Friday, 30 December 2011

And so the end is nigh.

We will certainly be glad when this year is over.

Although I always think it is a little sad to think like this, it is like rushing your life away. And I try not to do that.

We have been blessed with our family still intact, I am sure you all know how much that means to us. And I now know much more about the pancreas than I ever thought I would. There have been new and stronger bonds formed with all members of our family but especially our sons because of son no.2's trials and tribulations. It is not over yet, his liver is playing up, a fatty liver they call it, we all have fingers crossed that in the normal way of things he will slowly get better and not become the great performer that his mother is (me) on autoimmune diseases I have known and loved. Only time will tell.

Hubby and I have been having fun exploring London again this year with a lively programme already in place for the start of next year. There are three trips planned already with one culminating in a workshop at Loop which I am very much looking forward to.

My knitting is progressing well, I have knitted 2 cardigans and a waistcoat for myself, along with being in striking distance of finishing the cloak that kept me company whilst we were in hospital(s) with the boy. There have also been hats and scarfs and socks, lots of socks. I make the mistake of knitting a pair with love in my heart and then being badgered to knit more for the very lucky recipient. You would think I would learn wouldn't you. I also need to photograph lots of projects to show you what I have been knitting, the photography part of the equation of the blog has fallen by the way side.

I must get to grips with my City and Guilds on hand knitting as this was pushed to one side what with everything that went on. So I am going to have to organise myself a weekly/monthly calendar as to what I am doing.

The hand sewing group and patchwork was also pushed to one side, so I am looking forward to picking that up again.

What are my new year resolutions?

Firstly, I am going to start with a classic resolution - lose weight, exercise more. I have just had a pep talk from son no.2 as to why this usually fails and I realise I will have to put in quite a lot of effort to organise myself to make it a concrete part of my routine. I shall work on it.

Secondly, I am going to stash bust this year by finishing all projects that have been started or bought for (especially in the way of quilts). Within this I am not to purchase yarn/fabric unless in very small amounts as a memory aid to a wonderful day out, much in the way you might purchase a tea towel embossed with the subject you visited on a day trip. It is wonderful whilst rummaging through my stash to come across a pretty skein of sock yarn only to be reminded of a wonderful day out or holiday, often accompanied by hubby, the whole day comes flooding back. Or a purchase may be made if I need some extra fabric/yarn to finish a project.

There are two proviso's,

Firstly, babies wait for no one, so baby knitting is allowed and applauded. There can be nothing more delightful than knitting for a baby, it really is one of life's great joys, and certainly one to treasure.

And the other is that I should always be able to knit vanilla socks. Often the projects this year will be too large or complicated to take out and about with me. I find a sock is the perfect companion whilst chatting at knitting or waiting for appointments.

And another wish more than a resolution is to spend some quality time with our boys this year. It is so very easy for days to become weeks and then months with no real commitment to do this. Even if it is only to spend a Sunday having lunch once a month followed by a game of Monopoly. One can dream.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I wish you all a Happy New Year, and most of all to have fun with whatever you are doing.

love Mandy

Monday, 26 December 2011

Tatty Bye Fred.


Action shot of Fred our Piñata being decimated. I particularly like the lollypop frozen in mid air.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas

May I introduce,
'Fred' our snowman Piñata. You will have to excuse that fact that Fred doesn't have a pointy orange carrot for a nose, he has had to make do with half a tomato and a runner bean for his mouth, what with the price of coal these days.

He is packed full of goodies and is now ready for the day itself. Me - I am still in my jim jams... hubby has been doing battle this year with the marauding crowds, he has arrived home safely with turkey and all manner of goodies and has already opened the box of chocolate biscuits!

We are having a quiet Christmas, mainly because everybody received their Christmas presents ridiculously early this year, - the boys wanted theirs early and I couldn't say no and then I had the sewing machine, still we have a few small items to unwrap. We have games galore, the Monopoly and Trivial Pursuits has been dusted off. A new game of Connect Four has been purchased. I am the Queen of Connect Four so it will be fun to find out if those boys can beat me yet. The boys are arming the Wii with new games and if all else fails we have Happy Families and Poker to play.

