Monday, December 31, 2007

31 December: Season of .... of the year and New Year Resolutions.

Calendar dates, much altered and generally mucked about historically, have always seemed rather arbitrary. Why not start the year with Christ's birthday? Or with the Winter Solstice? Why not start the year with spring instead of winter? January isn't really the start of anything - nowadays not even of the sales.

In my personal calendar, though, it's a year since I retired. The reality, naturally, did not match the expectation, but then, when did it ever? And this past year has been one of adjustment to the new circumstances.

Change is a constant, however, and so is adjustment, so really there's nothing new. Possibilities continue to arise and be considered, choices continue to be made. Decisions are best made when all conditions ripen; this doesn't neatly coincide with arbitrary dates.

The weather and the seasons have more influence when there is no employment competing for your concentration.

I turned over a new leaf when the leaves turned and fell from the trees, and feel no need for New Year resolutions.

Happy Irresolute New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

27 December: Return from foreign parts

Just because I wasn't here, don't think I missed Christmas (though I missed wishing you all a Merry Festive Season). There was plenty of Christmas Down South with the family we don't see all that often.

The journey is theoretically very simple - hop onto the A1 (M) and it's motorway or dual carriageway all the way to Surrey, apart from the last few miles; should take about 6 hours, including stops. It turned out to include detours to avoid miles of creeping traffic, and an interesting exploration of Surrey lanes in fog, and taking 8 hours, with only one very short stop.

Coming back home was very similar, but with marginally less traffic and no fog at all; this time an interesting detour into rural Lincolnshire was undertaken and a travel time of 7 hours was achieved.

In between we had a great time with most of DH's relatives, played lots of silly games, and ate enormous quantities of food. There were vast heaps of presents, plenty of Christmas music, a lovely walk round local lanes, lots of laughter, and even a festive dog, as shown in this very blurred picture -

Teddy is a Collie-Alsatian, with a skinny body and enormous feet, and he valiantly tackled mountains of leftovers to help with the clearing up.

DH usually forgets to pack a toothbrush, or socks, but this time the absent item was trousers. So on Christmas Eve we had to rush out to buy a pair of emergency trousers.

Tomorrow it's a confrontation with the scales and a return to the weight loss programme.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

19 December: Subtle or what?

The knitting has not been neglected recently. Oh, no. But Ravelry has thrown a spanner in the works. (For those who don't know, and probably also don't care, Ravelry is an online knitting and crochet community - sort of Facebook for yarn addicts.)

I wasn't at all sure that it was going to interest me, as the people using the site are largely from the USA, and using commercial yarns to knit other people's patterns. The USA thing means that I sometimes have trouble understanding what's being said - what exactly does "yaaaay - way to go!" mean? And there are slight differences in terminology, needle sizing and so on. But there are groups of British knitters, groups of spinners, groups devoted to different techniques - lace, entrelac, stranded knitting - fans of different TV programmes, even a group devoted to spinning yarn to knit socks with.

So hours can be frittered away, roaming round the discussion boards and individual pages, looking at what other people are knitting, and finding dozens and dozens of freely offered patterns for illustrated projects. Every time I log on, I find another item I'd like to make, or a pattern I'd like to use. It's just like being in a sweet shop. (Only of course, I don't actually eat sweets any more.) And it can easily take over the precious knitting and spinning time.

But I've been strong.

Here's a pair of recently completed socks -

A little bored with plain socks, I decided to insert a panel of gansey pattern up each side of the legs of these socks, made with yarn hand-dyed in blue and charcoal. The result is so subtle as to be almost un-noticeable.

Not so this stuff, spun yesterday -

It's the yellow and strong Barbie pink fibre dyed recently, spun with some white to tone it down. It's been spun with lots of twist, and plyed with lots of twist, and will become another pair of experimental socks. Perhaps.

Monday, December 17, 2007

17 December: Less means more

I am slightly peeved. I have just had to go and buy some new trousers, as there was only one winter pair left in my wardrobe that fits. And 8 pairs that don't.

Plan A was that after Christmas new clothes would be bought to suit the reduced waistline, possibly even snaffling a bargain or two in the sales (though I am not fond of elbowing through the crowds, on account of my dislike of people en masse).

However, Plan B had to be rapidly devised when it was discovered that everything warm that isn't track suit trousers or other old running kit actually has room for me and Trinny. If we were just going to be at home all over Christmas, it wouldn't matter, but we are going to be socialising. Yes, we are going to grit our teeth and interact with real people. How we shall cope with any mountains of food on offer remains to be seen. But now there are these new smaller sized trousers there is even more incentive not to eat too much.

And on that subject, it seems that Stephen Fry is a convert to our Eat Less weight loss plan. What a pity there's no way of getting a lucrative book or magazine deal out of it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

12 December: In the kitchen

Last week, Lucy over at Box Elder had some interesting photos of her cutlery and washing up, so here's some of mine -

Breakfast for the two of us, plus the mugs from the previous evening's drink.

