Mid-June

Eating: Mackerel salad with homemade honey, lemon & mustard dressing, sprinkled with 4 different mixed seeds.

Reading: The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves it’s the first in her Vera Stanhope series. Far, far too good. I’m bleary today as I stayed up reading until 12:15 this morning. Oops!

Looking: at all the colourful photos I took during a recent visit to Waterperry Gardens

Glenfiddich rose

Baking: cinnamon buns in May, a few times. It was a very, very tricky month and they were needed to bolster and treat a few special people.

Anticipating: paddling in the sea, eating Cornish pasties for lunch, walks, a cream tea, cold lager shandy, ditto cider, toast & salted butter with marmalade for holiday breakfast, ice creams, chatting to strangers, taking flowery and coastal photos, visiting a favourite garden, zooming down the motorway to sea views and sand!

Watching: Everything I Know about Love on the BBC iplayer. It’s one for when he’s gone fishing!

Smelling: the scent of the Ambre Solaire I’ve just put on. It’s such a nice smell. It’s 25° today. Lovely.

Wearing: shorts & t-shirt

Drinking: cold filtered water. A glassful has just thoughtfully been brought to me outside.

Planning: a return visit to the Cotswold Sculpture Park. I bought May’s issue of Gardeners World magazine from Mags Direct after hearing about the 2-for-1 card, it’s valid for a year. It’s given us a couple of really nice days out, to places we’ve never visited before. We’re planning to take the card away on holiday too.

Repeating: this superb recipe with cod, butterbeans, canned cherry tomatoes, rosemary & parmesan breadcrumbs on top (with my twist of lemon zest.) It’s so tasty and healthy. Recipe from Olive mag website

Before it went into the oven

Buying: my first pair of prescription sunglasses.

From now on I won’t be screwing up my eyes through lenses of cheapy plastic sunglasses and making them tired from lots of reading. I have also bought some better quality sunglasses from Boots.

Visiting: my Aunty with my Mum next week. I love being ‘the young one’ and seeing them together. It feels special. There’s also something that makes me laugh about it too, but I can’t tell you. Sorry.

Loving: the new to me Czech gin Tōsh which was sent to me in a surprise free gin box on Saturday. It’s strongly flavoured, citrus with rosehips and works really well with Fever-Tree original tonic. I’m not a massive fan of it usually, because it’s quite bitter with strong quinine, but this gin complements it well.

May’s box – given free to me in June. Whoop!

Recommending: Craft Gin Club yes I know – again! But every time I include a referral code it’s used. If you also love gin and live in the UK this is for you. The offer is £15 off a box, free delivery and no further commitment. I love it.

Use my referral code to get this offer.

Visiting: a new National Trust property. We went at the weekend. Well, it was completely new to Someone, only new as an adult to me. Chedworth Roman Villa has changed as a visitor experience since I had to complete a worksheet and “Pay attention!” on a school trip.

All from the 4th century. The FOUTH century!

But it was these that made the hairs on my arms stand up:

I recognised and remember liking the dog and cat paw prints which were captured as they wandered around while the tiles were drying, either at the site of the villa, or in nearby Cirencester. But I remember feeling regretful that the cat’s print was not clearer, since I always preferred cats to dogs!

And a human print too

What have you been up to lately? I hope June is being good to you, so far. Please tell me three things?

Books I’ve enjoyed 002

A Tidy Ending by Joanna Cannon

Linda is on the face of it not a very interesting character; she is living the kind of life that millions of people live day by day. Going to work, plodding along, cooking uninspired dinners and pushing the hoover around the house. There is no real communication, or any sense of a spark of connection between Linda and Terry, her husband.

There is plenty of black humour and characters who are all too familiar in this book. From Linda’s mother to nose-in-everything neighbour Malcolm. What happens after the girls on the estate go missing and turn up one by one is very well plotted. I don’t want to say anything more about it all, as I’d hate to spoil it for other readers.

The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans

Fantastic!

Twisty turny, with a slow-building atmosphere of menace. I had so many questions and thoughts about what might happen when I was not reading, always a good sign of a compelling story.

This novel is deftly plotted, with leaps back and forth in time and to completely different settings. 1989 was interesting, the references took me straight back to my teens. Researching (or just remembering?) that period must have been fun.

The characterisation is solid; because despite a large cast I was never confused about who was who.

It also has to be said (because I bet I’m not the only one) that any book which is set within a large country house and grounds gets my vote too. Woodland, a pool and a view of the sea too? Tick, tick, tick!

My heart was beating so hard by the end. Loved it. This is a book I’ve already recommended to many friends. 5 *****

Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander

An engrossing read as we find out exactly what has driven Meredith to stay in her house for over three years, and what happened to cause her to become alienated from her family. Along the way she makes two new friends who have some issues of their own.

Meredith, Alone is in the same genre as Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and A Man Called Ove. All are linear stories following characters who have deeply personal issues to resolve, as they form new relationships along the way and change through the course of the story.

Meredith is a really sympathetic character, so proactive in her self-care and very likeable, while supportive of others. I imagine the dishes Meredith makes and the items she bakes will inspire. It certainly makes for a cosy read. The food, the cups of tea and the cat. Perfect.

There is one aspect of the story that could have been much darker, which could have changed the path of the story as it moved forward in the present time, but the author chose not to go there.

Breadsong by Kitty and Al Tait

What a fabulous book! It’s warm hearted, honest and incredibly positive. You feel there is nothing the family won’t overcome, because there’s no such thing as giving up. There’s a problem, then there’s research, teamwork and problem solving. Breadsong is a very uplifting read. Yes, I found myself welling up at times, but then I was laughing out loud and I’m pretty sure there were a few shouted “Hurrays!” And, of course, there is bread. A lot of bread.

I’ve been making bread every week since 2014 when I read The Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan, a warm and cosy novel which really inspired me to make my own. After all I’d grown up eating homemade bread, I knew how much better it was than shop bought. My Mum would come home on a Friday night after working hard all week and make a batch of loaves. I’d wait the minimum amount of time allowed to cut a slice or two. I always spread the crust with butter and honey. For the last 4 years I’ve been baking sourdough, also inspired by some of the bakers Kitty mentions. (Happy 4th Birthday Marve the Marvellous starter!) So, I completely and utterly understand the appeal of dough and baking. It is therapeutic and apart from ending with something hugely tasty to eat, you feel a huge sense of achievement.

I can’t wait to try some of the recipes, in Breadsong. I didn’t realise that there would be so many! HURRAY!

Also I should go and visit the bakery sometime soon. Who can resist a visit after seeing all the beautiful photographs in the book? (And on their wonderful Instagram account.)

Appetite by Ed Balls

Part memoir, part cookbook, this is a very engaging read. I found the descriptions of Ed Ball’s years working in government very interesting. I also loved snippets about Ed’s family life both then and now. Ed always seems likeable on TV and radio appearances and comes across favourably in this well-written book.

I’ve saved some of the recipes to try: including the baked chocolate mousse, the custard (I’ve never actually made custard from scratch, so when it comes around to apple picking time I might make a crumble and serve it with homemade custard, instead of my usual extra thick double cream. My husband will be pleased) the soups and Cajun beans, which I plan to cook this week.

I noted how the finer details of recipes were sometimes lacking, for instance: how big a shoulder of pork for the bbq recipe? Around how many bananas might be required for the stated 425g? Smaller shops do not have scales to weigh produce and it is useful to know in advance. Do you remove the garlic from their skins and eat in the chicken soup, or discard when serving? When making the Yorkshire puddings the instructions state to divide the batter equally, but it does not say around how many portions the roast beef and puddings serves, so it would be rather a guessing game the first time. We tend to take specifics for granted when reading the cookbooks of experienced food writers. None of these are insurmountable problems, but some recipes could be tweaked a little.

Ed’s observations of the Sundays of his youth with the rituals and the patterns of roast lunch, football, the BBC serial and teatime were interesting as he states it was a true day of rest. I’m certain that his Mum didn’t get much rest! However I enjoyed the nostalgia of reading his recalling those quieter, far less commercial Sundays.

I quite often look up unfamiliar words when reading, my favourite in this book was policy wonk! I didn’t think it for a minute it would be in any dictionary. I thought it was probably political slang. Wrong!

I hope there are more books from Ed as I genuinely enjoyed reading his stories and would definitely read another of his books, if it was in a similar vein.

This is not a Pity Memoir by Abi Morgan

Heartwrenching, hopeful, a testament to love, family and loyalty. There is also humour, a lot of it bleak, but it lightens the reading of what is a devastating story.

Very best wishes to Abi, Jacob and their families.

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And there you go, there’s a booklist for your holiday reading, or for lounging about on sunny afternoons (or for cosy winter nights if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.)

What about you, have you read any corkers lately?

Books I’ve enjoyed 001

The Aerialists by Katie Munnik is a fictionalised account of a true event which happened in Cardiff at the Fine Art, Industrial and Maritime exhibition in 1896. I was unaware of this exhibition despite it being on a scale to rival England’s 1851 Great Exhibition, held at Crystal Palace. It’s such an interesting story, but I do not want to give any spoilers. At it’s heart this is a story about Laura, we find out about the journey that brought her to the streets of Paris and her life with the Gauldrons. Her story, as you’ve probably guessed, involves flying!

I have to be honest and say that I felt there were some weaknesses in the writing and depiction of the behaviours and dialogue of the characters, particularly as it is set during Victorian times, but overall the story is a good one.

When you’ve read it look up the BBC article published on 24/07/21, 125 years after the festival. (Not before, because it will ruin the book for you.)

French Braid by Anne Tyler follows one family from the 1950s up to the pandemic present day.

The Garrett family take their first and last family holiday in the summer of 1959. They hardly leave their home city Baltimore, but despite this are not a close family.

I love Mercy, the mother of the family. She is definitely a free spirit!

As an Anne Tyler fan I read everything that she publishes, this was definitely a five star read, one of my favourites, alongside Breathing Lessons.

The Language of Food by Annabel Abbs is the fictionalised account of the real life and work of Eliza Acton, while she wrote her famous cookery book in England in 1837. The story also focuses upon Ann Kirby although no facts about her are known, beyond that she worked for Eliza and her mother. But her story helps to round out the book and is a good device to compare and contrast the differing lives and opportunities of the two women.

The Language of Food explores women’s freedoms (or lack of) and limited opportunities to work creatively under their own name. I felt the author successfully conveys the frustration and difficulties which must have been felt by so many.

And finally of course; the food! Luscious descriptions and well written passages illuminate Eliza’s process of developing and testing recipes. (Perhaps luscious is the wrong word for the recipe for brawn featured at the end?!)

Other People Manage by Ellen Hawley is written by a new-to-me author, but I will certainly look out for more of her books.

Set in Minneapolis in the 1970s, it tells the story of two women who meet in a cafe. Marge is a bus driver and Peg is training to be a psychotherapist. You find out about their relationship, the challenges and surprises they face over the next twenty years. Then one day things drastically change. It’s a story about family, love and loss.

I really enjoyed it; the style of writing and low-key tone reminded me of an Anne Tyler novel.

If you read this and don’t fancy making meatloaf (veggies excepted) by the end I’ll be really surprised!

One Day I Shall Astonish the World by Nina Stibbe. Have you read any of Nina’s books? If not, then do! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Love Nina. And seen the TV adaptation. That’s one of my comfort reads / watches.

I also really liked Paradise Lodge, that’s great fun, with laugh out loud moments. I recommend the Audible version with Helen Baxendale narrating. She really cracked the Leicestershire accent, that isn’t easy.

Anyway, back to One Day I Shall Astonish the World; it focuses on the friendship between Susan and Norma. They are thrown together in a haberdashery shop in Leicestershire in the 1990s. Thirty years later Susan begins to wonder about the choices she has made in her life.

I’m sure all of us can agree that female friendships are weird, brilliant and challenging, when they’re good they can be one of the best things, but strange and stressful when they go awry. I think Nina Stibbe has captured this complex mix extremely well.

A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin. I have a confession to make; this was my first book by Rankin, although I’ve heard him interviewed about every new John Rebus crime novel for years.

It was a bit mad to start with this one, because it is his latest. Number 23 in the series! I haven’t stayed up reading and chanting ‘just one more chapter’ for a long time, but found myself still reading this at 1 AM a few weeks ago. I just couldn’t put it down. I will look out for others in the series now.

