Tuesday 30 December 2008

Into Perthshire

The festive season is passing well, we've open parcels, eaten lots, been out to friends, had friends round to us and I've really enjoyed and appreciated our home, decorated, cosy and comfortable.
This morning when I got up Mr FF had already packed Brie and cranberry chutney sandwiches and made a flask of coffee so we could go out for the day. We drove over the Forth bridge into Perthshire, which was looking beautiful, not as cold and frosty as it is here but slightly misty and mysterious.
We stopped off briefly at the House of Bruar near Blair Atholl, a retail shrine to all things expensive, Scottish cashmere, country clothing and luxury foods. No credit crunch there, the place was heaving and people were shopping, we just looked with wonder at the array of goodies.
Our picnic was taken at the side of Loch Rannoch as the sun tried to break through and the temperature stuck at zero.
The day was a reminder of what a beautiful part of the world we have on our doorstep, sometimes we forget just like we forget how much we love our home and how fortunate we are.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Christmas Eve

Wishing you a very happy Christmas

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Trimming Time

Our Christmas tree is still growing in the front garden, for the last few years we've been able to provide our own not always ideal specimen, good enough for the season and later for the stove. I got the box of decorations out at the weekend and had a good look through, its always nice to re-discover these once a year items and remember why I keep them. We start out with a tree decked in white baubles, silver beads and white lights that we think is quite sophisticated, then we add the important things.
The little bell our niece made us at nursery, she is in her mid twenties now.
The golden fish that I bought in Glasgow one year with Helen, in the happy times when we used to take a day off work for a girlie trip that involved more coffee, cakes and trying on of clothes than it did Christmas shopping. I hope she still has hers.
This pretty fold out card that came from friends in Taiwan, its 3 dimensional with cut out santas, I couldn't bear to throw it away and put it up every year.
And of course what would Christmas be without an armadillo. I bought this for Mr FF the year he'd been in South America and it still makes me smile.
So not exactly a designer tree, and as Christmas progresses we do tend to add more bits and pieces, ribbon from parcels, pretty tags etc, but we like it for the tradition and memories that we've created. I hope you tree holds as much magic for you.

Thursday 18 December 2008

A stitch too far?

I'm not sure if this isn't wrong. I bought a couple of balls of gold Rowan Shimmer in a charity shop with the intention of using it to tie up Christmas parcels but then I was looking through the latest Rowan magazine and found a pattern for knitted ribbon in exactly that yarn. Knitted ribbon does seem a bit beyond what I want to produce but I've done it now, at least of a couple of metres of it. I think, in my more festive moments, that I might drape it on the Christmas tree, if we ever get round to putting one up, we don't always, or on the mantle piece if I ever get round to putting up the holly swags, I did one year. My cold is a lot better now, apart from a hacking cough that prevents me sleeping so my activities are returning to normal. I still have to knit some of the little stockings for myself, no urgency there, and am not knitting any more Christmas gifts so I've started a pair of socks using the yarn I bought in France.
Its a silky soft combination of 39% wool 48% cotton and 13% polyamide. I'm really enjoying the spring like colours, the perfect antidote to my excess of festive nonsense. Knitted ribbon indeed.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Man flu/cold

Oh dear. Last week Mr FF had a cold, aka man flu, which meant whilst he was able to attend the various office lunches he is invited to at this time of year, he was unable to do much else and certainly not venture near the kitchen. He moaned a lot, constantly reported his symptoms to me and made spectacular noises, it was so bad he even put the central heating on. You will gather I wasn't that sympathetic.
Then at the weekend I started and this cold has been a killer. I felt really awful on Sunday but I'd planned to get the kitchen ceiling painted that day as Mr FF would be out with his walking group and he promised to bring me a fish supper so I didn't have to cook, just paint. I decided that since I already felt bad, a bit more bad wouldn't make much difference and at least the job would get done. I took my time and drunk lots of orange juice to keep my vitamin C levels up, promising myself a hot bath with lavender and tea tree oil when I finished. I did get the job done, it looks great and I'm so pleased its finished but my goodness I've been unwell since then. I had to take to my bed early Sunday evening and stayed there until Monday afternoon. I hardly slept Sunday and when Mr FF brought me tea in the morning, I sat up in bed to drink it, promptly fell asleep and poured the lot over me and the duvet. My joints are achy and I've been really weak, haven't felt like knitting or reading. Its always the way isn't it, you imagine some time in bed will be good but when you do get that time you are just too ill to enjoy it. And as for sympathy, not much around I'm just getting reminded that I was extremely rude about the man flu.