After everything that we have been through this year I am just very grateful to be spending time with my family, we all realise just how lucky we are to have each other.

So, Happy Christmas to you all, I hope everyone has a wonderful day and finds time to relax and enjoy themselves doing what ever you love to do.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Lemon Curd

Two of the three White Star hens are still laying every day. We knew that this hybrid was a very good layer, with promises of 350 eggs per year per hen, but those examples are when there are ideal conditions, i.e. an extra source of light when the dark days come. Just to explain, it is said that a hen needs eight hours of good daylight to produce an egg and will simply go off lay when she isn't getting that, after all mother nature wouldn't want to produce baby chickens in the middle of winter. We are two days off the winter solstice and according to this web site The Weather Channel are receiving 7 hours and 42 minutes of daylight. This is the maximum which doesn't account for those very dark dreary days we so often see in the winter.

Anyway, my point is, normally we have been without eggs for quite a few weeks, you normally see the last of the eggs in November and they are definitely not producing come December. But we have two that are still laying every day, it is a real treat, but one I am not prepared for. Son no.2 doesn't appear to be eating eggs like he used to, which was 5 at a time! You never know we might have freshly laid eggs on our Christmas breakfast table, that would be wonderful.
But until that time, I needed to come up with a plan to use a few of the surplus bounty up and after buying a high end jar of lemon curd at Shugborough's Christmas Candlelight Evening. I was unable to save this jar of curd until Christmas and surreptitiously hid it at the back of the fridge, behind the mayonnaise and big jar of pickle and ate it mouthful by mouthful over a couple of weeks until there was non left! Even though the boys knew and would tease me that they were going to eat some, they left me to my little game.

Well I did feel a bit guilty about that and starting researching how to make lemon curd. I'd made a banana curd when I found a glut of banana's on a shelf in our local supermarket for 5p a pound and that was delicious, but had not attempted lemon curd. I have memories of a few of my home economic class mates making lemon curd one week and there seemed to be a very panicky feeling even with the use of double pans (bain maries) to prevent curdling that it had put me off trying to make it.

Well things must have moved on a little bit, because it seems that with the addition of a little cornflour in your recipe, it stabilises the eggs and it becomes simplicity to make.
One can see with the ingredients that you could never call lemon curd a health food! Seriously it only took twenty minutes to make this, even though we doubled the quantities. Hubby gave the jars a quick wash and sterilised them in the oven whilst I found new sealing rings and sterilised them. I grated the rind, cracked the eggs, beat the eggs, diced the unsalted butter, measured the cornflour, weighed the sugar, hubby squeezed the lemon's and then we added the lemon juice. Mixed it all together and put it on a medium heat, stirring all the time until it bubbled and let it simmer for a minute or two whilst we still continued to stir and that was it.
Potted it up into hot sterilised pots.
and it made 3 x 1.5 lb jars and a little extra.

This was a zesty lemon curd, next time I am going to try one without the zest to see what the difference is like. It is is very lemony and just a little bit sharp before the sweetness of the sugar and richness of the butter overtakes your mouth, make some yourself, it is so much better than the shops.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Degas

Last Saturday we headed into London again, this time to see Degas and the Ballet at The Royal Academy of Arts. I first came across Degas whilst looking around The Burrell Collection in Glasgow at the tender age of 22, he never left me. So when I realised that this exhibition was on and it was very near to ending I had to come and see some more of Degas works.
Seeing La Repetition again was like walking into a familiar home that has the warm smell of scones baking. This was the very work that grabbed my soul and kept it prisoner all those years ago, I have never escaped from the beauty of it. I am no great art critic, I am simply glad that art is in my life, if only in a very small way.
If you would like to have a peek at this exhibition and have iPhone, iPad or iPod touch there is an iTunes app which is very good, Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement Royal Academy of Arts, London. Cost £1.99

We stumbled out of here at about 12.30, we had taken three hours to view the exhibition and then ate our sandwiches and fed the pigeons our crumbs on these benches in the square. And then were ready for the fray!

I'd taken a couple of photo's of Fortnum and Mason just as we had arrived earlier,
as can be seen buy the hour on this timepiece.