Rebus is now retired, but definitely not planning on avoiding looking into other people’s secrets and crimes, he has kept hold of a large pile of folders of unsolved cases…

Before he evens finishes unpacking from downsizing his home, his daughter calls to say that her husband has been missing for two days. Rebus fears the worst and knows that his daughter will be prime suspect. He has to decide if he’s going to go to her as a father, or a detective.

The Keeper of Stories by Sally Page I read last week. It’s such a goody! I felt a little bereft at the end.

Janice is a cleaner and notices people always tell her their stories. (I’ve always experienced that too, so I was drawn to Janice.) Her rule is that she can save one story from each person, but she is very clear: she is the Keeper of Stories and doesn’t have a story to tell about herself. But when she meets Mrs B (who is no fool) things begin to change. Set in Cambridge this is a really lovely story about supporting other people, while finding yourself and realising what you do and do not want. There’s much empathy and masses of everything practical, including DIY. If Janice’s skills don’t leave you feeling a tad inadequate, then I’ll be surprised. There is lots of humour, I laughed out loud often. Look out for the dog. (Warning for the faint-hearted…he swears. A lot.)

Let me know if you decide to read any of the books I’ve recommended. Or maybe you’ve already read some of them? I’d love to know your take.

Time to make a G&T (it’s not Dry Lent anymore woohoo!) and quickly sort out what I want to watch. Someone is fishing with a friend this evening, so I shall make the most of the P&Q. New Grace & Frankie eps are now on Neflix, or do I rewatch The Split’s third series and cry all over again? Or…?

Sleep Under the Stars blanket – finished

Started in May 2020 during Lockdown my star blanket, official show-name Sleep Under the Stars is finally complete. It’s not my first star shaped blanket, I’ve been drawn to them for a long time. I think it’s the novelty of making a non-rectangular or square thing once in a while. If you want to check out the three others you can see them here. Smaller sized star blankets make super car-seat or buggy blankets for littles. This is a snuggle on the sofa and read a book, or watch tv size for someone older.

It’s a weighty, soft and very snuggly blanket. This was my first time crocheting with Paintbox Simply Chunky yarn. I liked it so much I soon started to use it for other makes, including a couple of cowls. It’s really nice affordable acrylic yarn which both crochets and knits up well.

Here are the details in case you want to make a star blanket too:

Pattern: Free from Love Crafts site as you see I chose my own colour combo and no pom-poms! I finished emergency stop styley, brake hard and handbrake applied, when I felt it was the size I wanted. I didn’t do the back loops, or is it front loops only thing in the last round.

Yarn: Paintbox Simply Chunky

I used Misty Grey 303 / Slate Grey 305 / Mustard yellow 323

Hook: 6mm, I always use Clover Amour hooks

Size: 48 1/2” / 123cm

Weight: 816g

Tip: For self …don’t forget to write down which shade of yarns you’re using (I usually do but for some reason didn’t, let’s blame lockdown brain) so I’ve just spent about 10 minutes going to the window glasses on, glasses off to work out whether I used misty grey or stormy grey! They’re very, very similar.

For you…do start new rounds of colour by going into the pointy chain space and chaining 5, 3 of those chains equal 1 treble and 2 chains are for the 2 chain space which you do in between the treble(s) at every point. If it’s a row where you need 2 trebles in the point don’t worry, you add in the other right at the end of the round.

If you’re continuing in the same colour you simply slip stitch into the pointy chain space and carry on in the same way, with 5 chain stitches to begin. *If you don’t do this* and you slip stitch into a treble elsewhere it will look fine to begin with, but after a while you’ll find that you get a line of slip stitch joins. This spoils the look of the blanket. Believe me. I write from experience!

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And this is looking like a proper crochet blog again, at least for a moment. I shall have to try to finish something else which doesn’t have much left to do and then this will continue!

I’ve got lots of book recommendations, so I’ll be back soonish with another post. I’m having a fantastic reading year.

Hope you had a good Easter weekend? What have you been up to? Are you making anything at the moment, or having a break? TALK TO ME ;-)

Happy Easter

Slightly more rustic than usual, their appearance didn’t affected the taste and a warm Hot Cross bun spread with butter for breakfast yesterday was a real treat.

I proved this batch of spiced fruity dough overnight in the fridge and so they were hard to shape well. But I like the fact you don’t have to get up 04:00 to make dough to have them ready in time for breakfast. It’s a good method. But I wonder if I can shape them before they go into the fridge next time? They were light and airy and that’s the important thing, I was a bit concerned before as each felt like a cold clammy piece of concrete before they went into the oven! It was still a fairly early start as I got up at 06:40 to take the dough out of the fridge so it could come up to room temp, then shaped and baked them an hour or two later.

Traditionally Hot Cross buns have always been eaten on Good Friday, although you now seem to be able to buy them in some shops all year round. Usually I would have bought a few packets in the lead up to Easter and debated the merits of extra fruity or extra spicy varieties and voted which store’s were best. But I always draw the line at marmite Hot Cross buns, salted caramel or cranberry. I just want the traditional spicy fruity ones perhaps with a bit of orange zest. This year I waited until I’d made the first batch on Good Friday. I have to admit that I find it a bit perplexing that people now want everything available ALL of the time. Some foods are a seasonal treat, strongly associated with festivals at specific times of the year. So why not wait and enjoy them then? Isn’t that what makes them special? There’s no reason why you can’t bake or buy teacakes or a fruit loaf in between anyway. Here’s a bit of history and info about Hot Cross buns because I know not everyone reading will have ever eaten them or bought them.

I really needed a walk last night. We wandered off around the fields as the sun was beginning to go down and it was perfect. Still warm and bright. Good Friday was a very good Friday; a day of socialising, eating delicious roast pork and then blueberry tart for lunch and catching up with family. And what a lovely day it was, gorgeously warm t-shirt weather, sunglasses and suncream on while we sat on the patio in the garden. The borders were full of flowers, shrubs displaying their new leaves and the apple tree was absolutely covered in pink and white blossom.

We had nearly walked our one hour loop and a hare streaked across the field in front. He had been ambling along and then suddenly stopped quite a distance ahead, looking fully alert, ears up. I think he must have heard us. When he took off, streaming across the grass, it was magical. We see hares often but I will never become blasé about it.

What are your plans today and for the rest of the weekend? I hope you are able to do whatever makes you feel relaxed and happy, at least some of the time.

March

Making: you know what-what. Slow slow progress. But I enjoy crocheting the chunky yarn

And knitting with it too

Cooking: pot-roasted lemony chicken with carrots & onions. Peas cooked in the ready made gravy at the end. Delish. Shared the recipe with my friend and baby Theo loved it too

Cooking: this cauli recipe from the excellent book below, borrowed from the library. It’s even better eaten cold for lunch, along with some green salad

Sipping: Tonic & lemon, ginger ale with lime (Dry Lent)

Reading: my first Ian Rankin book! After chapter one I wondered why I hadn’t read a Rebus before. Not sure if to continue this book, which is 23rd in the series, or start at the beginning. In the meantime I’m reading an advance reader copy of the new Rachel Hore. Any Rankin fans want to advise? Will it spoil the series if I decide to read all? Or whatever, can it just be read as a stand alone without giving too much away?

Waiting: for an MRI scan date

Looking: forward to making Hot Cross Buns again next month (this month actually, again I forgot to post these notes I made during March! I’ll set a reminder in future)

A test to see if a family member is still reading and recognises his tulips tee hee

Listening: to Spotify. I’ve made a few playlists, good eclectic mixes. Can share if you like?

Suggesting: ‘Lord it’s a Feeling’ by London Grammar – Live at Abbey Road – it’s absolutely EPIC. Play loudly (when little ears aren’t around)

Rainbow harissa chicken & fennel bake

Wishing: for more sunny weather so washing can be pegged out on the line again. March has had t-shirt & BBQ weather, then snow, hail, wind and rain. Four seasons in one month

Enjoying: making sourdough flatbreads for lunch one Sunday

Appreciating: our first visit to the cinema this year to see The Duke. Helen Mirren & Jim Broadbent are absolutely superb together. I think Jim’s courtroom scenes are my favourite of all his performances. Well, apart from when he’s Bridget Jones father. The scene that makes me cry every time is the ‘I just don’t work without you’ bit with Gemma Jones

Eating: defrosted Christmas turkey mixed with leftover bean chilli & veg stock, fresh coriander & grated grana padano. It made a delicious Mexican soup

Liking: that lots of National Trust properties reopen this month

Hidcote Manor Garden
Upton House

Loving: the anemones which appeared all over the garden early in the month, such a colourful sight with the pinks of the heather behind

Buying: a little pot of joy for lunch! Sushi ends from a counter in Waitrose, only £1.95

Managing: my physio exercises. I’ve got a rocker board, it’s fun and hard to use, especially with my eyes closed

Watching: Upload. S2. The Marvellous Mrs Maisel S4, both are on Prime. Men Behaving Badly on BBC iplayer. The last we’ve found so good still, real laugh out loud funny, especially whenever they dance (when Neil Morrissey is Tony)

Another day, another traybake. This recipe. Tip: BB don’t need to added until 5 mins before the end

Wearing: my old pink hoodie lots. I love it and can’t bear the thought it won’t be with me forever. Should have bought a dozen

Noticing: buds on trees, daffodils, blossom and snowdrops

Following: the news…

Sorting: soft plastics for recycling. Do you do this too? You can leave them at larger supermarkets. So many collected in just a week, including pouches, plastics from fruit and veg deliveries, magazine bags, the list goes on and on

Trying: cooking Mushroom & Puy lentil bolognese for the first time. This Jamie Oliver recipe. It was tasty

Getting: stronger glutes

Coveting: can’t think of anything right now

Feeling: determined

Hearing: birdsong. This is excellent for ID and lovely background sounds: RSPB | Sounds of…Parks and Gardens

Wondering: if you have any requests for blog posts? What do you want to see more of? Anything new?

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What have you been up to in the last month? Are you seeing lots of spring flowers and buds, or is autumn coming in for you?

And there were lambs

My Star Blanket is slowly growing as I crochet another round and then undo half because I made a mistake. My concentration isn’t always great at the moment and my hands are sore from digging up dandelions in the garden, so it is a very slow process. It’s a lovely thick and warm soft blanket, so worth the effort.

I’m having a really good reading year, so far. I recently finished this and found it a good read, there are some interesting stories. Both sides of the family were so supportive of Ed and Yvette in their busy years. I loved reading about their family gatherings, and descriptions of family life with both parents being politicians. Appetite is part memoir, part recipe book. I’ve highlighted quite a few recipes in the proof copy I read on my Kindle. There’s nothing particularly exotic, but there are dishes that I haven’t made before, or those that I fancy making again. Cajun beans and custard are two that spring to mind. Ed Balls always comes across well on tv and this book portrays him no differently. It can’t be easy to write a book about oneself which is well balanced; not too self-critical or high in praise, Ed has managed it admirably.

Friends have given this five stars on Goodreads. At first I found the opening chapters rather twee, although I love the fact that it’s set in my home city. It’s enjoyable being taken back to when I lived in an adjacent street to one described by protagonist Esme, in her twentieth century setting. I remember cycling home from work and stopping in Jericho to buy a bottle of cider on a Friday night. It’s magical when you read a book and know every single place mentioned, isn’t it? I went into town yesterday because I wanted to buy some new tops in Seasalt, but mostly because this book drew me back to the city. I’ve found it hard to get back into the swing of my usual pre-pandemic (and let’s be honest it’s not over yet) activities and city life is one of them.

Anyway, I soon became engrossed in the story and now I’m finding it hard to put down. Have you read The Dictionary of Lost Words?

The only jarring note so far is that halfway through the (Australian) author has used the term ‘blow-in’ several times and it doesn’t feel right. I’ve never heard anyone use it here and thought it American. I’ve looked it up and according to the Oxford English Dictionary on my Kindle it is ‘informal, Australian slang’. Oh the irony!

Hidcote Manor Garden was looking stunning on Sunday. The magnolia trees are absolutely wonderful. Although I’ve visited many times over the years, I don’t remember seeing them in bloom, but then it only takes one windy day or a heavy rain storm for the petals to fall. This was lucky timing. Perhaps I’ve always gravitated there more in Summertime?

