In the last ten days

We finally got the promised snow, the Friday before last. These few photos were on the Saturday when my Snow Face was all go. (Manic grinning and crazy happy eyes.)

I do like snow a lot, I’m just not so keen on falling over when it’s icy. I definitely need to buy some new walking boots; because although they are still smart and comfy, my leather Timberlands are a bit worn and shiny on the soles. It makes me very wary walking the day after snowfall, when everything’s frozen solid. Last year I ended up making the shape of a capital A, with my hands flat on the pavement in front of me and my bottom in the air, when I slipped on the ice! No one needs to see that again.

At the beginning of the week I’d driven Mum around to four shops to try to buy a couple of small brown loaves, as I wasn’t planning on baking any sourdough for a couple of days. The snow had been forecast and it seemed sensible to make sure she had some. We found they were all sold out nearly everywhere. In the event it was a wet kind of snow and so didn’t hang around. By Sunday, when we went for another walk, it was beginning to melt at the edges.

Snow days means soup days. I made a new recipe from Olive: Creamy Tomato Soup. It’s a delicate blend of flavours and went down well with the others, though personally I’d halve the quantity of cream, it was a little rich for me.

I don’t have the same comments about the chocolate in the cake I had last Monday, courtesy of John Lewis rewards on my app. Get the app if you ever go anywhere near a JL. The free cake and hot drink can be perfect, when you’re shopping and in need of a pitstop. What I love about it is the free cake includes pastries, which means you can have a rather nice cheese scone! This was a rare time when I actually had the cake and a cappuccino, rather than peppermint tea and a cheese scone for lunch.

Now I know daffodils, snowdrops and hellebore are winter flowers, croci too, but just seeing flowers popping out and nodding their little heads can’t help but make you think of spring.

By Wednesday it was hard to believe we’d ever had any snow at all. Did you spot the foraging ducks amongst the fallen beech leaves? They were too busy to turn around to chat to me even, though I did try to start up a conversation.

Look at that handsome strutting boy heading back to the pond, he was all wiggling hips and attitude as he knew I’d snap him.

Thursday it was time to cook a warming curry. Another Olive magazine recipe to try. We really liked their version of Chicken Saag. It’s a good blend of spices, filling lentils, chicken and shiny spinach. It was declared “A Winner!”

Friday morning and I made cheese scones for lunch. Oops I forgot to start the timer, so they were rather more crispy than usual, which actually went down really well. Good!

Then lasagne for dinner. This one. Absolutely yummy, a proper Winter Warmer with bells on. A robust Malbec to sip and the promise of some chocolate after.

If you’re not going anywhere Friday nights are made for a tasty meal, which has to fit within the criteria of a Friday Night Tea, there are rules about what constitutes a Friday Night Tea and definite no-nos. Do you know what I mean? I was delighted to find out a friend thinks exactly the same way, that made me realise how in sync we were when we started to get to know each other. You also need a good film, or tv which makes you laugh, nothing serious, and the evening has to include a little something sweet for later. No dessert or chocolate to hand is very, very bad.

It’s not all food, drink and chocolate cake, as lovely as that is. My weekly tally, added to my accumulative total showed I’ve completed over a tenth of my walking target now. I’m aiming to walk 1,000 miles this year, without pressure or in competition with anyone else. Over 100 miles walked already. Go me and my shiny bottomed Timberlands!

What about you? What are you doing, cooking or making in your spare time? Have you read any good books lately? I am absolutely stuck into Last Letter Home by Rachel Hore. It’s going to be a quick read for me as I can’t put it down.

Stowe at Christmas

On Sunday we went to Stowe, a National Trust property, to have a good walk, where we followed a Christmas trail. This was after listening to a mixture of traditional carols and modern Christmas music by Winslow concert band, in the courtyard. The mince pies were successfully avoided till nearer Christmas, go us! Impressive self control I think.

A long walk is always first (at least 5 miles and you should try to get quite hot and out of breath marching up any hills*) which then earns a visit to the cafe for drinks, a ham salad sandwich and a bag of crisps. A mooch around the main shop, and this time the Christmas craft stalls, only at the end. That’s the usual order of the day at a National Trust property. Do you do the same?

The scale and beauty of Stowe have attracted visitors for over 300 years. Picture-perfect views, winding paths, lakeside walks and temples create a timeless landscape, reflecting the changing seasons. Full of hidden meaning, the gardens were created as an earthly paradise and still cast their spell today. Your visit starts at the New Inn visitor centre outside the gardens. This fusion of modern and restored eighteenth-century buildings was where visitors of the past were welcomed to Stowe.

