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Saturday, 3 December 2016

Gift IOU - free printable download

There's nothing nicer than a hand-made gift - after all, as a character from the one of my girls' favourite Christmas story books Angelina Ballerina's Christmas by Katharine Holabird said, "A home made gift comes straight from the heart", and I think she's right.  Something that you have made yourself tells the recipient that you have thought carefully about them, chosen yarn to suit them and given your precious time to make something that you believe they will love.  It's wonderful to make decisions and lists and cast on, knowing that your hard work will be much appreciated.

A hand-made gift can also be super-stressful.  It doesn't matter whether it's for Christmas, a birthday, a baby gift or any other event that you can think of, there are times when you realise that you're just not going to get finished in time.  I have been that person knitting till way after midnight on Christmas Eve so that I can have something wrapped and ready for the next morning, and it's not fun.  We've still got a few weeks to go, but if your to-do list is longer than the number of hours left in the days before Christmas, that won't be making you feel that "all is calm"!

A year or so ago, I didn't quite finish a pair of socks that should have been ready for Christmas morning.  No amount of late-night Christmas Eve knitting was going to solve this, so I decided that I would give one sock and an IOU.  To my surprise and relief my Dad,who should have been wearing new Christmas socks, spent the day laughing every time he looked at his IOU note and suggesting that perhaps he should hop in his one sock until the other one was ready.  In the end, I had to remove the lone sock from his grasp and put it away!

It made me realise that sometimes, it really doesn't matter if we don't finish in time.  Our intentions in making something are clear and the gift recipient is often as pleased to know that it is coming as they are to have it in their hands.  Sometimes, we just don't have enough time for a variety of reasons and frantically knitting when you know you should be doing something else is not the way to a stress-free gift.  Sometimes, it's OK not to be finished.  If you find yourself in this situation, you might find this useful - feel free to download and print out this IOU to give to your gift recipients and take the pressure off yourself.  After all, it is the season to be jolly!




Click HERE to download your IOU!



Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Monthly Musing - November 2016 - Hygge happiness

Hygge has definitely been the word of the season.  Pronounced hoo-ga or hue-ga, it’s a Danish word which roughly translates as “cosy”.  Cynics amongst us would say it has been a marketing person’s dream, coming just at the right time as the nights have closed in and the weather has grown colder, as hygge identifies with candles, snuggly blankets, warmth and togetherness. However, the Danish will tell you that hygge isn’t so much a physical thing as a feeling, and although things can enhance the hygglig experience, a thing alone isn’t enough, which suggests that hygge is something that money can’t buy.  That’s not a new idea and the concept of hygge isn’t new either – it’s been around for hundreds of years, first in the Norwegian language and later as something that has become part of the Danish way of life. 

I think it’s been part of our way of life too, but we’ve never had a specific word for it; instead it’s been lots of different words that add up to the same thing, and you might wonder if we really need another country’s word to describe something so inherent in ourselves.  I say why not, if it makes us think about what we have.  I can remember even as a small child loving to be wrapped up warm in my bed listening to the rain on the windows.  That’s hygge.  Or sitting outdoors with friends on a warm summer’s evening, watching the stars appear in the sky and the bats dart about like black shadows.  That’s hygge too.  If I can press the metaphorical pause button in any moment and soak it in, pressing it carefully between the pages of my memory to revisit another day, then what does it matter what it’s called?  The word just encourages us to focus and I think that we are ready for that focus now.

I believe that opportunities often present themselves to us when we need them or are ready for them, and I think that we need hygge more than ever.  As the world pulls itself apart with wars, with politics and with intolerances of many kinds, we need something that makes us feel safe and hygge offers us the opportunity to do that.   Focussing on our homes, our families and our sense of well-being makes us slow down and appreciate the moment, and if we live moment to moment it is harder to be afraid of the future.

Of course, the problems of the world are not solved by lighting candles and wrapping ourselves up in blankets, but it is certainly true that more we love and take care of ourselves, the more love and care we have to share with others.  Hygge is not always about our own cosiness, it extends to others as well and this dark, cold time of year is a timely reminder that not everyone feels safe and warm.  I love that we are a world of many cultures which can be shared and I am happy to adopt a word into my own language that encompasses love, happiness, cosiness and a feeling that everything is right with the world.  After all, isn’t that what we really want?


Monday, 28 November 2016

Dance like nobody's watching

It's Monday again!  Did you have a fabulous weekend?  Our was great, thank you, with a particular highlight for me on Saturday night that I'll tell you about in just a minute.  First, though, let me catch you up with the yarny goings on in the Winwick Mum house.

Remember my Fair Isle skirt?  I've finished it ... 


and I don't like it.  It's too chunky, too bulky and horribly unflattering.  I've also spotted that my Fair Isle technique isn't as neat as I'd like it to be so after having photographed it to show you, I unravelled it.  Yes, I was disappointed as I'd put a lot of work into it, but I'd enjoyed knitting it and it's not turning out to be too much of a hardship to have started again.  More fudging of the pattern has been required as now I'm knitting it with a single strand of DK yarn rather than two strands (which obviously contributed to the bulkiness but I had hoped it would be OK) but it has made it lighter and faster to knit.  Will it look better this time?  Who knows!  I hope so, but whatever happens, my two-handed Fair Isle has improved, my continental speed has picked up a bit and I'm still having a nice time with the happy colours and the patterns.