And, THERE WERE LAMBS!

I have a few videos of them hop, skipperty, jumping. Ahh the baas too, I’d forgotten how loudly tiny lambs can call. It was my first sighting of lambs this year and I stood on a log watching them for ages, absolutely mesmerised.

That was a little snapshot of some of my past week, what about yours…Have you seen lambs yet? Any book recommendations you want to pass on? Or new recipes? I think most of us love book and food talk.

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I’ve been wondering again about continuing this blog, I’ve had these thoughts every now and then over the last few years, since I haven’t been able to crochet or knit so much due to my sore hand. It’s not a very dynamic craft blog anymore. When I see all the colour work and inventive crochet being done on Instagram it makes me feel like I’ve been left behind. But then I looked at the numbers of new followers on my blog’s Facebook page and caught sight of the WordPress stats for this month alone and felt really encouraged. If what I waffle here is continued to be read, then it’s my pleasure to carry on. Thank you and welcome if you’re a new reader and follower.

The best flatlay background ever

Do you remember the Early Morning Cowl I made and sent to a friend last January? She has a crazy number of dogs: big dogs, huge massive furry things, middle sized ones and little happy yappy ones. She walks them very, very early in the morning in fields near her home. She often text me at that time and I always replied that I was snuggled in bed, with a cup of tea! She was the ideal friend to send a cosy knit. Not that many people suit mustard and it really suits her. I have a photo of her wearing that first cowl, it was straight out of the envelope with post dog walk crazy hair, her smile is huge as I hadn’t told her it was done and posted. It’s a really lovely pic. But I don’t think she’d appreciate it being beamed around the world!

Here’s another more sedate version in soft misty grey chunky yarn. I started it (eek!) last January when we were deep in our third Lockdown. Now I love you all, you know I do, but reading that post again, I now can’t help wondering why someone, or even a handful of you didn’t say: “BUT Rachel, that’s not the only four WIPs you have, is it?! Why have you started more?” I seem to have become scattered, starting and not completing many. If you’ve read for the last decade (and I know some of you very patient lovelies have, thank you!) you know I always used to have a couple of things at the most on the go, finished them and then thoughtfully decided on the next. Now, not so much!

Perhaps continually starting new makes reflected my lack of concentration during that stressful period? Or trying to get some variety in a very dull time. Due to the Stay at Home rule we mostly all stayed indoors, apart from tramping round the fields during daily exercise sessions and tried hard to restrict the baking-eating-baking-eating habit. That left craft and reading, along with unfulfilled intentions to learn Italian, write a book and stop biting my nails.

The bees were buzzing around in the heather flowers, such a welcome sound
Tiny tete a tetes in front of a lavender bush

This year I’m really determined to focus on one thing at a time in a bid to finally finish makes and cut them down to probably just THAT SOCK.

Green shoots on the lavender

I wanted to blog today, because it’s been a week and I felt like a chat, then I realised that you really, really don’t need, or probably want to see the Star Blanket yet again. That’s what I’ve been crocheting this week. So, I decided that it would probably be okay to have one crochet and one knitty thing on the go. It’s still keeping focus and not flitting madly about. That’s why I delved into one of the top layer of my project bags and found this cowl. I added an inch or so to it after lunch, before doing an hour’s tidying and pruning in the garden.

All the colour out there is so pretty now. I spotted lots of new growth which feels an encouraging sign of Spring. It was a real pleasure to be out in the sunshine, tidying up stray leaves, branches and twigs that blew down in the storms and to prune back some of the perennials. I cleaned the bird feeders too.

Someone spied flowers on the rosemary bush. Pretty pale mauve, aren’t they?
Anemones
Cyclamen with a cheeky anemone which has come up in the middle of the clump
Hellebores are so elegant
Many clumps of tulip leaves all around the borders, I can’t wait to see the flowers

I’ll share the Early Morning Cowl pattern shortly. It’s a little iffy timing as we’re heading into spring here, but some peeps in the Southern Hemisphere are heading into cooler temps. Plus I guess there’s plenty of time to knit one, or a stack, ready for autumn. It’s a really easy knit.

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If you’re feeling powerless and crafting helps to feel like you’re doing something to help the people of Ukraine, there are lots of ways to join in to raise funds for charity. Today I saw a gorgeous free sunflower pattern which Carol, aka Dansnan, on Insta has designed. Here’s the pattern. It’s a good use of brown and yellow oddments of yarn.

Mother Hookers are a crochet group based in Doncaster, which is in the north of England. I love following their community crochet projects. They are currently asking for sunflower brooches which they will sell in order to raise more money to send to the DEC (Disaster Emergency Committee.) They state that the Government has pledged to match donations up to 20 million pounds. All the details are on the MH page, linked above. Or perhaps you’d like to sell some within your own community?

February

I’m not sure whether to carry on with the monthly posts…

I think you should.

Why?

Because they’re fun to read, lots of little snippets.

Is it alright to do February’s on the sixth of March though?

I don’t know, I think so, but I haven’t read the rules.

Ha! Ok, so I’m taking their word for it. Here goes….

Making: my third washcloth in last year’s series from Garlene of The Kitchen Sink Shop. This is called Double Dutch. I could manage one set of repeats at a time, 10 rows, before my hand started to warn me it was really, seriously, No, I MEAN IT, it’s time to stop!

Cooking: a lot of white sauces. I made fish pie several times, a beef lasagne and a cheesy topped gratin of leeks, smoked lardons and chicken. Comforting comfort food, which went well with the wild February weather

Reading: so many good books! February included the soothing stories that are Jenny Colgan’s Mure series: An Island Christmas and Christmas at the Island Hotel, both perfect comfort reads, Free Love by Tessa Hadley and The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell. I’d waited months for the last and finally got the ebook from BorrowBox the library app. It didn’t disappoint

Sipping: Tanqueray, our first bottle in a while and a bit of a pause from Craft Gins. Although I did get February’s box which had a Berkshire London Dry Style gin. Very pretty bottle and label

Here’s my referral code for Craft Gin Club. If you’re in the UK you can order a box with £20 off (free delivery.) There’s no obligation to order any other boxes. I’ve shared this before and people have used it, so may as well again

Waiting: for more of the garden to wake up, there’s a lot of colour, even in February

The garden was absolutely carpeted with these purple croci by mid-month, lovely

Looking: at the stark beauty of the trees and bare hedgerows

Listening: to birdsong when Storm Dudley, Eunice and then Frank had gone. I really felt for the tiny garden birds and wondered how they managed to cling on in the face of 75mph winds

Wishing: for dry days so the mud dried and walks were easier

By the end of this new 6 mile circular my walking trainers were no longer pink and grey…

Enjoying: Blue skies. Cold and wind are ok if accompanied by beautiful colour like on this day’s walk

Appreciating: Traditions like Shrove Tuesday, seeing friends’ pancake pics on a WhatsApp group and popping up on Facebook

Eating: English crepe style pancakes with lemon juice & castor sugar and American style fluffy pancakes on Shrove Tuesday

Liking: The Tuckers. I appreciate Welsh humour, being a massive fan of Gavin and Stacy and enjoying Stella. The Tuckers ticks the boxes: Does it make me laugh? Do I like the characters?

Loving: Russian Doll on Netflix, only 3 episodes in so far but wow it’s good. Glad to see there’s another series in the offing soon

Fish pie, balsamic roasted plum tomatoes and steamed tenderstem broccoli

Buying: a new walking raincoat. When you take off your jacket and reveal two large circles on your t-shirt, it is fairly embarrassing. That was the only area(s) no longer waterproof, despite having a try at reproofing

Managing: to tick things off the ever expanding list of things to do. There are a few things which I do not want to do, but they WILL be tackled in March

Watching: for signs of Spring as March 1st approached

Hoping: for peace, it was not to be. I’m so sorry for the people of Ukraine. And my heart also goes out to their family and friends in other countries who are waiting anxiously to hear from them and watching the News. It’s really scary for us all. Please give to one of the many charities who are raising money to support Ukraine. Here’s a link for UNICEF, but there are many. Pick one please and donate

Wearing: scruffs and blue socks with white spots

Noticing: how naff it feels to write the above about Ukraine, then describe my socks. I’ve been astounded at the number of bloggers who are not writing anything about it, no mention at all. Then this morning (March but…) I read my friend Phil’s Blue and Yellow blog post and noticed my shoulders dropped. So relieved to read a post which doesn’t feel like the writer has their fingers in their ears, going lalalalalalala

Following: lots of cooking accounts on Instagram, more and more. I like the dinner inspo, though actually rarely follow their recipes. Love the little reels filmed over a mixing bowl or chopping board. Watching snippets as someone kneads, mixes, chops or peels is so relaxing. Alex Hollywood, Anna’s Family Kitchen and 5 O’Clock Apron are some of my faves. Anyone you want to recommend?

Sorting: egg boxes for my cousin

A few stitches out of whack on the last repeat, I see looking at the photo. I was listening to Julie Walters audio book, no cider was involved. It’s a washcloth; so no need to undo. I will fight my perfectionist tendencies

Getting: appointments booked in for March

Coveting: chocolate, the weather in February boosted sales of nutty chocolate. Bars from M&S, Cadbury and there’s a gorgeous dark or milk chunky hazelnut one by Lindt

Feeling: round, ahem, it was the above

Hearing: nothing much by the end of the stormy week, I appreciated the peace

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How are you doing?

Lots of yellow & grey

Gah! And this is why I should never crochet while drinking cider.

I realised that the stitch count was really off in the section with the stitch marker, but in my tipsy wisdom did quite a few decrease stitches to get the it right. Then I carried on going around and around. In the morning I realised I’d have to rip it all back, in an acknowledgment that it’s not my way of doing things. I’m a perfectionist and those rogue stitches would forever bug me.

The blanket was pretty large, so it took A LOT of unraveling and winding yarn. I undid the whole yellow section. Once again…Gah!

I keep thinking I should be at expert level now, these kind of silly mistakes where I have 17 stitches in all other sections and find 22 in another should not be happening…it was definitely the cider.

The Chevron Cowl made it up to the NE coast, just in the nick of time! I offered it to friends and Safron jumped at it. Of course she’s perfect for it; she never shies away from wearing bright colours, plus always looks great in yellow. Doesn’t it match perfectly with her grey beanie too?

We’ve been battered by the weather since last week. We had Storm Dudley on Wednesday, followed by Eunice on Friday, with 75 mph winds and then Frank on Sunday with 60mph winds and very heavy rainfall. There are trees and branches down, but luckily nothing worse. I did wonder if the conservatory roof would lift off at one point. It’s still intact, thank goodness.

I think (and hope) that’s it now. The morning is calm and sunny, so far. It’s half term around here and parents are breathing a sigh of relief to be out and about again. I can hear the birds for the first time in days. They must be ravenous. How does a little robin or wren withstand 70+mph wind? They must go deep into foliage and hide?

Thursday really was the calm in between the storms, fortunately we managed to get out and do a new 6 mile circular walk. With an unplanned pub lunch in the middle. Anything more than a snack was probably a mistake. There were still steep hills to walk up, to loop back to the starting point, but I enjoyed being out for lunch very much. At least I could keep pausing to ‘take photos of the view’ while not fooling either of us.

Aren’t those aconites beautiful? The leaves are such an unusual shape, sort of rectangular. They were next to a huge clump of snowdrops near to where I parked the car.

I wonder what the aconites look like now? The garden here is full of croci and surprisingly they haven’t been flattened. The Christmas tree went over in it’s very heavy concrete pot early on when Storm Eunice arrived. A huge clonk and then bumps and bangs, as rolled back and forth whacking into the side of the house. We had to run out and rescue it, into the safety of the garage. It was wild out there. Scary, but exhilarating too. The rest of the time it’s felt like Lockdown, taking advice to stay indoors and stay safe, out of the risk of falling trees and flying debris.

I was on a FaceTime call during Storm Eunice and saw a fat pigeon being blown sideways in the wind. That was pretty funny.

The other week I swapped a novel for this Mollie Makes Crochet book at an exchange. It’s fairly basic, aimed at beginner crocheters, but it has some little things I might make.