(From The NT app)

A glimpse of Stowe House as we began our walk. It is now a private boarding school. The pupils were out and playing fun games outside in one area by the Queen’s Temple.

I didn’t photograph everything we saw, but these give you a flavour of the Christmas Trail and just a very few of the many landmarks you see as you walk around the Capability Brown designed parkland.

The Palladian bridge

Look beyond the iron railings and this was once the drive which led to the house.

This is the other side of the Palladian Bridge, once you’ve walked through it. The wellies were amusingly titled ‘Step into Christmas’ and a label describes how the head Gardener Barry is going to do a long walk from here to Bath to raise funds for Stowe in the New Year.

It always fascinates me that you can rent the Gothic Temple as a holiday let. What a spooky place it would be at night.

MK Jets

Milton Keynes Jets junior embroidery and textile students have created tapestry decorations using the colours of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in honour of the centenary of the first women getting the right to vote in 1918. They also represent the threads that bind communities together. From the textile industry to sewing for pleasure, the desire to stitch and create is woven through the fabric of time.

The grotto. Look at the pebbled floor, it must have been done by hand.

You enter through dark, low and narrow tunnels and I’m not sure that Someone thought there was anything much on the other side, so when we entered into the main room with a high roof, the fountain trickling with beautifully clean water and the arch looking out I heard him say “Ohh!” It is a bit special, I felt a magical vibe.

What you can’t see is that in cracks and crevices of the walls were laid little red baubles and greenery.

Men in Sheds were originally set up by Age Concern and the local group have made two xylophones for Stowe. They are, as you can see, things of natural beauty. Plus they sound good too. I swear I inadvertently played a Christmas carol really well, but this wasn’t universally acknowledged – #bahhumbug – and now I can’t even remember which one. It’s a secret me and the robin will share.

*I realise that I sound a little like a Sergeant major in the army! It is actually good fun and you feel very energised afterwards.

In the bluebell woods

A choir of birdsong, a gentle breeze and the rustle of leaves overhead

Ferns gradually unfolding

Celandines

Cowslips with a background of bluebells make such a pretty picture. I always think of Uncle Silas getting merry on his homemade cowslip wine…it might be time to reread that delightful little book.

The only other people Mum and I saw in the distance yesterday were a couple with a greyhound, later there was a ferocious sounding barking match between two dogs somewhere near the boundary of the woods. We never did see the other dog, but came across the couple again. According to the owner the dog had met his brother: “It’s like that in some families, isn’t it?”

A glimpse of a field of rape flowers through the trees.

Last year’s visit, with links to previous posts in the same bluebell woods.

Six things about bluebells you might not know, by the National Trust.

Springtime, feels like summer

I asked for a new fridge sentence to replace my post road-trip one, which was boringly ‘Over a thousand miles later home’. I know it wasn’t exciting but it was current. Oh, but I’ve really truly been trounced now. It’s poetry which describes the view from the window. What’s my next move going to be?

I finished my Edenvale cowl last week. I know it will look better as the lace work will open out and show it off when it’s blocked. I’ll show you afterwards. I did fewer repeats than specified in the pattern, so I could stop at one skein of WYS Shetland Tweed. Hurray for John Lewis refunds on wool. That’s a cowl which is plenty long enough and I get £8.50 back in my account. I did try it on, in its as yet unblocked state and had comments along the lines of ‘You’ve knitted a neck sock!’ As you know I just ignore these and calmly carry on. I do the cooking so caution would be warranted…This week I added to my garter stitch blanket. I like the look of the navy with the lavender a lot. As I did another 6 rows (250 stitches each) I reflected on how much I’m enjoying knitting. It’s as meditative as crochet when easy, good to have two hands in motion, I like the feel and look of the fabric. I’ve also added a few more colour blocks to my patchwork blanket. Also satisfying once I get into a rhythm, but a bit boring to contemplate doing masses of linen stitch which is why this has been very slow in the making. I much prefer the swoop and flow of trebles to doubles.

Ah this week’s weather has been a delight. On saturday it was gorgeously warm at around 21-22 degrees. My friend and I wandered in Regents park, London wearing t-shirts, coats bundled up in bags. We admired the cherry and almond blossom, the lines of tulips and noticed how many people were also enjoying being outdoors. There are some pics on my Instagram. As you’ll see I took something a little unseasonal and different to do while we were there. My friend was knitting, and said an elderly lady with a stick walked by and gave us a broad smile. I guess others were mostly using the pedalos, reading, picnicing or just sunbathing. We probably looked quite incongruous.

