Friday, 11 December 2015

Advent 11: Oxford at Christmas

Languishing in my drafts folder is a half started blog post about a project I started in the summer to photograph Oxford. It's my local home town (although technically it's a city) and even though I've done many of the touristy things over the years I've rarely taken an decent photographs. I decided after I did my Amsterdam Adventure travel blurb book that I'd do an Oxford one. Maybe giving myself 2 - 5 years to explore via day trips etc and capture the city as if I'm seeing it for the first time. I thought it might also make me explore the city a bit more and on the second photography trip I did something I'd never done before - you'll have to wait for that blog post though!

One of the things I really wanted to do was photograph The Covered Market. Which opened in 1774 and was as the name suggests and indoor market. It was apparently built in response to appeals to tidy up the untidy and unsavoury stalls that littered the centre of Oxford. So far from being just an indoor market with stalls it's actually more like a complex of little independent shops. However, if you stop to look there are some lovely details and I've always thought the best time to photograph the market would be at Christmas. Unfortunately I didn't have much time as I had Mum with me, a trip to the Christmas Market planned and some Christmas shopping. So I really was just taking a few quick snaps.

After a few hours we'd done everything we needed to and both of us were ready to go home. Where we've been resting all afternoon. Yes, definitely hibernation mode here.

The Covered Market, Oxford

The Covered Market, Oxford

The Covered Market, Oxford

The Covered Market, Oxford
That's a cake made in the shape
of The Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford!

The Covered Market, Oxford

The Covered Market, Oxford 

The Covered Market, Oxford

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Advent 10: A knitting update

Seeing as it's been just over a month since I did a knitting blog post I thought it was high time I did an update.

To be fair I haven't been knitting as much as I did last month. Despite getting over the bug I had a few weeks ago. I seem to be lacking in energy and motivation. It comes and goes in fits and starts and even though I have two projects on the needles at present. It doesn't feel like I'm any where close to finishing either. Which has made me reluctant to start something else. I'm not really a winter person. I could quite happily hibernate. If I do though, I definitely won't get any knitting done.


Shawl

I'm knitting my first ever shawl. In fact a few firsts with this one. First time using cables and first time knitting with 4ply. The pattern is: Simple Shawl and to be fair it is simple and perhaps that's why I'm finding it a bit dull to knit. It seems to be taking forever and it's got to a stage where it feels like it takes longer and longer to knit a row yet it seems like the shawl isn't growing. I'm not in love with this project, and I can't rip it out because I feel too committed. 

Not put off of shawls though I have bought this yarn and purchased The Hitchhicker Shawl pattern and hope to cast this on in the new year. (I'm not optimistic enough to think the other shawl will be finished this side of Christmas and if it is I'm sure I'll want to knit a non shawl project first!)

Look at the rainbow at the end

Also on the needles is my Fancy Dr Who Scarf. I'm loving the pine cone design so much. I never want this project to end. Only I do because I want to wrap this around my neck several times and have long trailing ends to swish about, just like Tom Baker did as Dr Who. However, it's slow growing because it's mainly knitted using aran scraps from other projects. The exception has been that bit of orange I've added in. Even the Khaki colour being added in now has been used to finish a hat knitted in the taupe colour the other side of the orange. I have an aqua coloured ball of the same wool, purchased purely for this scarf. But I feel I need a different aran brand to break up the other taupe, orange and khaki which are all the same brand and have a similar colour tone. I do have two other lots of aran weight yarn. Both need knitting into projects, so I can have the left overs first. They'll be next on the needles as I think this scarf is crying out for some purple next. 

Fancy Dr Who Scarf


Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Advent 9: Christmas Traditions

Do you have some little traditions that are personal to you at Christmas? Things you do year in year out because Christmas wouldn't be the same without doing them? I know I do.

First off we always aim to post the bulk of our Christmas cards on December 7th. This was my Gran's birthday. It seems early enough to not be silly (I mean who wants their cards arriving the first week of November?!) and not so late as they'll get caught up in the big Christmas rush. I say the 'bulk' of our cards posted, because inevitably there will be some I need to put letters in that haven't happened yet or foreign ones that need me to calculate specific postage. I'll hand deliver a fair few around the village and normally aim to do this when I have the parish magazines to deliver.