My poinsettia lost 90% of it’s leaves, as I suspected it would, so now the cyclamen takes its place. Something red this time of year makes a darkish corner a bit brighter and cheerful.

Are you reading a good book? I’m gripped by the latest from Lisa Jewell. I’ve waited months for it from BorrowBox the library app and it’s not disappointing. I read about half in a day. Book details here on GoodReads.

If you’re in the UK did you come through the storms unscathed? Maybe you’ve got snow or floods, or are sweltering in heat?

And I finished it!

I finished the Granny Chevron Cowl last Sunday. There were lots of ends to darn, but I’ve always found the sewing bit quite relaxing. Such a nice achievement to start AND finish something in the same month.

You can just see the join-as-you-go row, where I’ve slip stitched along after each group of trebles, into the spaces. It’s a really neat and quick way to finish. Who wants to join by sewing, when you can crochet?

I hung it on a branch (or is it called a cane?) of fuchsia to photograph. It was really blowy last weekend as we had the tail end of Storm Malik, so it swung and forwards. I stood still capturing these two photos as it moved.

Details

Pattern On Ravelry from Zeens and Roger blog, by Rosina Northcott.

Yarn Paintbox chunky mustard yellow (323) & misty grey (303)

Hook 6mm

Height 24cm

Width 32cm

Circumference 64cm

Weight 135g, so used less than 2 balls of 100g chunky yarn

Tips

I did 8 pattern repeats, so 8 sections of colour, instead of the pattern’s 6 to get the required circumference. Remember you need to end on colour B rather than A; otherwise you’ll have one big one coloured section and it will ruin the pattern.

It’s worth watching Rosina’s You Tube video, linked to on the pattern’s blog post, for handy tips such as trebling around the first stitch of the previous row, instead of going into it at the end of each row. This saves a lot of fiddly stuff.

Before you do the join as you go row you could fix the beginning and end together with stitch marker rings (see below), it helped me to see how it was going to fit together. Finding the middle ensures you match it up accurately. I left the markers and took them out as I joined the two edges.

My poinsettia won’t be featured in every blog post for much longer, since it’s losing leaves quickly now

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And now I need to crack on with the finishing the Star Blanket, because I have a cunning plan for it. Except, I’ve just seen something that’s inspired me to try something else….oops!

What are you making at the moment? Are you feeling busy and productive, or are you in hibernation mode? I think either is good at this time of year. Here lately it’s mostly staying around 4° all day every day. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, what are you up to? Sunshine and warmth….lovely!

January

Making: my cosy chunky star blanket larger, still. Really it’s the perfect project on a chilly day.

Slipping: on icy roads, they have been like driving on an ice rink quite often this January. I hope for milder weather now.

Reading: another book set in London, this time during the Victorian era. It’s a proof copy. If I think it’s worth recommending I will write a bit more about the story when it nears its publication date in the spring.

Eating: Brunch! Non-stop chat with a friend a couple of weeks ago, cups of tea, full English breakfast with locally sourced everything, then creamy cappuccinos to finish. As you see it was an absolutely HUGE plateful (so glad I went without eating anything since dinner the night before…) I was in a food coma for the rest of the day! I didn’t eat until the evening, and then it was a light meal, but it was so amazing. The best EB I’ve ever had. My friend enjoyed her Egg Florentine, but I think might be going for the full English next time. She looked really envious.

Disliking: Mud! As some fields are beginning to be ploughed and planted there’s such a lot of mud on the road from the tractors. Car wash? Oh yes please. Love them. But…it was rainy the following day and my car is back to grey. Oh it’s not the only thing either; my handbag is splodged with it as I brushed past too closely.

Reading: the latest issue of Inside Crochet and trying to catch up with my Good Housekeeping mags. I’ve now got a pile of January, February and March GH to read. I got a year’s subscription from Nectar points (I think) as I always really like their recipes. But I’m finding it hard to keep up.

Finishing: something at the weekend! Ding-ding first thing of the year made. I’ll show you soon.

Snorting: with laughter at Daisy May Cooper’s audio book: Don’t laugh, it will only encourage her

Singing: along to the Richard Ashcroft and Liam Gallagher version of C’mon People (We’re Making it Now.) It’s the perfect pairing you never knew you needed. It makes me grin. Here on Spotify.

Grateful: for a year’s worth of Spotify.

Listening: to Grace Dent’s Comfort Food podcast. I choose the episodes I fancy. There’s so many; it’s the advantage of coming to a podcast later. The Rafe Spall episode is painfully honest. His comfort food though OH MY, it’s roast chicken smothered in butter, with lots of lemon AND they make homemade chips. Mmmm. My current episode is Dave Myers from The Hairy Bikers. I listen to it in chunks. Some of Dave’s was at 0400 this morning. Groan.

Rewatching: Derry Girls as they’ve just announced there’s to be a new series in March. It’s so good, so funny. (Series 1 is on Netflix so you can miss the adverts, 2 is only on All 4 at the mo.)

Missing: Schitt’s Creek. It really has been my tv programme of the Pandemic. Moira never failed to make me laugh, every single episode. If you’ve been under a rock and haven’t watched it yet, it’s on Netflix. Worth getting Netflix for IMHO.

Laughing: the day after the car wash / mud bath, I had my hair done, then walked my 5 mile loop and it started to pour with rain!

Deserving: after the rainy 5 mile walk I had a big slice of cake and a mug of English Breakfast tea. January involved lots of treats. It was the freezing cold weather…

Forgetting: your nearest and dearest reads your blog “You had cake after the walk?!”

Loving: wholegrain mustard with honey. If I could find white mustard seeds I would make some, I’ve got a good looking recipe. I don’t need a kilo thanks Amazon. I’ll try to buy some locally from an Asian shop.

Cooking: crab linguine, lots of curries and dals, poached pears in red wine and apple juice with blackberries (voted absolutely delicious.)

Drinking: a gin cocktail last night. Well ok, two. A free repeat January box was delivered here yesterday. It was an incredibly generous offer for those who decided to order February’s box, instead of skipping it. It was funny timing; I’d changed my mind anyway, decided to order it and then had the the offer email, but I wasn’t too worried. The timing was just a bit off. Then to my surprise I had an email on Friday saying my repeat January box would be with me on Monday! We never usually have a drink on a Monday, but yesterday it had to be done. I really like the Vietnamese gin. It’s floral, perfumed and really different to any I’ve had before.

Tempting: you… here’s my referral code for Craft Gin Club. If you’re in the UK you can order a half price box for £20 (with free delivery.) There’s no obligation to order any other boxes. I’ve shared this a few times and people have used it. I hope you’ve enjoyed your gin, mixers and snacks.

Spotting: the garden waking up and winter flowers appearing. Then on a walk on Saturday, we saw snowdrops in the wild. So lovely, so lovely.

How was your January? Any patterns, good reads, podcasts, tv shows or recipes you want to share?

I started something new!

The latest copy of Inside Crochet plopped onto the doormat the other day. I haven’t really read much of it yet, but did read the interview with Rosina Northcott, better known to me as Zeens and Roger on Insta. When she named her two most popular designs I wanted to check them out on Ravelry. As soon as I saw the Granny Chevron Cowl pattern I found myself reaching for my hook and chunky yarn, even without really thinking. Next a part of my brain was shouting “NO, no, no! You’re not supposed to be starting anything new! You’re meant to be finishing the stuff you’ve started. It was doable, albeit slow. What are you doing?!” Ha! Too late brain, you need to speed up next time.

Here’s the Ravelry page which will take you to the original pattern blog post.

I’ve crocheted the required 29 rows, the 30th should be the joining round but my tension must be way tighter than Rosina’s. (It does lie flat, I just threw it down without due care and attention, for a quick snap in the photo above. A girl’s got to get back to her crochet, after all.) The only thing it will go around is my leg at the mo, and a leg-warmer was not really the plan. No matter, as I’ve got lots of this Paintbox chunky yarn. But just be aware of your tension and possible need to add extra rows, in case you’ve got limited chunky yarn.

I’m listening to Daisy May Cooper’s audio book as I crochet, she’s hilarious.

I’ve been to another community book exchange, this time an official Little Free Library, as I said I would a few weeks ago. This type of box on a pole book exchange is modelled on the original Little Free Library in Wisconsin, USA. Here’s some info about that first. I love the whole thing!

If you want to see some real handmade beauties, all over the world, just Google ‘Little Free Library’. People are so creative! I’ve just seen a house shaped one, which has origami in the attic and is beautifully decorated on the outside.

Some tempting things there, but the one I immediately swapped my book for was The Guest List. I’ve read Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party and her latest: The Paris Apartment. Both are good reads, but The Hunting Party (her debut) was my favourite of the two. The Guest List is a great find. It’s one of those books where you find yourself sighing and settling down into a more comfy position halfway through the first chapter.

And further along the same road, opposite the pub and along from the church in Freeland, Oxfordshire, there is another book exchange. A not-so-small Little Free Library. I’d already swapped my book and there wasn’t really anything else I wanted, but isn’t it well stocked? Lots for children too.

I absolutely love community projects like these and apparently the first LFL (the box on the pole) in the village was a roaring success when it was set up in 2016. It’s been estimated that more than 2,000 books passed through it in the first 12 months. Woah!

St Mary the Virgin Church, Freeland

I’ve always been a huge advocate and supporter of our public libraries, but I do think there is a place for both those and community book exchanges. Especially in rural communities which are not well served by public transport, or at all. Community book and toy exchanges became lifelines and positive distractions during our months of Lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 when the libraries were closed. I remember we walked to a neighbouring village during that time, and saw numerous boxes left outside people’s garden gate. Sharing books, jigsaw puzzles and children’s games had sprung up. Did this happen where you live?

I’ve left books in book exchanges, cafés, holiday homes and telephone boxes for years and years. You never know where they’ll end up and also what you will find! Actually, for Sunday lunch tomorrow I’m making a dessert from the recipe book that I swapped for my Christmas novel. (Poached pears with blackberries.)

What are you making and reading? Or are you busy doing other stuff? Have you got book exchanges or games swaps? I’ve heard of bus shelter book and game exchanges which sprung up in Lockdown. Have you spotted one? Tell us…

6 Good Things

How’s the second week of January been for you? Here it’s been mostly very, very grey and white skies, no sunshine or brightness at all. Quite hard going. Everyone I’ve spoken to lately seems to be struggling a bit post-Christmas sparkles. But what I’ve noticed is when we do get the occasional bright day, loads of people have also swarmed outside. I’ve tried to move more. Yesterday that included half an hour of hoovering; it counts, it’s still movement!

I’ve fancied some crunchy salads. This was tinned mackerel with a homemade honey and lemon dressing and pumpkin seeds sprinkled over the top.

And I’ve made a spicy chickpea sauce, with chunky slices of red onion and leek, crushed garlic, tinned and fresh tomatoes, a little veg stock, smoked paprika and red chilli flakes to liven it up. I cooked some cod fillets on top of the first half and served it with green veg. The rest I turned into a mushroom curry, cooking off some spice paste first, then adding the chickpea sauce, some sliced chestnut mushrooms and jarred peppers snipped into strips. We ate that last night with roasted cauliflower and Brussels sprouts sprinkled with salt and pepper. Yum.

I’m quite into the idea of two different meals out of one. Last week I made a spaghetti Bolognese and turned the other half of the sauce into a lasagne on Saturday. Do you do this one into two thing? Shall we share some ideas which might be useful inspo for meal planning?

Yesterday I added more to my Sleep Under the Stars blanket. The pattern link can be found here.

Here’s when I started this blanket. I can’t believe it’s nearly 2 years ago…

And here’s when I (prematurely) decided it was finished. That was more about my hand pain than anything else I think. Now I’m on a mission to make it bigger, slowly slowly, and then I *think* I have a cunning plan for it. This is the year of finishing things I’ve started in the last 3 or 4 years. Sure I said that last year too, but I’ve got my determined chin on, can you tell?!

So relaxing to sit and crochet while I listened to the rest of Blackberry & Wild Rose by Sonia Velton. It was a good story and I liked the two narrators. Crochet or knitting with an audio book or podcast are such a winning combination. Deeply relaxing.

Still reading the Crawdads book, I haven’t picked up the Mudlarks this week. I’ve been reading more of Tim Spector’s The Diet Myth. It’s fascinating. What are you reading?

