Monday, 24 April 2017

Roses and Bluebells

Like many people, I do not enjoy having my photograph taken, not one bit. But so that you could see what this cardigan looks like on - and so that I am not completely absent from our family's photographic history - I asked John to take some photos of me at the weekend. We were in the most picturesque place, and the bluebells were at there absolute bluest (and is it me or are they especially good this year?) so it seemed as good an opportunity as any.

This is my Rose Cardigan which was very kindly sent to me in a kit by the excellent Wool and the Gang. I'm a big fan of their products (crochet patterns that you actually want to wear! In lovely colours!) so it was no hardship working away on this project. The kit contains everything you need; pattern, yarn, hook, darning needle - even a label, which is a nice touch. It's the second item of clothing I've crocheted myself (after my poncho) and a very easy project indeed. No increases or decreases, just a lot of rows of treble stitch and a lot of beautiful soft cotton. 

It's quite heavy and has a very nice drape and movement to it. It is long, possibly because my tension was quite loose. Luckily, as I'm almost 6 foot tall, this isn't an issue, but smaller folk may find they need to decrease the initial starter chain which dictates the length of the garment, or go down a hook size.

I went ever so slightly off-pattern at the end, and decided to shorten the length of the sleeves by turning them up a couple of rows and tacking them in place with matching cotton thread.

Sewing it up was straightforward, you just whip-stitch up each side and under each arm, and then I blocked it.

Also - foam blocking mats! I have never used these before and they are a revelation! I used to block everything on a couple of towels laid over a carpet but since we hardly have any carpeted floors now, I decided to buy some those interlocking mats. I think that technically the ones I bought are play mats for children, but they were a lot cheaper than those marketed as "crafting mats" and seem to do the same job. I bought two packs of these and they worked a treat.

Last of all, let me rave a little about the colour. I love this soft shade of pink. I think it might be called blush, although the yarn is called "Nude Pink". It goes so well with black, navy and grey (basically my wardrobe colours) and is very flattering. I would love to make a cotton bed throw version of this cardigan, all soothing cotton and calm pattern, something for the summer. Trouble is I'd need about 50 balls of the yarn so that would be quite an expensive throw.

Anyway, there we have it, one Rose Cardigan. I've got the bug now and am thinking about making my first crocheted sweater. There's no stopping me!

Friday, 21 April 2017

Easter & After

Hello! Gosh it's been busy around here and Easter feels like a long time ago already. Our Easter Day was quiet with a walk on the beach in the morning and roast lamb for dinner. John cooked and it was one of his best roasts yet, even in his hungover state. Angus picked a haphazard little posy of garden flowers for the table and I got out the embroidered napkins. Family called in and a lot of chocolate was exchanged and eaten. Bella and Angus had asked if we were doing an egg hunt. I hadn't organised anything, thinking they were probably getting a bit old for that sort of thing, but apparently not. So I was out there in my pyjamas bright and early Sunday morning, hiding small foil-wrapped eggs all around the garden. They absolutely loved looking for the eggs - it was a really sweet moment, watching them padding around out there in their dressing gowns. The Simnel Cake was delicious and I can report that homemade marzipan tastes a million times better than shop bought (and this is coming from someone who really doesn't like marzipan), with a lovely crumbly lemoniness and none of the cloying sweetness of the bright yellow stuff. The cake was a little over done but still good, with a lightness that the fruit cake I make at Christmas doesn't have. The Key Lime Pie was a bit so-so, to be honest. Not limey enough. 

When I haven't been eating I've been painting. We decorated Bella's bedroom this week and I'll show you some photos soon. It's not finished yet - we still need to wallpaper one wall and I promised her she could choose a new print or two - but the worst is done. This Easter holiday I have sanded and painted one bed (Bella's, grey, the same as Angus's), one garden bench, one wooden planter, and an entire bedroom floor. My poor hands!

I've made a little project out of this rather grim corner of our garden over this holiday. This fence and collection of pots is right in front of the patio doors from our dining room and I look out upon it every day. It was really starting to depress me. The fence is new and in good condition, but such a dark and dreary colour. The whole corner really needed some love. 

We started by jet washing the decking. (And the children.)

This is how it looked before...

...and after. I'm not wild about this decked area but it's practical and will stay for now. It's perfect for our outdoor table and chairs and the bench.

Do you remember this wooden planter?

I sanded it and painted it grey...

...then lined is with plastic, drilled in a couple of holes for drainage, before filling the bottom with large stones and the top with compost

Then I planted it with sweet peas. If I'm going to look out onto this area every day, then there may as well be something pretty and colourful to look at. I also planted up all my other pots with a mixture of carnations, verbena, pinks and pansies.

