Monday 31 December 2007

Literary Review 2007

I really don't like the way the colour supplements at this time of year cop out with a review of the year, a year in pictures, this year A to Z etc. These articles are obviously written well in advance, I read one on Benazzir Bhuto that made no mention of her recent and shocking assassination though it was published several days after. I appreciate that journalists are entitled to their holidays too but I do resent paying full price for half a newspaper and an annual review.
Having said that, I now offer a review of my own fiction reading this year.
I used to think I didn't read enough so I started recording each book as I finished it and was surprised and pleased to find that I read at least 24 books a year. I won't bore you with the full list but some of my favourite and regular authors are Anne Tyler, Helen Dunmore, Rose Tremain and Margaret Atwood. I keep the list in my diary and rate the books with a system of ticks. The voting this year had my top three as follows
1 We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. A beautifully written, harrowing and haunting story that I read in January and is still with me
2 The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
3 The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
Some books are so good I cannot part with them (usually paperbacks go to friends or charity shops), these three are still in the bookcase with some favourites from previous years that I may or may not read again but I need to own.
I'm already into my first 2008 book which is Mother, Missing by Joyce Carol Oates. She is an American author I have read and enjoyed several times and this book is no exception. I'm also delving in and out of The Gentle Art of Domesticity by my blogging/crafting heroine Jane Brocket, who never fails to inspire me to craft and tidy up.
We are all taking it easy today, reading, knitting and dozing in front of the stove, its heaven and good preparation for 2008, my retirement year.

Saturday 29 December 2007

Christmas boxes

Good Christmas for us all, the day was calm, food delicious and present great. I had knitted Mr FF a pair of 4ply plain grey socks with wool I bought in a sale. I didn't stitch the ends in at the toe just in case they weren't big enough, they were, but once he tried them on Cleo decided the trailing wool was one of her best Christmas presents

She managed to capture both ends at once, one in her paw one in her mouth. Her original family who used to live next door to us were home briefly from Kuwait and came round for dinner last night. Cleo was a bit nonchalant about seeing them again but they were delighted to see how well she is looking and confirmed that she is 17 years old. Still catching rabbits, mice and wool, what a good girl.

Mr FF did well with his shopping and found me some lovely Patons angora/wool mix beautifully packed in tissue paper in cardboard boxes, 9 balls of pale lemon and 10 of lavender.

The balls are tiny, only 10 grams each but I'm sure there's enough for something nice, interesting lacy socks or a pretty scarf, if I can ever bring myself to empty the boxes. Such an elegant way to buy wool and though the now discontinued yarn isn't that old it makes me feel like a lady from Cranford, I'll be knitting by candlelight next.

Monday 24 December 2007

Has he been yet?

Happy Christmas from me
Happy Christmas from Clee

Friday 21 December 2007

Cath at Christmas

It was our admin team awayday morning and office Christmas lunch yesterday, but thats enough about that. We had the usual £5 secret santa after lunch and this year I was lucky enough to be selected by a person of great taste and sensitivity. Here is my giftCath Kidston tissues, Cath Kidston lip salve and pink knitting needles. I don't think the needles are Cath Kidston, but they could easily be if Cath sold such things and they match the colour scheme pefectly. The whole gift made me very happy and I can guess who it was from, the only person at the lunch wearing a Cath Kidston dress - thank you Amy.
Fortunately I drew Joanne, my faithful reader, as my recipient and since the clues she had given were green and size 5 feet, I got my needles in action and made her these

Just one more Christmas gift to knit, Mr FF is out this evening so I shall get down to some serious work. Meantime I'm doing my domestic duties and adding bit of festivity to the house. No need to do much as the scene outside is so beautiful, bright sunshine and everything covered in white frost, I can almost hear those sleighbells.

Sunday 16 December 2007

Feeling Smug/Feeling Humbug

Ho ho ho. All the presents for family and friends in Yorkshire are wrapped and ready to go. Mr FF is travelling down south tomorrow on business and will visit my cousins and brother dropping off various packages just like Santa but in a corporate Vauxhall Vectra. Its nice to know all that is done, now just need to concentrate on us. We have a rule that neither spends more than £5 to produce a Christmas stocking for the other (gifts to exclude food or drink, here we don't impose a limit and purchase festive fayre together). Quite a challenge, involving trips to second hand/charity shops and plenty of imagination, but its always fun on Christmas morning opening a bottle of fizzy and the quirky presents.