And some cheery blue sky and sunny pictures from my walk on Wednesday.

See the frost on the grass?
Icy along the edges

It was a bracingly cold morning, but once I got warmed up I ended up tying my jacket around my waist, because I was glowing! Others trudged past wearing all the woollies and looking quite chilled. I walked just over 5 miles and treated myself to a slice of very delicious Victoria sponge for lunch! I know, I know…!

I appreciated some small kindnesses this week: B. saving me a seat at an event we were both going to and giving me a strip of raffle tickets she’d bought me. A. messaging to say there’s a new series of Vera on TV. (She does every time and for new eps of Shetland. So kind, always needed too since I’ve usually missed the ads for them.) And there was something else, but I’ve forgotten. D’oh!

Let’s call this post 6 good things? 1. Blue skies 2. Getting outside 3. Crochet 4. Books 5. Cooking 6. Kindness

What about your week? How’s it been? Do you want to list some of the good things?

January Cheery List

Well here we are in the first week of another New Year. I don’t know about you, but the week started with lots of energy, optimism and achievement, there were blue skies, there was sunshine (although it’s really cold here) everything was bright and breezy. But I often find that this first week in January is a tricky one; you start full of energy and resolve, take down the Christmas things and feel all organised for the New Year, then something happens around the 5th or the 6th. I’ve gradually realised it’s a yearly pattern. The puff seems to go out of you and you deflate a little.

Today I’ve been thinking about what usually makes a difference when a low mood appears. Here’s some ideas if you’re also feeling a bit the same: do a bit of singing, a bit of dancing, play an audio book, listen to classic comedy from BBC radio on the Sounds app (the ones which were before I was born are often so comforting, ok not particularly always funny, but somehow comforting. I can’t explain why) cook a homemade curry, (a dal counts, it’s so easy. I’ve got a throw it all in a pan and stir occasionally recipe, if you want it?) Do a bit of crafting. Immerse yourself in a good book. My current good reads are above. Go outside for a walk. It doesn’t have to be for miles, just walk for five or ten minutes, set a timer at the start, then turn around and walk back again when it dings. Call an older person and have a chat. You might make their day. Make a plan for the weekend, or next week, or the next month. Just have something in the diary to look forward to, it can be anything. Be proactive; write a list of nice stuff you want to do, learn, make or achieve. Choose one and start or apply, order or read up about it. Write a list of the stuff you’re putting off doing, because it’s hard, boring or is something you hate or dread intensely. Do one of these a day, begin to work through the list. At least start one of them, then do a bit every day. Sometimes it’s just not as bad as you anticipate. The thing has grown much bigger in your mind, than it actually is to accomplish. Ask for help or advice. There’s a good glow of satisfaction and a buzzy feeling at the end when you tick one of the horrors off. Eat a little chocolate, drink a mug of tea / coffee / hot chocolate. If it’s really, really urgh have a swig out of the gin bottle. (Don’t do this one too often!)

Terrible photo but warm fuzzies finding this on Monday

Google or check Facebook pages to find a a book exchange near you. It can be a Telephone Box library, a Little Free Library, a community Bus Shelter book & toy exchange. Leave a book, take a book. I left a fluffy Christmas novel and brought back a little Book of Desserts. I’ve lined up a new to me Little Free Library to exchange another book soon.

Join Olivia’s Random Acts of Crochet Kindness Facebook group. It’s a really positive online space.

Garlene is hosting another Year of Dishcloths KAL this year. I recommend joining in, because even if you don’t fancy making washcloths you can use the patterns as swatches to practice your knitting skills, learn new stitches and designs. Then you can always turn them into something else; maybe blocks for a blanket? Or adapt them into a cowl, scarf or whatever. I’m knitting one of last year’s, the design from March called Double Dutch. Mine are knitted with rather posh Rowan hand-knit cotton DK and are washcloths, not dishcloths, for two special girls.

I made a cosy nest and started knitting during the Crimbo Limbo week. This has now doubled.

Tip: contact Garlene through Insta or Rav and get yourself put on the email list and then you’ll get the patterns sent straight to your inbox. This is before they’re added to Ravelry.

Really Important: Make sure you save them all, even if at this stage you don’t think you’ll be knitting all twelve. If you change your mind later on, they probably won’t be available for free anymore.

February’s design is my top favourite

Let me know if you have anything to add to my January cheery list. And tell me what you’re making and reading right now? Have you got a book exchange near you?

2019 – 2021

I hope you’ve had a really good Christmas, are feeling well and relaxed, or buzzy and productive. If none of these things, then I send you Feel Better Soon vibes and very best wishes for the New Year.

I always used to do a round-up gallery at the end of each year of blogging. But realised recently that the last one was in 2018. Skimming through my blog posts, I’ve realised why I paused.

In 2019 the only thing I finished was the cross-stitch 45 hoop! I started so many things that year, but could never complete them as my hand was too painful, following a hand injury in April 2018. Each thing was begun with hope. Perhaps this would be the magic project…? But there has been no magic, it’s been time and an acceptance that I cannot sit and crochet, knit or sew for hours on end anymore. But I’m so happy today’s gallery above shows a good collection of all I’ve made in the last 3 years. Things are definitely on the up. This is now a slow crafting blog.

You can see all my other roundups from 2012 onwards, if you click on the links at the bottom of that 2018 gallery post. Maybe start with the 2012 link and then come back here? Wink.

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Ahem!

Taps teaspoon on champagne glass…

DID YOU NOTICE WHAT I’D WRITTEN at the bottom of the 2012 gallery post?

So, today it’s my blog’s 10TH BIRTHDAY!

🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂

Merry & Bright

Shall we play a game? It’s called spot the sprout on the Christmas tree! And no, he hasn’t got his googly eyes yet, because I need to get some glue. I’m very reluctant to use superglue because of all the people I know, I’m most likely to end up in A&E over Christmas with my fingers stuck together…

Fortnum & Mason, London, Christmas window from 2017

And here’s the first large amigurami I’ve done in years! He’s been fun to make. I particularly like his bowtie. Thanks – heaps of thanks actually – to June of Planet June and her absolutely marvellous tips on invisible finishes and securing features. She has such a clear way of explaining things and brilliant tips.

So how are you doing? Are you feeling all prepared and calm, or is it a bit frantic and you’re frazzled? Christmas is such a weird time. Such a lot of build up and things to do, when in essence it’s a few days with family and friends. But it can easily become a juggernaut. Anyway I hope you’re well and you can spend some time with people you love, or at least whose company you enjoy.

We’ve just decorated the Christmas tree while listening to Motown and Jamie Cullum Christmas songs on Spotify. We each sipped a glass of champagne which always makes the tree prettifying into quite a lovely thing. I always, always forget about some of the special decorations and so it’s a really nice surprise to see them again.

New this year. He’s soooo cute.

On Sunday we visited Waddesdon Manor NT (Website here) for the annual light-trail, Christmas market and in my case; Bailey’s hot chocolate and a peanut butter brownie. Yum. During Lockdown people who would usually have volunteered in the property started to knit and crochet wraps for the tree trunks along the Carriage Drive. Apparently this really helped with feelings of isolation and missing normal activities. This I was really glad to know, the volunteers are always super when you visit. I took some pics to share with you, although there were many, many more yarn wrapped trees. I kept thinking no wonder we had a yarn shortage!

I liked the dangly ends and even Someone said it’s a good way to get out of the darning
Such a foggy day but it added to the atmosphere, although I wasn’t so keen when the moisture made my mascara drip down my face and onto my mask. I looked a bit alarming in the light!
And bunting too
Spectacular light show and music in front of the manor, it’s in the style of a French Château

I will be crocheting over Christmas, either more sprouts or I might allow myself to break my own rule about finishing all my WIPS. I may begin making something new. It *is* Christmas after all. I have new yarn which I’m itching to get out of its crinkly paper bag.

I shall love you and leave you now. It’s time for dinner and maybe another glass of champagne later. Maybe a slice of Stollen too. Oooh I do quite like Christmas. Have a merry one. If you aren’t feeling it this year, then stay cosy if you can.

I would like to live in a house like this

So, following on from my last post, here is the Christmassy National Trust property we visited. Greys Court is somewhere that we’ve visited in the summer, mainly because they have a sculpture exhibition and so the grounds are filled with all sorts of impressive and also weird and wonderful sculpture! Lots of it’s available to buy and some of the fun is in looking at the price tags. However we’ve never visited at Christmas. It’s absolutely lovely, as you will see…

And my crafting? Lady Brunner would not be particularly impressed. (Still haven’t made that chutney.) But LOOK! I’ve crocheted a brussel sprout! I know, it’s only one but at least I’ve made one.

Next time I need to get some safety pins to hold the leaves in place, as I found it really really fiddly to hold them while I sewed them onto the sphere. I still need to glue on the eyes and thread some sparkly thread so it can hang on the tree, when we’ve got one.

Here’s the pattern I used

I’ve also added some more rounds to a new block for my coast blanket. You’ve seen that quite a bit recently, so I haven’t taken any new photos.

What about you? If you celebrate, how is your Christmas prep going? Are you feeling Christmassy?

Taking Stock – November

Making: the rest of the Gingerbread Man. I finally have eyes for him! Crocheting the Coast Blanket bit by bit

Cooking: Sausages with apple & onion in cider sauce

Sipping: Twinings tumeric, orange & star anise tea

Setting up for Christmas at Blenheim on 15th
November has been stunning for autumn colour – very calm, mild weather so the leaves stayed on the trees for much longer. Until we were visited by storm Arwen…

Reading: the lost bees article from The Guardian newspaper, so interesting. It’s HERE

Waiting: for orders to arrive. Actually I’m really waiting for my (December) gin box most of all!

November’s Craft Gin Box – I promised to show you
Danish gin. It’s delicious. Love the owl line drawing

If you’re in the UK and you’d like a half price box for £20, (free P&P) Here’s my referral code. I know I’ve shared this before, but it’s so good I just can’t not. (I get points to spend for successful referrals, which is nice for me too.) You can have a one-off box for a treat, or buy it for someone else for a surprise. Then you can continue a monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly subscription. Or never have another again. Whatever you want

Looking: out to see how frosty it is some mornings. Lately we’ve had some hard frosts. I’m wary of black ice when driving

Basildon Park, NT, our first Christmassy thing on 21st

Listening: Comfort Eating with Grace Dent podcast

Wishing: for a good December – everyone healthy and well

Basildon Park after a good look around the house

Enjoying: Jamie O’s ‘recipe’ for baked feta, eaten with fresh tagliatelle & green veg

Appreciating: family and friends

And tea & cake! Especially after a long chilly walk

Eating: Roasted vegetable pasta bake (Seeds of Change semi-wholemeal tortiglioni pasta – not something I’ve had before, but it worked well because it didn’t go claggy after baking. Not so keen on 100% wholemeal pasta, but would have this again)

Liking: seeing the birds back on the feeders now. The robin has been heartily chomping the mealworms after the cold and snow last weekend

As we walked back to the car at Basildon Park

Loving: meeting up with an old friend who’s over from Australia for a few months

Buying: Baptise Dry shampoo – it’s amazing. But not the part where your hair is covered with white residue, and you get a glimpse into what you’ll look like as an old lady. If you get some, the best tip I’ve read is to leave it on for at least 10 minutes before doing anything at all, so it soaks into the oil. Then do the massage step and brush it out. Be prepared for white flakes everywhere. Don’t wear your best top until afterwards!

Worcester, the River Severn

Managing: multiple Christmas wish lists. Always try to get a head start in November

Watching: Friday night films. Here some we watched during November: Adult Life Skills on Netflix, The Last Bus on Prime, TICK TICK BOOM on Netflix

Hoping: no Lockdown restrictions are ahead, though if we need them, we need them

Worcester cathedral, before Remembrance Sunday

Wearing: a MASK! Wear a mask, protect others

Noticing: some are still flaunting the new rules that came in on Monday

Following: I’m a Celebrity when it started, not watching so much this year though. It’s just not the same when it’s in Wales, compared to Australia! Have you seen any eps?

Sorting: through photos from the summery summer

Getting: apples in from the garage

Worcester has giant sycamore leaves!

