Friday, 23 September 2016

An Autumn Scarf for an Autumn Day

It finally felt crisp enough to wear my scarf this morning. I finished it a few days ago and have been wanting to wear it so badly, but it's been too mild. But this morning was perfect; cool first thing, with a low bright sun and delicious chill in the air. It's made with Drops Nepal yarn, mainly to use up the large amount leftover from my poncho, and I bought another couple of balls of the cream colour too for the third round, joining and fringe. I doubled over the yarn so it was really thick and used a 10mm hook as I wanted something really chunky and robust. It's certainly that, and incredibly warm too. 

Are you doing anything nice this weekend? Anything especially autumnal? We have nothing planned, which is just how I like it. John is off. I love the weekends when John doesn't work, they feel much more weekend-y than when it's just me and the kids. There are jobs to do around the house, the kids need some new clothes, there are various errands to run, but nothing urgent. We haven't lit a fire yet, but I must admit I'm looking forward to the first one. We should probably chop some wood this weekend. (When I say "we" I mean John. I'll make cups of tea and say something encouraging.) I'm aiming for some pottering and cooking, and hopefully a walk somewhere. Definitely crochet, and I have two episodes of the Great British Bake Off requiring my full attention which I have to watch with Bella. I'm not allowed to watch it without her and she gets really annoyed with me if I do. I just realised it's Yarndale tomorrow. Are any of you going? Have fun if you do. Tell me what your plans are for the coming weekend, however quiet. I'd love to know. 

Happy Friday Night, you lovely lot. 

Monday, 19 September 2016

Getting Ready

Home life has taken a distinctly autumnal turn lately. After the heat of last week the temperatures have dropped and the air feels colder, smells different in the morning and last thing at night. Suddenly, the light moves and falls in different spots in the early evening.

I've been in a whirl of preserving lately, which is pretty much my favourite way to spend a weekend, tucked away in the kitchen, radio on, pans bubbling. My mum's neighbour had more tomatoes than she could use and some were passed my way. Four pounds or almost two kilos of fruit were turned into pasta sauce and ketchup. The passata-type sauce, infused with basil and garlic, came out well and I've frozen portions of it. But the ketchup was less successful. The recipe said to cook the mixture of tomatoes, onions, pepper and apple, then strain it, then and add the sugar, vinegar and spices. Then you simmered it down till it thickened, except mine never did, and I simmered it for ages. Other recipes I've looked at since suggest pureeing some or all of the vegetables with a stick blender to thicken the sauce. Mine was like water and I ended up reboiling it with cornflour to thicken it. It tastes really good - much spicier and more vinegary than anything I've bought - but I'm not sure if it was worth the hassle. I'd appreciate any tips on making homemade ketchup. Much more successful was my annual bramble jelly making session, made with blackberries picked wild a few weeks ago and a few apples. I love this on toast, stirred into yogurt, or on top of rice pudding. Especially on top of rice pudding. With cream.

As predicted, I am completely in love with yarn and crochet again. I think it's linked to when I start wearing socks or slippers in the house. Cold toes = crochet love. I bought some very indulgent merino/silk/cashmere blend yarn at the weekend to make some bed socks. I'm pretty excited about this. I've never crocheted socks before but I think I can do it. I've also been using up all the Drops Nepal yarn left over from my poncho to make a very chunky granny squares scarf. I'm doubling up the yarn and using the biggest hook I have so it's really got some weight. (Also, I am pretty excited at the thought of it being cold enough to wear my poncho!)

We spent yesterday afternoon walking in the woods around one of my favourite nearby villages on the Hampshire/West Sussex border. The little church there is just amazing; tiny but so full of history. I love looking around the inside, at the old pews with doors on the end of each row to keep out the cold and the riff raff. (They have a floor plan framed on the wall from sometime in the 1700s; wealthy families in their reserved spaces at the front, farm workers and labourers at the back on benches.) It was still warm outside yesterday but some of the leaves were starting to turn and the hedgerows are full of rosehips. I was looking for sloes to make sloe gin. Am I right in thinking they come much later, like late October/early November? I've never picked sloes before.

Less happily, I have had a niggley sore throat and achy feeling in my sinuses over the last few days, the kind I get before I come down with a cold. I am hoping it will go away if I ignore it and get a few early nights. John just came in and said "It smells like autumn out there now." We are having blackberry and apple crumble for pudding tonight, with custard. That seems fitting.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

House Plants

Hello! How are you all? I've missed this place. September in a primary school is an unrelentingly busy month and I am working full time at the moment, leaving precious little time for anything else apart from sleeping and drinking wine (I'm highly skilled in these areas). But, as you know, pottering around the house is how I relax, and I wanted to share some recent crafty makes with you.

