Friday, May 30, 2008

Tagged, I'm it!

Oh no - I have been tagged to tell you more about myself!

OK, Roo, here we go:

What was I doing ten years ago?

June 1998. I was an “at home mum” living in East London with my then husband, son and daughter. My son had started school in January and was being bullied (head slammed into wall by another 5 year-old, concussion). I spent a lot of time doing a two-mile pushchair slog along a main arterial route (massive smelly lorries) to and from school. The rest of the time I was at various playgroups with my daughter and doing a little bit of (registered) childminding to help make ends meet. I had applied and been accepted for Primary teacher training, but the O.U. failed its OFSTED inspection and the course was closed down a few weeks before I was due to start. So in June I was viewing nurseries for my daughter, alternative schools for my son, and beginning a serious job search, because my agreement with my then husband had been that I could have two years “out” and my time was up. Sigh. My favourite outfit was a pair of red dungarees and a purple t-shirt – mine, not my daughter’s! But she did have a fab wardrobe of homemade a-line pinafores and handknitted cardis!

5 Things on my non-work to-do list today
1. Ring the central heating engineers to report a fault: switching the hot water “off” causes it to boil!

2. Buy lining paper and paintbrushes to redecorate the bathroom

3. Check my online bank account because it is almost pay day… but not quite.

4. Do the weekly shop at Lidl so that my weekend is free

5. Leave work in time to wave goodbye to the kids at the airport – they are off to London for the weekend to visit their dad.

Snacks I enjoy
A ritual Kitkat with my morning coffee – but I am not sure I enjoy this anymore, it is just a ritual. Tsk. Granny Smith apples – two a day! Hot buttered toast made from home-made bread.

Things I would do if I was a billionaire
Ensure adequate funding for medical research, outwith drug companies.
For myself: live by the sea in a house without maintenance problems with chickens, a herb and veg garden and a constant supply of yarn. And Broadband internet access.

Places I have lived
Aberdeen. Hull. Leeds. Hull. London: Hounslow West, Brixton, Walthamstow, Leyton. Aberdeenshire (ah yes, that will be the farm!)

Jobs I have had

Asda checkout, school meals accounts, employment assistant for the Careers Service, Probation Service assistant, administrator for social services (youth justice, child protection), PA in a children’s charity, waste management admin (yes, really: I paid the bin men and took calls from irate ladies whose rubbish had not been collected or who had dropped their purses into the recycling bin at Tesco's), university admin.

Who can I tag? Amber? Gabrielle? Zombiecazz?

Actually, the “ten years ago” question is quite a good one. So often in job interviews they ask you where you see yourself in ten years’ time. Never, ever, in my wildest dreams, did I see myself here, now! Wow!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Less is more?

Today I received an email from The Sweet Sheep alerting me to the fact that Yarn Pirate had arrived in the shop. Interesting, I thought, and surfed over there… well eventually. Once I got through to the website, which seemed to be on the verge of collapse, it was very slow going indeed. And this was on Broadband. Several minutes later, I managed to get to the relevant page, and saw a “nice” colour of merino tencel sock, Apple, so I tried to pop it in my shopping cart while I continued browsing… but that took several attempts. By now, I could feel a rising tension… almost a feeling of panic… that clearly there were several (hundred) others trying to buy the same item as me! So I abandoned my search and tried to checkout. Again, I was getting error messages.

So I nipped over to the Loopy Ewe – and noted that they also had received their stock of Yarn Pirate, and business did not appear to be quite so brisk… but they were charging $3 more per skein- an eye-watering $30 per skein!

And then it struck me. I didn’t even WANT a skein of sock yarn! Apple Yarn Pirate merino tencel – yeah? So what?! I have plenty of sock yarn in my stash. The colour wasn’t really “all that”, and by the time I paid shipping I would probably be looking at paying over twenty quid for a pair of socks. HOW much?!

I feel as if I have made some sort of a mental breakthrough. Have I broken a pattern of addiction that I didn’t even realise I had? I often get caught up in sale fever when Wollmeise / Sheepaints / Posh open their shops for business – but nine times out of ten I am at home on a pathetic dial up connection and have no choice but to watch the feeding frenzy from a different timezone! But today I was part of the chase. And I didn’t like it.

Crikey, maybe I have started listening to myself. Less is more?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Socks and crops

The first Crosswalker sock is finished. It fits FL perfectly. My son tried very hard to get it on - and succeeded, but at such strain to the sock I feared for my stitches! So instead I invited him to choose a skein from the stash – pick a colour, any colour! Instead of carrying on with sock 2 for FL, I have cast on for an entirely different pair for my son, using his choice of yarn, which is unexpectedly bright – pictures will follow when there is something to see.