Coveting: a Mac Book, a whizzy new SatNav, more walking trainers…(the real Father Christmas might read?! I mean the real one. Not family. This is not a hint for them.)

Feeling: purposeful

Hearing: Hard-Fi’s Hard to Beat on the radio

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What are you planning this weekend? I think we’re heading to a National Trust house tomorrow to see more Christmas sparkles, as a sweetener after having flu jabs, cooking a roast Sunday lunch and I’m still planning to make that chutney! I need help to peel the apples

Snow Face!

It’s been an exciting morning. It’s been really stormy here overnight, with Storm Arwen bringing very, very gusty winds but luckily no damage. I think the north of the country have had it far worse with 98 mph winds.

I kept having shouted weather updates from downstairs first thing, as we were anticipating some changes. First it was “It’s only raining at the moment” yawn, then “I think it’s starting to sleet” ok a little more interesting and then I got a WhatsApp video showing snow falling!

At the time I was sat up in bed ordering more wool for my blanket and toy eyes from Wool Warehouse. I tried to support my local yarn shops, but neither of them had the right sized toy eyes. It was enjoyable browsing online, as it’s months since I have properly looked. But when the snow video came I ended up jumping out of bed, grabbing my iPad and FaceTiming a friend to show her our blizzard of snow. I can’t help squealing, and my snow face was definitely on.

Last night I started to join two of my Coast Blanket granny squares together. Actually as well as JAYGOing I initially went all the way round the outsides too, but wasn’t happy so unravelled it all. Now they’re just joined in one line across, with a third block added to make a longish rectangle.

I can’t really do anything else now, until I’ve got some more of the yellow grey blue wool. But as I did far too much crochet my hand is really protesting today, so a break isn’t a bad thing. I want to make some chutney soon. I might have to have some help peeling and chopping the apples. Oops.

I have three more blocks to join, but I just don’t think the colours go. Although looking at the photo above they look fine. What do you reckon? During the lockdowns, last year and this, supplies of wool ran really low. Across the country people hunkered down to knit and crochet their way through the anxiety and boredom. So, I ended up with three quite different colour-ways of Hayfield Spirit DK for my Coast Blanket. Hmmm. I have a feeling that they will be turned into two smaller blankets, instead of one king-sized. No matter. If this 2° weather continues I’ll be wrapping myself in both! Brrrr!

Because you stuff the gingerbread man as you go and add his eyes, before completing the rest of his head, the poor little thing is eyeless and looks like he’s had a lobotomy. He’s by the magazine for scale. I think if I’d used the proper cotton and smaller hook he’d probably be half the size, but I love him. (The pattern’s by Victoria Kairis and was featured in Simply Crochet mag, issue 115.)

On Thursday I met Cathy for a walk in Badbury woods. We did a 40 minute circular walk, with a sit to admire the long ranging views across Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, then a wander around the Clumps. It was a chilly 3°, so I wore my Edenvale cowl I am very glad we went, because those trees will definitely not have leaves now. It was really rather beautiful as the breeze blew Copper Beech leaves down on us, as we walked underneath the trees.

Badbury is managed by The National Trust. It’s well worth going in springtime for the bluebells. That was the first trip Someone and I did when we came out of Lockdown. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the joy of being somewhere completely different after so long. I drank in the views. Cathy tells me the snowdrops are a must-see too.

Afterwards I went into Faringdon for a wander around the churchyard and then had a pot of tea and a wrap for lunch in Costa. Later I had quite a fright as I went into a shop. You remember in my last post I was talking about dogs making a beeline for me, although I’m a cat person? As I opened the shop door and walked through the doorway a head shot out to the side, coming straight at me, between bags hanging on hooks. I shot up into the air and squealed a most peculiar sound. If they’ve got CCTV I bet it would be hilarious to watch. Nothing scary after all, but what a surprise!

Isn’t he gorgeous? He’s an older cat, who lives in the shop. The guy was at the till and his partner (I assume) was running a yoga class in the back room. After a fuss and photo session I went to browse the candles and teas, the cat jumped down from the shelf and walked past me. I thought he was hinting for some more strokes, but no he obviously knows the class routine well; the yoga finished and as people came out of the back room, lots of them stopped stroke him. It was time for more fuss. Clever puss.

I bought this little decorative pot which came in a reusable bag, made from old sari silk. I thought after asking to take photos of the cat and having a chat with the owner, it was the least I could do. I gave it away as a little gift that afternoon. I will definitely go back for more, the shop is called The Lotus Retreat.

It’s opposite a bakery which has been there for years. It’s well known for their Lardy Cakes. My FiL used to drive a lot for work and seemed to navigate the country via bakeries. When I once said I was in Faringdon he immediately recommended the bakery and Lardy cake, for next time. (Oxfordshire should be on that list too Wikipedia.) But I’d already found it and bought us one! I have a good nose for cake too. So, if you’re anywhere near Faringdon, Oxfordshire, you now have a recommendation for a nice walk in the woods, a browse of independent shops and are well prepared for a cat who will shoot his head out and make you jump! Plus a source of fresh cake and breads to take home.

We have planned to go to a Christmas craft fair this afternoon and the switching on of the lights tonight. I’m not sure if I fancy 40+ mile an hour winds, we will see…

What have you got planned for the weekend?

Lost amour

We went for a walk for a couple of hours this morning. The weather was mild and still, plenty of dog walkers were out and about. Lovely dogs and really friendly owners. Nearly everybody called them back to put on the lead. Very kind and completely unprompted. I’m glad though, because you always wonder how friendly a dog will be, not so much because of fear but because of exuberantly happy helloes and muddy paw-prints all over your clothes. As a cat person that happens to me often. The dog person walking with me will usually be ignored. How do dogs just know?

Can you see the birds? They were feasting on newly turned worms I expect, and pecking holes in potatoes missed by the harvester.
One windy day and this will soon be bare. The weather is so mild and calm at the moment that the autumn colour is lingering. Loving it!
Ivy vines growing up an oak tree, with clematis circling and climbing up them. Quite a dramatic sight which stopped me in my tracks. The tree is covered with glossy ivy leaves too. It’s being taken over.
A rowan tree not far from home

The walk was carefully timed, so that we were back in plenty of time to go and buy snacks, pour some beer, then watch the rugby. Well, one of us anyway.

I’m upstairs escaping the crunching of pork scratchings and Big Hoops, comments and excited shouts at the TV. I meant to put on Spotify and listen to Tick Tick BOOM! soundtrack, but the P&Q is nice. Have you seen it yet? A brand new Netflix film. The best new musical I’ve seen in ages. Who knew Andrew Garfield could sing and dance? I liked him as Spider-Man, but this takes him into a completely new genre. It’s an impressive change of gear.

What makes a good musical? For me I want to sing along to a song after only a minute or two. Ditto dancing. I go away singing my own made up songs afterwards too. And dance a few steps on my way to bed. Tick tick BOOM!

I’ve been singing Boho Days since last night. Pretty much every hour. I hope you have Netflix and can watch it too!

I had forgotten that I knitted this dish cloth in February/March. I missed posting for a little while, so I’m pretty sure you haven’t seen it?

The Amour pattern is part of a series of a free dishcloth patterns. One a month, throughout this year by Garlene of The Kitchen Sink Shop. I’ve linked to the pattern there, if you fancy having a go at knitting one yourself? I stopped after the first two, because it now takes me so long to knit or crochet anything now with my dodgy hand. Plus I was using Rowan cotton, which frankly seems such a waste to use on a dish cloth. They’re too nice to use, so are still folded up in a little bag. I wonder about making backing for them and turning them into oven mitts. Any other ideas?

Time for a cheeky little Saturday afternoon drink for me too now! A grapefruit margarita is being made for me. I wonder if they won? And I’m going to add another round, or two, to my Coast blanket.

What have you been up to today? How are you feeling about life, the universe and everything?

Five Things on a Friday

:: CROCHET

Awww just look at him! So cute already for a headless Gingerbread man!

It’s been years and years since I did any amigurami, so I’ve forgotten things that I used to know. You’re meant use a hook smaller than the yarn band states, so that it’s tighter, but he looks okay doesn’t he? I’d forgotten how kind of fiddly it can be, plus stuffing the legs and body and then carrying on crocheting is interesting. It sort of drags the whole thing down a bit on the hook. But I love him so it doesn’t matter!

I had luckily remembered that Stacey Trock of Fresh Stitches website (sadly it’s not current anymore) used to say not to bother with the ends as they can just stay inside of the pieces. Hurray! Minimal darning!

Does anyone remember me making Mr Scrappy? Here he is in all his mischievousness. He’s very much a part of the family still. He’s a right character…Over the years he’s won the Cannes Film Festival, learnt to ride a motorbike, was at war with the frogs in our old garden, was tempted to join some very dodgy characters and still parties like it’s 1999 when we’re away. I’m not even making it up, or trying to be cute, he really does!

:: BOOK TALK

My new audio book Blackberry & Wild Rose is by Sonia Velton and was her debut novel. I’m only at the beginning of chapter three, but I like the two narrators. The story is set in London’s East End, in Spitalfields, amongst the Huguenot silk weavers of the late 18th century. I have wondered the streets of Spitalfields and can picture the area as I read about elements of its historical past.

:: DINNER

Tonight I will be making a lasagne with a rich red wine ragù and using fresh lasagna sheets. Someone has already uncorked a bottle of claret for me to pop some into the meat sauce. We’ll drink the rest with dinner. A first using fresh sheet and I suspect that I will not go back to the solid as concrete dried sort. I love Friday nights!

:: SLOW VLOG

I absolutely love Country Life Vlog on You Tube. I watched This Film thanks to Pip for sharing. You’ll need a quiet place to watch and the volume up for all the lovely sounds in this film of the filmmakers’s Grandparents living a rural life in Azerbaijan. (No music, so refreshing!) Just marvel at the egg technique cracking technique. Notice how there’s not a single piece of plastic. If you don’t also fancy making some sort of dough afterwards I’ll be amazed.

Here’s some info about who they are, where and how the account came about last year.

:: CAKE

Nigella’s Lemon & Raspberry cake

Absolutely delicious eaten warm or cold. We ate it for dessert after Sunday lunch, with spoonfuls of creamy crème fraîche. I used huge juicy fresh raspberries grown in Kent. As you see I placed them on top of all the cake mixture rather than try to mix them in. This way they didn’t sink right to the bottom, or get broken up by a spoon. I would definitely make this again.

The recipe is from Nigella’s Simply Nigella book. Message me if you can’t get hold of the recipe. It’s not on her site, but there are various blog versions.

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My wishes for the weekend are to go on a train journey and see a film at the cinema. My fingers and toes are crossed!

What are you planning?

Cosy Friday afternoon

Brrrr! It’s suddenly got properly wintry cold and I’m not jumping the gun; I know we are still in autumn, but by golly it’s all changed this week. I never say by golly. I’m not an oldie, or from an Enid Blyton or PG Wodehouse book, but it just seems to fit. (I’m grinning at myself. I’ve been teased in the past for using words like poorly and gosh, but it only makes me use them more.) When you look out of the window first thing and all the conifer hedges are white, the grass is white and the cars are white… It’s definitely an old-fashioned “By golly it’s cold !” kind of week.

I’ve just been on the phone for nearly an hour and a half and added some rounds to my granny square. I can’t remember whether this is the last one I need to do, or if it’s the penultimate square. It is such good ‘phone crochet: mindless, easy and an enjoyable rhythm. It’s really relaxing too, while the conversation meanders along.

On Monday I approached a shop assistant and said I had a really bizarre question to ask her. She looked delighted and said “Bring it on! It makes the time go faster.” Bless her.

I’d lined up three or four different shades of green, and asked her which one was most Brussels sprout like? She really threw herself into it and reckoned it was this one, but then when we checked a photo decided that it could be a couple of different shades. To keep things simple I bought this one (a bargain £1.49) and promised to go back to show her a photo of the finished sprout! She was definitely keen to see it.

