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Sunday, 23 August 2015

School summer holidays: nearly over

I can't quite believe that in just over a week and a half, the summer holidays will be over and my girls will be heading back to school and college.  And although there's a part of me that's really looking forward to getting back to my usual routines and getting ready for the excitement of the Black Sheep Wools book signing, sock clinic and the Yarndale festival, there's another part of me that will be quite sad not have them around.

I think we've had a good balance between busy and resting, out and about some days and other days just doing our own thing around the house.  The weather has played a big part in that; I could say that it's been typical British summer weather but actually it hasn't; it's been more unsettled. It's been warm and wet, cold and wet, torrentially wet and sometimes beautifully sunny.  It's been hard to predict from one hour to the next sometimes.

On our indoor days, small daughter wanted to learn how to use the sewing machine so we set it up one soggy afternoon.  She took to it like a duck to water - and hasn't wanted to touch it since. Perhaps she just needed to prove to herself that she could sew straight lines down her fabric, and perhaps she'll choose to come back to it another day.

She also got to burn off a bit of energy at a new trampoline centre which has opened just down the road from us.  She had fancied going for quite a while so when a friend asked if she wanted to go, she quite literally jumped at the chance!  I have to say, it looked like it was great fun and I've never seen so many trampolines in one place!

Big daughter chose a couple of our outdoor outings.  With not going away this summer we have had more days out that we might usually do.  Sometimes we've gone to the beach or the park, and sometimes we've been on an organised visit, like the one to this place.  Do you recognise the destination?

Perhaps this will help!

My husband and I went on the Coronation Street tour many years ago when it was part of the Granada Studios Tour but that shut down in 1999 which was a real shame.  One of my Canadian cousins is a huge Coronation Street fan and he would have loved to visit the set when he was over here in 2010 but unfortunately the new tour wasn't up and running then.  The set has been rebuilt in the new Media City at Salford Quays and it seems there are still discussions about the fate of the old Street.The new Coronation Street tour is currently only expected to be available until Christmas, but it would be another shame for them to shut it down completely.    Like it or loathe it, the Coronation Street soap opera is part of our British culture and having been on our TV screens for over 50 years now, is something that has been shared and enjoyed by generations of families.  We wanted to take our girls to see the Street whilst we still had the opportunity, and we were very glad that we did.  The tour guide was excellent and was clearly a huge fan himself which always makes for an interesting experience, and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience - I can definitely recommend it!

One of big daughter's other successful suggestions was the Moonlight Flicks open air cinema showings of various films in locations in Cheshire.  She went to see Mamma Mia with a friend and the pair of them got absolutely soaked but still stayed and sang along with the film, and then a couple of weeks later we all went to see Paddington, the film about the bear in the duffle coat who comes to London from Darkest Peru.  Having grown up watching the stop motion series of Paddington stories, I wasn't sure whether I would like this film at all - for a start, Paddington himself looks very different - but it's lovely, and a lesson to us all in putting aside our prejudices about people (or bears) who look different to us.  My very favourite bit is where Paddington and his creator, Michael Bond, acknowledge each other with a raised glass and a tipped hat - brings a tear to my eye every time!

On one of our days we went into Liverpool on the train - it's only 20 minutes by train from Newton-le-Willows, our nearest station, and there's no fuss about parking.  We took the underground across Liverpool to the waterfront to the big new Museum and then worked our way back up through the shopping centre to the station again.  In the summer, there are pianos to be found around the Liverpool One shopping centre for people to play; it's well out of my comfort zone to perform in public but I've made myself sit and play the last couple of years that this has been a part of the summer entertainment.  It reminds me that however self-conscious we feel about doing something, often it's all in our head and our imagined fears hold us back far more than we know.  Did anybody stop to look, or laugh, or point out that I'd gone wrong once or twice? No.  They just carried on walking, and I carried on playing and I was very pleased with myself that I did.  (And yes, I have pretty much lived in those cut-off jeans and trainers all summer!)

Other than that, it's been a summer of gentle relaxation.  I can't tell you how lovely it has been to be able to get up later (and often not that much later) and not have to rush around, reminding small daughter that yes, it is a weekday and therefore we do have to get to school, or looking for things that need taking into school or college today and should have been put ready the day before but of course weren't.  To be able to sit on the front step in the early morning sunshine and catch up with a few rounds of sock knitting.  To smell the flowers and take time to realise what lovely people my girls are growing into.  I've felt calm and it's been wonderful.  

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Yarndale Sock Line Update

Back in July when I first mentioned the Yarndale Sock Line, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. We all have so many demands on our time and our resources that it's not always easy to fit in some extra knitting and I did worry just a little bit that I might have started something that wasn't going to be practical.  After all, there's quite a difference between knitting small charity contributions and a pair of socks!

