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Saturday, 29 April 2017

Monthly Musing - April 2017 - Wordless

Usually, the idea for the Monthly Musing comes to me some time during the month – something I’ve read or seen, perhaps triggered by a comment by my husband, a friend or one of my daughters, or sometimes just a random thought that will pop into my head whilst I’m walking the dog.  This month, the idea has remained stubbornly elusive.

I’ve watched the days move closer to towards the end of the month, seeming to get faster and faster as the new month approaches, and still no idea has appeared.  The pressure to produce something – anything – has intensified as the days have passed, not making it any easier as my (admittedly self-imposed) deadline approaches, but instead making it harder as I think of all the other things that are clamouring for my attention whilst I fruitlessly chase Monthly Musing ideas that seem to disappear like vapour on a sunny day as soon as I try to grasp them.

I know I am not alone in this situation.  How many times have we not been able to remember something, knowing that it will come to mind when the information is not needed any more?  Or racked our brains for a perfect gift only to know exactly what that is that we should have bought when we hand over something that we thought would be a good substitute for “perfect”?

In the end, with the last day of the month almost close enough to touch, I sat down and decide to write …. anything.  What’s the worst that could happen?  “Winwick Mum has no words for the Monthly Musing”.  I knew that would be unlikely as I am rarely short of words - ask my husband, who was searching the house for earplugs the other day.  I was about to be offended until he told me they were for a rock concert he was going to! – and sometimes, when we release ourselves from the pressure, the very act of giving ourselves permission to do so immediately changes the situation.  Having no idea has turned out to be the idea for this month’s Musing and instead of writing nothing, I am writing something.

It can be a scary thing to take your hands off the metaphorical steering wheel and see what happens (don’t try this in a car!).  Usually, I find that autopilot takes over and whilst I might not end up going in the direction I expected, the journey and the end destination are often better than I could have imagined.  It’s ironic that the times I need to do this most are the times when I find myself gripping that steering wheel most tightly and it’s quite an effort to let go.  We like to be in control, to have everything mapped out and to see exactly where our path will take us and for the most part that’s how we live our lives, and pretty successfully too.  Just once in a while, it’s fun to see where the road takes you and I must try to remember that.


Sunday, 23 April 2017

St George's Day

It's St George's Day here in England, the day of our patron saint.  When I was a small Brownie, I used to have to go to the St George's Day March for all the district Scout and Guide units which always seemed interminably boring to a small person who didn't like standing in line or walking in time with everyone else (some would say I've not changed!).  These days, it's not really celebrated much at all - certainly not like the parties of St Patrick's Day - although apparently there is a movement that wants it to become a national holiday.  I just think it's funny and not a little ironic that St George himself never actually set foot in England as he lived in Palestine so our patron saint is an immigrant whilst immigration is one of those things that is high on politicians' agendas ... anyway, this is neither the time nor the place for a political discussion - there's going to be enough of that over the coming weeks as the UK gears up for another general election and all I'm going to say on that is get out and vote.  I might even say it more than once.  Apply for a postal vote if you can't get to a polling station.  Apathy is not an excuse for anything.

So, on to happier things.  Small daughter goes back to school tomorrow.  Actually, I don't think she's too happy about that but I am.  Not because she's getting under my feet or getting on my nerves because she isn't, but because it means I'll be able to get my focus together for some exciting things that are coming up.  It's the Sockalong's second birthday on 3 May - I'm going to be having a giveaway here on the blog and I've got some lovely gifts from generous friends to pass on (I'll tell you more as the date gets closer!) and then it's Yarn Shop Day on 6 May and I'll be at Christine's Wool Shop (CityKnits) in Bourneville.  I'm also going to be posting about this year's Yarndale Sock Line which will be putting in an appearance at Yarndale again before the socks head off to warm some appreciative toes.  

On the subject of appreciative toes (mine this time!), I've cast on some new catnip socks now that the others have gone to their new home.  Honestly, I just can't leave this yarn alone!  I've used the last of the WYS Candyfloss yarn with Sherbet Fizz and I just love the way these colours go together.  They're definitely Easter eggs, or sweeties, or something that just makes me want to get them on my feet as soon as possible!  I've been asked more than a few times recently about changing colours in a sock too, so I'm going to write a post about that very soon.  


I've finished the first sock now and cast on the second so it won't be long before I'm happy-dancing in my new socks!


What about that dinky sock stitch marker?  That was a treat from Rachel at Demelza's Delights who's sent me some of her beautiful stitch markers for the Sockalong giveaway (I may have had to buy some of her stitch markers for myself too!).  