We are not great ones for decking the halls, but we have put white lights outside on the Korean pine at the front of the house, the tree is well covered by blue/black cones again this year and looks really welcoming. I've also put the wreath up beside the front door so to the outside world at least we look festive. On the inside all you can hear is bah humbug!And now even after that brilliant Argentine tango the lovely Gethin is out of Strictly, I am devastated, I'm not voting any more.

Friday 14 December 2007

There's music too

No you're not in the wrong place, this is my new look blog. I've been admiring other sites where the photographs seem to stand out much better and after a bit of searching I've come up with this new template which I've adapted slightly. I'm really pleased with it and also with the fact I've managed to download some music. Mr FF is constantly amazed that a woman who cannot change a plug has found out how to do all these technical things. Its all on a need to know basis, just like my life. I can work out how to turn a heel or adapt a knitting pattern because I want to but I'm not interested enough to find out about complicated spreadsheets or source the latest piece of technology.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - behold my new site.

Sunday 9 December 2007

Strictly Shepherds Pie

Pam and Andrew came round on Saturday night for supper, to see our holiday photographs and to watch Strictly Come Dancing. There is nothing nicer than watching Strictly with a girl friend having firstly sworn the boys to silence apart from relevant questions or comments. A good rant about the dancing, frocks, judges etc makes for a perfect evening. I made a shepherds pie so I didn't have the leave the viewing and we could launch into it as soon as the programme finished.

I love Strictly and I love those who love it too. I email people I work with, clients and suppliers, about the results, chat to my colleagues and even had a discussion in the hairdressers the other week. I fantasise about being one the the professional dancers, though I can't decide if I'd be Flavia or Lilia. As Falvia I'd be able to brush up my (lapsed intermediate level) Italian with the gorgeous Vincent and he'd lead and lift me through smouldering tangos. Admittedly I'd need to lose a bit of weight but obviously I would. If I were Lilia I'd be married to the adorable Darren and I'd have partnered my favourite ever Strictly competitor Darren Gough, and again got thrown around a bit during the fabulous Night to Remember routine (are you noticing a theme here?). The year Darren won we had been invited out to dinner on final nights and our friends Roger and Christine kindly arranged the meal to suit the programme timings even though they weren't fans. This was in the days when the result were announced later the same evening, we took puddings and coffee in front to the telly and all cheered when Darren won. I'm not so fond of waiting a day to know the results, but it does mean we see more of the wonderful professional dancers.

And who do I want to win this year? GETHIN. Alesha is the obvious favourite but I feel she had such an advantage coming from a musical background and some of those celebrity boys have made such progress. Kenny Logan admitted he couldn't even clap to the beat when he started and look at the improvement he made. I had to watch the lift from Dirty Dancing several times (OK I'll stop this now). Whoever wins it will have been a fabulous series as ever and made a retiring woman very happy. Come January I shall be bereft.

Friday 7 December 2007

Timing is everything

I carried out a review of the Christmas bulbs today, its a fine art having them flower just when you want them. The white hyacinths look fine, perfect poised. I cannot take the credit for this as they were a lovely birthday gift from Helen, but I have kept them cool in the conservatory for the last few weeks to hold them back. The first bud on my amaryllis is just about to burst open but no colour is showing yet and there is another bud to follow so I'm fairly confident of a good display around 25.12. Its just the paperwhites that are causing concern. They've been living in the greenhouse and have just romped away, already one is in flower. It would be logical to bring them into the house now and enjoy their fabulous perfume but I keep hoping the others will hold off a big longer. Paperwhites, paperwaits would have been better.

Sunday 2 December 2007

Making Progress

I am starting to feel bit calmer about the knitting for Christmas lark and also about the gift wrapping, which I've decided to do a bit at a time rather than the usual last minute frenzy of paper, sellotape, labels and awkward shapes. I just finished these fingerless gloves which I can show you as they are a gift for my Aunt Dolly, who is 95 and certainly doesn't read my blog. She lives in the village in Yorkshire where we were both born, she never married and still lives on her own in a cottage beside the Church. There is a marvelous caring spirit in the village and all the elderly folk who live alone, and there are a few, have a telephone network whereby each morning one person phones the next and so on in order till everyone has been phoned. If by any chance there is no reply or someone is not well friends or family are alerted.