The planter came out really well and I'm so happy with it as a finished project.

And a week later, those sweet peas are already growing and filling up the space. 

Can you believe we haven't had any rain over the whole two weeks of the holidays? I've been remembering to water all my pots and am full of my usual spring time enthusiasm for the garden.

Other parts of the garden still need work though, like our wood store. You may notice that more wood lives outside the wood store than is actually stored in it. John says he needs a chainsaw to tackle the rest of it.

I finished my crochet cardigan, too. It's so lovely, I can't wait to show it to you. Now that project is over, I've begun something completely different - some crocheted fruit and vegetables.

I'll leave you with a photo of me gardening taken by Angus.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Almost Easter

Thank you for your words on my last post. You were kind, reassuring and supportive, just what I needed. Thank you to those who don't usually comment - it was lovely to hear from you. Still, all these years into blogging, I marvel at the warm community of friendship and solidarity that there is here. We still miss our Molly a lot but it gets easier and we are able to talk about her more easily now, and with smiles not tears. 

This past week has been deliberately and purposefully quiet. After the sudden warmth of last weekend, the last few days have been cooler but still sunny. We've been out and about a little but spent most of our time at home and in the garden, and I think it's been good for us all. I've always loved the Easter holidays as they're not as pressured and busy as Christmas, or as long as the summer holiday, and it's the time of year to be energised and active, enjoying the garden and fresh air. I have found it difficult to sit still and have taken a lot of comfort in staying busy, doing some spring cleaning and gardening. I've washed clothes, bedding, curtains and cushion covers, emptied cupboards and scrubbed windows. I've jet-washed decking, painted my planter and bought lots of plants for all the pots. I'd have done all these things anyway but I've taken a particular quiet satisfaction - contentment, even - in doing these tasks this week. 

I felt that Easter had been a bit overlooked so decorated the house a little. As always, there is so much comfort in the constancy of these traditions, of hanging the same decorations and planning the Easter lunch menu. I put some pussy willow in a vase on the kitchen table and made a little wreath from an embroidery hoop and a few flowers, and hung it above the mantel. 

It looks pretty but won't last long. 

The children and I made Easter nests, as is our family tradition. They were a massive failure in that Angus poured too many rice crispies into the melted chocolate, so they wouldn't stick together. We're still eating them.

I made a Simnel Cake today for the first time, with homemade marzipan/almond paste. This wasn't as tricky as I thought it would be and, while it was one of those cakes that seems to take all day, I didn't mind that. For once, I don't seem to be in a mad hurry. I haven't tasted it yet though, I'll save that for tomorrow. 

It hasn't all been chores though; we visited the submarine museum in the week with the children and that was really good fun; we ate our Domino's pizza on the sofa while watching a film (Star Wars); we had a huge pub lunch then a nice walk yesterday. A couple of nights ago I just sat on the sofa with a glass of red wine and a bag of kettle chips and read a cookery book, for ages. It was brilliant.

Shall we review my impossibly long Easter to-do list? 

  • look into and possibly change energy supplier 
  • ditto mobile phone contract
  • make dentist appointment
  • paint the planter in the garden
  • do some gardening, generally
  • go to the tip
  • wash all bedding, rugs and cushion covers
  • clean the windows
  • sort out all the winter coats, boots and hats in the hall cupboard
  • wash and pack away woollen jumpers
  • new school shoes for Bella
  • re-pot all my indoor plants
  • finish my crochet cardigan
  • do some yoga every day
  • do sit-ups every day (feel free to laugh at me)
  • crochet a basket of play fruit and vegetables
  • read some books
  • cook lots of amazing food

  • I have ticked a lot of those off the list but you'll all be glad to know I took your advice and decided I didn't need to clean behind the cooker after all. I haven't done any yoga, or sit ups, but I did go for a run with my sister last Wednesday night. It was my first run in months and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I have almost finished my crochet cardigan, but haven't started the play fruit or vegetables yet. I am reading a lot - books and magazines - and I have cooked and eaten a lot of delicious food. Tomorrow, for Easter lunch, we're roasting a leg of lamb with potatoes, asparagus and spring greens.  I always associate Easter with citrus flavours and often do something like a Tart au Citron or Lemon Meringue Pie for dessert, but this year I'm making a Key Lime Pie. We might go for a walk on the beach too - all that food, we'll need to work up an appetite. 

    Happy Easter to you all. I hope your Easter is both joyful and relaxing and that you do the things you want to do with the people you want to be with. 