The new tutorial sock is also coming along nicely, although perhaps not as quickly as it would be if I wasn't re-knitting a skirt.  Anyway, I'm happy with the progress and with the way the yarn is knitting up too, and I'm looking forward to sharing the pattern with you in the New Year.


There's also been some progress on my Neat Ripple sock but it's still in the car - I must remember to bring it out to show you!

So, back to the highlight of my weekend ... I went to see Deacon Blue with a friend on Saturday night.  They have played at the Liverpool Echo Arena in November for the last few years and we've enjoyed going to listen to them every year.  Deacon Blue were one of my favourite bands of the late 1980s and every time I hear their music I am transported back to my late teens, to my first job, to dark wet nights on a commuter train, to singing along loudly with my best friend ... the memories are as clear as they ever were, which makes you realise that you never actually forget anything, you just forget how to remember it.


Do you ever have those times when you just know that something is going to be great?  I was so excited, fizzing away all day at the thought of our night out.  Even the support band were fabulous - they're called Lewis & Leigh if you want to give them a listen.  (I was really pleased to discover that Lewis is actually Al Lewis who made this rather fine tune which is played on a regular basis on my iPod).  In fact, I liked them so much that I bought their CD during the interval, and that doesn't often happen for me with support bands!


There's something about seeing a band live that you just don't get from recorded music.  Whether you're in a big stadium or a pub on the corner of your street, there's an energy that spirals up from the floor and starts your feet tapping.  Have you ever heard the quotation 

"Sing like no one is listening.
Love like you've never been hurt.
Dance like nobody's watching,
and live like it's heaven on earth" ?

There are numerous variations of this quotation, but the bit I like is "sing like no one is listening ... dance like nobody's watching" because that's exactly what my friend and I did.  It's good for the soul.  To be honest, I don't think anybody else actually did notice as the people around us seemed to be spending their time going to the bar, online shopping on their phones or chatting to friends as if they'd not seen them for years which does beg the question of why you would spend the money on a ticket if you don't intend to listen to the music, but it meant that we had no qualms about standing up in our seats to dance - and we danced our socks off!


This morning, I was still singing Deacon Blue songs and because my car is old enough to still have a CD player in it, I decided that I would sing to small daughter on the way to school.  She seemed pretty underwhelmed, to be honest, and rather ungrateful considering that I was contributing to her musical education.  Even my seat dancing at the traffic lights didn't impress her much and I didn't look to see what the other drivers thought.  Sing as if nobody's listening ... dance as if nobody's watching.

I don't care.  It's good for the soul J





Friday, 25 November 2016

Autumn walk

Hello!  How are you doing today?  I thought you might to come for a walk with the dog and me - it's been a while since we've been on a walk together!

Before we set off, though, I must say how much I have appreciated all your feedback both through the blog and on social media on the Yarndale Sock Line post telling you where all the socks have gone.  I'm also very grateful to everyone who's made a donation towards the cost of the postage too - thank you!  Quite a few people have commented that it's taken time and effort to organise the Sock Line and this is quite true - but as I've been able to do it a few hours at a time in my warm, comfortable home with a cup of tea in my hand, it's not really been much hardship - and it's definitely worth it to know that the socks have gone to good homes!  Bring on next year's Yarndale Sock Line!

So, are you ready?  Have you got your coat on?  It's mild but not terribly warm this morning although the weather this week has been changeable - from damp to frost and back again.  I've got my hat on but not my mitts - I had my hair cut yesterday and anyone with short hair will tell you that it takes a day or two to get used to the draught! J

We're going to walk in the Sankey Valley Park starting from Callands, which is a good place for me to leave the car.  Winwick is a great place to live but it's not so great if you have a dog that can't be trusted near roads as there are lots of them, so we very often walk around here where there are lots of green spaces and woodlands that are well-spaced between the roads and houses.  Let's take this path between the houses into Sankey Valley Park.



It might seem like a bit of a dismal day but there's always colour if you look for it. Just by the railings are these flowers from a spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus).  I've got one of these in my garden but it's never flowered - it's probably in the wrong place.


Here too are bright yellow beech leaves with glossy dark green holly.  Nature is very clever at putting colours together.


Shiny brown toadstools - they look like they're suffering after the recent frosts and I'm quite happy that the dog has no interest in them.  He doesn't turn his nose up at much but luckily fungi of any description is not on his menu!


There's a good mix of tree and shrub varieties in the Park as Warrington Council were always very good at landscaping.  It does make me smile to see just a few leaves on the path ...


and a few steps later the path has disappeared!


The sun is doing it's best to come out and it might brighten up later.  Come on, we're going to walk quite quickly as it's not warm enough to hang about.  I'm glad I don't have to sleep right up there in one of those nests.