Dolly isn't really my aunt, she is a friend of the family who has had this honourary title for two generations. She was when her eyesight was better a great crafter, knitting. crochet and embroidery, and has been an inspiration to me. There are several beautiful tapestry kneelers in the Church that Dolly made for the Queen's silver jubilee, I used one at my niece's wedding this year. When I first tried to crochet about 30 years ago I showed Dolly my efforts and she presented me with a full set of hooks in a case that she said she had been keeping for that moment. I am embarrassed to say that I never really progressed beyond the basics, though I did make a rather ugly blanket that I still have There is still time to improve and one day I really would like to learn more. I hope she likes these gloves, based on a pattern in Last-Minute Knitted Gifts (how appropriate) by Joelle Hoverson and I hope she has a wonderful Christmas which I know she will be spending with either family, genuine or self appointed.

Wednesday 28 November 2007

Not just knitting

I am making progress with my Christmas knitting list but obviously I can't show you anything in case its for you! I have been brushing up on another skill though, mosaic. My friend Rose on the Isle of Wight (where as we know time stands still) has kindly sent me kits from Helen Mosaics and because the latest one has such Christmasy colours I thought I'd better get it made. I glued down the mosaics on Sunday and grouted the tile on Monday evening while Mr FF was at his Italian class. I also regrouted the corner of the tile I made earlier. I entered this in the 'coaster' category at our village show last year. I won second prize, 30p if I remember correctly, but unfortunately someone must have dropped the tile because the corner grout had broken off when I went to collect it.

All fixed now. Its quite relaxing sticking and grouting, do you think I'm ready to tackle a garden table next?

Friday 23 November 2007

Under the weather

Its been a dull old week weather and activity wise. I have given myself a huge list of items to knit for Christmas and am making precious little progress. Last Sunday Mr FF went off walking and I decided to stay at home because I thought it was going to rain all day, of course it didn't and he had a glorious walk. I also planned to make good progress inside and outside the house, but none of this happened and I spent the day in displacement activity. All this week the weather has been dire, driving to and from work in the dark, generally in heavy rain, has been depressing though I do try to get out of the office at lunchtime for a boost of daylight. I am trying desperately to hold that Palm Springs sunshine in my mind but I think the prospect of another month before we reach the shortest day and start moving in the right direction isn't helping.

Then this morning I woke to blue skies and sunlight. Wonderful. The garden was beautifully frosted and as you can see the birdbath was frozen solid. We go through a period of winter here where the sun never touches either our front drive or the back patio, the whole area can become a land of permafrost but as long as the days are bright and the sun is on the hills its manageable. So today I've been to my yoga class, I've done the washing and the sheets are stiff as board on the line, I've cleaned the house, I've made parsnip soup for the freezer and even done a few rounds of knitting. All I need is a little sunlight, I must be solar powered.

Friday 16 November 2007

Make a Wish

As I type the Christmas cake is slowly baking in the oven and whilst I am still not adjusted time or temperature wise to being back home (it was snowing when I drove home from work on Monday), it makes me happy to know that tonight when the cake has cooked about 4 hours I can pack it away into a cool dark place and let it mature until 25 December.
And that's all I need to do because I don't ice the cake, we both prefer our Christmas cake eaten with a piece of Wensleydale cheese in the proper Yorkshire way. We do usually make a wish whilst stirring the mixture but today Mr FF was out and I forgot, hope its not too late to add one now.

Saturday 10 November 2007

Born in the USA

Three socks in three weeks, its not good I know but it was very hot in California. I couldn't make the blue socks into a matching pair as the long repeat would have wasted so much wool I probably wouldn't have had enough. Anyway I like them as they are. I was able to knit on the journey to Los Angeles but coming back was a night flight, everyone put their lights out and I was sleepy too so no knitting on the way home. At least I established that you can take knitting needles on British Airways without any hassle at all.

I am finding it so hard to get back into any sort of routine, still a bit jet lagged, I slept until around 11 am on Friday and find myself wide awake in the middle of the night. However I did motivate myself to get out into the garden today. Its looking pretty sad, but I've swept up leaves and cut back some old herbaceous material. I generally leave the dead foliage and seed heads standing to provide food for the birds and some protection for new growth, however I make an exception with the back garden as I can't spend from now until Easter looking out of the kitchen window at brown stalks and slimey old leaves. The tomatoes in the greenhouse are finished and all the summer pots have been moved back indoors. Not a happy time so I'll cheer you up with a photo of my Native American painted tile, which Mr FF chose especially to match our kitchen worktops and as you can see it does.