And on the window-sill are two small Christmas cactuses (cacti?), the scraps from a huge old one that was discarded last year. It never flowered until Easter, anyway.

But the offcuts are doing what they are supposed to do, and plump pink buds are developing -

They should be proper flowers for Christmas.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

9 December: Walking in a winter woodland

Gone away were the blue birds, but there was some blue sky this morning. Not a breath of wind, perfect for a walk. Christmas trees were on sale at the visitor centre in Hamsterley Forest, but the car park was quiet. There were a few mountain bikers out on the trails, but not many walkers, apart from the usual few with dogs near the car park.

The stream was very full, brown with peat from the moors.

In sheltered places the snow of yesterday lingered.

The trees had been decorated already, by the melting frost.

In the fields the sheep were being fed. We hoped the gal on top would be able to get out of the container when all the hay had been eaten away from under her.

And although the beech seeds were gone from their cases, next year's buds are ready and waiting for the spring warmth and light.

Friday, December 07, 2007

7 December: Brighter

What a difference a bit of sunshine makes!

After the cloud and rain of the past few days, today the sky was blue and bright. Perhaps because the westerly gale had blown all the clouds to the North Sea, and there'll be some more rain coming later, but it's to be enjoyed while it's here. A bit of fresh air and wind in the hair and on the skin does wonders for physical and mental well-being.

I'd been to the shops and back before 10 o'clock, then there was another job to tackle - taking the cardboard to the tip, sorry, amenity point. There was a lot stacked up in the conservatory; not just in the box that we usually use, but a pile of boxes from the recent splurge of online Christmas shopping. It's amazing how little rubbish we put into the wheelie bin when the cardboard stuff has been separated out. Our local council collects glass, paper, and cans; we are happy to take cardboard to the recycling place ourselves, and would sort out and recycle plastic if there was somewhere locally to take it.

But I forgot to take the collection of plastic carrier bags to the supermarket with me (that's where they get recycled). Ever since my quilting days, when I made a series of shopping bags as quilt samples, there has been a bagful of cloth shopping bags in the kitchen cupboard. There is usually one with me when I go shopping, but it is difficult to stop shop assistants automatically giving you a bag. Some shops are now using paper bags, which is much preferable. But a few plastic bags creep in, and get stowed away in another container in the conservatory.

Other people have smart conservatories, with dining tables or sofas. We have an assortment of recycling containers, the exercise machine, garden chairs, several enormous plants, and a clothes horse (plus an interesting collection of spiders). It's not just a matter of junk accumulating to fill the space available (no, no), it's the otherwise inadequate storage provision in modern houses. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

3 December: The joys of Christmas shopping.

Aha! I thought, I'll be smart this year and do lots of my Christmas shopping online. No hassle fighting through the crowds, no queues for the car park, queues for the cafe, queues for the loos.

Off went the orders, back came some of the parcels.....

Then the phone call - "we'll get back to you" - no, they don't.

The e-mail - no response at all.

Guess I'll have to join the queue for the car park.


On the knitting front, I'm feeling pleased with myself, as I've probably just re-invented the wheel, so to speak.

Having knitted a sample for a technique I've never tried before, it occurred to me that working in a slightly different way would be much easier, so I drew myself a little sketch (OK, designed a shawl) and started to knit. This wasn't, of course, the project I was planning to do next, or indeed in the middle of another one, but I got carried away with my idea.

Now, if I investigate, I shall find that the world and his wife have been knitting this sort of thing for ages and ages; after all, there's very little in knitting that hasn't already been done by thousands of people all over the world centuries ago. But I still feel pleased that I can unvent some of these things for myself. And it demonstrates that beginner's mind still works, too.

Friday, November 30, 2007

30 November: More spinning

Some more of the fibre dyed last week is now yarn.

This is one of the two 125gm skeins spun from some of the brighter shades dyed last week. After trying several combinations of colours together, I decided on the violet, turquoise, jade, charcoal, and blue. I spun a bit from each colour in turn, so that the sequence was the same on each bobbin, but the amounts were slightly different. Then when plyed, the colours come together in different combinations.

Still on the woolly theme, I am now on Ravelry, as stitchwort.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

27 November: Samples

So I tried spinning oatmeal BFL with bits of some of the stuff I dyed the other day.

The pastel shades were combined with the oatmeal in 2 variations. First I spun a single thread of oatmeal with bits of apricot, sage and lavender at intervals, and plyed that with a single of oatmeal. It was a bit lumpy to begin with, till I got the hang of it. That is the small skein at the top of this photo -

The lower skein is a single spun from the colours alone, plyed with a single spun from the oatmeal alone.