Thursday 11 December 2008

I'm doing it OK

Yes I do know what time of year it is, its bah humbug time again.

I've written the cards, they are ready to post

I've wrapped the parcels to go down to Yorkshire with Mr FF next week

I've knit and knit and knit - socks, gloves, cowls and I'm extremely pleased with the amount of yarn I've got through, its really tidied up the stash. I am still producing those little sock decorations that are nice pre-Christmas gifts, I've made and given 12 so far but I'd like some for me too. So just a bit more knitting, the kitchen ceiling to paint and the excitement of moving out of our kitchen for a few days. How festive.

Monday 8 December 2008

Quiet days

Things have certainly been quiet around here this last week, its been too cold and snowy to be outside in the garden and to be honest I haven't felt like doing much inside. Which is bad because we are having new kitchen worktops and sink fitted next week and we'll need to move everything out of the units but before that we want to paint the kitchen ceiling. I've got half of it washed down, its an awful job so to cheer myself up I got out one of my favourite tins.

I bought this in Italy a few years ago, complete with Christmas panatone and carried it home in the days when you could carry sizeable things on flights. Its fortunate for us that when we first bought our house in Lazio we were able to take out so many things in our hand luggage, several sets of crockery, cutlery, teapots and kettles, all wrapped up in bedding and towels for the house. We were also able to bring back bottles of our own lovely olive oil, now we chance a bottle or two in the suitcase, worth the risk and so far no disasters.

I've got my first panatone in the tin, I expect we shall get through several over the holidays. I love panatone with a good strong coffee for breakfast and having it in my international Christmas tin makes it even more special.
Thank you for all your kind thoughts since we lost Cleo, people have contacted us via the blog and directly, it does help and we really appreciate it. Later this afternoon we have been invited up to Peaches' house for mince pies and cat cuddling, I hope that will help get me back on track.

Tuesday 2 December 2008


We had Cleo put to sleep this morning and she is buried in the front garden wrapped in the white baby blanket that was round her when Jacquie and the twins brought her from next door to live with us all those years ago. Over the weekend she stopped eating, even fresh haddock, prawns and salmon wouldn't tempt her and she was surviving on water, cat milk and a little beaten egg. David our vet agreed that it was the kindest thing to do and her death was very peaceful, he was always so kind and gentle with her.
We miss her terribly, the house is so empty, but we are trying to remember all the happy times and all the naughty things she did, like bringing six mice into the house in quick succession and eating them all.
This is the cat dish we brought her back from Palm Springs last year, she liked it a lot, she was a beautiful cat, good girl Cleo.

Saturday 29 November 2008

Its beginning to look a lot like .........

What a crisp sunny morning, blue sky and freezing temperatures. I've had a walk round the garden crunching on fallen leaves and admired Jack Frost's work. Nothing for me to do outside today but plenty of knitting in front of the stove, new washing machine coming on Tuesday and Strictly tonight, I ask no more. Enjoy your weekend.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Time for a RANT