And on Saturday, Roo’s package arrived – woo hoo! The Jitterbug is so like the much-missed Piece of Beauty merino – the same tight “round” spin. And the dye-ing is gorgeous! I know it has a reputation for short yardage, so this will definitely be socks for me, to avoid disappointment to others. (Sounds convincing doesn’t it?!) And naughty Roo included a bar of Maya Gold in the package – I shared this with the kids, honest!
Most of the weekend was devoted to weeding the herb garden – finished! And I dug over and planted my veg plot: courgettes, golden beetroot, ordinary beetroot, salad mix, sorrel and a special variety of broad beans which can be eaten like mange tout. This seemed like a good idea given the short growing season up here. Now my window sill has a new set of pots as I start off the second set of seedlings: black “cavalo nero” kale, purple sprouting broccoli and some sweet basil. As well as penstemon for the herb garden, to go among the lavender for contrast.

I was also about to sow another batch of woad, as it is a biennial and this is year 2 for the plants I already have.

But then I found this on the web:

“Dyer's woad (Isatis tinctoria L.) is a devastating noxious weed … Dyer's woad displaces native rangeland species and has been observed to reduce forage carrying capacity by an average of 38 percent. Dyer's woad frequently invades dry, rocky soils on rugged terrain making control difficult.”

Oh crikey! What have I done?! Apparently two acres multiplied to 100 acres in the space of two years in one instance in Idaho. Don’t forget that I live on a farm, so there is considerable potential for spread. The critical issue seems to be the seed – let it develop seed pods, and you are doomed. But then again, this “weed” spread because people valued the deep indigo blue dye you can make from it. Time to think about harvesting my crop before it goes to seed, I thought!

So I went here:
and found out that I am too darned late to harvest my plants – the dye is extracted from the leaves of plants in Year ONE! What a classic error! So I will not be hand-dyeing yarn this year from my own crop of woad… unless I start all over again from seed. And I had better start digging out the current "crop" before it turns into a major agricultural incident! Mutter mutter mutter.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Socks for a bear

A slight change of plan. Last night I asked my son to try on his Crosswalker sock so that I could check the foot length… and he could not get it round his ankle! It must be due to the bias knitting. Ordinary “straight down” socks fit him fine with this stitch number (80). His feet are as wide as they are long and have a very high instep. There was no hope of this sock getting round the corner.

Surprisingly (given his initial apathy towards these socks) my son was quite cross! Especially when FL tried it on without any problems! So the Crosswalkers will now belong to FL and I need to start again on socks for my son. My son, who likes hand-knitted socks!

Did you ever read the "Little Bear" stories by Else Holmelund Minarik? They were huge favourites when my kids were small! I am reminded of Mother Bear making Little Bear "something to put on", garment after garment, and Little Bear still complaining about the cold, until Mother Bear tells him to take it all off again, leaving him wearing a nice thick fur coat - and Little Bear running off happily to play in the snow. Ah those were the days!

Anyone have any suggestions for a pattern for a high-instepped sock for a bear-footed male?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Do the Jitterbug!

Woo hoo!
Today I am celebrating!
You may recall the Great Central Heating Saga of missed appoinments and wild goose chases and misinformation and general high stress nonsense...? I didn't blog the whole story but it was truly Kafka-esque. I had almost given up hope of ever having a warm house.
But... yesterday at 7am the door was banged upon, the dog went beserk, and I stumbled to the door in my pjs to discover that the installation engineers had arrived to do the job! Almost a year since we were declared "eligible"! We went through a whole Scottish winter huddled round electric bar-fires with our coats on, and now, in May, we have a heating system! Even more exciting - hot water comes out of the hot tap!?! Anyone would think we were living in the 21st century!
I have some redecorating to do, to cover up the holes in the plaster / ripped wallpaper etc caused by the work, but that is a mere detail. (And might even be fun, as I plan to try out eco paints for the first time!) Can you tell I am happy?!

And then this morning I came to work to find an email from Roo telling me I had won her comments contest! Woo- and more- hoo! I have won a skein of Jitterbug sock yarn (which I have been wanting to try for ages). Thank you Roo!