Then I knitted them up. As the yarns came out at about 18 w.p.i., I used 3 mm needles -

DH says subtle; I think perhaps dull.

Friday, November 23, 2007

23 November: Stirring from hibernation

This morning not only was it not raining, there was no heavy blanketing cloud cover - sunshine!

A walk round the garden revealed that, although the bird baths were frozen solid (one with an attractive selection of leaves embedded in the ice), there were a number of flowers still blooming. A perfect rose (Pink Perpetue), lobelias and nasturtiums, helenium, everlasting wallflower, a penstemon, verbena bonarensis and clematis.

Under the liquidambar tree was this -

And over by the windy fence -

But as I climbed into the car to go shopping, it began to snow. Out of a clear blue sky.

It has been so dismal and dark lately that yesterday I tried to bring some colour to the workroom - you will remember that I am currently knitting a brown scarf. So I grabbed a half kilo of Blue Faced Leicester fibre, and did a bit of dyeing -

Some of that is electrically bright, so it may end up being blended with some plain white fibre, or with some oatmeal coloured BFL. Maybe flecks of different colours in the oatmeal....

Friday, November 16, 2007

16 November: Birthday, Knitting, Tag

Happy Birthday, Son!

One of the current knitting projects is a scarf, in the pattern Here and There Cables by Norah Gaughan, from the book Scarf Style.

The scarf illustrated in the book is knitted from much thicker yarn, in a variegated pale green. My version is in hand-spun black Wensleydale yarn, about 17 w.p.i., so is much narrower. The wool is sensationally soft, and much, much nicer than white Wensleydale. And of course, it isn't really black - more of a dark brown.

This stitch pattern attracted me because it is the same on both sides, and initially I couldn't see how it was done. It turns out to be remarkably simple, with the cabling on every 7th row, so it makes ideal work for TV watching (if any programmes appeal), or to take along to a Guild workshop day, where much chat occurs.

Tagged again by Granny J - this time it's 7 Things About Me.

1 - I have never read any of Jane Austen's novels.

2- I enjoy train journeys, apart from the stations and the other passengers.

3 - Maps fascinate me.

4 - 25 years in County Durham have failed to eradicate my southern accent.

5 - I would never make a mathematician

6 - I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up.

All passing readers are invited to pick up this tag and give us their own 7 Things.

Monday, November 12, 2007

12 November: Choices

Contrary to popular belief, it's not actually difficult to eat less, especially if you have been aware for some time that you have been eating too much, and simply don't need all that food.

All you have to do is to make the choice (and we all make constant choices) to reduce the amount going into your mouth.

Interest in food can be diverted to choosing what to eat - incidentally it all tastes better when there's less quantity; and obviously, you can also choose to improve the quality when you eat less. Time spent preparing meals can be much less, for example just the time needed to cook some pasta and stir a small jar of pesto through it, and sprinkle a few nuts and seeds on top. Or slide a frozen pizza into the oven while you put a salad together, fill the coffee maker and wash some apples for a pudding. Or you can have that fruit pie, but a smaller piece than you used to have. (Of course, anyone so inclined can spend hours preparing a meal that is eaten in three minutes, but that's a choice I don't make.)

Doing away with snacks between meals is a basic move in this strategy too. Any hunger pangs can be diverted by drinking sugar water instead of coffee - this idea came from a book called The Shangri-La Diet, by Seth Roberts, which suggests drinking sugar water or olive oil as a way to slim. I actually tried the olive oil - once. But the sugar water provides enough to convince your stomach that you are full. Dr Roberts puts forward interesting theories about diet in his book, and I have certainly found the sugar water helpful.

There is a saying that 3 parts of a full stomach feed the person, the fourth feeds their doctor.
Plus the food industry, the advertising industry, and the slimming industry.

Keeping a balance can be tricky when you cut down, but I already take a multi-vitamin tablet and a flax seed oil capsule every day - the oil and the absence of meat has improved the joint pains and stiffness I used to get. We all know by now that processed foods have lots of ingredients that do you no good (and never quite look as good in reality as they do on the packaging!), but fruit and veg don't have those snazzy labels on to tell you how much fat etc. is in them. Mind you, it's alarming how many calories are in some foods that are often thought of as slimming.

Anyway, I have lost another pound since I last posted about this, and now have to keep my jeans up with a belt.

Friday, November 09, 2007

9 November: Less is more

After 11 months of retirement, I think I'm getting used to it. But the reduction in exercise, from lots of walking about, standing, and climbing stairs, to a life of indolence, together with my sweet tooth, and continued consumption of cakes and sweets, was having the inevitable effect on what used to be my waistline.

