Thursday, 30 April 2015

Chicken soup for the soul...

The Hut was everything I had anticipated and more. I know that sounds cheesy. It really was chicken soup for the soul and it's just what I needed, right when I needed it. Here's to spontenaity! Google, book, go. OK, there was quite a bit of talking M into it first.

Our priority upon arriving was to light the fire. It was warm in no time at all. In fact we had windows and the top of the stable doors open most of the time despite bitterly cold winds. If we were to go again we'd take seasoned logs rather than use the supplied wood offcuts, they just burnt down too quickly. I woke both nights, in the small hours, perishing cold and had to light a fire just to get warm again. No great hardship really, it was quick and easy and I had the bonus of sipping a hot mug of tea whilst sitting in the glow of the wood burner whilst the world (and M) slept.

The view out over that vase of flowers was taken in the local community run pub. Rather than allow it to close the community took it over and trebled it's turnover in three months. It is quirky, meals are decided with a spin of the 'Meal of Fortune' and there's only one choice per night but you have to be quick, six to eight guests before you and you may miss out on it altogether! The bar staff are volunteers and not very knowledgeable about drinks (we asked for local cider and he suggested one that was made in Suffolk, but we didn't argue!). Sheep dogs were tucked in under every bar stool, including two adorable ones that had got soaked in the massive snow storm that we had on the first night. I made a fuss of them and there were both trying to nudge their wet faces into my lap in competition with each other. I'd have happily taken them home.

The local pub was also the only reliable source of a mobile phone signal for M, and free wifi. Both of my evenings spent there involved very little conversation with M, but quite a lot of convention between him and the children. He even facetimed J to take him through the very tricky operation of feeding the cat and the dogs!!

Ella, ever the delegator, managed to offload all the pet feeding and letting in and out duties to Jake, in exchange for taking over the running of the dishwasher. After failing to actually turn it on three times because she'd held the button down...apparently this puts it on dryer mode, she eventually got it to wash. Thankfully they coped with the meal times perfectly ok.

I'd forgotten just how baffling the Welsh language is despite all the multilingual road signs and place names. We pretty much made up our own pronunciations of places and were careful not to say them in front of anyone. Someone suggested we take the scenic route from our hut to Llangollen which turned out to be a highlight of the trip. 1300 feet up and I asked M why the hell we even went to Italy last year when we have one vehicle width mountain roads with sheer drops of hundreds of feet right here in the United Kingdom! In fact ours surpass the Italian ones any day because the barriers were either non existent or wouldn't have held a sheep back let alone a car! Needless to say I have very few photographs that actually capture that experience. I was too busy clinging on to the car door handle (for all the use that would have done if we'd careered off the road).

Another slightly hair raising experience was our attempt to walk over an Aquaduct that was 126 feet tall. It was spectacular. Canals go across with a path one side of them and a sheer drop the other side with only six inches of canal side between them and the drop. The sign that said small children would be able to fit through the old railings and fall to their death was probably what put me off the walk across. We got about a third of the way and neither of us were enjoying it so we turned back much to the amusement of local dog walkers. Harvey would have plunged into the canal for a swim and Riley would have dropped through the railings, guaranteed.

There were steam train rides at Llangollen and some other nearby places. All stations have lovely tea rooms but with only a short stay in the area we decided to save that for another time. There we canal trips we could have taken too, and we'd both have liked to have driven West to see Betws-y-Coed but that's also something we would do next time, and I do think there will be a next time. It was my idea of paradise and M said he thoroughly enjoyed it. E and J said that it was fun without us which isn't how I thought they'd describe it but I'm glad it was, so all's well that ends well.

Well almost. We stopped in Chester on the way home which was lovely. Before we left we had a delicious mug of hot coffee and then, about half an hour onto the motorway it closed, all three lanes our side and all three lanes on the other side at a total stand still for three hours! To say I was desparate for the loo would be an understatement, and M was cross I wouldn't get out of the car and pee on the verge in front of hundreds of cars and lorry drivers!!!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Feeling Good...

It's been one of those days. The kind of day where the lyrics to 'Feeling Good' come to mind. The sun was in the sky, birds were flying high. I saw butterflies, blossom and there was indeed a breeze driftin' on by.

There's a tiny speck in that photo of blue skies and fluffy white clouds. It's my Heron. I got a fantastic view from underneath him as he circled leisurely for ages, until he went up and up and up and then my neck ached too much to carry on watching him. If it hadn't been for thoughts of grass snakes, stoats, voles and all manner of other wildlife I've seen there lately I'd have quite happily lay down and watched him until he disappeared. It's mesmerising watching Herons fly.