Well the washing machine was beyond repair so we need to find a new one and thats not so easy. It seems every shop or online site we've visited offers a slightly different model and there is so much choice but the worst thing of all is that the only machines available nowadays take in cold water only and proceed to heat it to the required temperature. I'm all for low temperature washes but I am totally against heating water in the machine when we already have a tank full of hot water. We are using our multi fuel stove 24/7, it keeps the core of the house warm, runs a radiator in the hall and heats the water, so much hot water that I've often in the past put a wash on or we've both taken baths to use some up and cool the tank. The machine that is now bust took in both hot and cold water and had a neat little programme for a short wash that used only the hot water available and didn't heat it up at all. We really are trying to be ecological here but it seems we are fighting big business that prefers the profit from reducing the amount of mechanism in a washing machine rather than thinking about the environment and the preference of customers.
Sometimes I wonder about the whole environmentally friendly business. We were waiting in Heathrow airport last year and sitting quite close to an area of rubbish bins, one for glass, one for newspapers and one for other rubbish. Passengers were carefully placing their waste in the correct bin and eventually along came a cleaner with a trolley and emptied each bin of sorted rubbish into one huge bin. I wrote to the airport authority when I got home and received a reply that they had experienced some training difficulties. Training difficulties, shouldn't the guy have had appropriate bins to decant into. Likewise our own recycle collection that takes plastic, paper, cardboard and tins in the same bin, does someone at the depot sort them out as they can't possibly be recycled together.
I know I'm no saint, I drive a car, I take flights but I do try to recycle, I garden organically, buy locally and don't use central heating, yet against my will I shall end up with a cold fill washing machine and wait hours for it to heat the water and clean our laundry. And I won't even mention our sonic toothbrush that has packed in and how we need to replace the whole charger or the whole handle but no one at the manufacturers can tell me which bit has failed. Luckily I still have a manual toothbrush and the strength to operate it, think of the saving both for my purse and the planet.

Sunday 23 November 2008

These are mine

I've been busy knitting Christmas presents but have taken time out to use the lovely alpaca that was a recent gift from Toronto to make things for myself.
These are based on a pattern in Vogue that is also available on the website, adapted from gauntlets to mittens by using smaller needles and more stitches, I suppose really I just used the aran bit and otherwise did my own thing.

Then I made this cowl using a simple six row pattern that I found on Ravelry. Its knitted as a rectangle and the beginning and end knitted together to form a cylinder. I wore it when we were out yesterday and I'm delighted, light and cosy it sets off a plain jumper or a coat nicely.
I got the whole set out of 100 g of yarn, with barely anything left over so I'm really pleased.
I'm not so pleased however to tell you that my washing machine broke down on Friday, leaving me with sheets and kingsize duvet cover that came out much dirtier than when they went in. Something rubbery seems to have broken and smeared itself all over the laundry, I've tried to hand wash them but its a horrible job especially when things won't dry on the line and drip too much to be dried inside. The nice man from Elsrickle, who fixes our telly, is coming tomorrow but he's not hopeful that it will be worth repairing. I hope it is, I'm really not in the mood to go looking for a new machine. I'm finding Christmas shopping difficult enough having traipsed round Edinburgh on Thursday and come back completely empty handed. Even the prospect of 20% off in Marks and Spencer didn't make the massive queues seem worth while, and though John Lewis and Debenhams tried to counter with selected reductions I still wasn't inspired. Back to the knitting I suppose, cowl anyone?

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Strictly not right

Pam just phoned me and Joanne just emailed me to let me know that John Sargeant has decided to pull out of Strictly. I know there are many other and much more important things happening in the world but just now I feel extremely disappointed. I agree that the judges were fair to mark John on his (limited) dancing ability but I disagree with their criticism of the voting public. I did think the judges employed a bit of counter psychology last week when they were quite kind to him so that the public wouldn't contradict them and John could go out on a high, but that didn't work. Strictly was never just a dancing competition, it's a Saturday night entertainment programme and obviously much of the public was entertained by and identified with John. Saying that he was taking the place of a better dancer was nonsense, eventually most of the better dancers will go with the possibility that next week they might have produced a stunning routine, we shall never know. Life's like that, it isn't fair. I've suddenly lost my enthusiasm for the whole programme, I feel John has been pressurised to leave and now the results are immaterial, the sparkle has gone and it all seems as fake as the tans they spray on each week.