I've never been small - at 5'10" and over 10 stone, a size 14 was OK widthways, though often not quite long enough. But since I stopped running and orienteering after I had cancer in 1992, the pounds have crept on, and a size 16 became a size 18. But when a size 18 starts to feel a bit tight, and you can't bend over properly because of a great wodge of fat, and 13 stone is horribly near, something has to be done.

Diets have always been a strange thing that other people undertake with much talk and usually little to show for them, and most of the popular diets have been patently ludicrous.

But after a month, I have lost half a stone by a sure-fire diet that I can recommend to everyone - the 2 word diet. I feel better, my clothes are getting loose, and I'm totally amazed at how easy it has been. So far, of course - it may not continue, as it may be difficult to keep a new low weight stable. But I'll worry about that when I get there.

So, here is a photo of the cat enjoying the new winter arrangements, now it's too chilly to have the conservatory door open all day -

He seems to like the blanket (crocheted from odd bits of hand-spun) we put on the sofa to protect it from his claws, and he blends nicely into the cushions.

Oh, the name of the diet?


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

6 November: Further adventures in yarn

The slipover in intarsia squares is finished -

It was suggested that plain sleeves might complete it, but the problem with that is why it's in multi-coloured squares in the first place - not a lot of yarn in any one colour!

In fact, it might eventually get sleeves, as I have been thinking for a while about knitting long arm warmers; like fingerless mittens, only armpit-length. As preparation for this, I've made a number of samples in slip stitch and/or rib variations. And there's still part of a ball of wool in each of those colours left in the Shetland crate!

Much thumbing of stitch pattern books has taken place; as well as Mary Thomas' Book of Knitting Patterns, there are 4 others full of different patterns. 'The Harmony Guide to Knitting Stitches' is dated 1984, and their recent Volume 3 offers 440 more patterns, while Volume 4 has 250 creative knitting stitches. The other book was my mother's, and the only date I can find on it is 1968. The price on the cover is 10/-, so it must be pre-decimalisation. It's called 'Knitting Dictionary 800 Stitches Patterns', and was published by Mon Tricot. I have followed Mum's example, and added notes to some of the patterns.

In spite of the wealth of patterns in these books, I have never used many of them, and I really don't know why not. Some of them, of course, are extremely tedious to work, and the final result is not worth the fuss, but there are some super effects that don't appear too hard to do - must add them to my list of things to try out.

Some lovely multi-coloured yarns are not shown to their best with complex stitch patterns, as I discovered recently with socks. And on the topic of lovely multi-coloured yarns, I have just finished spinning last month's Yarn Yard Fibre Club roving -

It may be a little darker than this in reality, but you can't complain about strong sunlight, can you? There isn't a project in mind for it yet, but I have just bought Pam Allen's "Scarf Style", and there's a little Vogue book of shawls somewhere in the downstairs bookcase, so there are plenty of ideas to hand.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

30 October: Flapjack

Natalie over at the Yarn Yard has asked about my flapjack recipe. So here it is -

8 oz marge - but it tastes so much better with butter, so I always use butter.
4 oz sugar
4 oz golden syrup - for those who do not wish to weigh it, 2 good tablespoonfuls will do.
4 oz self-raising flour
12 oz oats.

The beauty of this recipe is that it is all mixed in one large saucepan, saving immensely on the washing-up. It has been in use for well over 35 years by me, and I may have got it from my mother - I really can't remember.

The butter, sugar and syrup are all melted over a low heat. The flour is stirred in, and I always leave it to stand for a few minutes so that the warmed raising agent starts to fluff it up. Then in go the oats, a good stir to mix thoroughly (you may, if you wish, add ginger or almond flavouring, though I never bother). Transfer to a tin - my favourite 10" square one is now sadly past it, and they don't seem to make that size any more, so I use a traybake sort of tin, about 10 and a half inches by about 7 and a bit. (That's probably a tidy metric size.)

The oven should already be heated - I forgot to tell you that at the beginning - to about 160 C or 170 C, depending on your oven , and it takes roughly 25 to 30 minutes to cook.

When it comes out of the oven, mark the pieces with a suitable tool, and leave to cool in the tin . If you don't mark it at this stage, it is much harder later on to do so and keep the pieces neat.

For a photo of a tray of flapjack cooling, click on the 'baking' label.

Monday, October 29, 2007

29 October: The end of October

Happy Birthday to Senior Grandson!

The end of the summer time, and the harvest is in -

DH's little apple trees have produced a surprising amount of fruit. Most have come from the Fiesta tree - the Ashmead's Kernel (the more russety ones) have been fewer. I have so far tried only the Fiestas; not that keen on apples, I can make an exception for them. Actually it's probably the supermarket varieties of apple that I don't care for, but others are not widely available round here, as far as I know.

What we do get, though, at this time of year, after dark, is a lot of knocking on the front door. For some reason children seem unable to use a doorbell. They keep on knocking even if you don't open the door. This year DH has put up a notice advising them that they should not even ask.