Has to be done.

Another tradition we have is to always open one little present on Christmas Eve. This started when I was a pre-teen and lacking in the patience to wait to open my presents. I made a deal that if I sat up on Christmas Eve past midnight then technically it was Christmas day and I could open a present. I tell you some years I had matchsticks holding up my eyelids just so I could open something! Since then the whole sitting up past midnight thing has been dispensed with. But Mum and I usually open one present on Christmas Eve. In fact Christmas Eve might be my favourite day of the holiday. I love it when I come in from work. The last chores of delivering presents etc has been done. I switch on the tree lights, light some candles and cosy up in front of the TV with a proper Christmas movie or two. 

Christmas Eve 2014
Last year opening a present on Christmas Eve

In a similar tradition I usually give Chief a small silly gift to open when he comes down before Christmas. (Sorry no photos he'd kill me if I did!) Even though we have known each other for 9 Christmases  we are yet to spend a Christmas together. We have made plans. Each time thwarted by him getting ill (he's had pneumonia or bronchitis as well as regular flu over Christmases past!), bad weather or his father being in hospital. I'm not holding out on seeing him this Christmas. He can't really leave his step Mum alone on Christmas day. He has two brothers living on the doorstep but one is likely to be working so won't be around and the other ...well lets just say not all families think of others at Christmas and leave it at that. 

So what Christmas traditions do you have?

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Advent 8: My Autumn Reads (Part 1)

Untitled

How I lost you - Jenny Blackhurst: This book had me downloading at this line: I have no memory of what happened but I was told I killed my son. And you believe what your loved ones, your doctor and the police tell you, don't you?
What ensued was a twisting and turning thriller about a woman sent to a psychiatric unit after killing her young child.  When she's let out she re-invents her self in a new area. Then she received a letter addressed to her former self and it makes her question whether she really did kill her child (an event she has no memory of ) and in fact whether he's dead at all.

The Children Act - Ian McKewan: This was a book group choice and I confess when the person announced their choice my heart sank. You see many years ago a friend gave me a copy of Saturday and thought I'd like it. I hated it. I never finished it. I didn't like or care about the characters enough to finish the book. I found the writing style pompous, I think I tried another of his books and felt the same. Really I did not want to ever be reading anything else by him ever again. But still it was the choice and I downloaded the book to my kindle and you know what? I enjoyed it. It made for an interesting discussion too. The book centres around a judge who has to made decisions about the lives of children and in one crucial case; whether a Jehovah's witness boy should be given life saving treatment against his and his families wishes. What results is a complex study in human nature and morality. Not a word seemed wasted in this book (which is more of a novella than chunky fiction works.) The characters were well drawn and it was a relief to hear from other members of book group that they struggled with McKewan at times and if a surgeons wife said that Saturday irritated her too (the main character was a surgeon) I felt much better for dissing such an acclaimed author.

Next up with Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym and sent to me by Helen.  Barbara Pym is an author I keep hearing about and yet had never read anything by her or understood her appeal. I even missed a talk about her at the World Bookcrossing Convention in Oxford this year and the room opposite mine in St Hilda's college was named after her. When Helen sent me her first novel to read I was intrigued. Step back in time to two spinster sisters living our their lives in a village where it's quite insular and everything seems to revolve around the comings and goings as the vicarage. In fact there was more men of the cloth in this novel than you could shake an incense stick at. (Oh how village life must have changed.) I enjoyed the subtle humour and characters and having started to learn to knit around the same time I enjoyed the fact someone always seemed to be knitting something.

The Good Neighbour by A J Banner was up next. This was a kindle first deal. At the start of the month Kindle offers a new book at a knock down price. There is usually about five or six books to chose from and this one appealed. Sarah settles into life in Shadow Cove with her doctor husband but when there is a fire next door resulting in the death of the family (save their little girl - who Sarah manages to rescue) and the destruction of Sarah's own home; Sarah starts to discover things about her own life are not all that they seem. A fun, fast paced domestic thriller. The kind of story I can see being made into a good TV movie.