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Jet Lagged but Happy

We arrived home at 8.30 last night but I was into work this morning for a belated birthday celebration and to receive a lovely Laura Ashley cake stand, a delicious lemon cake and a handmade card - Joanne you are no knitter but you do have some special skills. Thanks girlies, you made coming back tolerable and it was lovely to see you all again after 3 weeks.
I'm unpacked but otherwise too exhausted to do anything, I'll update in a few days assuming I'm back to normal then.
It was a fabulous holiday, I'm told I look well and relaxed and apart from the jet lag and a few extra pounds that made my trousers rather uncomfortable on the flight home, I feel great.

Thursday 1 November 2007

La La Birthday to Me

Today I am 59 and what better place to celebrate than back in the heat of Palm Springs. Mr FF had managed to purchase a few native American gifts for me, some nice jewellery and a lovely painted tile and tonight after we've been down to the village night market, he's planning to cook me a steak on the BBQ.
Our epic 4 day 4 state journey (California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona) ended at 10 pm last night when we got back from Grand Canyon to our condo. We visited Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, Zion National Park and Grand Canyon north and south rims and in between saw some amazing scenery and crazy sights. Our hotel in Vegas, The Bellagio, was mind blowing, our room had a floor to ceiling window looking out onto the strip and the 8 acre water park with dancing fountains, luckily the curtains operated from the bedside so we could block out all the neon when we tired of looking. We are glad we visited Vegas but its not something we would want to do again - ever. If you are not gambling it seems you are walking round watching other people do so, there seems to be no way of getting away from the machines and the tables, even the bar tops and the dining tables offer gaming opportunities.
It was nice to get away into the quiet little towns and talk to local people one of whom directed us to Zion National Park, it was fantastic and great to be able to see the autumn colours and get up close to the rock formations. Grand Canyon was beyond words and though we couldn't stay at the north rim as planned as it was closed for winter (winter with 60 degrees), we did stay in the park at the south rim and took our morning coffee out to the rim to watch the sun coming up. So much to see but now we are going to take it easy, though maybe go to the Joshua Tree which we have visited before but not for very long. I'm having a wonderful birthday.

Saturday 27 October 2007

USA Today

We leave Palm Springs tomorrow, after a glorious week, to travel to Las Vegas where we are booked into The Bellagio for one night of decadence. We have mixed feelings about Vegas but are prepared to take a look and Mr FF is looking forward to the all you can eat buffet. Then we hope to go on to Grand Canyon and return to Palm Springs for our last few days and my birthday. Are you getting the message we love Palm Springs, life is so easy, the weather is perfect and we have been much lazier than we expected, but in a nice way. We did manage a very long day trip down to Mexico, crossing over at Mexicali we wanted to return via the central border post but this was closed because of the fires and we had to drive right over to the coast at Tijuana to get back into the States. We were shocked by the huge contrasts between the USA and Mexico, though we had expected the poverty it was much worse than we'd imagined. We drive over a stunning mountain road carved out of the rock but were stopped en route at a military checkpoint, complete with tanks, machine guns and young soldiers who tried to question us while we waved our UK passports and they eventually let us through and we have no idea what they were looking for.
The knitting isn't making much progress and what I do is generally in the air conditioned car, its far too hot otherwise. I shall be off line for a while now I expect and hopefully not pushing all my money into the Vegas slot machines. Now I need to search out some bling so they'll let me into that hotel.

Tuesday 23 October 2007

How Lucky am I

I'm sitting in the public library at Palm Springs with half an hours free internet. We arrived here Friday and on Saturday managed to meet an English bloke who introduced us to a friend who had a property for rent. We got a real bargain and are now staying a week at Ocotillo Lodge, a small complex of condos, as we call them, in central Palm Springs with a great pool, 2 hot tubs and beautiful grounds. We are told that Frank Sinatra has played the piano in the lounge, that the Kennedys and the Rolling Stones have stayed at our resort, but I bet everyone gets told that kind of thing, we are in the playground of the stars. We have a neat place with our own private patio, where Mr FF is serving bacon eggs and hash browns around 8 am every morning. The weather is fab, blue skies all the way. We've paid Rich, our landlord up till next Saturday but he says we can stay on if we wish, really tempting, though we'd like to get to Grand Canyon if we can. Unfortunately a lot of the walking trails are closed around Palm Springs because of the dreadful fires in Southern California, we watched on tv this morning the properties at Malibu being engulfed in flames and shuddered to think we were there a few days ago.
Yesterday we took a walk round the local area and noticed a House Open so we went for a look. We were shown round a wonderful home with pool and resident cat and having got the property bug proceeded to view a condo and then some new desert homes costing around $2 million, I was surprised they let us in. I promise we shall not be purchasing property here, but a little fantasising is good, we are on holiday after all, and loving it.