I can't quite understand how it is that children who are constantly being told not to take sweets from strangers are at the end of October dressed up and sent out into the dark to solicit sweets from strangers.

Friday, October 26, 2007

26 October: Funny how time slips away

Writing a shopping list is always helpful, even if you arrive at the shops and the list is still on the kitchen table.

So I was checking the fridge and then the cupboard for what was missing, and found that the top shelf had collapsed. One of those little doofers that plug into the side and the shelf rests on had broken - plastic fatigue, probably.

All the stuff from the shelf had to be rescued, then the search for a replacement doofer began. Surely we had some in the drawer. Well, the kitchen drawers and the garage shelves have been tidied up in recent months, so nothing was where it was expected to be (I had a terrible job finding a trowel the other day when I wanted to re-point the garden path before the frosts, and it turned up in the box of wallpaper-hanging stuff).

Having failed to find a fresh doofer, the only alternative was B&Q's late night opening. Unsure where to start looking, we asked a homely body who knew exactly what we meant - she had some in her own cupboard; unfortunately she was new in the store, and wasn't quite certain where they were. Eventually we located what we wanted, after much comparison of size and shape with the sample we had brought with us and the transparent items in the sealed bag. Much wonderment at some of the other products on sale - why is it that when you want a particular item, and having searched fruitlessly, then bodged up some sort of substitute, then 3 weeks later, B&Q have precisely what would have done the job, which is now not going to be done again. The exact case with our rainwater butts - but I digress.

Home with the doofers, then faced with the problem of removing the snapped-off end of the old one before the new one could be fitted and the shelf restored to its former glory (and how I loathe that cliche).

So then there was all this stuff to put back into the cupboard. Bags of flour bought recently for more adventurous bread-making, little drums of herbs and spices, some sugar, a small bottle of beer - hang on a minute, we've been teetotal for 13 or 14 years, what's this doing in there? But no, DH wants to keep it; perhaps he plans to sell it one day on eB*y to supplement his pension, as it's a special brew of something. Bottles of vinegar - keep the ones I use for dyeing, but the dusty one that smells dreadful can be poured away. A small box with an exotic mix of spices - the best before date is only July this year, so that goes back on the shelf. A large bottle of soy sauce - that'll be OK, a splash gets used regularly every week or two. Hang on, what does that best before date say? June 2000? How did that escape notice when we moved in 2002?

Is there some sort of wormhole in time accessible only from the back of the shelf? What's going on?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

23 October: Meanwhile, back in the wool basket..

But it hasn't all been gadding about recently. There's been some knitting and related activity going on.

At the Woolfest (seems ages ago now), one of my purchases was some Socka sock wool. It came with us on holiday, and began to be a sock patterned with a chevron stitch design. It looked awful and felt uncomfortable, so it was unravelled, and another start made with another lacy sort of stitch. By the time the foot was complete, it was again obvious that it was all wrong - the stitch pattern didn't show up, and the colour changes in the yarn didn't show up properly either.

So it became a pair of excellent plain stocking stitch socks -

All other sock knitters seem to produce fancy patterned socks, often in multi-coloured yarn, but it never seems to work out for me - *sniff*.

On the needle at the moment is a first attempt at intarsia -

This is most of the back of a jersey in Shetland wool. The black and grey are natural colours, the rest are home-dyed (some of the yarns were just recently dyed in the fibre and spun afterwards), and the yarns are not all a uniform thickness, but in small areas they seem to go OK together. To use one of my mother's pet phrases - it'll be all right when it's pressed.

The original plan was to knit a long-sleeved jersey, all in the same sort of squares. But I'm already bored with it, so it might just be a sleeveless tank-top. It's my current TV knitting - and even though the knitting is boring, it's more interesting than the TV programmes. The other evening I switched on what looked like a gardening programme, only to find it was actually an extended advert for a stately home; one that we have visited, and thought was rather dull for the huge entrance charge (all the interesting bits are "Private"), and which continues to bang on about a film made there a generation ago, which some of us have never seen, and now never want to. It made an ancient edition of "Anim*l, Veget*ble, Miner*l" look fascinating in comparison.

(Other personal views may be available.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

21 October: Thorp Perrow Arboretum

A perfect autumn day for a visit to an arboretum.

Thorp Perrow Arboretum was a popular destination for many people yesterday. A father kindly moved his pushchair so that this view was unobstructed -

The leaf colours glowed in the sunshine.

There were plenty of places to sit and admire the colours.

The light through the trees was magic; piles of dry leaves positively insisted we kick them up; berries and other stranger fruit were attracting much insect attention; there were fungi to see as well as next year's buds already waiting for the longer days to return; the lake had a swan and at least one 2-foot trout - perhaps the metal heron in the shallows kept the real ones away.

