gym and once swimming, before eventually realizing that I enjoyed the swimming and found the gym pure torture; it was smelly, noisy and boring beyond belief. Even a Christmas gift of an ipod failed to help matters much. Given the right song, it helped me maintain a certain rhythm on the rowing machine but it failed to drown out the local radio station blaring over the speakers and didn't do much for the boredom aspect. Consequently, I now go swimming twice a week after dropping E off at school. I find it much more pleasurable - only the smell of chlorine, no annoying music and no over-competitive, smug members in the latest lycra, looking upon my ratty old track suit bottoms and ancient T shirt with derision. The swimming clientele are a much gentler, friendlier, less threatening class of person, I find, always ready with a cheery greeting and it's also nice to catch my breath and warm up in the sauna afterwards.

My stroke of choice is breast stroke. You get to keep your head above the water, thus avoiding swimming pool hair, and it's relatively leisurely and not too splashy. It is, however, comparatively slow and I have often watched enviously as others, more seal like and front crawly, plough their way effortlessly up and down the lanes. I have always wanted to have a go but embarrassment has stood in the way. Given a pool all to myself with no spectators I would have tried it long ago but, short of building my own pool, that's never likely to happen, so onto my 50 list it went, thus forcing me to give it a bash. 

Having probably been taught how to swim crawl at some point in the dim and distant past, I know the basics. Kick the legs and make windmilling actions with the arms - how difficult could it be? As it turns out, very. I was extremely fortunate to find only 2 others in the pool this morning so, with a lane all to myself, I had no excuse not to try. I had dug out daughter number 2's goggles in preparation and, with much fiddling and quiet cursing, actually managed to get them to stay on my head. Throwing caution and embarrassment to the wind, I set off. The legs I could do, the arms I could do, the breathing - that was a different matter. Not used to having my head in the water (it seems so much colder!) I went into slight panic mode and let all my breath go too quickly. Not for me the streamlined, effortless breath taken, almost imperceptibly, to coordinate with the arm action. Mine was more like a whale erupting to the surface, effectively doggy paddling for a few seconds whilst gasping pathetically, and then plunging once more beneath the waves. It was an impressive sight. 

Nobody guffawed and pointed (I said they were a nicer class of person) and, fortunately, nobody felt the need to rescue me and administer First Aid. If I could have swum a length without coming up for air, I probably wouldn't have looked too bad. Unfortunately, my lung capacity isn't that great and I found I had to come up at least twice to do my dying whale impression. I persevered and, goggles now steamed up with the effort, managed to complete 6 lengths of front crawl. It wasn't pretty and rather a lot of water was imbibed in the process but I did it. Never again though - I can tick it off my list but it's back to good old breast stroke from now on. The sauna had never seemed more welcome.

Given that, fortunately, cameras are rather frowned upon in the swimming area, there is no photographic evidence of my achievement, so I thought I'd finish with a photo of my lovely tulips instead. Believe me, they are a far more attractive sight.