There were hundreds of those butterflies on that white blossomed hedgerow today. The smell was quite intoxicating too. Certainly more pleasant than Riley on the home straight with fox poo on his neck. Little rascal. Good job there is one final stream for a dunk before I take him home.

I picked up some random sock yarn in a charity shop a little while ago. A good quantity, about six balls and only £1.49. It's fascinating seeing the patterns emerge as I go. I think there will be enough yarn leftover for a second pair. I have a basic knitted in the round sock pattern (thanks D!) and when I'm feeling brave I'm going to get my dpns out and face my fear! In the meantime I'm crocheting a pair which I must admit, is easier than knitting when an old senile cat wants to bury herself in your lap. She seems to have forgotten I'm a dog person. She is a bit cute though.

I shouldn't have cast these socks on at all given the wips already needing my attention, but the other day M had a couple of short days in a row and we ran some errands and had a couple of coffees in our favourite Italian coffee place. Being freelance means his office goes everywhere with him and I find myself looking into the back of his iPhone for the duration of our coffees out. If he gets a moments peace from the phone he likes to do The Times crossword (leaving me to do the difficult ones) and so I tuck the sock and hook into my bag and whip it out everytime there's a spare ten minutes or so.

I did envy the dogs their lake swim today. They were hot and bothered and Harvey launched himself off the bank with a spectacular four legged landing about one metre out. It looked so inviting. Riley is more cautious but was persuaded in when he spotted a couple of Moorhens disappearing into the island reeds. He had absolutely zero chance of bothering them. I think they dive underwater when they feel threatened.

The lake has seemed devoid of all wildlife over the winter months but it's now attracting Canada Geese, Moorhens, the odd Mallard. Since it's only small, it'll be interesting to see if they can all inhabit the lake harmoniously.

Every year we have a pair of nesting ducks in the stream beside our house. They choose the same spot and anytime soon we will see the Mother with approximately twelve fluffy little ducklings. It's heartbreaking because as the weeks go by she will end up with maybe half that number. I'm pretty sure the foxes have a few and some may well slip down the drains when she leads them across the road. Some must get run over although I've never seen a dead one in the road. They are tame enough to stay and be fed brown bread. Where the happy couple take the surviving ones we just don't know. One day they just leave and don't come back. I hope they have a nice pond or lake somewhere.

The dogs seem to both respect the nesting ducks. They haven't hatched yet and Harvey, who is most interested, will stand at the top of the bank and just wag his tail at them. He doesn't go any closer and he doesn't bark. He spend quite a portion of his day doing this. Unfortunately it's also the site of a wasp nest and he's already been stung on the side of the nose. I'm sure it won't be the last time either. He never learns.

Sunday, 19 April 2015


This is our kitchen island. It's also the provider of much needed fun and laughter. We've been squeezing in the odd game before meals and waking up to full scale 'best of 11' competitions. It starts off as best of three, then five, then seven, and the more I beat Jake the more he adds to the 'best of...' I think I have new found respect round here. I may be 'old' in their eyes and need reading glasses but I play a mean game of table tennis.

I spotted this mini desktop set in Urban Outfitters of all places. The bats look impossible to play with because they are very small with but it's surprising how quickly you get used to them. We always said we'd adapt the island for this purpose when the kitchen was done and although the kitchen is far from 'done' this addition has proved hugely successful.

I love that we've used worktop materials that aren't so precious that we can't drill two holes in them. I love that this £3 set in the sale gets the kids off their iPads and Xbox for a little while. I love the way anyone, young or old, collapses into fits of giggles when a long rally is finally scuppered. I love the way Harvey rushes to the ball when it reaches the floor and with all the commotion looks up and says 'just sniffing, just sniffing!' I love the way Riley puts his paws up on the island as if to ask, 'what is all the fuss about?' I love the way a game of ping pong with two playing and two spectating seems to melt away the troubles.

(The set came with two suction pads for the net if anyone fancies getting hold of a set and has the non drilling two holes in your worktop type of kitchen!)

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Off the hook...fave hat

Hastily taken snaps as we were going out first thing this morning. I didn't notice that I was wearing the square bit, square on if you know what I mean. I've been wearing it diagonally with a corner pointing skyward and one pointing down the back of my neck. Oh well. It was the second attempt at taking snaps. E wasn't feeling very generous with her time when we took the first set and the light wasn't good either. So, that's that.