They belong to magpies, large black and white birds that belong to the crow family.  I'm never quite sure how I feel about magpies.  They remind me of little old men in suits with their black, green and white feathers, and they are the subject of more than a few superstitious rhymes so I always say hello to them, but they're not really very nice birds; they steal other birds' young and attack inquisitive cats and dogs that are brave enough to pick a fight with them (ask me how I know that!).  Here are the nests a bit closer - they're very messy but seem to do the job as I imagine that strong winds will feel even stronger that high up in the trees and the last thing you want in a strong wind is for your nest to collapse! 


Here's our first glimpse of how well the landscaping works in the Park.  Different varieties of tree, all different colours but working so well together.


Those splashes of red that you can see here are Dogwood (Cornus alba) which don't look like much during the spring and summer but really come into their own once their leaves have fallen. They're grown for their red stems and the Council's landscaping team make sure that they look their best.


More red.  There are lots of berries on the trees still - the ones in our garden are long gone so it's nice to see them.  There's an old wives' tale that lots of berries, and particularly holly berries, mean that there's a hard winter coming:

"Holly berries shining red
Mean a long winter, 'tis said" 

although it's generally assumed these days that the profusion of berries - or not - is down to the weather earlier in the year.  Having said that, I've got a feeling we're in for a cold one this year.



Let's go down this path.  It's looking quite a lot barer today than it did a couple of weeks ago, and the leaves are quite mushy on the ground too which makes the path quite slippy, so watch your step. 


Every now and again, there's a jewel in amongst the leaves.


It is indeed the end of the cycle route - it's disappeared! J


This is Sankey Brook which was once part of the Sankey Canal.  It's looking very full today and I'm never keen for the dog to go in for a dip when it's as full as this.  The area surrounding the brook looks quite bare as the plants along the water's edge have been cleared away for the winter.  Recently, the banks have been full of Himalayan balsam which is an invasive weed so the Council have cleared it all to try to stop it spreading.


This particular point is the place where dogs can get in and out easily - it's even been cleared to make it easier for them - and my dog does like to get his feet wet!  Mind out - he really doesn't bother to move away when he shakes himself!


Further up the path is a huge clump of comfrey which grows wild here.  My Dad used to grow comfrey in his garden for making compost tea with, and I can remember my Mum mashing up the leaves to make a poultice once when I'd cut myself quite badly.  It's traditionally known as "knitbone" as it allegedly helps to repair broken bones and speeds up healing, although I'd recommend that you took advice from someone who knows what they're doing before you used it. Comfrey is another invasive plant which is why I don't have any in my garden - it spreads pretty rapidly and has peculiar furry leaves which are quite spiky to touch.  It's a big plant too although it doesn't look it here - these are new growth leaves after it's been cut down after the summer.


The path has brought us to Bewsey Meadows, a former tip which was closed in the 1980s and is now a haven for wildlife and wild flowers, although there aren't many flowers to be seen at this time of year.  You might have noticed that we've been followed by a robin - or perhaps several robins as they're very territorial.  Whether it's one robin or many, it's keeping a close eye on us and staying just out of camera shot.  We're going to take the path that sweeps round the meadows and back towards the way we came.



This is the only sign of frost that I've seen - I hadn't realised it was that cold last night.


Teasels (Dipsacus fullonum).  I had an abundance of these in my vegetable patch last year which is not the place for them to be growing!  They're tall plants, taller than me, and spiky too.  The goldfinches love their seeds but they're best out here where there's plenty of space!


There are plenty of seed heads to see today, skeletons of flowers past that still have a stark beauty of their own.  




In the midst of it all, gorse flowers.  November has been a strange month, not quite making up it's mind whether it wants to be wintery or not.  There are still roses growing in my garden so I'm not surprised to see these cheery yellow blooms.


One last look out across the meadows and we'll head for home.  I don't know about you but I'm getting ready for a brew!


Look there - through the trees!  Cygnets!  I haven't seen much of them this year and they've grown so much.  They'll be gone in a couple of months - I think it was January this year that the last brood left to start nests of their own.


I'm tempted to go down this path, but it takes us out of our way so we'll save that walk for another day.  This wood leads towards Bewsey Old Hall, a 13th Century building complete with ghosts that is now luxury apartments.  My husband and I went on a tour of the building many years ago when it was owned by the Council and they would have open evenings led by the ranger who lived on site.  We didn't see anything untoward but there's a definite atmosphere about the place and the ranger who lived there had a lot of interesting stories to tell.  We felt quite spooked by the time we left and walked back home in the gathering gloom; I'm not sure how I'd feel about living there!


Come on, we'll take the much less dramatic cycle path back towards Callands.  Mind those leaves aren't slippy, and mind the dog doesn't knock you over as he heads off towards another stream. He can't resist muddy puddles!


I love the shine on these ivy leaves.  Even on the dullest days there's still something to see if you just look out for it.


We're nearly back now.  Look, the sun has come out and you can see the vibrant colours of the leaves.  We're very lucky to have this space pretty much on our doorstep.



We've been out for about an hour and the weather has changed completely from drab to sunny, and the air is warmer too (though I'm not going to take my hat off!).  It's been great to have your company - I hope your feet aren't too muddy and you didn't get too wet when the dog shook himself.  We'll have to do this again sometime soon!