Monday 17 November 2008

Switch and Bitch

Friday night was switch and bitch night at Pam's down in the village. Rules are simple, you take 6 of your cast offs, clothes, accessories, anything really, all of which get dumped in a pile in the middle of the room and stirred up. The appointed hostess selects an item, describes it in glowing terms detailing fibre content, size etc and anyone interested puts their hand up. If more than one person is interested, cards are cut, aces high, and the winner is declared. So eight of us spent the evening drinking fizz, laughing and swapping. The only difficult bit for me is when your cast off is held up and everyone enthuses about it, at this stage I think if everyone likes the article that much maybe I shouldn't let it go. Conversely if no one is interested I begin to wonder why I ever wore the blooming thing in the first place. Any unclaimed items are taken to the local charity shop, though of course you can take them home if you wish.
I did say before I went that whilst I was happy to take six items I really didn't want any more clothes so I'd just go for the laughs. I was quite restrained at first but I couldn't resist
a lovely pair of Ecco leather boots that are almost new, still in their box
a beautiful necklace that I'm told is organic, free range, fair trade and came from the Ethical Superstore (well worth a visit)
A pretty pair of silver earrings that I've been wearing round the house since I got them, a style breakthrough for a girl who hardly combs her hair let alone washes it on days at home. I also need to own up to taking a nice black t shirt with 3/4 sleeves, a dark blue linen jacket from Hobbs and - wait for it - a pair of white pedal pushers. I did say at the time that these were hardly suitable for a pensioner living in the Scottish Borders but the other girls egged me on and in many ways thats half the fun of a switch and bitch session, you come away with things you wouldn't normally consider and it costs you nothing. Such a worthwhile night that went on till the small hours and to be honest we didn't do any bitching at all.

Thursday 13 November 2008

The birthday goes on

I met those working girls in town last night for food, drink and chat. I hadn't seen them since before my sixtieth birthday and they had gifts and a beautiful handmade card for me. A box of little cupcakes that are actually lip glosses in cream, strawberry and chocolate flavours, a collection of Philosophy bath gels, in cafe au lait, eggnog latte and caramel mocha latte flavours and the most beautiful Emma Bridgewater teapot. Are you identifying a theme here, tea, coffee and cakes combined with girlie treats, perfect. Since I left work those girls have showered me with gifts and love, I do miss seeing them regularly though obviously not enough to wish I was back at work.
I did have little gifts for them too, early items for their Christmas trees. I am knitting lots at the moment but mostly presents so I can't really show anything.

Its 13 days now since my birthday, I think I'll just keep the cards up until the weekend and then maybe I need to start acting like a pensioner although I'm not exactly sure what that involves. Hopefully light domestic duties, crafting, trips out and treats as it seems to have done since well before 01 November.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Tres Francais

Our trip to the Dordogne was out first visit to rural France, we'd only ever been to Paris before, and the thing that surprised me was just how very French it was. Of course I had preconceived ideas, based mainly on books and films like Chocolat and Clochmerle, I even suggested that a little bar we spotted might have been where James Colburn was called to the phone by the resistance workers in The Great Escape. Our walks and country drives showed us so many beautiful and immaculate houses from magnificent chateaux to gorgeous little cottages. The Dordogne is obviously an extremely affluent area and in a different class to the part Lazio where we usually spend our holidays.Daglan, the village near our house, had a perfect square with the requisite charcuterie, pattiserie and a great restaurant, there was also a salon de the but unfortunately it had closed for the winter.
We were in deepest foie gras country, every other shop sold the yellow cans of pate and often with goose related souvenirs, tea towels, mugs etc. I did try foie gras once, the beef I ordered for my birthday meal came with a small medallion of pate on top. One tiny taste was enough, I am not a fan of the product or its production methods. This is the old goose market in Sarlat with its appropriate little bronze statues, now they would have made a nice souvenir.

Thursday 6 November 2008

Chez Nous

I need to tell you how much I loved our holiday rental house in France. I knew from the website that it was my kind of place but the reality was so much more. Basically it was an old country house and barn that had been cleverly linked by a new extension.

There was lot of outdoor space including a swimming pool that used a very energy efficient heat exchanger so even on cold days the temperature was fine.

The interiors were dreamy, lots of white, cream and beige that created an atmosphere of calm with beautiful furniture, rugs, cushions and throws.

The kitchen was quite small but worked so efficiently, huge SMEG cooker, dishwasher and lots of white crockery.
Glorious old wash stand in the bathroom, so useful for all my lotions and potions, with a copper bowl insert
Pretty accessories.