One area is devoted to trees with interesting bark. This is a plane tree (requested a few days ago) -

And DH's favourite Acer Griseum -

There was a Hallowe'en Trail, ghouls, ghosts, witches, skeletons, and this chap in the lake -

The tea room provided us with coffee and lunch. As we returned to the car, we spotted something different -

A 1929 REO (American?); the sign in the window asked that the vehicle be treated like somebody else's wife - look but don't touch.

Back home for tea and cake - a brilliant day out.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

18 October: In my garden

The back garden here is just a little standard modern estate plot, about 35 feet wide and about 40 feet long.

But it's pretty busy, functioning as an outdoor room (paving by the house, with a bench and sunshade), food production (raspberry canes, apple trees, and an occasional tripod of runner beans), pastime (lawn to mow, shrubs to prune, borders to weed), recycling centre (compost bin, shredder, water butts), intermittent playground for the grandchildren (the lawn and the paths to run round), and wildlife haven (birds, butterflies, insects, the odd small mammal).

Now that the house is 5 years old, and plants have had some time to grow, the garden is changing. Some things grew too big and were dug up; a number of things inexplicably died; other things fell out of favour or failed to thrive and were changed. The trees planted in the borders are having an effect on the moisture and light around them. In previous years, time spent in the garden was mostly maintenance, but now it's mostly relaxation.

There's a basic framework to it, with the paved area and a paved path all the way round, then borders around the lawn, but the planting is a joy-jumble of trees, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs, with annuals self-seeded and added in any spaces that can be found. It could never be described as "designed", more "evolving", and the style, if any, could only be called "individual".

The flowers are always a delight, and foliage (or foilage, as it was once memorably described as by a policeman giving evidence in a trial) provides extra colour. And there is always something of interest, even if it's only the spiders nesting in the corners of the conservatory windows.

This morning when the kitchen blind went up, the garden was alive with birds. Several blackbirds - they like the water in the 2 birdbaths - a small flock of dunnocks, a robin, blue tit, coal tit, and most gloriously, a wren!

Immediately outside the kitchen window is a potted variegated holly tree, about 5 or 6 feet tall, and the wren was darting about in its branches, picking up tiny insects. She wasn't bothered by my presence, less than 3 feet away, but continued her breakfast, moving on to the oak tree, the border, and back again. There may have been a second wren, as a fierce chase of another bird took her zipping out of the garden once. She returned for a further forage, though. So it seems that we provide a food supply worth visiting for a number of little creatures, including mouse/rat/possible hedgehog or stoat.

The future of the potted trees has been in question - they take more upkeep than the other trees, needing watering, feeding and trimming. And with 9 of them - 2 hollies, 2 gingkos, oak, black pine, hornbeam, yew and bay - they take up a fair bit of space. But when they provide food for the wren, then they have to stay.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

14 October: Beningbrough Hall

A recent outing to Beningbrough Hall, near York, was rained off, so DH and I went there yesterday.

This is the imposing front, which you come straight towards up the drive, before turning aside into the car park. The National Trust have planted a new avenue on either side of the drive.

The house itself is very interesting. Apart from the impressive size of the rooms, the symmetrical layout, and the suitable period furniture, the place is stuffed full of portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery. A surfeit of late 17th century and 18th century faces. There are also interactive rooms, where the visitor can dress up and be photographed in a suitable 18th century attitude, and join the computer projected series of portraits; and where a story can be made up about a rather strange family portrait involving various classical gods.

The volunteer stewards are all very well-informed about the items on show and the people who lived in the place.

And there are gardens.

The flower gardens are not extensive, but the small scale makes them very attractive places to linger on one of the many outdoor seats. This hedged area on the terrace contained a small fish pond, with little fountain -

There is still quite a bit of colour in places in the borders. This was a good combination -

But the star of the garden show is the walled garden. There are over 20 varieties of apples and pears, and a display of many varieties was laid out in a room over the old stables. The walled garden also has many vegetables, plus soft fruit, vines, nut trees, herbs, and flowers. Again, lots of places to sit, and on one of the lawns were children's toys (we didn't visit the woodland adventure playground, but could hear that it was fun for the children who were exploring it).

This picture shows the way into the walled garden from the gardens at the back of the house -

Add to all this an excellent tea room, with an outdoor area of paving, sunken lawn, and a row of plane trees shading a further terrace, and it all made a pretty super day out. We got a bit lost on the way there, but then that meant we had to thread our way through some Yorkshire villages that we wouldn't otherwise have ever visited.

A grand day out!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

10 October: Autumn

Autumn is here - the time for walks in damp woods -

And it's always been a time for making changes, as the plants change from the plenty of summer and the winds blow away the fallen leaves.

So, some changes afoot here. And that's not just new socks.

