Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Holidays at home

I'm not entirely sure any of these pictures do justice to the light and the snow we've had this week. Just before it goes dark, which is about 4pm around here these days, we've been heading out to the fields for a wander, looking at footprints, the sky, and the crazy patterns the thawing-then-freezing snow and ice has been making.

And admiring the velcro-like-stickiness of my new stripey gloves, of course :)

There's been a couple of pangs at being at home instead of on holiday, but we got over those fairly quickly, mostly by doing lots of holiday related things at home instead. And actually, home is great when you get to be at home, rather than dashing in and out on the way to doing other things.

So there's been a fair bit of crafting, mostly in front of cheesy festive films, because (of course) I haven't finished making all those beautiful hand made Christmas presents yet - sorry dear family! I'll be done soon!

And there's been a little bit of sitting in cafes reading new books, because that's what you do when you're on holiday at home (on holiday anywhere in fact). Don't you love the giant bottles of 'non-brewed condiment' on every table??

And if all that excitement wasn't enough... here's reason 4235 why it's-probably-a-good-thing-that-we-didn't-go-on-holiday-after-all:

Yep, that's our poor little van on the back of a breakdown truck. Fortunately, we weren't in the wild snowy wastelands of Scotland, but at a garage on the way back from visiting Peter's family.

And, wise to the possibility of such events, we had tea, a picnic, a hot water bottle, spare gloves, books to read and a quilt, so the hour we spent waiting for the lorry was actually a rather pleasant one :)

Ah well, back to it. More sneakly glimpses of Christmassy craft projects to come this week, and I'll try to stop posting pictures of the snow...

(oh, and there's a couple of people who've asked what the swirly thing was in the last post - yep, I got a proper old spirograph for Christmas, and I'm wondering what exciting projects I can use my long-lost swirly-pattern-making skills for!)

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas Day so far

Just because I've got a quiet moment to myself, here's a few pictures of Christmas Day in our house so far...

Thursday, 24 December 2009

White Christmas!

This is my first White Christmas! And oh, it's exciting. Very exciting.

It's snowed on and off all week, making festive preparations extremely festive. This just isn't normal round here, and that makes it even more great.

Sadly, we did have to cancel our holiday plans. Our van couldn't even get out of our street, so driving 500 miles to the far north of Scotland we thought might be a bit ambitious... But you know what? Now we've decided to stay at home, it's fun. Lots of fun.

There's been lots of decorating, a bit of visiting, plenty of baking, and huge amounts of sewing. We're just about ready. Of course, there's bits of presents that will need finishing off tomorrow. And the cake isn't iced. And I haven't even finished half of the presents for people i won't see for a couple of weeks.

But the important things are done, and we're just settling down to watch Scrooge with a hot chocolate.

Tomorrow's going to involve unwrapping, baking, icing, cooking, eating, and chatting. And another snowy walk I reckon.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Nearly there...

Well, get this, we can't find the Christmas tree. Yep, we've lost the Christmas tree. The plastic Christmas tree that's older than me, and has been up ever year for as long as I can remember. I can't decide if I eventually managed to get rid of it in last year's attempt at purging the house of 'stuff' (hmm), or if it's just hiding somewhere.

So instead, we have Mystic Branch. We had Mystic Branch in the kitchen last year, as well as the Christmas tree, but the kitchen Mystic Branch never got taken down, and I wanted to put something new up. So now the living room has its own Mystic Branch. And very lovely it is too.

Other than decorating, it's been a busy week (I should stop saying that, I seem to say it every week, this must just be normal!). I popped over on the train to see my sister and her family. We had a cold walk along the sea front. I love living in the hills, but oh, how I wish sometimes I could transplant this entire city to the seaside! It was good to have a bit of sea air. And to see everyone, of course.

I managed to get a bit of crocheting in on the train. I LOVE crocheting on the train, it's so practical, you can stare out of the window at the same time, it's not all elbows like knitting, and if you drop it all, you can just pick it up again without losing all your stitches. Very good.