This magnolia tree is not far from home. It was a gorgeous surprise on Wednesday to see it in full bloom.

Yesterday it was 25 degrees! This isn’t so much spring as a full-on English summer day. It can all change in a week so we are all poised as a nation. At the first sign of a warm day: we rush out to stock up on salad, charcoal and steaks, we go through our drawers and wardrobes looking for anything vaguely summery to wear, if we’re in a morning-time rush (ahem) we merely shave from our ankles up 6″ so we can wear shorter length trousers and sandals for the day and fill a jug with cucumber/raspberry/lime/lemon water in the fridge. We are prepared.

The next day we inspect our red patches of sunburn because we didn’t apply sun-cream, forgetting that even though it’s England we can still burn. (Ahem.)A host of golden daffodils. They’re probably all dried and crinkly now. I’m glad I saw them looking so lush.

So in the last week and a half I’ve knitted; ‘that’ sock, the garter stitch blanket and finished my lace cowl using chunky needles, crocheted and done the other craft which requires very fine motor skills. And my point? My hands hurt. My arms hurt. My elbows are stiff. The side of my hands are tingling. (I should probably not be typing this, but dictating.) That is a big warning sign isn’t it? I think I might have done too much knitting with the chunky 5mm needles, the lace pattern required lots of different manipulative movements and then there were hours of sock knitting. I’ve been disciplined at only doing one set of repeats max with the cowl, but got carried away one day with the sock. I unravelled and reknitted for far too long. In all these years of crocheting I’ve never experienced this, I’m in a sulk with knitting. Stupid chunky needles, stupid tiny circulars, stupid lace, stupid sock. I think this means a total ban on craft for a month. I’ve put a note that I can try again on 19th May….unless they feel magically better sooner. Sniff.

I’ll blog what I’m reading and bore you with photos of flowers and places I’ve been to, in the meantime. When I’ve blocked the cowl I’ll show it too. It’s the darning that’s holding it up right now, but with this warm weather it’s not in a hurry to be worn.

Without craft what do you do in the evenings, apart from read and stare at the goggle box?!

(JILL don’t be crude!)

All this beauty

“This is proper England” I found myself saying this morning, on another Tuesday morning walk with my friend B. This is a stunning new find for both of us: Evenley Wood Garden. It’s one to return to through the four seasons, to see how it’s changed.

While there we heard a woodpecker, saw various birds and heard their birdsong, caught a group of about five beautiful pheasants picking their way through the undergrowth and came across no other walkers at all, no dogs, no children and no traffic noise. A perfect patch of England, and it was all ours for an hour and a half. I love this tall variety of snowdrops. Look! It’s a carpet of cyclamen.

Hellebores, my Mother’s favourites (along with snowdrops) and there were other colours too. I didn’t photograph any more though, as we are meant to be walking briskly while looking, not just stopping and staring slack jawed.

A stream runs right through the woods. There are various bridges to cross, but I drew the line at one which was little more than a plank. Guess who had walked a mere ten steps at the beginning of the walk, then slid in slow-motion to the left, ending up lying in mud? B helped me up, like the old lady I felt I had become and then cheerfully stated: “It could have been worse; you could have choked on your pear drop!” I was walking and squelching for a while, until the mud and puddle water dried off a bit.

I came home and announced: “I’ve had a fall.”

“Don’t be ridiculous; you’re too young to ‘have a fall’, you’ve just fallen over in a lot of mud. Ha ha.”

“Hurumph!”

More cyclamen, and a close up of some of the patch.

I’m not sure what the yellow flowers are…something in the far reaches of my brain (aka custard) is whispering aconites. Am I right?

It’s Knit Night tonight, I haven’t been for weeks. I think the last, and actually only, time I’ve been this year was back in January. Then the call of the sofa and the recent Siberian weather made me cling to the tv remote and sofa, hard. It’s time to come out of hibernation now.

Is it the sofa for you, or are you heading to the great outdoors to socialise one/some/most evenings at the mo?

Much warmer

Walking with a friend today, it felt almost balmy outside at 8-9 degrees. Lovely! Signs of Spring are back in full force as you’ll see.

There were patches of snow alongside the roadsides, piled up on the verges and the boundaries of fields. There are deep patches despite the heavy rain that fell on Sunday. I had to smile when I parked my car and saw this on the village green:

When walking with my nieces on Sunday we spotted a similar stump in a front garden, but with 2 carrots, 4 buttons and twigs on the ground around it. I wish I’d taken a photo as it was just such a touching scene.