Dancing round the office!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Adrian in the news

You might not know Adrian's blog.
I have been popping over there since about October last year, following his fight against leukaemia, and offering the occasional suggestion i.e. the ubiquitous Udder Cream for chemo-induced rashes!
Adrian has recently received the worst possible news - that his leukaemia has entered its final stages and that he doesn't have long to live. Adrian has decided that rather than just fade away quietly, he will use the time he has left to do all he can to publicise the need for bone marrow donors.
So last night he was on the news stating the case most eloquently, before meeting the Prime Minister.
Think about it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sartorialist Stripes

When I saw this self-striping colourway in my bag of Online yarn, I was determined it would make socks for my teenaged son. He wasn't so sure.
To my eye, it is a very sophisticated European male stripe - sort of Milanese I think. Boden might use it for a shirt in the Italian Stallion range(!) Certainly it is the sort of thing you might see on the Sartorialist's blog. I would love N. to grow up to dress as creatively as this young man or this one! But he has his own developing style, best described as "dreadlocked Viking". And that's fine too!
So these are the Sartorialist Stripe socks. Just don't tell my son.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Stripers, L- Platers and Lifers

Taking a leaf out of Jane’s book, I have decided to cast on for three pairs of socks at the same time. I am hoping that this doesn’t lead to Interminable Sock Syndrome. The idea is to smash the stash a bit faster before the moths have a feast. Also, to get through some of the patterns in my Ravelry queue before they start looking too familiar and therefore less exciting.

So there will be three categories of sock on the go: Stripers, L-platers and Lifers.

Stripers speak for themselves. I still have 6 balls of Online Supersocke in funky striping colourways in the stash. Something for everyone in the family! I plan to start with a pair of Crosswalker Socks (pdf pattern by Emily Miller - many inspiring versions over at Ravelry!) for either my son or FL. Not quite as wild as a Jaywalker, suited to the more sensitive male palette. I reckon my son is due another pair of handknit socks but he is a teen boy and I need to try the idea out on him first. There’s no point spending hours knitting something that won’t be appreciated. He wears the first pair I knit for him, so I am hopeful.

L-platers are those patterns I have accumulated which I have been too scared to knit: toe-ups, advanced architectural extravaganzas and the like. You know the ones I mean! Anything by Cookie A or Yarnissima. Gulp.

Lifers are the ones that I am always meaning to knit – where I have had the yarn and matching pattern ready in the stash for EVER but just haven’t got round to casting on because some flashy new design caught my magpie eye, yet again! So my STR needs to come out of hibernation AT LONG LAST! And there is absolutely NO good reason for not casting on my red Nature’s Palette (from Roo) for the I Love Gansey Socks. Immediately!

Off we go then!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Embossed Leaves Socks

At last – finished April socks from stash!

It was great to have several projects to play with on my Applecross holiday, but these socks really suffered. When I came home, I got involved in sewing projects and weeding the garden, and the socks just sat in my knitting bag feeling sad.

But this week my daughter is away on a school trip (to Newtonmore for high-energy activities like white water rafting - gulp!) so my evenings are longer and emptier and I have been able to devote myself to her socks. I was determined that she would come home to find them complete - and I managed!

Embossed Leaves by Mona Schmidt, from “Favorite Socks”. Cherry Tree Hill superwash merino from my first-ever swap. It came already wound into a ball, so I had no idea how it would knit up. It turns out to be a spiralling stripe of purples and sapphire against turquoise blues and greens, which drowned the stitch pattern. But my daughter chose the match and she is happy with it. And that’s what matters!

Now I can get started on my May socks – coming soon!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Word and woad

A creative weekend, but nothing to show for it!

I took my daughter to the Word Festival at Aberdeen University. They had special book-related events for children alongside the main adult literary lectures and readings. We went to an African drumming and storytelling session in the morning which was very… “multi culti” Theatre-in -Education. Far too long and worthy. I suspect they have been doing the same show for years and it had lost its energy. My daughter was visibly wilting by the interval.

But in the afternoon we went to an Illustration workshop with Natalie Russell. This was fantastic! She talked about how she became an illustrator of childrens’ books and showed us the design process from sketches through paintings to printing. Very interesting to see how the liveliness of her original drawings can be lost in the process of publishing the images - we could see it for ourselves in the transition from a coloured-pencil sketch to the “flat” printed page of the same picture. Of course, we had to do some drawing ourselves, which was great fun! She put up a powerpoint slide show of photographs of polar bears, and we had 5 minutes to draw ten bears! The images were changing constantly, so there was no question of treating it like a “still life” exercise – we had to sketch quickly to capture the shapes, and get an impression of polar bear-ness onto the paper. There were only about ten children there, which was a shame – it was really inspirational. At the end, we had to use our drawings to come up with our own bear character. Mine was an old granny bear with a headscarf, collecting eggs from a rather crazed-looking chicken! My daughter’s was a very cool-looking dude in a Hawaiian shirt with a cocktail in his paw!

Other than that, I was weeding the herb garden. My woad is four feet high and my hair is still full of pollen!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Shocking pink felt

As well as making my Volksfaden skirt, I cleared out my wardrobe at the weekend. All my winter tweeds and thermals are packed away until… oh at least July! And hanging in their place are my summery things. These take up a lot less space: partly because the fabrics are thinner, and partly because there are fewer items. Oh dear – do I need to do more sewing?!