The pattern is from the Easy Crochet series and this one was the 'Weekend' book. I used the alpaca mix yarn by Stylecraft. I like the slight fuzziness of this yarn, it's comfy and warm too.

If you can detect a slight smile in the top pic it's because I have something to smile about. I've managed to persuade M, that in the interests of sanity I need just a couple of days away from this madhouse. He initially suggested booking it for my birthday, which is on October....argh! When I calmly explained that I had nothing on my calendar that was solely for me to look forward to (plenty of cricket mind you, trips for the kids, festivals, concerts, cricket dinners for M) he finally got it, and we've shoe horned a two night break in between cricket, work and DIY on the kitchen.

I can't help but think it could all go pear shaped. It's been a while since we actually went anywhere without the kids and dogs in tow. We will either get on famously or we will annoy the hell out of each other. I've chosen something that is my idea of paradise. When I told E she said it was her idea of a punishment. Clearly she's the five star hotel with fluffy white bathrobe type (probably swapped at birth).

A field with a view of hills. A shepherds hut with a wood burning stove. No wifi, no tv, no hot tub. I cannot wait. I'm taking a big fat book, my typewriter and some crochet. Two nights and three days with very little else to do but read, write and crochet. Heaven.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Keeping it simple...

I've hit a big black wall just lately. Nothing seems to magically conjure up any enthusiasm, not even the weather. It happens sometimes. It will inevitably pass. It could be hormones. It could be events. It could be people. It could be all of those things combined.

I feel like I drowned a long time ago. Round about the time this stranger came on the scene, the person who became a stranger when two little people started calling her Mummy. I loved drowning in Motherhood, we had some good times, but lately I want to resurface. Find that old thing that used to be me.

I've got a daughter, fast approaching eighteen. She's intelligent but says exactly what she thinks, no holds barred. It's at odds with the way I was brought up and I feel powerless to make her any other way. It has it's good side. No-one is in any doubt how she feels. Lively debates ensue. Life would be dull if we all thought the same way.

I have a son, six feet tall and fourteen years old. He's thoughtful, quiet, loving and will only say your bum looks big in that if he's genuinely teasing. He's closer to the personality I had when I was a child; tactful, peace keeping.

So I find myself wanting the best of both worlds. I want to speak up for myself but I still want to carry on being thoughtful and tactful. It's a fine line. Just how do you pull off being married to someone with such different values in life? Speaking up for mine (which I'm guilty of allowing to be brushed under the carpet for the sake of 'harmony') causes a certain amount of friction but also, surprisingly, a little 'give'.

M prefers me to stay out of the kitchen. He sees himself as something of a 'masterchef'. This suits me fine except for those occasions when he moans that he's tired, that he has to do everything, that he doesn't feel like cooking tonight so we'll have to go out (hello? I'm here, I'm a fully grown adult and I can actually cook a meal!), or when his concoctions are so elaborate they taste awful.

This Easter holiday I took a little control back. I insisted on being the meal planner. We went shopping with my new approach firmly in my mind. I wanted to strip it all back, keep it simple. Keep it tasty. I needed to give M a buzz word so that he could relate to it; too many floaty words and I lose him! We settled on 'artisan'. Simple, tasty, thoughtful, creative, rustic, quick; those are all the words we associate with artisan food.

Day one: Burgers. The best we could find. M reached for the sesame seed buns and I said a firm NO. We found alternative, tasty ciabatta rolls. He reached for the iceberg lettuce, I said NO! I bought tasty salad leaves. Cheap, flavourless tomatoes? Ugh. Plum tomatoes instead...and so on. M cooked the burgers to perfection. I laid out the salad in bowls and a bottle of balsamic dressing. The kids sat down and demolished piles of salad proving M completely wrong. He said they wouldn't touch it or that it wouldn't be filling. It had taken just one item to cook and the rest laid out with minimal preparation. The glass bowls have lids so they went on the leftover salad items and straight into the fridge for the next days lunch. Simple.

Day two was a similar affair. Our one cooked item was a large jacket potato each. Tuna mayo was made. The salad made another appearance with one or two changes. J ate a whole bowl of plum tomatoes (we are growing our own this year!). They both declared Mozzerella cheese was their new favourite thing (ugh, really?).