This all came out of a photo that my cousin sent me of a knitted Brussels sprout you can buy from White Stuff. £8! For one Brussels sprout decoration! Of course it set us both off with a flurry of messages. She reminded me that she knitted some a few Christmases ago and gave me one. I’d forgotten because all the Christmas decs are in a box, up in the loft. I hope I forget again and then it will be a nice surprise in December. We did laugh at the time, because her knitted Brussels sprouts all looked furious… we’re wondering if my crochet version will be happier. I’ll be looking for a pattern, but not until the Gingerbread Man has at least another leg and his body. Then I will be cosy and crocheting sprouts. Don’t think I ever expected to write that.

Here’s the White Stuff sprout. And I’m not even right, he’s not £8, he’s £8.50! Blimey.

Friday night is Pizza Night this week. My sourdough starter is bubbling away by the radiator. It’s the first time the bowl has been left anywhere other than on the kitchen side, since early Spring. But it needs to be in a warm place while the yeast activates. It certainly seems happy. I can’t wait to eat a few slices of pizza while watching a film later. My no-cook pizza sauce will be spread on the dough, with toppings of red onion, peppers, salami, Kalamata olives and a good handful of mozzarella. Yum yum yum coming soon.

And WOOHOO! Friday Night is also Craft Gin Night! I cheered as I opened the door to the lovely post lady. She said she’s delivered other November gin boxes today as well.

I’ve opened the box, but won’t show you the contents yet. I don’t want to put any spoilers online, as I’d hate to think that I might ruin the surprise for any member who reads this blog. It always feels a bit like Christmas, or as if a birthday present has been delivered. I will put a photo of the contents here soon. I will say that I absolutely love the gin bottle label and am intrigued about the where it’s come from… as young woman my Granny worked there as a Nanny, a long time ago.

If you’re in the UK and want £20 off your first 2 boxes, you can use this referral code for Craft Gin Club Gin Pals. I get points, you get 2 big boxes of half price goodies. Then you can cancel and not have anymore ever. Bet you will though! If you clicked the code when I mentioned it before, I hope you enjoyed your tipples and treats.

This week we’ve had some absolutely stunning sunsets. Last night I could see something orange glowing through the frosted glass of the bathroom window, before I pulled the blind down. I went to the bedroom to have a look and WOW! As the sky got darker the orange and gold seemed to intensify. It was fantastic.

My current read. I started an advance reader copy last night (in return for an honest review) and I have found it difficult to put down. I loved Joanna’s debut The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and enjoyed Three Things about Elsie, so am delighted that I’ve got her third book. It’s out next Spring. I’ll let you know nearer the time if it’s worth buying or reserving at the library. So far, so good.

Do you also find that themes or characters seem to continue in your next book? I just read another ARC called Other People Manage by Ellen Hawley and the main (USA) character Marge was a very tall and big girl. Often she felt awkward or uncomfortable around others. Linda (British) in this story is the same. Similarities often jump out, with settings or characters. It’s completely random too, as I often do not know much at all about the books I choose. I just quickly scan the blurb, or not at all if I know the author, as they give too much away.

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere are you staying cosy? Or are you in the Southern? Is it a warm Spring?

Most importantly: what are you planning to make, eat and are you reading anything you can’t put down?

Taking Stock – October

Making: my first soups of the season. Roasted butternut and chilli first. I had such a lunchtime soup craving that I was chopping vegetables, with the oven preheating, before 0900 on Friday! Someone was working in London and I had the house to myself. It was such a peaceful morning

While he was having swanky lunch, 500 feet up in the Leadenhall building in the city, I was cosy by the fire eating my soup and chunky sourdough cheese on toast. Bliss

Then the second soup followed the other, quite quickly. I made cauliflower cheese soup on Sunday. It’s so simple, but far more than the sum of its parts!

Here’s how: Use your largest saucepan and sweat a diced white onion in a little oil until translucent. Add a large crushed clove of garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add an extra large cauliflower, which has been cut into small florets, and a litre of vegetable stock. Cook until the cauliflower is tender. Don’t worry that there’s far more cauli than stock, it will all work perfectly. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Whizz with a stick blender (or in a blender when it’s cooled.) Serve with Danish Blue cheese crumbled over or a good handful of extra mature cheddar cheese. I find about 25g of cheddar per bowl is plenty.

I know it doesn’t look exciting at all, but it really is silky smooth and delicious!

Cooking: Chicken & Leek Bake. I don’t buy ready meals, I’ve always cooked from scratch. But weirdly when I was grocery shopping online last week, the store showed me a chicken and bacon and leek gratin thing in a plastic box. Urgh, but it was one of those instant ‘I must make this!’ moments. Then I saw this on my favourite recipe website Chicken & Leek Bake. I always adapt recipes, so mine had smoked pancetta and chicken breasts, not thighs, as that’s what I had in the fridge. And there’s no way I’m ever buying ready made cheese sauce! Mine had a homegrown bay leaf and some dried thyme popped into it. The English (Colman’s of course!) mustard made the sauce absolutely delicious. Perfect autumn / winter dinner. It is going to be made again and again, I predict!

Sipping: jasmine tea from my pint mug

Reading: a week or so ago I read Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road in a day. What a beautiful gem of a book. It was on the library Libby app

Waiting: to feel 100% me again

Looking: forward to seeing and walking beside the sea again

Listening: to Keith Stuart’s The Frequency of Us audio book. I had goosebumps by the end. Super twisty story

Wishing: a personal shopper would just deliver a rail of perfectly fitting lovely clothes to my bedroom. I really need to go shopping. Yawn

Enjoying: crocheting my gingerbread man. He now has a leg too

His arms

Appreciating: snuggling in bed with good books. My current is another ebook from the library, this time on the BorrowBox app. It’s The Never-Ending Summer by Emma Kennedy. I love her writing. I can recommend all her books, especially the non-fiction The Tent, the Bucket and Me. I read until gone midnight last night. This book is one of those ‘just another chapter’ page turners…

I always try to have a physical library book too, the libraries need to stay open. Use it or lose it! My friend made a Cranks Bible potato recipe last week and it prompted me to reserve the book. Should be good for soups too? I plopped it onto my car blanket in the boot yesterday, and sent her a pic. I’ve just realised it’s still out there

Eating: too much sweet stuff. After half term ends, next week I’ll be back to eating fewer treats

Liking: the new series of Young Sheldon

Loving: the anticipation of opening my first Inside Crochet mag in ages. I bought a 6 month subscription with some birthday money

Family apple picking afternoon was good fun

Buying: Christmas cards. I don’t know what it is this year, but I’m getting some things done early

Yesterday’s white sourdough, well greige really as the dark rye flour starter turns it a little murky!
Crusty bread. Mmmm

Watching: nature changing week by week

Managing: one of my favourite 6 mile loops (circular walks) at the weekend

Hoping: for more blue sky days

Wearing: a furry blue top, so warm and soft

Rose hips & Old Man’s Beard

Noticing: even the oak leaves are turning now. Those ferns I showed you earlier in the month have now died back

Following: Lucy’s Blogtober posts. Her visit to RHS Harlow Carr is top, top, top for autumn garden colour. I’m loving the daily diary posts and save a batch to read at one sitting

Sorting: the freezer. I defrosted it on Monday. What a good feeling. I’ve been so dizzy I couldn’t do it until now. It’s looking good now, but apparently the crunchy noise of the door closing on 2 inches of ice on the top drawer is missed!

Getting: organised for winter

Coveting: a new stick blender. Mine ground to a halt a while ago

Only 11th and apparently Christmas displays had already been a go-go for 2 weeks

Feeling: determined to do more garden pruning before the hedges are cut back on Tuesday

Hearing: the gentle ring of tinnitus

Banana & Walnut cake

Remembering: making the bird and other little things when I was new to it and absolutely crochet obsessed (and I didn’t have a wooky hand which now holds me back.) I recently came across this photo of my noticeboard in the first Little Room, it made me smile

How’s your October been? Are you ok? What are you making, cooking, watching and reading?

Out-out

My first trip out-out with a friend since August! Because doctors, pharmacy and hospital don’t count, do they?

I was so excited to go back to my happy place a.k.a. Yarn Heaven on Wednesday. I can’t remember the last time I went, I think not so much because of the Pandemic but because I’ve banned myself from buying any more yarn until I finish my current makes. Not that bans ever successfully work, do they? I’m sure a few balls of something found its way into my bag a month or so ago, when I happened to pop into a yarn shop.

I was meant to meet another friend for lunch on Wednesday, but unfortunately she messaged to say it was a no-go; because her 11-year-old tested positive for Covid on Monday. So many friends have school age children who are not very well with Covid at the moment. And there so many people everywhere who are choosing not to wear a mask. We need it to be a legal requirement again! (I’m shouting.) It feels as if I’m in a minority in some shops. Lots seem to have decided enough is enough and have stopped wearing a mask.We’ve all had enough, haven’t we? However unfortunately things are far from good still, so we get on with it and try and keep other people safe, surely? Honestly, at the moment I seem to be throwing my hands up in the air a lot.

I took this snap quickly because I really liked all the colours. They’re not jazzy bright, quite muted really, but I can actually imagine wearing them. Sometimes colours in those variegated balls are very appealing, but not really anything I would actually wear. Since I came home I keep looking at this pic. I can’t see anything listed for Mondial Jazz for some reason on Ravelry or Insta. I’d like to see what people have made with it. No imbranato Name questo il MacHappy. ARGH!!!! I’ve got Italian as an alternative keyboard language and my iPhone keeps swapping languages. I dictate a lot of my messages (and blog posts) now to save my sore hand. Sometimes I look over at what I’ve said and it’s a mess of both! What did I just say there? * It’s a weird thing, but makes me laugh too.

I’m using the Duolingo app to learn some basic Italian words and phrases. I’m still very much in the ‘The men are writing in the sugar’ and ‘The cook cuts the meat’ stage of learning. Bizarre choice of phrases but it’s more than I ever knew before. So anyway dictation helps save my hand, although it’s not doing much to practice my spelling.

…What was I saying? I think I was wondering if the wool might be known by another name? Or perhaps other people don’t like it? Or, is it really new? Tell if it’s one with which you’re familiar, please. It’s 75% wool which I prefer for accessories or clothing. Can’t wear Stylecraft, unless it’s partly wool too. Ohhh! I’ve just remembered that Mondial is made by an Italian family company. Maybe my iPhone is more intelligent then I take it for?!

After a good rummage and yarny purchases, (Lynne is making hats for nephews and also bought the same brown as me) we headed to a very nice pub on the river for lunch. I held us up slightly by taking photos. Autumn is one of my favourite seasons, I can’t resist capturing the changes. Love the colours, the crisp feeling in the air, the warmer clothing and yummy warming meals. We’ve just had our first spaghetti bolognaise in months and I’m having my first homemade butternut soup for lunch today.

Just look at that half red, half yellow leaf. I have heart eyes.

Nature treats us to some really beautiful sights, swoon.

When we headed back to the car park we found masses of conkers just lying on the tarmac. “Where all the children, why aren’t they picking these conkers up?” I exclaimed. Secretly I was really pleased there are heaps just lying around still. I stuffed my bag full of them. Then stopped on the way home, to pick up a few things in a supermarket, and wondered why my bag was so, so heavy!

I can’t remember the last time I saw a pattern in a magazine that I just had to make. The gingerbread man on the cover instantly appealed. So this is partly why when my friend suggested meeting up, for coffee or lunch on Wednesday morning, I felt it had to be somewhere that had a yarn shop. I didn’t have a single one of the colours I needed, which is an absolutely cast-iron reason to buy yarn. Sì?

There are lots of newer Stylecraft shades that I’ve never seen before, apart from in photos. Some of them are really nice. Mushroom and its slight pinkiness jumped out, in a good way. I resisted buying. For now.

I wanted to make the gingerbread man from yarn, instead of the cotton as listed in the mag. Cotton is great for stitch definition, but oh so hard on the hands. I picked up several different shades of brown, until I saw one. My friend asked me what the shade was called? Gingerbread! Just the job.

The pattern is in the current Simply Crochet magazine, issue 115

Someone hungry, waiting for me to cook dinner last night, had to contend with me shouting: “He’s got one little arm!” Then later: “He’s got two little arms!”

I’ll be back with a whole gingerbread man soon, although he might not have any eyes because I didn’t think to buy any. Oops does that mean another visit to the yarn shop and another delicious lunch? I think it may.

* according to Google translate:

No goofy Name this the MacHappy.

Ha ha! Could have been FAR worse!