I let you go - Clare Mackintosh. I was scrolling through my kindle and this popped up as unread. At first I thought I had read it and was confusing this with the plot of How I lost You. Similarly this thriller also concerns a woman who thinks she's responsible for a child's death. I don't want to say much more as this was cleverly written to make me think one thing and completely misdirect me for a good chunk of the novel. Much better in fact than How I Lost You.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo was up next. Can you tell I LOVE thrillers yet? I have long given up trying to read the Harry Hole books in order (It hasn't helped they weren't released in the UK in order.) This was quite a chilling one. Women are going missing around the time of the first snow and a snowman is built at the victims home - often wearing the victims clothing or the victims head...Yes, snowman are now set to freak me out as much as scarecrows did as a child! I am used to the false killer trails and I actually plumped for the real killer very early on because there are some big obvious clues left.

By Halloween I was ready for something creepy so I opted for The Others by James Herbert. James Herbert along with Stephen King were my go to modern horror writers during my teen years and as such I probably haven't read any James Hebert for nearly 20 years. This was actually more of a detective cum romance novel with a supernatural twist. I don't find his work as disturbing as I remember it. I enjoyed this just the same and liked the main characters a lot.

It was book group reading again with The Road Home by Rose Tremain. We discussed this at book group just last week and it was a book that largely divided the group. I didn't much like it. It was bleak, depressing, stereotypical and I can't see why it won awards. There were plenty of the group that disagreed and one person even said it was the best book we'd read at book group!

I have read plenty more since, but I'll save that for another post later in the month. I'm already making a list of books I'd like to read next year. Do you have any recommendations? I'd love to hear them.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Advent 7: Spring is around the corner, right?

It was dull and dark as I headed off for work this morning. I'm not a morning person and it's so much harder getting out of bed during these dull days. At least I think so. By lunch time it was lovely and bright with even some blue sky. So I spent an hour in the garden planting tulips bulbs. Of which I seem to have rather a lot. I picked some up in the supermarket and Mum ordered some online. Only the online ones never did appear and she said the cheque wasn't cashed. So as Sarah Raven had a sale on tulips I bought a few (well about 85 or something ridiculous!)


For next spring

Pretty much all those in the yellow bags have been planted. I've half filled one of my veg beds with tulips. Well, I didn't put any veg in that one last year (unless you count some rhubarb, which couldn't be harvested the first year any way.)


For next spring

I've covered the bed in some metal mesh I had. I'm hoping this will discourage the neighbourhood squirrels and birds from digging them up. Also stop any mice disturbing them and cats scratching on the freshly turned soil. 

For next spring

I planted some in the front garden where I'd taken some lavender up earlier in the year. I planted some pansies on top to help stop the pigeons trampling them - it's quite near to the bird feeder and they have been known to do a spot of tulip trampling in the past. 

Come spring I'm looking forward to a riot of colour and being able to pick a few to bring into the house. Of course this isn't getting my Christmas making sorted. But tomorrow is another day right?

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Advent 5 & 6: Making a Christmas Wreath

I got it into my head this year our door would have a wreath (I don't always bother.) and further more I'd be making it. Stuff was ordered and then I got ill so that cast all doubt as to whether the extra items I bought would be languishing in the shed until next year. Believe it of not in a previous life I was involved a lot in flower craft and floristry. It was a natural step for someone that grew up loving gardening and growing flowers and just happened, from an early age, to have a bit of tutelage from a talented flower arranger. (Who sadly passed away at the beginning of this year.)

I thought I'd share a few tips here for anyone who might want to contemplate making their own door wreath. If you can forage for all or the majority of the materials required you can make wreathes for a fraction of the price it would cost you to buy them - even from a supermarket. (I noticed our local Asda had some lovely simple ones this year for a tenner.)