I shouldn't have worried at all.  If there is one that I should know by now, it's that the crafting community is a very generous community which appreciates that knitting something for someone else brings joy to both the knitter and the receiver - and to the person organising the charity sock knit - me!

Thank you so much to everyone who has let me know that they are knitting socks for the Yarndale Sock Line.  I'm so very grateful that you want to get involved, and although anyone posting socks will be sending them to Skipton and I haven't seen them yet (it'll be like Christmas when I get there in September!), I can share with you some of the photos that I've seen of socks that will be gracing the Yarndale Sock Line at this year's Yarndale festival.  They have been knitted by ladies all over the world - England, Scotland, Wales, France, Australia - and these are just the ones I'm showing you here!

First up ... socks in progress.  Long socks, short socks, children's socks, 4ply socks, 6ply (DK) socks ... socks knitted in cafes and at home.  In fact, socks knitted anywhere, just as you would knit a pair for yourself - but this time the socks will be bringing a smile to a stranger's face.

I've noticed there's a bit of a stripe theme going on, and I love that!

I've had quite a few suggestions now of places that would welcome pairs of socks for the people that they work with, and I'm going to be contacting them all - even if only one pair of socks is gifted to somewhere then it's a pair of socks that someone wouldn't have had otherwise.  It's not too late to let me know if you have any ideas so do get in touch!

These are finished pairs, waiting for their gift labels.  You can find the information on what to write on the labels here - nothing fancy, just a simple message from the knitter to the receiver. 

These pairs are all various sizes and patterns - there's no rule for how to knit the socks (although if you're a beginner you might want to have a look at the Sockalong tutorials to get you started).

Look, there's even a pair of baby socks!

These are the socks all ready to be hung up on the Yarndale Sock Line.  I've got a vision of a washing line with pairs of socks pegged up and gently swaying in the Yarndale breeze.  These socks are going to look fabulous up there!

Don't forget that if you live abroad and want to join in, you don't have to post your socks to England, you can gift your socks to someone locally and send me a picture so that I can peg the picture up on the Line.  This is what's happened with this pair of socks - the knitter has already gifted them to a retirement home for elderly ladies in France and I know that there will be a French lady there with a smile on her face at having these beauties on her feet.

It's not too late to join in if you'd like to knit a pair of socks.  You can find all the details of how to get involved in this post and I'm going to be collecting the socks on 8 September when I go up to Skipton to see Lucy and the other ladies at the Coopers Knit n Natter - ooh, I have missed going there over the summer holidays!  I had never realised just what a boost to your wellbeing knitting and nattering is and I'd recommend to anybody that they got involved with their local group if they can.  

You can also bring your Yarndale socks to Black Sheep Wools on 5 or 16 September if you're coming along to say hello which will save the postage (note that I have said nothing at all about spending the money on yarn or cake instead!), and of course you can bring them with you if you're coming to Yarndale on 26 and 27 September.

You'll be wondering where my pair of socks are.  It's no good organising a charity sock knit without putting my own pair up there!  Well, they're here!  I've got enough yarn left to make a smaller pair too, so I'll be casting those on later on today.  The yarn is Superba Circus 4ply shade 001 in case you're interested, and it knits up very nicely so I may well take note of the hints that small daughter has been dropping and make a pair for her in the same yarn.

I can't tell you how delighted I am to be able to show you these pictures, and to know that you're going to be able to see them for yourself if you're coming up to Yarndale, and especially that afterwards they'll be going to a good home.  

I will be photographing all of the socks that are knitted for the Sock Line so will be able to show them all off to you in September in case you're not able to make it to Yarndale, and I'll also be able to let you know later in the year where the socks have been gifted to as well.

Thank you to Alison, Angie, Beryl, Catherine, Corinne, Ella, Helen, Jacquie, Joy, June, Karen, Leigh, Marion, "Murphy" and Tina for letting me share the pictures of your beautiful socks - and thank you to you too, if you've sent pairs that I haven't seen yet!

It's an exciting project!

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Winwick Mum on tour

A very short tour, but I've always wanted to write that! J

We've been talking recently in the Winwick Mum Sockalong Facebook groups about meeting up in real life as well as being part of a virtual group on the internet.  There have been a couple of new knit n natter groups formed already - one in the Isle of Wight and one in Australia - which is just wonderful, and I've got some details here of some other meet up dates in case you'd like to come along and meet some other Sockalongers yourself.

On Saturday 5 September 2015, I will be at Black Sheep Wools in Culcheth, near Warrington, for a book signing session (ooh, get me!) from 11am until 1pm.  I'll have copies of my Super Socks book for you to buy and of course you can stock up on supplies at Black Sheep.  If you've already bought a copy of the book and would like me to sign it for you, then do bring it along and I'll be more than happy to do that.  If you've got socks to show off, then bring those along too - I always love to see socks!  I'm also happy to answer questions about starting socks or if you're stuck, so bring your current sock along too!