    Tuesday, 11 April 2017

    Really Up Ups and Really Down Downs

    Our Easter holidays started well with gorgeous weather and a weekend spent in the fresh air. On Sunday morning we went on one of our favourite walks, packing a picnic of coffee and biscuits for John and I, and hot chocolate and marshmallows for Bella and Angus. For Molly we packed: lead, muzzle, water, bowl for water, dog's a bit like trying to get out of the house with a baby. We walked for a couple of miles through the greenest countryside and I remember thinking - and telling John - how happy I was, how good it felt to be out in the sunshine when spring was at it most vivid, with the bluebells just coming up, and the promise of two weeks off work ahead of me. Rural England in the spring is a sight to behold and the light was so beautiful in the woods - I was really cross that I hadn't brought my big camera, so had to content myself with the one on my phone. The air was heavy with the smell of wild garlic and the birds were singing and the sun was really warm. We drank our little elevenses picnic in a quiet spot and it was just completely lovely. We came home and ate lunch outside, then spent all afternoon in the garden, working on some jobs, with the kids either on the trampoline or their bikes, and Molly mostly lolling on the grass. Dinner was chicken in a creme fraiche and tarragon sauce with the kitchen door open and the smell of cut grass in the air.

    And then, while John and I were in the kitchen clearing up, Molly bit Bella on the neck as Bella was stroking her and saying goodnight. We took Bella straight to A&E to have the wound cleaned and dressed, and she was prescribed some antibiotics just to be on the safe side. We returned home around 11pm Sunday night, dazed and confused, and once the kids were in bed had a conversation we never thought we'd have about returning Molly to the kennels we adopted her from. We both slept very little Sunday night and first thing Monday I phoned them. They were shocked - we were shocked! - as it's very unlike greyhounds to do anything like this as they are known to be a gentle breed, but said of course, you must bring her back. So, while my sister looked after Bella and Angus for the morning, John and I drove back to the kennels with a confused Molly in the boot. We had a long chat with the lovely people who work for the charity. They were mystified as to why it had happened but said she could be in pain, or irritable from the heat. We've always been very strict with the children on how to behave around dogs; don't pet a sleeping dog, always call them by name first, move away as soon as you hear the low "warning" growl, don't get in their personal space. But whatever the reason, John and I knew we could never take the chance that it might happen again, or that Molly might hurt a friend or family member's child. The charity assured us that Molly would be re-homed, perhaps with a family without children, or with older children, and we said goodbye to her.

    It completely broke me. I cried like a baby. John cried like a baby. We stood outside the kennels and just hugged each other, crying. We all really, really loved that dog. I feel teary now even writing this. Molly lived with us for only four months but it felt like a lot longer, and I think you all know what she meant to us. I loved my daily morning dog walks before work, loved watching the seasons unfold in the woods, and she was part of our family. We desperately miss her presence in the house, the clatter of her paws on the floor, the tinkle of her collar, the way she just had to hear the dishwasher open to appear, suddenly, and start trying to lick the plates. The way she would jump on our bed first thing in the morning to say hello, the way she'd lie oh-so-patiently by the dinner table, hoping for scraps. I always fed her my toast crusts. Silly things, little things, but things that made her part of our family.

    It was the right decision, but incredibly hard to make. Fortunately the wound on Bella's neck is healing very nicely and now just looks like a graze. She will have a scar, but it will be small and should fade with time. She's not remotely put off dogs, thank goodness. But yesterday was hideous. John and I cried a lot. The children seemed remarkably fine with it all, but then Angus woke up sobbing last night, saying how much he missed Molly, and Bella has been subdued all day today. It's sinking in. I've been keeping myself very, very busy, because it helps me. I'm smashing that Easter to-do list, let me tell you. Today was easier, and I spent a very therapeutic few hours in the garden this afternoon, working and thinking. 

    We loved being dog owners. It suited us very well, and I like to think we were ok at it. But I don't think we can adopt another retired greyhound for the time being. Perhaps when the kids are older. But for anyone who it thinking of adopting one, please don't be put off by this; incidents like this are very rare and they are generally calm and loving dogs who make wonderful pets. I'm not put off, but I know that now is not the time. We are considering our options. We may get a puppy. To be honest, homing a retired greyhound - with the toilet training and obedience training - is a bit like getting a puppy, so I feel like we've got a much more realistic idea of what to expect now than we ever had before. And we'll all be OK. We are already more OK today than we were yesterday, and we'll be better still tomorrow. 

    We have a lot to think about. But I am so happy, in a sad sort of way, that we got those four wonderful months with Molly, even though she barked at all other dogs, chewed the furniture, wee'd on every single carpet, stole food straight off our plates, and generally made herself known. We loved her very much.