I was so happy in that house, it makes me want to downsize and start again. Of course I won't, living the holiday life for 11 days isn't the same as living a normal life and I won't part with the mix of items I've accumulated over 38 years of marriage, but I do have aspirations to live with less, lets call it natural wastage.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Home and Reunited

We arrived home from France on Sunday evening, sadly without our luggage which was causing me some concern as my knitting was in there. A pair of socks I completed during the holiday plus one half of another pair still on the needles and most importantly this sock wool I found in Lidl in Sarlat, a nice mix of wool and cotton with 15% polyamide. A pack of 4 x 50 g balls cost me 5 euro, I bought 3 packs which means I should be able to knit lots of chaussettes at around £2 a pair, tres bon.
Our return to Scotland without suitcases came about because we had selected a return route from Bordeaux to Orly then from Charles de Gaule to Edinburgh. We were told by Air France that our luggage would be transferred, this was not the case and we found ourselves having to wait for the cases, find the shuttle bus to take us to the other side of Paris and check in again at CdG, all within the space of two hours. When we arrived in Bordeux airport and were told we couldn't check our luggage through or indeed check onto the second flight we asked if we could be transferred to a direct flight to CdG, especially since customer services agreed that our travel arrangement was 'a bad thing'. All the flights were full and of course when we did get on the shuttle bus in Paris the traffic was a nightmare. I couldn't bear to look at my watch throughout the stop go journey and we were dropped off at the airport with about 5 minutes to check in. We pushed our way to the front of the queue and they opened a desk especially for us, we pushed to the front of the security check apologising as we went and then sprinted through departures as our names echoed round the building with an announcement that we were the last remaining passengers. We did get the flight but our cases didn't. Yesterday when we phoned to ask if they were on their way they seemed to be missing but eventually arrived around 8.30 last night, extremely dirty and somewhat battered but home. Phew, I am 60 now I really don't need this stress.
Being 60 in the Dordogne was good, we celebrated the day before by going out for a delicious meal, nothing would drag me away from Strictly on Saturday night and how delighted was I to find that we could receive UK tv in our house. 01 November was quite a chilly day that started with a nice array of goodies from the patisserie. In the afternoon Mr FF insisted on opening up the heated pool and we had a swim, I did suggest it might not be appropriate for a lady of my advanced years but the woodburning stove was ticking away in the lounge for our return to the cosy house. Yesterday it was lovely to come home to cards and parcels that are still arriving today and of course the much longed for bus pass was there too, a wonderful extended Scottish/French birthday.
I have lots to tell you about France, the beautiful house we stayed in and the places we went but today I'm enjoying being in my own home, checking round the autumn garden, unpacking my case and having my knitting beside me.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Pension plans

We are off to France tomorrow, staying in the Dordogne. We were supposed to be attending Mr FF's nephew's wedding with celebrations in a chateau over 3 days but sadly this was called off on Sunday as the bride's father is ill. Poor things must be devastated but we like many of the guests have paid for our flights and accommodation so we will still go. We have booked this lovely house and will stay on after the wedding date so that we can celebrate my 60 birthday there, not that the celebrations haven't already started. Cards have arrived and a parcel came this morning from Rose on the Isle of Wight that I am taking with me so I have something to open on 01 November.
I've been trying to sort out my pension arrangements which has just about reduced me to tears. I have various personal pensions that I've had to open as I've changed jobs, this is before the portable stakeholder system and the forms, options and greedy charges for moving my money are impossible. I don't actual want to draw any pension yet either state or personal, but if I try to move all my own money into one place it seems I forfeit 5%. I do wonder if its all been worth it, the projections made when I was in my early 30s haven't materialised, final bonuses no longer payable, no wonder I'm such a pessimist, my pension glass certainly is half empty.
Still I'm healthy and happy and on a brighter note, when I return my bus pass should be waiting for me, I completed my application last week. All set to travel and I've got somewhere to keep it too, such a good look for a pensioner don't you think.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Lunch n Vouchers