We popped into the pub after our walk and I found out that it was established in 1605. It was a coaching inn where the horses would be rested and fed, the passengers too no doubt. The arch led to the coach yard and stables. It is an age since I’ve been there, it’s nice and cosy inside. Much of this old village is gorgeous with the ironstone dwellings, wrought iron gates and some fantastic walled gardens.

After all that snow and minus temperatures it’s amazing to see the snowdrops again. Aren’t they resilient? I guess the clue is in the name. Can you see the pink and yellow flowers on the right? I think they’re primula.

My friend has heard Johnny Depp has a house here. I wondered if it’s this one? You can buy coach house no. 4 next door if you like?

Frankly I took this is for the Americans! I know thatched cottages are always popular.

B was trying to walk fast, keeping up our brisk pace, get the heart pumping etc and burn some calories (her multiple gins at the weekend were playing on her mind.) Her fitness app voice notifications were kicking in with how many kilometres we had walked, how fast our average pace per km etc but I kept stopping dead to whip out my iPhone. I can’t help it when I see witchy wintery trees with an ancient spire behind. I love the twigs lying on the top of the wall where they’ve fallen off.

As a side note; I’ve just googled ‘how old is ancient?’ It’s far older than this spire, so I’m going to have to repeat myself inanely and say it’s very old. When I say the pub is very old, established in 1605, Someone raises his eyebrows, as his school dates from around 1400. It’s all relative though isn’t it? In Australia I often saw signage about very old houses, only dating from 1970 something!

The pace was slowing again, but I was not guilty. The mud was so thick and squelchy along the footpath we considered turning back, but both quite like circular walks. I had to scrape my walking shoes against a tree trunk, to get the worst of the mud off when we came back into civilisation. They were almost comedy clown sized shoes, encircled with mud.

One final pic for you from today’s walk is something I’m used to seeing around, but maybe you’re not…

It’s a mounting block for horses. Do you see them where you are? Are they as old? (I’m debating retitling this whole post Really Old. It’s been totally over used after all.)

Do you want to see a cutie patooty?

Here is Winnie and her Wave Blanket. Isn’t she beautiful? I love the way she’s got her hand on the top of the milk bottle! She’s five months old now. Her Mum tells me she loves her blanket so much and uses it everyday in her pram, the car and her bouncer chair. Wherever they go people ask where it is from, it’s lovely knitting’ (sigh! / smirk.) It’s attracted a lot of attention.

Springlike temperatures, pretty wild flowers, beautiful old buildings and seeing Winnie using her Wave Blanket, there are some reasons to smile.

What’s making you smile at the mo? If you’re not feeling great, I hope things improve soon. Look after yourself.

Beautiful bluebells

Not many words are needed today. I’d run out of superlatives anyway; trying to describe the beauty of this bluebell wood. 

This year again we didn’t see any deer, though we did stand still several times when we heard rustling in the undergrowth. 

Mum, when I first started blogging, used to say: “You’re taking so many photographs!” Now it’s: “Have a look at your blog later to see when we came here last year.” And: “Take the bluebells in front of that magnificent horse chestnut. There are such pretty celandines here with bluebells behind, the colours look lovely together. Here’s a pretty group of cowslips.” She’s right of course, so I snapped them all for you. 
Here are blog posts from previous visits to the same woods, in 20142015 and 2016. I think you might recognise some of the trees and paths.

A crunchy walk

Such a good walk in the woods. We went at midday and the car thermometer was showing it was a mere 1/2 a degree. But by the time we’d walked for an hour and a half it had risen to a heady 3 degrees! The tracks would normally be very muddy, but today they were actually crunchy underneath your boots because they were frozen. I loved it. The best part is finding virgin ice on frozen puddles and stomping on it. There’s that satisfying crunch as the ice shatters.  It was silent in the woods, there was no one but us and birds singing in the trees. I swear the same robin flew from branch to branch following us all around.

I really appreciated coming home into a warm house, with the option of Spicy Lentil and Root Vegetable or Carrot, Ginger and Orange soup (see this month’s Red magazine for the carrot soup recipe.) I’ve been making soup every week, often trying some new recipes. I can easily make my own, without a recipe, but like to experiment. The next ones are Parsnip & Apple, Chinese style Chicken & Sweetcorn, Chicken, Rice and Miso and I’ve got a Sweet Potato with something linked in an email too. It’s the best thing to have in the fridge; especially when you’ve stomped around a frozen wood and need an instant winter warmer. 