Anyway, I carried on and made more flowers. I'm very taken with these little flowers (and they matched my skirt nicely!)

I even managed to turn a few of them into something when I got home, although you can't see it properly as it might just end up as a present...

So, there's been decorations, a bit of visiting, a bit of present making, and even some cards. I don't think I've got round to sending Christmas cards for, oh, probably years. Of course, these ones haven't actually left the house yet, but they are still made.

I went for simple and easy, no point making life more difficult!

And last night? SNOW! I had to cycle in it, and was rather inclined to be grumpy about it, worrying that it would still be here on Monday, and my boss would want me to drive in it... But I've decided to take my own advice, worry about that if it happens, and get on with being childishly excited that it's nearly Christmas and it's snowing!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Making things

I think it's about time for a kind of Christmassy type post, don't you?

First of all though, I must show you this cheery bag I made for my mum's birthday last week. Do you like it? Remember this bag I made for myself, back in May (goodness, seems like an absolute lifetime ago!) Well, my mum liked it, and I had a fair bit of material left, so I thought I'd have a go at something a little bit more complicated...

And you can't see it, but incidentally, the lining is made from the same dotty material as the skirt I made back in May too!

I was rather pleased with it - my sewing's really improved, some of the seams are even straight!

I still haven't got very far with making all my Christmas presents, but I will do it... I keep fogetting about what I made a few weeks ago...

Yep, more soap! A little bit crumbly, but with an added extra ingredient... Won't say too much more, as I haven't decided who's getting what yet, but it's very exciting. (and the thing with soap is that I've now made several Christmas presents, instead of just one!)

There's also been another small child's birthday, which I thought called for another mesh treasure bag. Not as complicated as the last one, but cheery all the same. I absolutely adore that fabric (although there's an ongoing 'discussion' here about whether they're radishes or beetroots...)

And finally, I sat on the train for 3 hours at the weekend, staring out of the window, pondering life, and crocheting. I love crocheting, it's so easy to carry, it's so easy to undo when you do it wrong, and it's not all elbows and concentration on trains like knitting can be. I only had a couple of little balls of wool, so I ended up making flowers. And more flowers.

So now there's a small pile of them, all different colours. Rather fetching, although I'm not entirely sure what they're going to turn into yet. I suspect at least a couple will form some kind of Christmas presents! Any suggestions? I've got a couple of ideas...

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Judgement and acceptance

I've been stopped in my tracks a bit this week. My PhD viva (oral exam) was on Thursday, I didn't come out with the result I was hoping for...

I've been writing the PhD for so long (six years!), and I've had so many emotions about the process and the thing itself, that this almost felt a bit flat. I've felt elated, crushed, frustrated, annoyed, incompetent, useless, grumpy, grumpy, grumpy about this thing, but whatever I've been feeling, it's been such a big part of my life for so long, it was hard to believe it was ever going to go away. Finally, it seemed like the end was near - and now it's been pushed just that little bit further away again.

This isn't the place for details, but suffice to say the examiners didn't like what I'd written. This is always one of the problems with putting something out there into the world, there will always be people who don't like it, it's just annoying when the people who don't like it are the people who are there to officially pass judgement.

It would have been easy to stomp on Thursday afternoon, to set fire to my thesis (oh, how many times did I threaten to do just that in the last six years??), to slam a couple of doors, or to burst into tears. I actually managed to do none of those things, and in fact behaved impeccably, no tantrums, no tears, no bitterness, and a genuine sense of congratulations for the other woman who was being examined in the room next to mine (and who passed).