It's a good idea to make your wreath outside. Wrap up well and try and pick a warmish day. I have a photo of me somewhere making a wreath around a metal ring I found in the road. I do not look happy having pricked frozen fingers with holly for the umpteenth time! It was mild today, if a little breezy!


Supplies gathered 
Gather a selection of foliage, moss, a wreath ring and some
 floristry materials like stub wire and fine wire on a spool

Metal rings and floristry wire can be purchased relatively cheaply from the likes of Amazon. You can often get floristry materials at your local garden centre, although they do tend to be at premium prices. If you really can't get a metal ring you can make one by wiring lengths of bent twigs together. It's best if twigs are still a bit green and bendy so opt for willow, hazel or dogwood. Or if you have the patience you can use some thick garden wire.

I bought some moss for my ring. As well as padding it out nicely it keeps the vegetation fresh as the moss retains moisture. This is probably the most expensive item to buy (unless you can gather some from a shady spot in the garden.)  You can manage without if you pick your foliage carefully and use plenty of it. Although it won't last as long as a wreath made with moss.

Place sections of moss on the ring and wrap thin florists wire to hold it in place. To make the wreath a bit more sturdy you can weave lengths of twigs such as hazel into the moss to give the wreath a bit more structure. Again you needn't bother (and I didn't) with this if you're using some quite woody foliage like holly or similar.


Moss around the ring base

I had big plans of country walks with a basket and my secateurs to grab some holly and other evergreens. However, in the end I ended up buying a bundle from a local garden centre. It cost me just under £5.00 and there was more than enough for two wreaths so I'm saving the left overs for other Christmas decorations and to replenish the wreath if any bits get damaged by the weather.

I used a length of stub wire to create a loop for hanging. Then starting at the bottom middle I pushed the woody stems of longer lengths of foliage into the moss and wired little bundles of mixed foliage together and pinned these on top.


Working my way around the wreath

I made push wires out of stub wire

I didn't have any ready made wire pins so made some by cutting lengths of stub wire down and bending to make little pins like above. Once pushed through I folded the ends back much like you would a paper fastener as it helps to hold everything more securely.

Essential cuppa whilst wreath making
It was mild but blustery so I did have to chase a few bits of greenery that blew away.
A cup of tea was much appreciated!


Once I'd continued right the way around the ring I used the ribbon the bundle of greenery had come tied with, to create a festive bow at the top. I hung it up to see how it looked and where I needed to add more. I had been holding it up vertically after every few additions, as working flat you don't get a good impression of what the wreath will look like when it's hung up. 

Keep checking how it looks vertically


Then with a few more bits added I had a finished wreath. I was going for something that looked quite rural and rustic. It seemed to suit the foliage bundle I had. 

Rustic looking wreath on the front door

extra bits added


My garden wildlife December 2015
It was festive to be joined by a robin!

Later in the month I hope to return with some more festive floral ideas.




Friday, 4 December 2015

Advent 3 & 4 opps normal service will be resumed

I came home from work yesterday with a migraine. I get the aura ones, and thankfully only very rarely. I think this was triggered by a co-worker painting some chairs for the boss. I didn't detect how strong the smell of paint was until this morning when I returned to work.  Even though the dazzly aura bit only lasts about 20 minutes, it wrote off the rest of the day. So no advent post yesterday. I had planned a throwback Thursday post. This is me in the late 1970's. Clearly Christmas because of the tree.  I had several pairs of those Disney dungarees. It appears, Griffy - the family dog, was not paying enough attention when the photograph on the left was taken. As he was my best friend it's no surprise he's in the chair with me though.

  Untitled

Hopefully normal advent blogging will resume at the weekend.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Advent 2: Serendipity (or me enabling again!)