And on the subject of catnip, here's the real thing in the garden ... (did you see what I did there? J


Our cats are very pleased to see it sprouting again, I've noticed them having a good old chew on the leaves.  Luckily, there's enough of it for them not to eat it all!

Come on, let's go and take a quick look round the garden whilst you're here.  I love this time of year when everything's re-appearing and I spot something new nearly every day.  It's like greeting old friends and it makes me very happy.

Forget-me-not.  I couldn't forget this plant, it pops up everywhere!


Our Magnolia stellata (star magnolia) is still flowering.  I love magnolias, they're such beautiful flowers.  Our plant is quite small and I'm glad about that, but it still flowers prolifically every year.


I'm always surprised to see tulips as I'm always convinced that the squirrels have eaten all the bulbs.  These ones are closer to the house and I think that's what's saved them.


Oh, I just love the green flowers of this Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican hellebore)!  This plant has got bigger and bigger (unlike the Magnolia) and is now sprawling across the grass making it difficult to cut without damaging it the plant, but I've decided to just cut around it now.  I brought it from our last house and we've been in this one nearly 14 years now so it's doing pretty well!


Bluebells.  These ones are proper English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) but we do have some of the Spanish ones (Hyacinthoides hispanica) too which we inherited when we moved here. I did think about digging them all up at one point, but they're contained in the garden, they're not bothering the English bluebells (there is a problem in the wild as the Spanish variety will take over the space of the English ones, much as the grey squirrels have done to the red squirrels) and they're also very pretty, whatever their heritage, so I've decided to leave them.  


Next to the bluebells is the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus); the young leaves of this plant are just fabulous with their architectural points and soft grey fuzziness.  Once the flowers arrive the leaves go very straggly, as if the plant has put all it's effort into the flower and just can't be bothered with the leaves any more - I think it's a shame as the leaves are just as attractive as the flowers.


This is the chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) which doesn't look or smell like chocolate so I've no idea why it's called that.  It's a fabulous plant for screening and hides our compost bin nicely, although it does need some firm pruning or it goes a bit mad!


More leaves, this time of a fern.  I always think they look so prehistoric with the way they unroll, and indeed there is fossil evidence that ferns were part of the diet of many plant-eating dinosaurs. Don't you think it's amazing that a version of this plant was alive so many million years ago?


This is another one that makes me think of history - this is the flower bud of Centaurea montana - and I think it looks it looks like the medieval ladies' headwear called a Crispinette.


What do you think?

Source: http://www.kats-hats.co.uk/crispinette.shtml

We're nearly done in the garden now but there's just one more thing I want to show you.  Ta-dah! This is compost from our compost bin which is going to grow our veg for this year.  I love it when I can recycle something and you can't get more recycled than compost!  It doesn't look like the stuff you get in bags from the garden centre at the moment and it will need to go through the riddle (sieve) to get rid of the big lumps and that's going to be my job for this afternoon, but I'm super-happy that there's so much of it that I can use!


Pretty much one whole veg box full!  It's spurred me on to getting this year's compost started already now that the weather's warming up, so the same again next year will be very nice!


With the school and uni holidays nearly at an end, we took a trip out to the beach yesterday.   We haven't done much out-and-about-ing over these holidays; big daughter has a hefty assignment which is due in this week which she's had to work on, and small daughter has been happy playing with friends, having sleepovers and generally not having to think too much about anything (apart from the trip to buy school shoes the other day which is never a fun outing).  I've love love LOVED not having to do the school run for the last two weeks and although I'm ready for it again tomorrow, I'm also looking forward to the next set of school holidays in May!

Here's the beach we went to - we went to Wales, as we often do, but to a different beach; one that we've never been to before.  This one was at Talacre, a place that we've driven past often enough but never stopped at.  It's a funny place, pretty much one long road that goes all the way to the beach with a small village clustered around the end consisting of two holiday caravan parks, some small closes of bungalows, two amusement arcades, a couple of cafes and a cash'n'carry shop that sells just about anything you could ever want to buy.  It was pretty busy with holidaymakers at the caravan parks, but the beach stretched for miles and once you got past the beach car park area you could lose everybody else quite easily.  We didn't have time to go too far up the beach, but we did walk to the lighthouse.


The dog was desperate to get off his lead and run on the sand, and he did get to have a sploosh about in a small pool, but unfortunately for him there were too many people with picnics around and he can't be trusted not to snaffle sandwiches that don't belong to him so he had to stay on his lead.  We'll definitely go back another day, though, and make sure that we head in the other direction out of temptation's way!