Fortnum and Mason is so pretty at this time of year,
it sparkles,
and shimmers,
and glows.
After a little light shopping, (to be revealed later in this post) we headed out to Sloane Square, to see VV Rouleaux and there wonderful ribbons. I'd seen an idea for a velvet cushion made of ribbons which I had wanted to try out, but because of the festive time of the year some of the colours were not available to me, maybe next time. We then popped into Peter Jones and I bought a couple of balls of Lima by Rowan which is 84% baby alpaca, dreamily soft and very warm yet light, waiting to be knit into a new winter hat.
Next, Hubby negotiated the underground, I just make sure I don't lose sight of him as he zips along, fully confident on where to go, he quickly got me to Islington. We found Camden Passage very quickly and were met with such a pretty sight. We were that entranced by all this loveliness we nearly walked past our goal,
and when I turned around from admiring another shop to find this, well, it took my breath away. Loop has grown and grown in just the few short years that I have known it and often is the only purveyor in the UK of exquisite yarns from all over the world. I warn you, Not to have your credit card handy whilst looking through Loop's website.

As you can imagine, there were goodies galore, and it was great fun exploring, I bought something home as you might imagine. Well it was just calling to me, in colours that I adore and all of a sudden it was too late. I'd bent down to pick it up and by that time I was lost and gone.
Wollmeise Lacegarn in Gazpacho. It was Christmas and my colours all rolled into one. What was a girl to do.

And by that time we were hungry so we headed out to the Chinese Quarter. The previous week we had been unable to find our favourite restaurant so we did a little research on the net and found that they had closed down but that their Chefs had gone to, Feng Shui Inn so we headed straight there. On the way we saw quite a few Santa's who had had been enjoying their Flashmob in Trafalger square earlier, we had hoped to get their but spent too long enjoying the works of art.
We know these guys are great at sea food, so started with the seafood dim sums and a scallop apiece.
and then I settled into enjoying the best lobster I have ever eaten. I don't normally give accolades like this, you know I have had lobster straight off the boat and cooked it myself, I've had lobster in some very lovely restaurants, maybe it was the wine and the atmosphere, but this was gorgeous, lobster in a sweet and sticky chilli sauce. Hubby enjoyed his eel in black bean sauce before picking at my lobster. This restaurant was extremely busy, but they still did a good job on service, it has reviews that are up and down on the net, although some of the reviews are rather old. For us it is going to be our turn to restaurant until we deem otherwise, it was very, very, good. (and considering it was lobster in the centre of London, not that expensive)
All gone.
And we safely brought home our own little jewel. A beautiful hand blown cut crystal, decorated with gold, Christmas tree decoration from the hallowed halls of Fortnum and Mason. We shall treasure it always.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A completed Advent Calendar.

I finished the advent calendar that I was making, not without a major hiccup with my sewing machine which had to go in for a service mid sew. Which as it transpired was no bad thing because it gave me the opportunity to have a look at my dream sewing machine again, only to find that it was reduced by £500.00 for a very short period. Now I have been saving slowly for this machine because ever since I had a days free tuition on it, I have wanted it and the only way I could get around that was to start saving. With the discount I had saved nearly half, so after a little family conflab it was decided that all Christmas presents would be money from my boys and my parents and hubby and I could have my dream machine. How wonderful is that! So I am now the very, very proud owner of the Janome Horizon 7700QCP I never dreamed it would become a reality. Don't get me wrong I still love my 4900QC, she is a lovely machine, and will be great to take to workshops etc, but once you have played on a machine like the 7700QCP there is no going back, you can feel the quality at your fingertips. And I need to name her, so in the best family tradition I shall name her Betsy, which is a name my Father has used on all of his cars, most of which were old bangers. They have never let him down, (well apart from that one time where we were stranded on a motorway on the way to our seaside holiday, all seven of us!, 2 parents, 5 kids - thankfully I can barely remember it) And hopefully my Betsy will never let me down, although I suspect there will be tear inducing moments along the way and I will be able to call out "Come on Betsy, you can do it" in time honoured family tradition.
Although I have seen many photographs and pictures of stockings being hung from the mantel above the fire, to me, it gives me the willies, so I have hung mine well away over an antique mirror.
All this decorative stitching has given me plenty of scope to play with Betsy and what she is able to do. This stitch is meant to be a sitting pussy cat, I will still need to play with the stitch, but you get the idea.
and I think I have succeeded in making all the stockings different.
Of course I like this one the best.
I will leave you with the boy and his first glimpse of the stockings.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Mending socks the felting way.