Do you have many plants in your house? I didn't think I had many until I counted, and I have about twenty, dotted here and there. I am not remotely green fingered and have no idea what I'm doing with plants, but they lift a room so much and are just gorgeous to look at, so I persevere.

Some time ago I inherited this beautiful mid-century planter from my Grandma. I remember it in her house, it lived in the dining room, and I've always been very fond of it - for the memories, as much as the design. 

Before, it looked like this but dustier, and with a dirty, faded cream coloured trough. I thought about painting the whole thing but decided the wood, although water marked, was too lovely to cover. So I cleaned and polished it with beeswax and left it to shine.

The metal trough which holds the plants I painted pink. I like the way it goes with the green of the leaves, and I also just really like pink, the way it can be both warm and light at the same time. I'd have a lot more of it in the house if it was up to me. 

I read somewhere that it was good to have plants in a bedroom. I've no idea what the health benefits might be, but the design argument is strong.

I also made a macrame-style hanging planter. I've wanted to make one of these for ages as I think they are such a good way to brighten up a corner, especially one where you don't have a surface which could hold a plant pot.

It hangs in the back of the hall, opposite the front door. The front of our hallway receives lots of natural light but this section at the end, by the kitchen door, can be gloomy, hence the cheerful wallpaper. I love the little white pot and green leaves against all those busy pinks and reds.

I found this site had loads of brilliant ideas for hanging planters. I want to make more, for the bathroom (anything to draw the eye away from the tiles...) and the bedroom too. 

One last thing: do you remember me telling you that my blog had been nominated in the Amara Interior Blog Awards? Well, I was shortlisted! And that is thanks to you and your votes. THANK YOU. Really, thank you. 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Pages Turning

It's that time again; new starts, new terms, new teachers and new routines. September always feels more like New Year to me than New Year. I was really happy to go back to work yesterday; don't get me wrong, another week of holiday would have been lovely, but it has to come to an end at some point and the children are ready for school to start again. They would deny that but I think they'll be happy to be back among their friends and in the classroom environment. It was dark when I got up yesterday, and raining too, which made autumn suddenly seem close, although hopefully we'll get some more warm weather this month. I'm not quite ready to pack away my sandals yet.

I sucked every last drop out of the final week of the summer break. I bought new school uniform and school shoes, met friends in the park for picnics, tackled the garden (with a lot of help from my sister). I deliberately made myself something really tasty for lunch each day. I miss my nice lunches when I'm at work, and I used to love this meal when I was a stay at home mum, cooking something that only I liked, that I could eat in silence while reading a magazine. Last week I made omelettes, salads, courgette fritters, garlic mushrooms on toast. 

We had some home days where I pottered and crafted and ticked jobs off my list. I wrote it at the start of the summer holidays and it was full of things like: sort through filing cabinet, paint plant stand, clean out garage, get car serviced, book eye test, get hair cut. Things I struggle to do in term time, and I'm pleased that I got a lot of those chores done as it means my weekends will be free for weekending, not boring grown up stuff - for a few weeks at least I hope.

I spent a wonderful day in London with my friend Abigail on Friday. We visited the State Rooms in Buckingham Palace first as we wanted to see the exhibition of the Queen's Wardrobe and it was just amazing. So many beautiful clothes, and so interesting to see how fashions changed over the decades. Her coronation gown was a sight to behold. Then we walked through Belgravia and Hyde Park to our lunch destination in The Orangery at Kensington Palace. 

We had "afternoon tea" for lunch which came on a three tiered stand piled high with cucumber sandwiches, mini wraps and bagels, scones, cakes, macarons, tiny little tartlets - everything so dainty and perfect and completely delicious.

Suitably refreshed, we explored Kensington Palace and the grounds, which was all as lovely as you would imagine, before heading home. 

It was a nice finale to the school holidays and I'm really glad we saved such a special day out until the end.

I cooked up a storm over the weekend, making all sorts of things to fill lunchboxes for the week ahead. I've made this salad a few times now for myself and it's become a favourite. 

I substituted the spinach for parsley as that's what I had in the fridge, and it's delicious warm or cold, and keeps well for a few days without going soggy.

I few weeks ago, I made cookies but my cookie recipe gives enough for about 30 cookies (too much for us, unbelievably!) so I froze half of it. I found it in the freezer the other day, defrosted it and baked them. Oh my goodness, why have I never done this before? It's so blindingly obvious, and such a time saving way of baking. I am always going to freeze half my cookie dough from now on. Also - I am loving how I can get more than two baking trays in the oven at once by using the side oven while cooking something else in the main oven! I know, it's too much. 