A curious thing happened the other Sunday night when I was browsing around on my laptop. A picture popped up in my flickr feed and I didn't recognise the person it was from or their work.  I liked what I saw and favourited a few things; all the while it bugged me having followed this person on Flickr - how on earth had I managed to forget their beautiful work. I noticed their location was Grantham which was curious because Chief lived there for the first 7 years I knew him (and before he knew me for a good few years more.) Then I twigged that I'd first discovered them on Flickr because of some travel pictures they'd posted. (Nothing to do with their beautiful creations!) Often before I go somewhere I'll see what pictures other people have posted on Flickr of the same location. It adds to the excitement and gives me things to look out for that I might want to photograph myself.  In this feed were some pictures taken at Crab Manor - where Chief and I went in September 2014. Chief had been before he met me and before I was with Chief another beau had told me about The Crab - I'd hoped one day I'd get to go. (I blogged a bit about the trip here.) Even though I was getting over food poisoning for our night there, I have such happy memories and really hope I get to go back. (I constantly tell Chief in the hope he'll take the hint. Although he normally says - you'll have to get the train because I'm not driving down to pick you up now I'm in the North East!)

But I'm digressing because the whole point of this post is to tell you about what happened after I'd favourited some more pics on Flickr. It turned out Allison sells work at The Creaking Door on Etsy and when I clicked through to her shop I found that one of the pieces I'd favourited was for sale still. All these little connections? It had to be serendipity right? So I did some shopping.

A few days later the most delightfully packaged parcel turned up at my door. The outer wrapping was just filled with pretty details and only hinted at the even lovelier wrapping I'd find inside.


Exciting mail

Packaging details
Excuse my dirty kitchen apron. I'd just cooked
breakfast for Chief who was down for a
few days.

Inside those lovely little boxes were: a pendant - a tiny glass phial full of moss and birds eggs. The legend around the bottle is: Hope, Wisdom and Wonder - something I could always do with plenty of! On the long bronzed chain are further little treasures. When I saw this item on flickr I just had to have it. I knew if I didn't go and buy it I'd keep thinking about it and wishing that I had.

Treats for me

The second item was these lovely birdie earrings. The turquoise stones almost remind me of robins eggs. 

Earrings by The Creaking Door

If you're looking for jewellery presents (even for yourself) that are just a little bit different, I urge you to run, not walk over to The Creaking Door Etsy Store. You might just pick up the perfect stocking filler or special treat.


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Advent1: I bought fabric

I didn't blog in December at all last year. So broke with my little tradition of trying to blog every day in the run up to Christmas. I am trying to get my blogging mojo back so would like to attempt it again this year. (It's not like I don't have plenty of half started blog posts and further ideas for more Christmassy related posts.) Blogging is one of the few 'creative' things I might manage at the moment as the last week or so I've been under the weather fighting off (at times unsuccessfully) a tummy bug and it's meant despite the chronic boredom, I've done very little apart from rest and read. With work sapping pretty much all the energy I do have.

Dreams of a handmade Christmas are diminishing fast. I'm behind with at least one birthday gift making (although this is partly due to my getting it into my head that the birthday girls birthday was the 27 November...not much earlier in the month! So I was totally caught out and unprepared.

I think with all the black friday/Cyber Monday fabric shop sales right now would not be the time to have a destash of my fabric.  I expect everyone has spent their pennies. But after thinking long and hard about it, I feel I need to let some fabric go. I have totally lost my sew-mojo and just having a lot of unused fabric (that would take several life times to use - or someone far more productive than me to use.) is actually contributing. I am also going to cancel my subscription to Quilt Now as all I do is flick through it and put it on a shelf.  At the moment I feel in order to find my sewing mojo I need to cut out all the things that are making it so hard to summons an enthusiasm for sewing.

It's somewhat contradictory then (and Susan might well be laughing her socks off now.) I was tempted to buy fabric at the village haberdashery! I blame IG totally as there was some lovely plaid/tartan like wool material posted in their IG feed and when I braved the Black Friday website slowness (nearly drove me to distraction!) I showed it to my Mum as it's so her sort of thing and suggested she chose her favourite and I'd make her a bag. While I was there I got some voile destined to be a super quick infinity scarf for my longstanding American friend Kathy for Christmas. A fat quarter of the same HR print fell into my basket too as I'd love to add some to my xandplus quilt, which I hope to get back to in the new year.