I have been knitting socks out of hand dyed fairy yarn for just long enough to see the odd hole appear. These lovely yarns often don't have that little bit of nylon in to strengthen them so they tend to wear out if made into hard working socks, this is to be compensated by the lovely colours and yarns they come in and are a joy to work with. But you know that one day the sock hole death knell will ring and its time to make a decision as to what happens next.

I once tried to darn a pair of socks the old fashioned way - that post did not get onto the blog! I was a disaster, old fashioned darning is not for me.

I have tried re knitting it the clever way Carie does it, she has a wonderful tutorial on her blog Knitted Bear I was reasonably okay with it, but it was a fiddle (only because I am not as adept with the needles as she is) and I really think I could do with a master class from her just to go over the finer points.

When I came across a murmuring on Ravelry, just a few lines about felting holes in socks, that was all I needed to start thinking about the felted slippers that I made four years ago which are still going strong. "There might be something in this," I thought.

So I mooched around the Internet and finally after much thought and consideration ordered merino's 64s top 150g shade pack Autumn from Sara's Texture Crafts along with Felting Needles Gauge 38, a Felt Needle handle for 4 needles and 3" wide foam pad. When my package arrived I put it away waiting for the right time to be able to concentrate without the interruption of being asked what I was doing, its very distracting to be asked and I find it seems to worry them when I reply with "I have no idea!"

The time came this week when the boys and hubby toddled off to a local university to listen to an IET lecture. Yippee, I thought and set myself up for an adventurous half hour of felting.
Tools at the ready, I had cut an appropriate sock sized chunk of the large sponge that was sent. You can see how the Autumn colour way pack suits me and most of my choices with sock yarn.
Exhibit A, two holes in a sock made from Cherry Tree Hill Supersock Merino in Fall Foliage in March 2009, as part of my hysterectomy recovery programme. So, it has had two winters behind it, one of which was especially long and harsh. The other sock of the pair is fine and I remember coming across this hole after wearing them for a long day in walking boots. I realised then that hand dyed fairy yarn does not like hard wearing walking boots and are meant to be kept for more delicate occasions.

Stuff your foam into your sock to give you something to work against. You really need to give yourself as much as possible as the barbed ends of the needles are very sharp and will hurt you if your not careful.
Fortunately I had just been to a felting workshop and remembered that you are meant to layer up the felting with the fibres criss crossing each other. So if you were doing three layers you would lay them, ---, then III, then ---.
Just a few punches in with the felt needles, it is amazing just how quickly it changes.
The felt is starting to take shape, it really doesn't take very long, but you do need to spend a few minutes on it to get a dense and matted fabric.
I am pretty sure it has felted at this stage. I paid particular attention to the edges at the end of the process. If you continue to felt it will become denser and smaller, so it is a balance to felt enough to become a patch without it becoming a hard mass that may feel uncomfortable under your feet.

You then have to pull it off your sponge, it will come. I then used the felting needles on the inside to tidy it up a little. You can play around with it however you like really, its your felting after all.
Pictures in daylight, on the outside,
then on the inside,
and then on the outside again.
On the foot you can barely see it.
And you can see how smooth it is there, and it feels comfy too.

I'll let you know how it wears.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A busy weekend in December. (picture heavy)

About four weeks ago I happened across a documentary talking about Leonardo Da Vinci and his forthcoming exhibition at The National Gallery, London, I was mesmerised and called to hubby to ask him if he wanted to go, which he did. Just at that moment Son no.2 mooched into the living room so I asked him and was met with a very positive response, next I rang Son no.1 who was enjoying the high life in Sheffield with his friends who are at Uni there and could not get through on his phone. I quickly ordered three tickets, noting that Friday's were going very quickly, and Saturdays and Sundays were almost sold out! Son no.1 rang me back less than thirty minutes later and said he would like to go, I went back onto the net to book his ticket only to find that the slot we had booked had completely sold out the 38 spaces that were left so I managed to secure him a spot half an hour later. (fortunately they let us go in together)

A few weeks later hubby was very excited to find very cheap train tickets so we were all ready to go.
Settled on the train,
with boys giddy with excitement!