Friday 19 October 2007

Friday USA

I am sneaking an update in the Pasadena Apple shop.  Its hot here, been to Rodeo Drive, The Getty Museum, Malibu.  May go to Palm Springs next who knows.  Got the latest Interweave magazine.

Tuesday 16 October 2007

All my bags are packed

well maybe not quite but the important things are ready to go

and the other stuff is laid out on the spare bed, though I do keep adding another t shirt or six. We fly to Heathrow Wednesday morning and on to LA that afternoon. I'll try to get on line while we are away, 3 week is a long time without news, but if not I promise I will be knitting, reading, chilling, searching out yarn shops and seriously thinking about my life. I'm calling this trip a fact finding mission, I shall be 59 when I come back, I feel I need to wear more purple.

Friday 12 October 2007

The autumn leaves

I am certainly not a winter person so autumn is not the best season for me, give me the anticipation of spring anyday. It was only when someone rang the doorbell the other morning and greeted me with the news that the view from my front door is amazing that I took a proper look. I did actually open my eyes and see how beautiful the view is at the moment, sometimes you just don't see the wood for the trees. The colourful plants at the front of this photo are in my garden, I can't lay claim to the woodland behind but I can borrow it to complete the landscape. So as my herbaceous garden gently fades away I've been planting for spring. Pots of Cheerfulness and Paperwhite narcissus to bring into the house as they flower and lots and lots of tulips both in pots and in the garden. Queen of the Night are my favourite tulips, I love both their inky colour and their exotic name. I planted up three large terracotta pots to stand at the front door next year and discovered during the week that the squirrels had been digging up crunchy snacks. I've moved the pots into the cold frame, doubtless the little tree rats with their inbuilt bulb finding radar will start digging in the garden next.
If I'm not out in the garden tomorrow I shall be starting to put together a capsule wardrobe for my holiday (I wish) and Sunday we are off walking in Perthshire. Enjoy your weekend.

Saturday 6 October 2007


I've started the pure alpaca I bought last week hoping to make a pair of comforting slouchy socks for myself. I used the standard Opal 60 stitches pattern and added a bit of faux cable but they seem to have knitted up quite small, should have done a swatch and realised the cable would tighten the knitting. I can get my foot into them with a bit of wriggling and maybe they will loosen up. I'll finish the first one tonight while I watch the welcome return of Strictly Come Dancing.

The yarn is incredibly soft but quite easy to split and knits a little uneven. Are you getting the impression I'm not 100% about it, well maybe I am a bit disappointed considering the cost. I do have other yarn that is 30% alpaca 70% merino so this could be a better option for me and some small footed person will get these for Christmas, which will mean that at least I have made a start on knitting Christmas presents.

Monday 1 October 2007

Happy Birthday Amy

It was Amy's birthday yesterday but we celebrated at work today. Joanna made a delicious chocolate cake topped with Maltesers and we'd bought Amy a hand painted mug from Hannah McAndrew. I offered her a choice of socks but she couldn't decide which she preferred so in a moment of generosity I gave her both, which will in fact make 3 pairs in total because she can always wear them this way (and have an identical set spare).

I only finished the ones on the right last night and discovered when grafting the toe that I'd made a mistake in the final shaping. I need to pull the last bit out tonight and reknit, only perfection will do. We went down to the Lakes on Saturday and I was knitting in the car but forgot to take my stitch markers. I improvised with a piece of plastic I found in my bag, which didn't work so gave up on knitting, but one of the home made markers came out and I lost the plot.

On the way down we called in at The Alpaca Centre near Penrith and I bought myself 2 balls of pale blue pure alpaca to knit socks for ME - I really deserve them just now.

Friday 28 September 2007

When life gives you lemons

And it has been non-stop lemons since my last blog. There has been shock, sadness, anger, frustration, its been a difficult week in both my personal and work life. Mr FF cancelled his cycling trip to Ireland to be here for the funeral of a friend who died suddenly, which put many things into their correct perspective. I was glad to have him at home even if it set back my knitting schedule.