The soap- and shampoo-free lifestyle is well under way, and my skin and hair have never looked better. It took a couple of weeks for the hair to balance itself, but now it's shiny and thick, not flat and lifeless like for many years. And my skin has lost that "oily and dry" effect, and looks much smoother.

Other changes will be mentioned in due course. Meanwhile, I can recommend the ditching of all shampoo and conditioner (anyone want mine?), and nearly all the soap; some is necessary for hand hygiene. All you need is water.

Friday, October 05, 2007

5 October: A little navel-gazing

Tagged again by Granny J - about blogging.

Far too much to post again (you can always see the full thing over at hers), but a few of the "rules" struck a chord.

*Blog about what you're interested in, and what you want to share.

*It's your blog - you make the rules.

*Keep the blog simple.

Other than that, there's not much to add. Pictures often add to the interest, though some blogs don't have them, and are still interesting. And personally I find comments important. (Diamond Geezer covered comments very well on 3 September in his series about his 5th blogging anniversary.)

The comments can inform, amuse, and delight. I find I return frequently to some blogs purely to read the updates to the comments. But on certain blogs, when you arrive and there are already 279 comments, oddly enough you already know what they're all saying, and don't bother to read them.

And it's good when commenting is made easy; although the word verification is clearly necessary if there's a lot of spam, it can be irritating (especially when you've typed correctly twice already). And when it requires your e-mail address to make a comment, that's a definite bar to me commenting.

Mind you, comments like "me too" and "wow, fantastic" are not nearly so much appreciated as ones that add something to the topic. Having said that, sometimes "beautiful picture" is all that's needed, or - perhaps the highest praise - "highly amusing".

And there are new blogs coming along all the time, but you only find out about them when their bloggers add a comment somewhere and you idly click on the link.

But how often does it happen that you've just found a new (to you) blog, and you've popped in a few times to get the hang of it, and you're just thinking you'll de-lurk and make a comment, and they stop.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

3 October: Spinster of this parish

The laundry's up to date, so now it's playtime!

Not enough spinning recently, so I've made up for that by spinning 200 gms of beautiful hand dyed superwash Blue Faced Leicester from The Yarn Yard -

And, after having disappointing results with dyeing yarn, I have been experimenting with dyeing fibre. This is some merino I dyed a few weeks ago -

Which spun up into this -

And this, which reminds me of sugared almonds -

The dyes seem to be stable when put into the fibre before spinning, so I think I shall carry on with that method. There are several ways of mixing colours, in the dyeing, in the spinning, and in the making up.

It might never all get knitted, as I can spin 100 gms in an afternoon, but it usually takes several days to knit up that much. But hey, the spinning is what I enjoy. And when I can't move for skeins of handspun, I might try weaving it into blankets.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

30 September: Suffolk

OK, the summer's properly over now - we're back from our holiday.

We went here -

And here -

We kept a lookout for Crocs when we were walking round the town and inspecting the old Cattle Market building site, as well as when we were eating ice creams in the Abbey gardens, but didn't see any.

There was a trip to Cambridge to see DD's new house, and while we were there we visited the Botanic Garden, where we saw this lovely tree -

DH said he felt like a child in a sweet shop, there were so many beautiful places to go. We spent a magic afternoon at Dunwich Heath (no, we didn't spot any Dartford Warblers, but we spotted several serious bird-watchers), and we walked in this woodland -

Sutton Hoo was another brilliant place, but unfortunately the burial mounds look like a rather dull bumpy field, and we were too busy looking at the exhibition to take any photos. (We did photograph some interesting Norfolk Horned sheep that were grazing by the burial mounds - well, interesting to us.)

At the end of the week strong winds, heavy rain and high tides caused some problems along the coast, but they also made some dramatic waves -

And there was very little knitting done! Mainly because the project I took with me didn't work out well, and I unravelled it. And now we're back home I want to get on with some spinning.

Friday, September 21, 2007

21 September: There now follows....

A short intermission. Nuts, drinks, and ice creams may be available in the foyer. Some adverts for businesses only five minutes from this theatre may appear somewhat scratchily.

If you must, you can watch bbc3 till I get back - but remember not to post about it unless you want hundreds ( and I mean hundreds) of curious people, possibly many of them unwashed, peering into the recesses of your blog, and moving right along there without even saying "hi".

There may be holiday photos.

Should be back next weekend. Missing you already.....

Thursday, September 20, 2007

20 September: Tagged

Granny J from over at Walking Prescott (that's Prescott, Arizona, not John) tagged me a couple of days ago.

The game is to list something relevant to your life for each letter of your middle name, or for those without a middle name, for each letter of a preferred middle name.

I rather enjoy word games, and after some thought, out came the Thesaurus. Well, you know how that diverts the attention for a few hours......