We all went for a drink together, us two examinees, our supervisors, other students in the department, and the other woman's examiners (my goodwill didn't quite extend to inviting my examiners to the pub...) We had a nice evening, and we came home worn out and only a little bit tipsy.
There's plenty of people I could blame, justly or unjustly, for this daft old situation I now find myself in. My supervisors, for example, for thinking my thesis was ok when it wasn't, my examiners, for thinking my thesis wasn't ok when it was, the whole system of PhD-ing for making one set of people's judgements matter over another set of people's, myself, for not doing it properly in the first place...

However, I'm a cheery soul, and not much given to self pity and bitterness. Peter's dad says 'deal with things as they are, not as you'd like them to be', and I think that's pretty wise advice. Attitude is everything in situations like this. I might not like what they said, I might not at all like the fact that I now have to spend several more months writing something I thought would be out of my hair by now, but that's the way it is, so we'll take it from there and move forwards.

So, in the spirit of cheery acceptance, let me list the things about this I'm grateful for, rather than the things I'm annoyed about. I'm grateful that the viva itself felt like a positive chat at the time, rather than an inquisition (whatever I think when I look back on it!). I'm also very grateful I don't have to do it again. The last few months of writing were rushed, so I'm grateful for the opportunity to spend a bit more time exploring things I hadn't quite got my head round.

I'm grateful that, since there's work to be done, I've got a whole year to do it, rather than a few weeks, even if I'd rather be spending that year doing something else. I'm grateful for the support that my friends and family have shown, being positive when I've needed it, and also letting me let off steam a bit when I needed to do that. I'm grateful for another year of cheaper train travel and council tax discount...

And I'm also grateful that I was able to whizz off to Bristol on Friday and spend the weekend with some lovely friends and their children, in the welcoming chaos of the new home they've just moved into. A bit of discussion, and a lot of singing and playing and messing around and getting wet and looking at colourful things and crafty things and eating cake was just what I needed :)

Now I've come back, it's dawning on me just how little time there is left before Christmas. I've got a couple of pictures of things I've made to show you, but that can wait for a different post. Christmas decorations up after work tomorrow, I reckon, then I might start with tiny glimpses of Christmas-presents-in-progress... Can't wait!

Saturday, 28 November 2009


Today, we went to the town centre, one of Peter's bands was singing wintery songs. Before they started, I wandered into the gallery, and there was a cheery sale of handmade, Christmassy, crafty cheeriness. I didn't buy anything, but I did sneak a few photos, for a bit of inspiration...

Considering I'm meant to be making all (most??) of my presents this year, I'm probably leaving it a bit late for the relaxed, cheery preparations I was imagining...

Still, I know what everyone's having (I think!), it's just a case of, er, getting on with it. Funnily enough, when it's housework that needs doing, crafty things seem far more interesting. When it's crafty things that need doing, there always seems to be something else that needs doing first.

Anyway, the first Christmassy project is started - hooray! There's going to have to be several on the go at the same time, some of which I'll be able to show you, some of which will have to wait...

So now I'm all inspired by the pretty, Christmassy loveliness I saw today at the gallery, and keep imagining even more lovely things to make. Self discipline was never one of my strong points, but I'm trying to add things to the end of the list, rather than the top. But there might be just a couple of changes of plan, a few small extra things... We'll see...

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

An update

So much for regular blogging once the PhD was finished! The past two weeks just whizzed by in a flurry of full time work (which doesn't suit me at all), socialising, and a bit of sewing.

The problem with sewing and blogging at the minute is that many of the things I'm sewing are destined to be presents for family, some of who pop in here from time to time. And I don't want to give anything away! So it's all got to be timed, and there's so much waiting...

Actually, if I'm completely honest, there's not that much waiting at all, because I haven't even started on Christmas presents yet. Everything's planned, I know what I'm making, it's just the making part that's not happened yet. There's still time, I think! But it'll be a fairly full on few weeks of sewing. The best kind of full on weeks.