We had Pam and Andrew round for dinner and I made Limoncello syllabub with crushed Amaretti biscuits. Lovely Limoncello from Sorrento, which I'm told is the very best. Lemon puddings are my favourite, I know that makes me not a proper woman because I don't crave chocolate, but I much prefer a sharp lemon tart, lemon anything really. I have a beautiful reamer that was a gift from my friend Sarah in Australia many years ago. I laughed when I opened the parcel and first saw it and I still laugh every time I take it out to use it, which speaks volumes about my sense of humour, but at least I'm managing to maintain one.

Sunday 23 September 2007

Knitting Update

I've caught up with my various works in progress this week and finished a few items.
The cotton baby blanket looks very nice and only took 2 x 100g balls of 4 ply. 143 stitches and 12 rows to the pattern, it was a pleasure to knit something that didn't involve shaping or too much concentration.
The first pair of Opal Crazy socks, started in Italy, finished in Scotland, was presented to my friend Pam as a love gift (ie a no strings attached just because you're you) on Friday. Please note that I managed to get the start point of the wool correct for each one and produce a matching pair.
One Tidal Wave sock, knitted in the ebay Opal, is complete, the other is at the toe shaping stage so should be finished tonight. Then I need to start another pair of Crazy socks but I'm planning a lot of knitting and quiet nights in with Cleo later this week as Mr Flip Flops is off for an adventure with his bicycle.

Finally and sadly the little wool shop near my office, which was owned and run by a lady in her 80s, is closing down because of her ill health. It has been open intermittently this last week and selling off stock with a 25% reduction, causing big queues and an increase in my own stash. The shop was always piled high with packs of yarn, sometimes it spilt out into the doorway, but amazingly the lady could quickly locate what you needed and was very knowledgeable and helpful. Everyone in the friendly queue spoke kindly of her and how much she will be missed, I'm sure we all wish her well.

Thursday 20 September 2007

Weather Report

I can't believe how cold it has been this week. Every evening after dinner we have lit the stove in our little tv room and Cleo has languished in front of it until she gets overheated. On Tuesday morning there was a layer of ice on the bird bath and plants in the herbaceous border were dusted with white frost. Its still September, I haven't finished with summer yet, I'm not ready to hang up my flip flops.

Monday 17 September 2007

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

I don't usually do spontaneity but last week at work was rubbish, our team reduced from 5 to 3 by holidays and sickness, so much work to do and all in the middle of an office move. I know my mood wasn't pretty and when I left the office Thursday we were all feeling quite down.
A few things have happened recently that reminded me life is short and friends and family are important, so Friday, after big hints from Amy, I decided that we 3 needed to get together out of the office and have some fun. Amy and Joanne were up for a meal and overnight at my house on Saturday, nothing fancy, not too much effort from me, just time together, some comfort food, wine, music and chat. Mr FF was the perfect host (he may have been showing off but we all appreciated his thoughtfulness and attention) slipping off to tidy the kitchen whilst we were chatting after dinner, cooking bacon and eggs for everyone when we finally got out of bed on Sunday morning. We went off to a local gallery Sunday afternoon and came home for tea and cake followed by afternoon television and knitting. Amy resurrected a project that had been on her conscience for a while, and started enjoying it again, I finished another sock and Joanne who doesn't knit (but has many other crafting skills) gave it a go and has started an attractive stripped teddy's scarf/tie for her bank manager boyfriend. Apparently she was still knitting on the bus back into town until she started to feel queasy.
I can't say our weekend has made work any better but hopefully we all feel a bit more positive about ourselves and each other - group hug anyone?

Wednesday 12 September 2007

Introducing Miss C

Apart from about 3 years when I was first married and living in a ghastly furnished flat in the centre of Stockton on Tees, we won’t be going into that, I have always had cats. I was brought up on a farm and there was always a family of mousers around, and yes I did dress them in my dolls clothes and yes they did let me and were quite happy to sleep in front of the kitchen range in little frocks. At the moment we have just one cat, Cleo, aka Clee Clee or Miss Cleethorpes, who is about 16 and very healthy and active, a bit too active in the middle of the night when she comes into our bedroom with gifts of mice.