The sun is still shining so I'm going to head out into the garden for a bit before I've got to start thinking about school uniform and the week ahead.  Have a lovely Sunday, whatever you're doing!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Easter weekend

Hello!  I hope you're having a lovely weekend.  We're taking the opportunity of the four-day Easter holiday to get a few jobs done but also to try to take time to have a rest and reflect on the whole idea of new beginnings which Easter celebrates.

Our grass definitely needs a new beginning.  Look at the state of this!  It was pretty mossy because it's not been draining very well and is surrounded by trees, and my plan was to kill off the moss and then rake it up before re-seeding with a white clover mixture to try to improve the grass.  The birds have been helping, ripping up the moss to get to the insects underneath, which should make life a bit easier but what a mess!  Definitely a number one job this weekend to make a start on getting this sorted out!


My Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) is flowering right on time.  These lovely white flowers are just outside our front door and it's always a joy to see them.  They seem to flower long after the other hellebores in the garden have faded too.


This is another Easter favourite in the garden - this is the blossom of our snowy mespilus (Amelanchier lamarckii) which is just beautiful at this time of year.  You can often spot these trees as landscaping features; their leaves are a bronze colour which stands out against the white, and they are also fabulous in the autumn when they turn a lovely red colour. 


The seedlings on the windowsill are doing well - they are getting taller by the day and are actually already considerably bigger than when I took this picture a couple of days ago.  I'll need to think about moving them off the windowsill into the greenhouse during the day as it's not been particularly cold just recently.  I'm looking forward to showing you how they're doing - a post for next week, I think - and I also need to get on and sow a few more seeds too now that the weather's warmed up.


On Thursday, small daughter and I stopped off at the farm shop to pick up some eggs and we were fascinated to see two blue ones in the tray.  We've never seen blue eggs before (although we have heard of green eggs and hamJ) and apparently these are laid by a white chicken.  I posted a picture of these eggs on Facebook and Instagram and have been told the chicken is possibly a Cotswold Legbar or an Araucana - perhaps I should have asked!  


You can see the two blue eggs in the picture above, but just in case you think it's the light or my camera that's making them that colour, look at this one ...



It really was a blue egg!  Small daughter had laid claim to it as soon as she saw it and wanted scrambled egg for her breakfast.  She said it tasted fabulous, although I think she was a bit disappointed that it was yellow inside!


I've finished the cat nip socks.  I'm always quite sorry to finish a pair of socks but this was two pairs in the same yarn and I wasn't fed up of it at all by the time I grafted the last set of toes.  These socks aren't for me (sadly), I'm going to be sending them on to their new owner this week and once I know they've arrived safely I'll tell you more about them.  In case you missed them in previous posts, the yarn is West Yorkshire Spinners in Candy Floss (that's the plain pink) and Pink Flamingo (that's the stripy one) and the pattern is one of mine, but I'll tell you more about that another day too.


I think they look really lovely with the contrast heels and toes - WYS have been very clever in that they have chosen to create solid colour yarns that tone with so many of their multi-coloured ones and pick out the matching colour to make the colourways look unique.


I felt quite bereft once I'd finished them, so I've cast on a pair for myself.  I've used Candy Floss for the cuff again and the main sock will be in Sherbet Fizz which has lovely pastel stripes that are very Spring-like and look just right for Easter.  


They remind me of Cadburys Mini Eggs which are definitely an Easter - or any time - favourite in our house!

Source: www.maverickbaking.com

So that's my weekend happily sorted.  Gardening, knitting, chocolate ... plenty of time to reflect on Easter new beginnings and then - oh joy of joys - another week next week without any school runs. I am one happy (Easter) bunny!

I hope you have a wonderful Easter too!


Friday, 7 April 2017

Squeezing it in

Small daughter breaks up for her school Easter holidays today.  I'm very much looking forward to two weeks without school runs, but I do find myself always doing the same thing just before a holiday - trying to squeeze in everything I need to do into the week before so that I'm not thinking about it whilst small daughter is around.  Sometimes it's just because everything can be slower (and often very expensive!) with a co-pilot around, especially any kind of shopping, and sometimes it's because I want to do things by myself or know that small daughter won't enjoy coming with me.  

I know she'd have enjoyed coming to Skipton with me yesterday, especially if Lucy's Little People had been around, but they were all at school as well so Lucy and I were able to enjoy our time together in peace.  Well, not much peace as we don't stop chatting (apart from when we're eating cake!) but there was no "Muuu-uumm"-ing going on in the background.