I struck lucky at the library again, and reserved “Sew What – Skirts”. What a gem of a book! Inside are really clear and simple instructions on how to make unique skirts to your own dimensions without buying commercial patterns. Their fabric choices are inspirational and the techniques section ensures you make a good job of the structure. I used the instructions for “understitching” the waistline on my Volksfaden skirt and it really improved the hang of the garment. There are some really cool styles in here – I highly recommend it! Not just bag-like elastic waists and drawstrings, there is a full range of shapes: a-line, wrapped, pleated, layered, flounced, half-circle, straight – brilliant!

Rather less professional is the approach of my other library selection “Yeah I Made It Myself”, which is stuffed full of witty fun DIY fashion, with liberal use of the glue gun (the Project Runway judges would be horrified!). You may be shocked to hear I ordered a copy straightaway! Not for myself - for a teenaged girl’s birthday. I reckon that at 16 she is ready to be inspired to create her own style and the crazy high-speed approach of this book is guaranteed to get her started, before she gets dragged down by perfectionism and the fear of “mistakes”. I love the idea of a simple felt skirt with a row of paper-dolls holding hands as a belt. I will never forget the day Liz Lochhead (poet) visited my secondary school English class wearing a shocking pink felt mini skirt which she had clearly made herself using huge hand-stitches. I feared for her seams when she crossed her legs! But how liberating to turn a slash of wild colour into a garment for the sheer exuberant sake of it! This book captures that spirit.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Flapper in Volksfaden

I am giddily happy with my new skirt!
The fabric is Kokka Japanese cotton from Volksfaden and has that playful Boden-like edge. I can't help but skip about! The pattern is from my faithful Japanese skirt pattern book - this has been such a good buy, and I have lots more ideas for happy summer skirts. I made the same style in the winter in tweed and it looked Vivienne Westwood-esque. In cotton, the frill stands out a bit more, which FL pointed out makes me look like a Flapper. I am thinking cuban heels and a string of long wooden beads.

Back at the hospital yesterday for FL's monthly check. 48 patients and only 3 doctors, so we waited a long time for a short appointment. FL's blood test results are "good" and we mustn't worry about his cough / shortness of breath thing. Oh, that's OK then. As ever, we get ourselves all psyched up for the hospital and then wonder why we bothered. But it's all good. Onwards and upwards.

Still knitting my April socks - tsk!

Friday, May 02, 2008

Another long weekend

What are your plans for the weekend?
It is a holiday here on Monday, and FL keeps making me look across the valley to see Lochnagar in the distance – it still has snow on it, so why don’t we take the kids ski-ing? There are many reasons why not: he shouldn’t put his weakened bones at risk of a fracture, I don’t know how to ski, my son is supposed to be revising for his Standard Grade exams (which start on Tuesday). My daughter? She would love it!
FL has been golfing every single day for a week. It’s great that he has the energy and determination to exercise, but I think he is overdoing it. He looks exhausted. He still hasn’t shaken off the coughing / struggling to catch his breath problem. And for the past two weeks he has had an itchy rash all over – especially troublesome on his arms and legs. Probably a reaction to the Thalidomide (though he tried blaming a changed calcium supplement.) But on the scale of things, he is “fine”.
I have been reading “Going for the Cure” by Francesca Morasani Thompson, after seeing it mentioned on another myeloma-wife’s blog. FL is not eligible for a bone marrow transplant, so I won’t be lending him the book, but it makes interesting reading as it is written by a doctor who was the first MM patient to have a BMT. She was an incredibly determined person, and she lived a further ten years after the operation. I have been reading it for the science and the history of treatment of this one condition. It is fascinating to realise how far medicine has advanced in the past twenty years. When she wrote this book, MRI scans were a brand new technology. She also writes very clearly on the subject of consent forms and analyses the risks behind the treatment regime to which she was being asked to sign up. This is a level of questioning beyond the reach of most patients: we are trained to trust the medical professionals. The author makes it clear that so much is unknown, particularly in trial therapies, that the doctors are effectively experimenting with their patients. But given a terminal diagnosis like Multiple Myeloma, what is there to lose?

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, the weekend.

I have my Volksfaden material to make into a skirt.
I need to finish my April socks from stash.
I need to weed the herb garden before the neighbours start complaining.
I need to re-grout the bathroom tiles (as planned for a previous weekend).
And I am peculiarly excited at the prospect of packing away my winter clothes with lavender and Ebay-ing my daughter’s outgrown summer collection – the sun must be shining!