This is an old photo of Black Sheep Craft Barn - I really must take a new one!

Black Sheep Wools is situated just outside Culcheth village centre.  It's quite easy to reach from the M6 and the M62 motorways if you're coming from further afield - you can find directions here. It's got a lovely cafe and is bright and spacious with lots and lots of yarn to squish.  You can read more about what's at Black Sheep here.  If you're visiting with family who might not want to spend as much time at the Craft Barn as you do, then a quick trip into Culcheth might be the answer.  There are shops, cafes and a play park there which can all be more of a distraction for small people than displays of yarn!

I'll be back at Black Sheep Wools on Wednesday 16 September 2015 from 11am until 1pm for a Sock Clinic.  Bring your current sock along with you - even if you're not stuck it's an ideal opportunity to meet other Sockalongers and sit and knit for a while at Black Sheep.  I'm sure they'll be very happy to have their Craft Barn full of sock knitters for the morning!

Finally - and very excitingly - I'm going to be at the Yarndale festival in Skipton on Saturday 26 September and Sunday 27 September 2015.  Lucy has very kindly said that we can use the Yarndale Knit n Natter Lounge for a Sock Clinic and Social so it's another great opportunity to come along and show off your socks and ask questions if you need to.  Lucy has booked us in from 12pm until 2pm on both days so whether you're or a morning or afternoon visitor to Yarndale, you should get a chance to come and say hello.

Don't forget about the Yarndale Sock Line if you'd like to make a pair of charity socks - thank you to everyone who has already started on their socks, I'm hoping we're going to have a very colourful display!  I've finished my pair which I'll be able to show to you very soon and I'll also update you on how it's all going.

It'll be lovely to see you if you can make any of the dates - and I'll look forward to seeing lots of socks!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Picnic tea

One of our favourite types of dinner is what small daughter calls "picnic tea".  I suppose it's a buffet, a help-yourself dinner, but small daughter has always thought of it as a picnic, something to be enjoyed inside or outdoors as the weather permits.

Tonight, we were outdoors.  Picnic teas usually follow the same format - baby jacket potatoes (snapped here as they were being passed around the table - "Do you have to photograph these now?  We're hungry!"), salad leaves from the garden - today it was rocket and three types of cut-and-come-again lettuce varieties, and a very small cucumber which we shared - and then whatever else takes our fancy or happens to be in the fridge.  

For this meal, we had a small pizza and opened up a new wedge of Brie cheese.  Mmmm, I love Brie!  We don't worry too much about the presentation, carrying packets and bottles out to the garden rather than putting everything out onto serving dishes.  After all, you don't want to be too formal at a picnic, do you?

Have you got a favourite family meal?

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Beside the seaside

It's been lovely looking at all the seaside photos in Blogland recently, especially as we hadn't planned to have a holiday this year after our big adventure last year, but it had got to the point where we were in need of a break.

Unfortunately, having left it to the last minute, we were a bit short of options for places to go that would take the dog as well, but then, magically, a holiday offer popped into my husband's email inbox that was just perfect for us - a dog-friendly caravan park not far from Abergele in North Wales.  So last Friday, we packed up our car with our clothes and our dog and we headed out to Wales for the weekend.   

It's a part of Wales that we're very familiar with; we often choose to go to Colwyn Bay, Rhos-on-Sea or Conwy for a day out as they are within easy reach and provide a good opportunity for our dog to dance in the waves as dogs like to do.  Small daughter was terribly excited at the thought of staying in a caravan.  She's always liked the idea of it but this is the first time we've actually booked one for a holiday.

My job is always to be the navigator - and it gives me an opportunity to knit as well, something that I've not had as much time for recently as I usually have.  This is my second Yarndale Sock Line sock so the pair is nearly finished.  (I'm hoping to have an update for you on how the donations are going very soon!)

The weather forecast wasn't fantastic for the weekend, but we don't dissolve in the rain so it was just a case of making sure we had our waterproofs packed.  All of my childhood holidays were spent in Wales on the Lleyn Peninsula and I can distinctly remember paddling in the sea in my wellies one year because of the weather!

After travelling on the coast road for a while, we headed inland towards the caravan park.  We haven't driven inland in this part of Wales before as we've always made a beeline for the shore - and this was our view from our destination.  I love the lush green-ness of it all.  There was a farm at the bottom of the hill so we were surrounded by sheep and cows, too - and yet still only ten minutes from one of our favourite parts of the beach.  