Oh look - is that a certain cat nip sock?  I think it might be!  That's something else I'm squeezing in this week - I want to get these socks finished as I know that once the holidays begin it will be easy to get distracted.  I'm on the home straight now so they shouldn't take much longer.  I'm already thinking of my next project ... the tutorial socks I'm working on need to be finished so that the tutorial is all ready for May but I keep looking at the yarn I bought at Edinburgh and I'm itching to cast some of that on too.  What a lovely decision to have to make!

Typically, as I drove over the borders from Cheshire to Lancashire to Yorkshire on my way to Skipton, the fields were full of sheep with gambolling lambs, but by the time I was able to pull over to take photos none of the sheep were feeling in the least bit photogenic and this is the best I could do.  All of the sheep are out of the shot, no doubt laughing at me, and you'll have to take my word for it that they really were there.  It's funny, but I see lambs now and I just think of how many woolly things their fleeces will create!


It's been lovely to see spring flowers appearing when I've been out and about this week.  All of a sudden, it's as if the earth has woken up and almost overnight the trees have changed from skeletal outlines to showing off a fuzz of green as they grow their new leaves.  


We've seen an abundance of wild flowers - these are wood anemones - closed up and waiting for the sunshine on one side of the path ...


Little white faces upturned on the other side ...


It fascinates me that plants will turn towards the light - I'm used to seeing it with my seedlings on the windowsill, but even in the garden the flowers will turn to follow the sun.  Sunny primroses ...


lesser celandines ...


and cowslips.  I don't remember seeing quite so many of these out last year, but it might just be that I have forgotten.  Time passes so quickly, sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago that spring was last here.  All of these flowers are yellow too, have you noticed?  I wondered why that might be and one suggestion that a Google search offered is that insects are attracted to white and yellow so these early flowers are just making the most of their short flowering time whilst the bees are waking up too.


I do love the soft, silky catkins (pussy willow) on the willow trees but I like them when they open out into these fuzzy bottle brushes too.  There's been so much to see just lately!


With the time passing so quickly, I need to tell you that Yarn Shop Day is hurtling towards us.  It's on Saturday 6 May this year and I'm going to be at Christine's Wool Shop in Bournville (the retail store belonging to CityKnits), so do come along and show off your socks or come and ask questions if you're stuck.  I'm going to be bringing copies of Super Socks and I'll also bring my needle samples so that if you're new to sock knitting, you can try out the different types of needles before you make a decision on which one to use.  I'll post more details a bit nearer the time, but for now, put the date on your calendar!



Finally, I've got some exciting news about Super Socks ... it's now available directly from me here through the blog.  Buying from Amazon doesn't suit everybody and until now, it's only been at Yarndale or from a few yarn shops that the book has been on sale, so I'm really pleased to be able to tell you that I am now able to provide signed copies (assuming you can read my scrawly writing J).  You can find them on the Super Socks page (click the link, or the picture below, or it's listed on the tab bar at the top of this page).   



We've got visitors coming for the weekend so I've got a few more things to squeeze in before they arrive - I hope you have a wonderful weekend and a fabulous break if you're also on school holidays from today! 


Friday, 31 March 2017

Friday morning

It's nearly the weekend!  Hooray!  I don't know how you've been this week, but I've really missed that hour that we lost last weekend when the clocks went forward.  How I've managed to make it through till Friday without being a serious danger to myself or anybody else is a bit of a mystery, but I'm grateful!

I've decided that the safest thing for me to do today is to stay indoors and knit.  I probably should stay right away from the computer as well, but as long as I don't do anything overly technical I think I'll be OK.

It's not technical at all to listen to a podcast, is it?  I'm super-excited and very proud to tell you that I'm sponsoring this week's episode of KnitBritish.  If you've never heard of KnitBritish, then let me tell you that it's the podcast and blog of Louise Scollay, who made the decision a few years ago that she would only knit with British yarns.  It's been fascinating to learn about yarns that I've never even thought about and it's made me realise just how many people there are in the country who have small flocks of rare and not so rare sheep, or know someone who has and have been able to help them use their fleeces for more than just insulation or even worse, save them from being burnt because the price of fleece is so low.   The podcast has also been really helpful to me in my search for no-nylon yarns as I've been able to follow links and leads to discover more about sheep breeds and which are most suitable for socks, so I was really delighted to get the opportunity to sponsor the episode as it feels as if I've been able to say "thank you".  