Day three and I thought it was time to do 'keeping it simple' without the salad. I cooked a whole chicken and we had it with mash potato and one veg. It was still a very simple, easy to prepare meal. Feedback was good. Plates were empty.

So the week went on like this until we got to Sunday and M reverted to his old behaviour and HIS way of doing things. Instead of the suggested beef with roast potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli (from the veg box), which quite frankly would have been plenty... He decided to do two different types of potato and four different types of vegetables and Yorkshire puddings. The final quantities would have fed a table of ten, nevermind four. Some of it was over cooked as will happen when you are juggling so many items. A lot of it ended up in the dog bowls, along with my good feelings about a. Having my voice heard in this household and b. Getting M on board with the whole simple living ethos.

I've been hatching plans to replace the playhouse at the end of the garden with a shepherds hut. There will be no electricity, no wifi, no tv. There will be a log burning stove. Ella said it sounds like solitary confinement. Oh yes please.

In crochet news, there is a new hat! It's my new favourite one. I finished it a week ago but haven't had a willing model and this one has an interesting crown and deserves to be photographed properly. I may have to bribe Jake with chocolate.

Friday, 3 April 2015

And then there were two...

Bingo! A little tweak here and there and I've got the hat I wanted. Something with a tiny bit of slouch, something 'holey' (it's lacy really but that sounds too girly!), and something in chunky oatmeal. I've also got rid of the feminine wavy edge by winging it with 'fill in' trebles and htr's. The overall result is much more me now.

Hat number one is in DK as per the pattern instructions (pattern link in last post). I think at some stage I will add a few more rows to this one and finish it off with a straight edge again. I know I won't wear it much as it is. Adapting the pattern for chunky yarn was easy. I just did the increase rows until the skull part was the same diameter as the DK version and then did a reduced number of shell and fptr pairs.

News that I am growing out my brown hair dye has met with mixed reactions. Two said I was brave. One said, go for it. One said she wasn't sure and one, bless her, said she thought it would really suit me and why should anyone ever have to explain the choice anyway. Girl power!

One thing I've learnt is that of four women I know who are all in their forties, I seem to be the only one who has white hair. Of the four, two are brown haired with barely any grey and two are fair with barely any grey showing. Only one of them has dyed her hair since the first grey appeared. I've talked about family genetics with two of them and it does seem to be something that's handed down. Take M for instance, he's ten years older than me with a full head of hair but I reckon I will end up with more grey/white hair than him. His Dad was in his seventies with not that much grey at all.

Our family Easter weekend has kicked off with a four day session of sawdust and power tools. At the end of day one we have a floor to ceiling kitchen cupboard. Hopefully at the end of day four we will have three of those with doors. I'm not holding my breath.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Off the hook...crochet indigo beanie

I was right about those narcissus being narcissistic...the little attention seekers decided to bloom before I could plant them up in that old wine box. Oh well. They are still a welcome presence in my kitchen. Along with the hyacinths which have also started to make an appearance.

I'm already quite conscious of my grey roots showing through, albeit an inch or so. I knocked up this little beanie in an evening using a dark denim DK wool I had in my stash. The idea being that it was lightweight and therefore more decorative than warm. It's a nice pattern but perhaps a little girly for my taste (it has a wavy edge!) It would probably work better for me in a chunky oatmeal yarn, maybe even cotton, so I will need to adapt the pattern and try again. Not that this first attempt will be assigned to the scrap heap.

(The pattern was free and in pdf format if anyone wants me to email them a copy). It does look slightly more interesting once on a head and the pattern becomes more visible. The front post trebles are ideal for someone tying fptr's for the first time. Easy peasy.

We got J's 'annual clothes shop' out of the way yesterday. He decided that last year's hoodie and sweatshirt were still favourites. Likewise he was set up for shorts, socks and underwear. We went to a large shopping centre (one we call Meadowhell) and sent J off with money and his big sis for updated, invaluable, non negotiable fashion advice.

While M and I were not having very much fun trying to find a blazer for cricket dinners, J and E were getting on very well with both shopping and each other. E finds it hilarious that J will only buy clothes in 'outfits' not in separates. He bought two pairs of skinny jeans, two t shirts and a shirt and we still had plenty of change from fifty quid. He's now under strict instructions to wear the new grey or black jeans out for meals, cinema, town etc but to consign the coloured skinny jeans (purple) to playing Xbox with friends. He's only allowed to wear the shirt undone and over a t shirt. Who knew?

The hat pattern is available for free at