There was time to quickly explore the site and let the dog stretch his legs, and then we were off in search of fish and chip sustenance.  We arrived in Rhos-on-Sea just as all the day visitors were leaving.  Usually that's us, but today we got to stay behind and watch as the beach became empty and the evening began to settle in. 

We ate our fish and chips on a bench overlooking the sea, overlooked ourselves by a seagull which made regular noisy updates to it's friends wheeling overhead but didn't try to pinch our chips.  The seagulls are becoming a big problem at many seaside towns now, large greedy birds which think nothing of aggressively swooping in to steal your food.  Perhaps the seagull was too wary of our dog who had his eye on our leftovers for himself - although even he was disappointed as they were very good fish and chips and we polished off the lot.  It's surprising what an effect the sea air has on your appetite!

After that, it was up to Colwyn Bay and Porth Eirias to walk off our dinner.  The sun peeped out from behind the clouds ...

and we had fun trying out all of these unusual benches!

Big daughter and I particularly liked the "M" shaped one that you can see in the picture above (I've no idea who the child is, but she didn't want to move so she's in my photo!); it was quite strange but surprisingly comfortable sitting with your feet up in the air!

We seemed to spend a lot of time eating over the weekend ... lunch at a lovely cafe in Rhos where my husband tried out a goats cheese, rocket and elderflower baguette ...

and big daughter and I both chose turkey, Brie and cranberry baguettes.  I really like this trend for tiny milk bottles in cafes at the moment, it reminds me of being at school although I seem to remember the bottles being bigger - or perhaps I was just smaller!

It's not always easy to find somewhere dog-friendly to eat, especially if it's raining, but the cafe had a sheltered outdoor table and we were quite happy to sit and enjoy our lunch in the fresh air.  Just around the corner and down the road is a lovely Welsh craft and gift shop - I couldn't resist this fused glass angel, and even though I later discovered that she comes from Ireland and not Wales, she still reminds me of the hills where were stayed. 

We managed to find a dog-friendly pub in Conwy the next day and enjoyed huge home made burgers before walking past the medieval walls and through the town towards the beach.

I love the way that the town is built right up against the walls so that the old and the new are blended together.

The castle walls are still pretty much complete and give an imposing feel as you drive across the bridge into the town.

On our last evening, we visited Llandudno.  One of the highlights for small daughter when we're at the seaside is to visit the amusement arcade where she's allowed to have a little bit of money to spend on the slot machines.  We avoid all of the one armed bandits and other games with their flashing lights and tinny music, choosing instead this type of game where you have to time the drop of your penny onto the sliding bar in the hope that it will push coins off the edge and into the tray below.  Whilst we never come out of the arcade any richer than we went in (and never expect to do so!), it always passes a happy half hour or so.

Considering that we were in a seaside town at the height of the summer season, Llandudno is remarkably unpolluted by lights at night.  It was also surprisingly warm and we were happy to sit in the semi-darkness listening to the waves on the pebbly shore for quite a while.

We left our caravan early the next morning, the car packed and the dog safely on his bed in the boot, and headed back to our favourite promenade cafe in Colwyn Bay for breakfast.  I told you we did a lot of eating!  Perhaps it seemed that we ate more because we ate out so much which is always a holiday as far as I'm concerned - it doesn't matter where I am, if I'm not cooking then I'm on holiday!  We sat out in the salty morning air with big mugs of tea and coffee and fried egg sandwiches ...

before heading onto the dog-friendly part of the beach for the last time.  The dog was in his element, in and out of the sea and rocketing off across the sand to greet other dogs.  He even managed not to drink his body weight in sea water for which we were very grateful, given the usual unfortunate consequences!

He wasn't the only one who was enjoying himself on the sand.  The girls were having fun too, walking on the ridges the sea had left and collecting shells.  

Finally, it was time to climb the steps back up to the promenade and head for home.  The beach was still pretty much deserted, although by the time we drove away we started to see more people arriving.

We took the coast road back through Rhyl and Prestatyn.  I like the signs that are in both English and Welsh.  In fact, I like the Welsh language very much; I think it's very musical and there's something about it that always appeals to me.  I can remember the lady who owned the guest house where we stayed every year when I was small teaching me phrases like "it's raining cats and dogs" which I would then proudly repeat to my parents over and over again.  I even learnt Welsh at night school for two years just before small daughter was born but I could never find anybody that I could practise speaking to and now it's mostly forgotten until we go back to Wales and then I remember random words which I am unable to string together in any kind of coherent sentence.  I don't think I could even ask for an ice cream these days.  Maybe one day I'll give it another go.

It wasn't a long holiday but it was time away and sometimes that's just what you need.  We have really felt the benefit this week of a change of air and scenery, and not doing very much at all over the weekend apart from what we wanted to do.  Long may it last!