An autumn walk part 2

A few sips of water, a good look around in all directions. I took a few photos and then we went on for the next part of our walk.

There used to be a couple of fallen tree trunks which were lovely, clean and smooth off to one side of the green crossroads. Lying on the grass. They were removed sometime in the early year. I still miss them. During the first Lockdown last year, when we were only allowed to see people from our households and nobody else, not even social bubbles (the term had yet to be invented, our poor isolated elderly and vulnerable people) we came across a few teenagers there. From their furtive looks at us I guessed they were sneaking out to meet up and socialise, as an illegal part of the allowed daily exercise. I couldn’t really blame them, although it was all such a worrying time and no one really knew what was ahead. Anyway, I miss sitting on those tree trunks. After avoiding the roots, stones and ruts of the lane it was always good to have somewhere to sit and relax for a moment, or five.

Bonus blue skies in October and freshly ploughed fields.
If you go down this way you end up on quite a fast little road, which leads to a picturesque village. You can take another footpath into a meadow, then walk alongside some fast flowing water, go through a few gates, under a railway bridge and ultimately up to a large farm. There’s a public right of way along the road through the middle. There was a bull in a field with cows and calves, which scared the bejesus out of me last spring. You’ve never seen such a flimsy fence and such a mahoosive bull. He kept staring at me!
The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, I loudly sang as we walked past.
Just a little peep.
The deer have been munching and trampling the sweetcorn. They’re all around here. We saw hoof prints and ‘other evidence’ of their presence near the maize fields.
At this point my hoodie was firmly off and tied around my waist. Such a lovely warm day.
More fields of maize all around.
There was a massive rainstorm in the middle of the night last Saturday.
Zoomed in.
And as I saw it by eye.

We saw a red kite with a huge wingspan being chased by two or three crows around that tree. It always amazes me how crows can be so aggressive to such a scary looking bird. Confidence or aggression in numbers? They must be highly territorial when in a flock (a ‘murder of crows’ is the collective name after all!)

More crabapples.
My favourite photo of the walk.
I suspected there were tasty, juicy things around this corner of the hedge.
Bingo!
More old man’s beard / clematis too.

Someone had started to walk on and hadn’t come back around the corner with me. So, I called that he should; because there were very big juicy fruits that I couldn’t reach, which could be all his if he wanted.

And we were off again.
He remembered something we had seen back in the summer. But wouldn’t tell me what. It would be a surprise.
Another stretch of footpath which goes along a narrow green lane between field hedgerows. Quite an adventure, this is very narrow. You can easily get caught on brambles and have to avoid nettles and thorns. I usually walk with my elbows and hands up in the air. Quite a sight, especially if I’m also singing.
The sun and shadows are captivating.
Other kinds of traffic have recently been along here too.
Ah yes! Fields and fields of the potatoes. I’d forgotten we’d seen these before, when they were small plants. The ridges of rich iron earth that are heaped up around the plants are so neat and pleasing. I missed a photo opportunity.

For some reason when we come out of that narrow overgrown path and walk along this field edge, we always remember the surprise of passing a teen during Lockdown in summer, last year. She was wearing noise cancelling headphones, had a brightly coloured backpack on and was so confidently tramping along. She’s really stuck in our minds and we’re not quite sure why. I think maybe it was because she was so incongruous. It looked like a route she walked regularly, like she was going to visit a friend or something.

I needed to lean against a big five-bar gate to reorientate, before we turned left for the third part of the walk. I heard a sound and turned around to see a man-child throwing a chunky stick into a tree, followed by the sound of things clunking to the ground…

So spikey sharp. Twin conkers inside.
I stuffed these into my conker pocket and on we went.

The next part of the walk went along a hedge to our left, which has occasional trees interspersed among the bushes. The field on our right gently slopes down to a stand of trees. This is where we watched a young muntjac deer wander earlier in the year. This time there was no peaceful little deer wandering, instead we disturbed about a dozen pheasants in the hedgerow. They took off right in front of us, flying and squawking in alarm. They made me jump. I took up in the air, flying and squawking in alarm too! Someone found this all rather funny.

It can’t be too cold at night yet, otherwise the ferns would be brown and dying. It can’t be far off though, the evenings are much chillier.
I had to limit myself to two fern photographs. I really, really like them.

We crossed a road and plunged into the start of another green lane. This is an ancient byway which used to lead commercial travellers from the Midlands to London. We call the start Freezer Corner because unfortunately sometime ago someone dumped the contents of the freezer under the bushes near the road. They must have pulled up their vehicle and just thrown it all out. Some were probably opened by foxes, others were intact. For quite a while we noted the disintegration of the packaging of once frozen lasagna, fishfingers and a carton of ice cream etc etc. Then it was cleared away. A friend asked if we had reported it all. I’m ashamed to say neither of us even thought of it (though someone else obviously had) partly because it was so fascinating watching the food and packaging disintegrate in the wild. But what an awful thing to do, and why? Why not dump it into a bin? Was it an act of revenge? You’ve hurt me, so I’ll empty your freezer? Weird.

Cranesbill, a type of geranium.
A little sit on a rock. A sip of water and onwards again.
I photographed these thistles when they were glorious purple flowers, back in the summer.
15 to 20 feet up, high altitude ferns.
Many brambles on both sides of this path, but few blackberries. Perhaps they doesn’t get too much sun.
Plenty of sloes.

A little handful of emergency almonds to crunch, hunger was coming on with a vengeance now, it was way past lunchtime. There’s a few miles to go.

We’ve turned left again. We’re heading to very familiar fields with landmarks: the cherry trees, sloe alley, blackberry corner and plum row.
What a neat front door.
Higher up now than at other points of the walk.

We paused at the top of the field and heard very, very loud unselfconscious singing coming from some distance away in the shady lane. As it’s stubble now we preferred to walk out in the open field, to keep feeling the sun and wind on our faces. The singing was hilarious. She obviously had headphones on and was belting out JoJo’s Leave (Get out). I glimpsed her; a grey haired lady walking a lurcher, definitely getting something out of her system. Good for her!

This one is tiny. Do mice make burrows?!

In the last part of our walk, in a field not far from home we looked for the dead adder that we came across last week. It’s gone. I’ll pop the pic I took into my Taking Stock post at the end of the month, if I remember. That was quite a sight. That and seeing a headless pigeon made for a memorable walk.

Home and a late-late lunch of cheese & biscuits, apple & grapes. What a great walk, so fab to go out-out again.

I hope we can do it again very soon.

An autumn walk

An autumn walk wearing T-shirts! In October! It was really special because Someone was off work mid-week for a few days, and so on Wednesday we grabbed the opportunity to go for a longer walk. It was a beautiful day, about 19° and very quiet. I think we only saw a couple of joggers in the middle and then a couple of dog walkers at the end, it was 3 o’clock by then.

We took our time. I went slowly, took lots of photographs and really looked around. It was the first longer walk, at 6 1/2 miles, that we’ve done since August because I’ve been feeling so unwell. We’ve managed the hour-long loop around the fields near home a few times, but this was a proper jaunt.

To begin with I felt quite unbalanced, especially as the initial part of the walk begins alongside a road. Walking along with cars going past felt quite disorientating. But once we were on our own walking along the footpath and bridleway, everything seemed easier.

The footpath is a mile or mile and a half long and was a green lane enabling farm workers and people wanting to come to the shops to walk between villages and farms.

I wish that I could go back in time, morph into an invisible being, to see the people and listen to what they talked about as they tramped along this lane. I’d like to know what they bought. A length of ribbon to decorate a new bonnet? A packet of sugar, or flour? A long saved for book? A twist of salt? Or did they just go to the pub and then stagger home again. Stumble, trip, stumble, trip!

Why, Hello there!
Sometimes dark and leafy green, other times bright and sundappled. I really love this walk along the lane!
There are crabapples scattered at various points. I wish I felt like making crabapple jelly, or something with them. There are many more still in the trees which could be picked. It feels a waste of free produce, but jelly making is a faff.
Rose-hips and ivy flowers, what a pretty combination.
Old man’s beard or wild clematis.
It’s a well used footpath and bridleway, things can get very turned up and sticky for walkers during the winter. Especially when it’s been rainy and the horses have churned it up.
Just look at that! So beautiful with the sunshine playing in the leaves
Common barberry, the red and green together are stunning, don’t you think?
A mossy log, crunchy leaves and glossy ivy leaves. If you stop and look around, remember to look up and look down there is so much to notice and appreciate.
Last time we paused by these trees there were waving stalks of oats and barley, in the fields alongside the footpath
Beautiful ugly fungi
Reflections in the water gathered in the dip between the conjoined beech trees.
A perfect window.
Beech nuts crunchy underfoot.
I wouldn’t want to fall into this holly bush, steady as she goes…
High above my head the holly berries are beginning to look good.
We seem to have been walking along this lane for ages, it always takes longer than we expect.
And suddenly we are out!

I turned back to take this photo at the end of the lane and then enjoyed being out in the open again. Surrounded by countryside, with long views across newly ploughed fields, a distant village with smoke from a bonfire rising into the sky. At this point you are at a green crossroads and can go one of four ways. We have tried all, but our favourite is the one, which with several more turns takes us in a big 6 1/2 mile loop. It ends with a hill right to our front door. A downward hill, is definitely the best kind at the end of a good walk.

~~~~~

To be continued, part 2 coming soon…

Taking Stock – September

Reading:

The Man Who Died Twice

Even better than the first book, which was The Thursday Murder Club (as if anyone really needs to be told; it was an instant international bestseller.) It would be best if you read the first before this one.

The Beloved Girls

A 5 star read. Twisty turny, with a slow building atmosphere of menace. I had so many thoughts and questions about what might be happening, when I wasn’t reading. Always a good sign of a compelling book. Also It jumps back and forth in time, which I always enjoy. It keeps you on your toes. Plus it is partly set in a large English, country house. Enough said?

Freckles

This was a surprise; there was a time when I always used to read new Cecilia Ahern books and then I just felt like I’d grown out of them. This is a new, more real and grittier style of writing. I couldn’t put it down.

Enjoying: all the late summer / early autumn colour in the garden.

Noticing: some beautiful bright sunny days, with magic golden light just before dusk.

Making: hexagons! Too many so now I’m on a self-imposed ban for a week, as my hand is so sore. I did enjoy it at the time though.

Instagram stories questions… Be prepared for lots of responses. Don’t ask if you don’t want honesty! I didn’t mind, as the slightly circular nature was bugging me
New and improved. Sharper corners (absolutely nothing to do with the pattern, just me cutting corners. Literally!)

Planning: to use this book. I’ve now bought the tin for *half the price* of the recommended one. It’s still really good quality. I bought a James Martin one from an online retailer who have a bricks and mortar shop in Dorset too. (Ask me if you’re in the UK, I’ll send a link.) Very happy with the look and weight of it.

One Tin Bakes

Cooking: The days were mostly been so warm at the beginning of the month that I haven’t made a single batch of soup yet. (Plus being unwell for the whole of September didn’t feel like chop, chop, chopping … ) Latterly I’ve eaten porridge with maple flavoured golden syrup and chopped apple on top. Always a sign of cooler weather. Soup making isn’t going to be far off.

Baking: Dark choc walnut brownies to eat with raspberries and creme fraiche, after roast chicken, new potatoes and salad

Rosemary & Cornish Seasalt focaccia

A Facebook friend said it looked like spiders. They were very tasty!

Cinnamon buns

Cinnamon buns! YUM!

I typed out my recipe for cinnamon buns and sent it to my 13-year-old niece. She made them the next day and sent me photos. They were perfect.

Watching: tomatoes ripen. I’ve been taking a daily photo, then sending it to my friend who loves tracking the changes while he works in his office in London!

Eating: pink omelettes! I had a phase of these, if a phase can consist of two?! One with the spoonful of rose harissa are mixed in and the other a spoonful of red pesto. They taste good. Try it?

Enjoying: my micro-greens which I left to grow to salad leaf size. Much better value for money than paying £2.99 per packet. I feed them a little so there’s enough nutrients to feed the plants. Still going strong…

Mackerel with lemon & dijon dressing & cannelini beans

Learning: Italian on Duolingo app, it’s free. So many languages to choose from, but I’ve always wanted to learn Italian.