P1010159a

I have also signed up for the current round of the ATC swap hosted by Ali.  It appealed on two fronts. The opportunity to make something small and relatively quick and harness other sewing skills rather than patchwork and quilting. I have a wonderful collection of creative textile materials stored away unused for a very long time. Metallic and ombre embroidery threads, silk throwers waste in range of colours;  Angelina fibers; beads, sequins, hand dyed wool felts - the list goes on. But I'm excited by the thought of dipping my toe in and having a play.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

My Summer Reads

I thought I'd catch you up with the books I've been devouring since I last did a 10 things post. Whatever else has got in the way or changed this summer I've still found time to read and I know some of the most popular items in my 10 things posts were the book bits. (I have read quite a few books that this might need to be a two part post!)

Reading 

Post Amsterdam trip I switched from Amsterdam centric reading to thrillers and first up was Blacklands by Belinda Bauer - a story about a boy who's family had been devastated when his Uncle had gone missing as a child. The presumed victim of a serial killer who had never revealed that he'd done that particular abduction - let alone confirmed he'd murdered and buried the lad on the moors with his other victims. Years later the victims nephew decides he could mend his broken family if he could find out where his uncles body was and that's when things get interesting.

Next up was Divergent by Veronica Roth.  I haven't seen the film and I haven't read The Hunger Games either. This book is a teen-aimed novel much in the vein of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner (which I have also read.) I found it quite a page turner and I liked the premise that in the future civilised society is split into groups according to their strengths. To be Divergent means you could fit into multiple sects of society and that is something seen as a threat. I suspect if you liked The Hunger Games you'd like this. Although I really should read the Hunger Games myself.

A detective thriller up next: Under a Silent Moon by Elizabeth Haynes. I was completely underwhelmed by this. Although one of the best thrillers I've read in ages was her first book: Into The Darkest Corner. I think she's a better thriller writer than detective writer and I'm not sure I'll bother to read any more in this series of books.

Another thriller was finished next and unlike all the other books this was not on my kindle: A Simple Act of Violence by R J Ellory. As I've mentioned before I mainly read paperbacks in the bath these days and I found myself taking long bubble baths just to read more of this page turner. Yes, it's about a serial killer, but the most chilling aspects of this story are concerned in government conspiracy's at the highest level. Compelling and when I passed it on to my brother he said it was one of the best thrillers he'd read in a long while and wants to read more by R J Ellory.

Still in thriller mode I read: A Tap on The Window by Linwood Barclay. It was a kindle special offer of all of 99p and this is an author that Catherine had recommended previously via instagram. A middle aged man gives a lift to a teenage girl one night and when she winds up missing and her best friend dead, it implicates the man in a mystery with lots of twists and turns. Another thriller where I was completely hooked.
I'm too tired to read in bed even

The next bath time read was a dusty old hardback I'd picked up at a jumble sale years ago. The Franchise Affair by Jospehine Tey.  I'd seen the old black and white movie, although so long ago that I couldn't remember all the plot, which was good as I could read the book without a lot of prior knowledge. The mother and daughter owners or The Franchise - an old house at the edge of the village, are accused of kidnapping a teenage girl and holding her captive as a slave until she manages to escape. A scandal ensues and as the ladies reputation is shredded and they face imprisonment, a local provincial lawyer takes on the task of proving them innocent. I enjoyed the gentle style of it a lot and will look out for other books by this author.

Up next was a book often on recent book lists as a must read: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. If you liked The Road by Cormac McCarthy you may well like this too.  Yes, it's a post apocalyptic novel.  But probably one of the most gentle and poignant ones I've ever read.

Outbreak by Robin Cook was the bath time read. Ironic that at one point I was reading a book about a viral outbreak in the bath, whilst reading Station Eleven on my kindle - which happened to follow what happened after the Georgia Flu killed most people on the planet.  It was slightly different to what I remember of the film and a bit dated. However, it seemed strangely relevant in the light of the Ebola outbreak earlier in the year.

I think that's enough for this post. I'll be back next time with my Autumn reads.