She came to us 10 years ago from the house next door, the family were moving overseas and we offered to take her in rather than have her re-homed to a new area. She settled in really well, we had begun encouraging her into our garden before she joined us, to the disgust of the other two cats we had the time. Once she moved in here she did go home a few times and try to get in through her cat door, but the new family were aware that this might happen and since they had a dog it didn’t happen very often. After a few years her original family came back to Scotland and the children did suggest they might have Cleo back, their exact words were ‘we love Cleo can we have her back’ and my exact word was ‘no’. Just as well because they eventually moved overseas again, Cleo would have been so confused.

And she can be confused easily, sometimes she doesn’t know which way is up.

Saturday 8 September 2007

And in the morning when the sun comes up ..

he brings me coffee in my favourite cup, which at the moment is this one. Actually a pair of them came home with Mr Flip Flops after he'd been on a trip up north. They are hand painted in the Highlands, from Tain Pottery, and I'd been hankering after some for ages so they were a lovely surprise. They are used regularly at the weekends when we have time to get out the Bialetti stove top coffee maker, brew some good strong Italian coffee, froth some milk and enjoy a leisurely breakfast with the papers.

Weekdays the breakfast beverage is tea in a bone china mug and anytime we need an espresso we have these little sweeties.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Keep off the grass

Our garden here in Scotland is on a sloping site of approximately ¾ acre and situated 900 feet above sea level, so the growing season is very short. When we built this house we also made the garden, I wanted a big herbaceous border as close as possible to the house, not too much lawn, a secret part, a wild part, a vegetable part, a greenhouse and a sitting out area. As it was a new garden we decided not to introduce any chemicals and we have gardened organically for 16 years. We are now at the late summer blowsy stage with most plants a bit brown and crispy round the edges. The sweet peas are doing well, I’m picking bunches most days, the tomatoes (grown from Italian seed) are a bit small but tasty, the courgettes have lost their battle with the slugs (I forgot to put the beer traps out), broad beans are good, the sugar peas tough. Things got neglected when we were in Italy in June and again for 2 weeks in August, it’s the price you pay and I’m not struggling to take regain control.

I’ve recently been introduced to the joys of ornamental grasses, mostly by my friend Rose who is lucky enough to be retired and an avid seaside gardener. This is her lovely breezy front garden a stones throw from the beach.

I did for a long time think that her bronze grasses looked like dead grass, but I’ve been educated and after creating a smallish patch of grass garden for myself am considering making a bigger area. I’ve even grown some grasses from seed, don’t ask me yet to differentiate between my miscanthus and my stipa I’m not that advanced but I am pleased with what I’ve done so far and glad I’ve been converted.
I’m also finding a great place to keep all the best pebbles from my beach combing trips.

Friday 31 August 2007

On the Needles

I'm not a promiscuous knitter, I usually stick to one project and finish that before starting another. At present I'm busy with this baby blanket in a fanned feathered pattern from here. (Joanne please note I've learnt to do the clicky linky thing myself, doesn't mean I'll be any more IT literate at work though.) Thanks to Whiteworks for the free pattern, I'm really enjoying using it. The yarn is Patons 100% cotton 4 ply, I found 3 x 100g balls in a charity shop for about £2.50 and adjusted the needle size to give a good firm tension, the final dimensions are not that important.

However, I didn't want to drag the whole blanket out to Italy so allowed myself to start a pair of socks using Opal Crazy while I was away. I'm delighted with the way this wool knits, it really lives up to its name. It was so hot in Italy that knitting in the day time was not comfortable, quite often after lunch I'd go into the cool of the house and sit down to knit a few rows, I'd be hot and flustered before I'd finished a round. Evenings were better and I did manage to finish one sock. Haven't started the other yet, I'm now wondering whether to finish the blanket or start the second sock, see thats the trouble when you take on more than one thing.

I'm currently in discussion with British Airways about being able to take knitting needles on our transatlantic flight in October. I spoke to a very helpful woman at BA who firstly thought I couldn't and then thought I could. I downloaded some information from the Transportation Security Administration on permitted and prohibited items that lists knitting needles in the permitted category. I've decided to take some short double pointed wooden needles, plus some Opal, so hopefully I can knit socks there and back. I'll show them at check in and at security with my TSA information and hope for the best, at worst they'll take the needles away and I'll still have the wool, at best the flight will be a bit more enjoyable and productive.