Soon we were in London and hubby negotiated the underground with his usual style, being born in Watford it holds no fears for him and he seems to automatically know which way to go. Very quickly we arrived at the National Gallery, ready for coffee and cakes.

Oh the choice.,
First this side of the buffet,
and then this side. And the savouries of fish pies and steak and stilton pies looked like they would keep you hale and hearty on a day out in London. I had heard that the National Gallery does good grub, I can confirm that it does. We ate our cakes in silence they were so good and then after an infusion of rocket fuel caffeine for the boys and a delicate infusion of caffeine laced breakfast tea for me, we were ready for the off.

The boys whizzed around the exhibition in just over an hour and then went to play in Trafalgar Square, we spent three hours on it. I think you grow into the arts, the boys may be a little young to really appreciate what they were seeing, although I think they enjoyed it. I loved it. To be able to see Leonardo Da Vinci's work up close and personal was wonderful, many of the paintings were without glass or being roped off. You could see every single mark of the brush, although you get an idea as to just how good his work is from the prints in books and on posters, to see the detail of the ear of the ermine for instance or the way the blush rises in the face of the young women and the clarity of the lens of the eyes, it is just spell binding. I had quite an emotional moment when I saw and studied at great length Christ as Salvator Mundi, Leonardo's newly discovered lost painting. It rocked me to the core and tears were flowing from my eyes, I was completely choked up. It gripped me with emotion, I'll never forget it. The drawings, of which there were many, held my gaze, it was most amusing to find Leonardo's humour mixed in with serious sketches of works in the making. Thankfully the audio guide does a wonderful job of enlightenment where we can all become experts of Leonardo's work with just a few clicks of a button - isn't technology wonderful.

Just as an aside, although the tickets for this exhibition were sold out weeks ago, they are releasing 500 tickets per day. It looks like they are doing this in stages during the day as the queue for these tickets seems to be permanent, but if you got there very early, it would be doable. Might be worth ringing to see exactly what they are doing.
The boys in Trafalgar Square,
and us.

We then decided to go to Hyde Park and see Winter Wonderland.
This event is huge and I am sure we would have been better placed to enjoy it if I wasn't dead on my feet, what with my left hip telling me in no uncertain terms that it wanted a rest.
I loved watching the ice skating
and this ghost train looked very scary to me. But as we were starving and tired it was time to head to Soho to the Chinese Quarter for supper.
One whole Crispy Peking Duck later and we are feeling more like our usual selves.
and then a very enjoyable main course to follow.
And then we were done, it was time to go home,
So we caught the tube to Euston and home we came.

I had plans for Saturday which had to be cancelled due to the hip but struggled forth on Sunday as I simply didn't want to miss Shugborough Christmas Candlelit Evening.

We arrived early and after a quick jaunt around the gifts and crafts marquee, we stood in line to enter the house. As we slowly trudged along I noticed the ground lights gave a magnificent silhouette puppet show against the house
with us as the main characters!
We had a fire eater for our entertainment whilst at the same time being able to hear carol singers and brass bands whilst we waited in line.
The dining room, looking very pretty in candlelight.
And the chandelier looked magnificent.
The laundry room looked very well kept,
and the washer woman was doing a wonderful job with her whites! Those bloomers would keep the breeze out.
When hubby saw the stove with irons he reminisced about a company he designed industrial laundry machines for having one of these in their lobby.
The Butlers pantry, having been called away whilst drinking the sherry!
Food being prepared in the kitchen,
Shugborough has a wonderful coach house with many coaches, this one is their State Coach which would be brought out on only the best of occasions.

We had a wonderful evening, but soon it was time to go.

Hopefully my hip will recover enough for next weekends adventures - stay tuned!