Now the snooker’s on and I’m getting hints about how nice a Nespresso would be…then I’m planning to crochet at least two more rows on the Blackberry Ripple. I don’t mind the background hum of the snooker, but think I’ll plug myself into my  new audio book. It’s really good so far.

2016

Here are my makes of last year, well most of them. There are quite a few other things that were started and unravelled, for various reasons. None of which I regret! Despite my intention to knit or crochet smaller makes (including socks) I seem to have hooked quite a few blankets again. Why does that keep happening?!

I’m not really sure what I want to concentrate on this year. I’m working on the Blackberry ripple and that’s not far off from being a good snuggly size. Then I’ve just got to do the darning and crochet a border.

Next I think (and don’t hold me to it) I might use a posh skein or two of wool and knit another sort of cowl. I think I’ve come round to them after wearing the Mira cowl a lot this year. I’ve always preferred wrapping scarves as tightly or as loosely as preferred, but this has been very cosy and you don’t have so much of it stuffed down the front of your coat! Hey-ho, hey-ho it’s off to Ravelry I go.

My friend has sort of lost her slouchy bobble hat (there’s obviously a story there) so I might be hooking one of those again, for her birthday in April. If only she knew someone with a fishing rod, who’s a dab hand at casting, I’m positive she could retrieve hers…

It’s Day 1 of the New Year, where normal non-festive life has resumed and no alcohol, mince pies, chocolate or twiglets have been consumed. I do fancy a hot chocolate though, that’s surely alright? It’s COLD out there.

Spring Day and inspired by another Rachel

   
     

  
   
One walk – so many flowers, the air smells so sweet, the birds are singing their hearts out, the thwack of the cricket ball on the bat, warm 16 degree sunshine. England really does put on a beautiful Spring show.

Inspired by a talented friend who speed crocheted a cardi to wear to a wedding last Saturday, I borrowed Anna Wilkinson’s book from the library yesterday to check out the pattern. It sounds rather dodgy making part of an outfit for a wedding, but it looked so good on her; not dubiously homemade at all. She’s one stylish chick and just doesn’t seem to do naff. It must be the Art Degree, I always think people who are arty have a certain pizzazz. 

I’d forgotten how good a source of inspiration the library shelves can be, I’ve lost the habit of popping in to see what’s there. Reading The Little Shop of Happy Ever After by Jenny Colgan over the last few days has reminded me to use my local libraries. 

Want to see my haul? There’s so much I want to make now, after a bit of an uninspired time, visiting the library was a good move. 

  

  

 The question is can I crochet a cowl in an evening, tonight, to give to my friend tomorrow?  As well as drink G&T and a glass or two of white? 

 

In & out the dusty bluebells

IMG_2752 IMG_2753IMG_2756IMG_2757IMG_2758IMG_2763IMG_2765IMG_2767IMG_2769IMG_2776Visiting a wood which you grew up walking to regularly is wonderful, every step prompts a memory and even the oak trees seem to wave a greeting.

Driving past a farm where a territorial dog was always likely to rush out barking at us all still provokes sweaty hands and a racing heart. Once I suggested ‘Let’s go back another way’ but that brought head shaking and “Come on, he’s only saying ‘Hello, this is my patch.'”  I tried just stopping, standing stock still in the middle of the lane, but realised the others were taking no notice and were wandering further away back down the hill.

This visit there was no dog, at least not one silly enough to run out in front of a car. As we stepped out into the dandelion field at the back of the woods Mum and I heard a galloping noise; two very large deer were running straight towards us with a sound like horses pounding along a racecourse. Simultaneously two things happened; Mum whispered ‘Look aren’t they wonderful, stand really still’ and I rushed to stand behind her. One deer changed course immediately, turning in a sharp circle bounding to the other end of the field. The other continued galloping along, it seemed to be charging right for us, hooves pounding in time to my racing heart. It was probably only a few seconds and then he too turned. The pair gracefully jumped through a gap in the trees and into the wood. I remembered I was holding my camera too late. They had gone.

Autumn at Blenheim Palace

A brisk walk in the crisp Autumn air, muffled up with scarf, hat (apparently it makes me look like a pixie, hmmm) and fuzzy red gloves. But tell me why is it that dogs always swerve in a circle to the one who is not so keen, completely ignoring the other who would no doubt stop, have a stroke and a chat?

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What is absolutely perfect after a red cheek making walk is this…20131114-171219.jpg

Are you enjoying Autumn? Where are your favourite Autumn places?