I've been such a lady who lunches this week, into town both Tuesday and today. The first delicious lunch was with ex colleagues who are both retired and lasted almost four hours leaving me full and sleepy, I need more practise. Today I met my friend Helen who I won't see again until after my 60 birthday, so an early celebration. A slightly lighter but equally enjoyable occasion during which Helen gave me two birthday presents, a bottle of Aveda body mist that smells gorgeous and really lifts the spirits (I love Aveda) and this voucher that she had made specially and entitles the bearer and spouse to a weekend in the house featured (gin and tonic on the deck included) and is not redeemable for cash.
Helen and her husband Malcolm are both architects, each with their own practice in Edinburgh, and have recently designed and completed for themselves this house on a remote sea loch on the west coast of Scotland. They use it regularly at weekends and for longer holidays with their three children, it featured recently in the Sunday Times. So Mr FF and I can have the place all to ourselves for a weekend, a wonderful generous gift, I can't wait to get there but it won't be just yet because we are off to the Dordogne next week for 11 days that will include my birthday. I feel really lucky to be able to flit off when I want and to take long lunches, as my retirement card from Helen said 'stuff work'.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Garden path

For the past umpteen years we have stored these block pavers in our garage, together with a variety of paving slab off cuts from the patio and assorted bricks from the house and garden walls. We used the blue blocks to pave the drive and because a couple of pallets were faulty and not suitable for vehicular traffic the manufacturers kindly replaced them and didn't take away the rejects that are fine for paths. Mr FF recently took possession of a new and already much loved car that doesn't quite fit in the garage, not of course that this has any relevance to him finally getting round to using up some of the left overs.This path leads from the front of the house, round the side of the garage to the back, it was covered in gravel that we have removed and used elsewhere and the blocks have been expertly laid as you can see. Luckily we had a weekend of great autumn weather and we worked long and hard.My job was to barrow just under 1,000 blocks, about a third of our stock, round from the garage placing them handily, checking for obvious faults and making sure that each was facing the correct way ready for use. I loved this work, Mr FF mentioned how surprised he was that I took such joy in demolishing the brick mountain. I think its the consumption of material, turning a basic ingredient into something useful and pleasing, not unlike knitting really. The results are obvious, the reward for hard work immediate and the exhaustion so satisfying. I can only wonder in the current climate if the executives who baffle us all with smoke and mirrors paying themselves huge bonuses for failure sleep so easily.

Saturday 11 October 2008

Treats from Toronto, Presents from Peaches

We're no longer responsible for Peaches, her family are home from Canada and called round the other morning to tell us about their trip. They also brought a couple of gifts from Peaches, a photograph and a jar of caramelised plums from those I picked and put in the fridge. Good, well behaved, polite cat.
There were also a couple of very nice presents from the trip, a beautiful tin of maple syrup, which we just love, and a 100 g skein of pure dehaired baby alpaca that is making me very happy. This is so soft and gorgeous, its as delicious as the syrup and the colour couldn't be better. I don't know yet what I shall make with it, maybe gloves or a cowl, actually I could happily just wear the skein round my neck. Karen and Sheilagh said that even though they are not knitters they had a wonderful time in the yarn shop. I checked on the web and it does look amazing with some beautiful patterns available as well as fabulous yarn, though there doesn't seem to be a mail order service.

We're delighted with the gifts and the thought that went into them. We really enjoyed spending time with Peaches and our evening strolls up to the cottage, nice people, nice cat, nice presents.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

Strictly so far

It makes me so happy that Strictly Come Dancing is back, close my engagement calendar until Christmas, I am not available during broadcasts of either SCD or Strictly Take Two. Having said that I was out both Saturday and Sunday last weekend, had to catch up when I got home which means I've had two very late nights and am still a touch grouchy today. I am so enjoying the boys, I love love that high kicking Austin and John Sargeant is adorable, like a proud dad dancing with his daughter on her wedding day. The standard is so high this year in every respect, the couples are well matched, beautiful routines, fabulous outfits, it is so exciting and there are many weeks to come.
Speaking to the working girlies last week they told me that the office Awayday - psycho speak for a day out of the office that involves meetings, presentations, activities and lasts from around 8 am to midnight with the expectation that you will catch up on missed work and not be exhausted next day - involved a high level assault course at a local climbing centre. They said everyone was terrified to the extent that several people couldn't even take part, how that is useful or motivational I fail to understand. Now if the directors had got Vincent and Flavia along to run a tango workshop that would have been different. Everyone could have trained with the gorgeous couple during the day and in the evening got fully costumed, fake tanned and made up for a dance off in front of an invited audience of key clients. That would have been team building, that would have had me begging for my job back.