Remember all those blackcurrants I grew and lovingly picked in the back garden, and how I was going to make blackcurrant liquorice ice cream with them? Well it got cooler and I didn't fancy ice cream so I made them all into compote.

The last few mornings have definitely felt like porridge mornings.

I went blackberry picking with the kids and my parents on Sunday in the grounds of Stansted House (pictured at the top, with the cricket match happening in front - such an English scene!) It's a favourite local walk and excellent blackberry hunting ground, and I have two kilos washed, bagged and frozen. This makes me feel very happy and satisfied, and like I've done something productive. Most will go into jelly but I'll save some for blackberry and apple crumbles which is probably one of my favourite puddings ever.

Wishing you and yours a happy return to school, if you haven't already. 


If you'd like to vote for me in the Amara Interior Blog Awards, then please follow this link. I would really appreciate your vote. Thank you! 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

A Bag for my Yoga Mat

Thank you so much for your comments on my holiday post. It was lovely to read how many of you have happy childhood memories - as I do - of similar camping holidays in France. Clearly it's still very popular! 

There is something I should mention: I am delighted (really quite over the moon actually) to have been nominated for an Amara Interior Blog Award again. You may remember that I was nominated and even shortlisted last year. I still don't really know how that happened. I am a hobby blogger with a very non-techy blog and it's just something I do around work and family life because I love the connections, the friendship, the chat, but above all else I really, really love making stuff and blogging gives me a forum to share these things. But you know that by now. If you would like to vote for me then please follow this link. THANK YOU!!

Anyway, yoga.

Every Wednesday, from 7 till 8 pm, I go to a local beginner's yoga class. I have to be honest here and say that the timing is part of the appeal - at 6.30 pm, having rushed from work to home to the local swimming pool, I bring the kids back from their weekly swimming lessons and hand them over to John. I get changed and go out and think about nothing more than my breathing for an hour. He supervises showers and hair washes, gets the children ready for bed, listens to them read and then starts dinner. When I arrive home at around 8.15pm they are tucked up in bed awaiting a good night kiss and dinner is underway. It's amazing.

But of course that's not just why I go. I like yoga very much and have practised it off and on for some years, but never with any real skill or dedication. I don't subscribe to the more spiritual side of yoga, I just like how my head and muscles feel afterwards. Our yoga teacher is as inspiring, warm and encouraging as you could hope for, and at the start of every class tells us to leave our day at the door and just think about why we came, what we want from that hour. I always think the same things: a calm mind and a strong body. I don't need to be able to do the splits or stand on my head - and I find a great deal of it very challenging (especially anything involving balance) - but I do love that hour a week. 

I had been carrying my mat under my arm until now and honestly, since I don't walk to yoga, there is no reason why I couldn't have just carried on doing that, but I wanted to make a bag. I saw lots of patterns on Ravelry but none that really grabbed me so I decided to have a go at my own. 

It was a really easy make and I chose chunky yarn so that it didn't take all summer, and it came out really well. My friend Abigail said that the colours remind her of Neapolitan ice cream, and I guess there is a summery feel about it. There wasn't a single scrap of yarn left over at the end and that was pretty satisfying. I like it when a project uses up all it's intended yarn supply, because otherwise they sit there, and I start thinking about what to do with the leftovers, and then I plan a new project "to use up the leftovers" which of course ends up with be buying ten more balls of yarn....or is that just me?



For this I used three balls of Hooked Ribbon XL yarn, in Ecru, Stone Grey and Sweet Pink, with a 10 mm hook. Here is how I made it for those who are interested. 

I began as though making a bowl, starting from a central point and working out in a spiral, increasing as I went. When the diameter was about the size of my rolled up mat, I stopped increasing and started working round and round in rows of crochet to create the body of the bag.

I needed my bag to be around 70 cm long, to allow for my yoga mat plus space at the top. I stopped counting rows and using a stitch marker at this point, and just crocheted three blocks of colour, each measuring about 23 cm, which was about 21 rows of each colour.

This is the reverse, where you can see the colour changes.

I left around 10 cm of extra crocheted rows at the top so that I could thread a length of the yarn through the top rows and gather it all together, like a drawstring. 

Then, using the very last scraps of yarn, I crocheted two rectangles; a long one for a strap, and a smaller one for a little pocket on the front, just large enough to hold my phone, keys and money.

I sewed the handle on at either end with the ends of the yarn from the piece I had crocheted.

For the pocket, I threaded my tapestry needle with thin cotton yarn and used that instead as I thought it would show less. 

 It worked well and is very secure and almost invisible.

Finally, I bought a cord lock and threaded the yarn through it, to make it easier to undo and do up at the top of the bag.