Click here to listen

Louise had ten "Woolly Mucker" sponsorship packages available to listeners and I was lucky enough to be one of those ten.  As part of the package, there was the opportunity to be a part of the episode and I have to tell you that I was really rather nervous when I sat down on Monday afternoon for a Skype conversation with Louise!  I'm much happier with the written word - I've got time to think about what I want to say and I can edit as much as I like before I hit the "publish" button - so although I knew what Louise was going to ask me, it still felt like a giant step into the unknown.  One of my concerns was that I can get a bit over-enthusiastic when I talk about socks and I also wave my hands around a lot when I talk (thank goodness this is an audio podcast and not video!), but Louise has made a fantastic job of editing my sock-obsessed ramblings and although I find it quite disconcerting and not a little uncomfortable to listen to my recorded voice, I am thrilled to have been part of the show.

Here's the West Yorkshire Spinners sock that I talk about as my current project - or at least, one of them.  I think that WYS have discovered the yarn equivalent of cat nip because I can't leave this yarn alone!  I've been knitting in the car ...


I've been knitting in the garden ...


And there are no surprises for spotting that I've moved on from Candy Floss (so last week, dahling!) and now I'm using Flamingo.  Oh those stripes!  Is there anything better than a self-striping sock yarn?  In shades of pink that make me want to eat ice cream every time I pick up the sock?  Not much, I have to say.  Everything else seems to have gone out of the window whilst I finish these socks and I know that I'm going to feel bereft once they're done ... until I cast on the next pair!

I've not been doing much gardening in the garden much this week but my plan is to spend time there this weekend.  There signs of life on the windowsill as not only my courgettes but my cucumber and climbing beans have started to grow - that really didn't take long at all considering that I only planted them last weekend.


My peas have also sprouted in record time and I'll be planting these up this weekend along with the sweet peas that I've also got chitting and are also sprouting.  I love this time of year when seeds come to life!


I don't have much more to tell you about what I've been up to this week - I've been concentrating on keeping myself in one piece, not losing the dog on our morning walks (spring smells make him super-giddy and I am the least of his concerns as hurtles off in pursuit of them) and knitting, of course.  It's actually not been a bad week at all.

We've had some glorious sunsets too.  That always makes you feel good.



Have a wonderful weekend, whatever you're doing, and stay safe! 


Thursday, 30 March 2017

Monthly Musing - March 2017 - Up to you

“I don’t want to go for a walk.  My boots hurt.  It’s too cold.  It’s too far.  Why can’t we just stay at home? …”

When we set out for a walk with the dog last weekend, small daughter didn’t want to go.  We’d decided to go to a forest about forty minutes’ drive away where the walking is excellent for a dog with a nose for interesting smells and small daughter grumbled all the way there.  Admittedly, a lot of the grumbling was done under her breath so that nobody could really hear her, but there was still a black cloud hovering over the back seat of the car.

That’s the frustrating thing about being part of a family, isn’t it?  As a child, you get taken to places that you might not choose to go to yourself, and as an adult, you bear the brunt of that child’s displeasure, which may or may not spoil your day out.  It’s part of our everyday lives to see wailing children in supermarkets, at beaches, outside schools - anywhere, in fact – and we’ve all studiously ignored the parents either berating or reasoning with those children, mindful that we’ve all been the child or the parent ourselves. 

Each family deals with these situations differently.  Our method has always been to offer a choice; none of us like to feel steam-rollered into decisions and being offered choices gives you the power to take the option that suits you best.  It’s always worked very well with our girls who have been (perhaps not surprisingly) strongly opinionated from being small.  We told them, “It’s entirely up to you, you can … or  …” so that they felt that they had some ownership in the decision they were making, even if the “or” choice was not one that they were ever going to choose.  (I still use this method: “It’s entirely up to you, you can tidy your bedroom or you can have a poke in the eye.”  Try it, it works!)  Small daughter’s choice was to stay in the car or to join us on the bench outside the café where we ate bacon rolls and drank tea in the sunshine before our walk.  I think you can guess which she picked!

It’s not always so easy when you’re an adult.  We don’t always like the options and often the choices don’t feel like much of a choice at all.  We can feel as powerless as children but unlike children, if we don’t like a situation we are able to look for an opportunity to change it.  We’re privileged to live in a society where we have more choices than many and sometimes the only choice required is simply whether we appreciate it or not.  Someone told me recently that in life I should “water the flowers, not the weeds”; in other words focus on what I have, not what I don’t have, and I think it’s a useful phrase to remember.

Of course, it’s entirely up to you …