Not wishing to use my middle name, I ran my eye over the family tree, spotting various grandmothers and other foremothers, looking for something


It might be




but it turns out to be


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

18 September: Season of .. inkle?

Well, while all those hundreds of bbc3 people have been tramping through the blog, arriving, peering round, sniffing, and leaving swiftly, life has been going on as normal Chez Stitchwort.

Knitting has continued - you can see a sock for DH in the basket on the table, behind the inkle (no idea why it's called an inkle, it just is) I have been weaving -

Here is a closer photo -

The trouble with this sort of weaving is that it's predictable (you have to choose warps before you start), and rather boring (no surprises as you go along), so I find the appeal limited. Perhaps tablet weaving might be more interesting.


We are getting to that time of year when one poem's opening line is done to death.

It would be interesting to think of some alternatives. My suggestion might be -

Season of boots
And laundry hung indoors.

Any more suggestions?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

15 September: Fame?

Well, thanks to bbc3, the stats have gone through the roof.

30 hits already this morning before 8 o'clock, and we all know that nobody reads blogs on Saturday. No comments left, though.

Looks like they sniffed out bob the bolder.

(Update at 2.15 p.m. - up to 65 visitors now, leaving no traces though. I would never have thought bbc3's website attracted that many people, and from so far across the globe.)

(Update at 8.45 p.m. - now 117 visitors, and still not a word of comment left. Is that a light carbon footprint?)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

13 September: Another little trip

Although I have lived in County Durham for 25 years, there are still local places of interest I have never been to. Two more visited this week in one little outing.

A few miles from Bishop Auckland is the small village of Escomb - its claim to fame is its Saxon church. Well, it's called "Saxon", but the Saxons were never this far north - it was the Angles who settled in this area.

The date of the original building of the church is unknown, but it must have been after the Romans left in about 410 A.D., as the church is made of second-hand (sorry, re-cycled) Roman stone blocks. Other similar churches in Northumbria can be dated to about 675, and Escomb is thought to be earlier than that.

This is a picture of the outside -

The porch, added in the 12th century, has a 17th century sundial above the door, while on the wall of the church, just above the apex of the porch gable end in the photo, is an Anglo-Saxon sundial; there is a snake decoration above it, and it is thought to be the oldest sundial in the country.

The small windows are original, with larger ones being added in the 13th century and the late 18th/early 19th century. Some of the stones in the walls have Roman inscriptions on them, and high on the North wall is a small raised rosette, which is thought to be a pre-Christian sacrificial stone.

Inside, the walls are mostly whitewashed, though a patch high on one wall shows traces of very old painting. There is also part of a painted design on the underside of the chancel arch, perhaps from the 12th century. The chancel arch itself may well be a complete Roman arch.

Behind the altar is a cross which may be older than the church.

In the wall to one side of the altar is a medieval piscina, and at the west end of the church is a font at least 700 years old, and probably more. Both these stone vessels used to drain into the floor of the church, to prevent the holy water from being stolen and used for witchcraft!

When I arrived, the church was locked, and as I was looking round the circular churchyard - indicative of Celtic Christianity - a lady arrived to sweep and dust (as a notice on the gate tells the visitor, the key can be obtained from her house if the church is locked). She seemed pleased to show off the details of the church, including pointing out where the bats roost in the roof and where the vicar had cemented cobbles into the floor to prevent any more being stolen.

It's a lovely simple little place, and the circular churchyard, full of worn and tilting headstones and tall trees, was peaceful.


As the stones to build the church had come from the Roman fort of Vinovia at Binchester, just a few miles away on the other side of the River Wear, it seemed a good idea to go and have a look round that too.

Approached up a steep and narrow lane, and through the grounds of a boarded up derelict nursing home (which had a long previous history), the site is small and low-key. There's no cafe, but a small car park, a Portaloo, and a bright flowerbed lead you to the hut where a ticket is obtained for a very modest £1 (that's the OAP price - adults pay £2.25).

The baths are supposed to be the best preserved military baths in the country, and are protected from the elements by a large barn . This is a view of the main warm room -

The floor is original Roman concrete, and the lower level, where the hot air circulated, is all original too. The figure in the corner startled me, but he's not original, just a plaster replica.

The layout is easy to see, with warm and hot rooms and cold plunge baths. To one side is another barn set up as a school study area - I did not take advantage of the box of clothes marked "dressing up".

Only a very small part of the fort has been excavated, and as you stand on the boardwalk you can clearly see how the commandant's quarters with the bath-house stood right next to the road -

This is part of the Roman Dere Street, which ran from York to Scotland - on the left is the gutter and on the right are kerb stones. You could almost hear the rattle of cart wheels.

The outline of the ramparts is still visible in the neighbouring field, now the home of some handsome cattle and big fine sheep. Bucolic now, but once a busy army base.

Sic transit gloria mundi.