Tuesday 28 August 2007

Birthday Beach Boy

Saturday 25 August 2007 Mr Flip Flops was 59 and we celebrated the event with a day at the seaside. We drove out to Aberlady on the East Lothian coast, where by some strange chance there is a lovely crafting shop, Sew in Stitches. I was able to get a good look round, a lot of inspiration and a couple of purchases, the cream one is silk the purple cashmere, knitted by a lady in the village and only £3.50 each.

We walked along the coastal path from Aberlady to Gullane Point, it was a gloriously sunny day with many of the little bays completely deserted. We are big fans of the wild Northumberland beaches and sometimes forget that we have a great coastline not too far from home. We were having such a good time we decided to walk on to North Berwick and arrived just in time to catch the bus back to Aberlady.

Two fish suppers, mushy peas (we are northerners) and a bottle of pop each, eaten sitting on a bench looking out to the bay. As I've said before we do like to make an effort.

Mr F F said it was a most relaxing day and next year he can do it all again with the benefit of a bus pass. He's going to have to come up with something good for my birthday in November, which apparently will take place in the USA.

Saturday 25 August 2007

Domestic Bliss

Domestic duties in Italy are no hardship. For me some of the most mundane tasks leave the happiest memories. You hang out the washing and almost before you've finished pegging it up its dry. I don't iron the sheets just put them straight back on the bed full of sunshine and mountain air.

Even mopping and sweeping are a pleasure and offer the chance to admire my toes. I think its important that my nail varnish matches my cleaning equipment.

Towards the end of our holiday our friends came out from Rome for lunch, a proper long lunch under the trees in the garden with a doze on the sun loungers afterwards. We'd mentioned on the phone that on the way to buy parts for the central heating system, we'd stopped in the local spa town and eaten Amarena ice cream. Franco explained that this is made from wild cherries and suggested we might find the syrup in the shops, though we didn't seem to find time to look. When he and his wife came to visit they brought us Amarena Fabbri, in the beautiful blue jar, a squeezy bottle of Amarena Tops and a bottle of Strega, all perfect for pouring onto ice cream, which is exactly what we did. Franco also recommends drowning ice cream in hot strong coffee so we did that with the second helping.

No more Italian blogs for a while but I will finish this one with the view from our bedroom window - stupendo

Wednesday 22 August 2007

Il Pranzo

Lunch is so important to the Italians, work stops, shops and businesses close for approximately three hours. I can understand that its a good idea for everything to cease during the heat of the day and start again in the cooler hours and I do appreciate the shops being open until at least 8 pm. I've never been against a long lunch followed by a little snooze, friends visiting us have often asked if they might lie down on the spare bed for a while and we have been known to take up the option when its been offered to us. However, we had a really bad experience when visiting our Italian bank to carry out some complicated bureaucracy that involved us visiting our regional council office, the bank, the council office, the bank again and finally back to the council office. We had got to the fourth stage (bank again) having driven for half a day from a holiday in Abruzzo. The transaction was fairly difficult as forms had to be completed, my husband had gone out to move the car and I was left to make progress. The manager of the bank then came over and told me they were closed, I explained that I had not quite finished at which point he explained that it was lunch time. I replied that I appreciated how urgent it was that they take lunch but it was also urgent that I complete my business as we had to go back to the council offices, they would be closed the next day and also were leaving Italy the that evening. He then explained that I was taking up their free time and took me firmly by the arm directing me to the door. Mr Flip Flops was standing outside, they had locked the doors and despite his pleas he wasn't being re-admitted. In the end after much arm waving and shouting, from me, they told me I would definitely have to come back later. I then asked for my paperwork back so I could re-present it again in the afternoon but I was told it had been cancelled because the transaction was not complete. I really lost my temper then and said I was not filling the forms in again. They eventually gave me back from the bin the then crumpled and crossed out pages and led me out of the door. We had to sit and wait until the bank opened again at 3.30 pm, arrived at the council offices too late to complete the work and had to give the papers to a friend to deliver for us the next day, he spent two hours waiting to be served and was eventually told the offices were closing. He too lost his temper but did eventually get dealt with.

However, we have taken up the lunch culture and despite working really hard we did take a proper Italian lunch break with good food and a snooze. Some days Mr Flip Flops even took a shower and changed into clean working clothes, we do like to make an effort. All our food was locally sourced, salami and prosciutto produced by the village butcher, regional cheeses, figs and olive oil from our garden. No wine though, not with all that work to do, just lemon tea and lashings of tap water.