One present I have finished recently is for one of my gorgeous nephews, who turned two recently. I pinched the idea from Handmade Home, which sadly I do not own a copy of (yet!), but there's so many fab pictures of projects from the book around on the internet. I looked at a few of these treasure bags, and scouted around the house for things to make it from, then had a go. I think it turned out rather well :) So far I think it's been mostly used to carry toy cars...

I'm easing my guilt about using the idea without buying the book by promising myself that I WILL buy it, very soon, and possibly copies for everyone else too :)

Since I've got nothing much else of my own to show you at the minute, I thought I'd show you what someone else has been up to instead. I went to visit my family last weekend, and was very much appreciating the way that many of us seem to have found some kind of creativity in the last few years. My mum makes cards, and sells them to her friends. My sister is making all sorts (remember the patchwork skirt??), and has recently started having a go at corsetry.

My auntie has been sewing longer than all of us, and has made quite a few gorgeous patchwork quilts, most of which I don't have pictures of (must change that soon!). This was one of the first she made.

It's slightly shakey as the owner of the quilt, my 12 year old cousin, is hiding under it, squirming around and giggling while I was trying to take the picture. Look at those colours! It's the most colourful quilt I've seen, there's so many things to see, and it's so cosy to sit under.

Most recently, my auntie has started making boxes. These are made from sturdy cardboard and fabric, the first couple were done from a template, but now she makes her own designs. This is the most recent one - again, marvellously colourful and jolly :)

The first one's being used to hold sewing bits and bobs, and there's one been made specifically to hold a piece of telescope (very technical description there).

Aren't they fab??

I'm off work today. I was off yesterday too, but felt so rotten I couldn't do anything other than sleep. Today I feel better, not well enough to go to work, but maybe good enough to wander around with a camera taking a few pictures. I might even knit a few rows, or sew a bit, and maybe I'll even make it back in with another blog post before the day's out. We'll see.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Commemorative peg bag

I had this idea. There's a llama and alpaca farm up the road, and I know they spin the fleece into wool, and I thought it'd be lovely to knit some gloves or scarves or jumpers from local alpaca wool...

So we went for a very soggy morning out there at the weekend.

Apparently alpacas don't produce lanolin like sheep do, so they get a bit soggy in the cold and wet weather. They were looking rather bedraggled! And sadly, at £11 a ball, I won't be buying any alpaca wool any time soon... I really must investigate local sheep's wool soon too.

Anyway, aside from the alpacas, it's been a busy but rather mellow weekend. I'm working full time for two weeks now, so I wanted to get a bit of sewing and resting in before all that started.

I found some fabulous old sheets in a charity shop on Saturday. I just couldn't resist them. I bought them with a specific project in mind, but now I've got them I almost can't bear to cut them up! I can think of several gorgeous things I'd love to make with them. Hmm. Watch this space to see what they end up as...

And now, for some sunflowers - the very thing for a rainy November weekend. Bizarrely, the sunflower seeds we planted a few weeks ago and then thoroughly ignored them, watering them only when they were so shrivelled it was embarrassing, have now started flowering!

And carrying on with the sunflower theme... here's the result of all the pondering about the wedding present to make for my boss.

It's a commemorative wedding peg bag, in the colours of the wedding, with their names and the date of the wedding embroidered on the front :)

They actually really liked it! Well, they fell about laughing, at any rate :) The only commemorative wedding peg bag they, and possibly anyone else, had ever received :)

So a success, I reckon. I'm rather impressed with myself for thinking of it! And I think it turned out rather well :)

Friday, 6 November 2009

A bit of sewing

I've been sewing! Oh, how I've missed it. This is Patch, my second one, and he's so cheery I almost can't bear to give him away. This one is for my friend's two year old daughter, and I'm just trying to work out the best way to stick him in the post.

The pattern came from an article from an old magazine that Peter cut out years ago and stuck to a piece of card. We have no idea what the magazine was, or when it's from, but I'm so glad he cut it out all those years ago. Patch is really easy to make, even for someone as impatient as me... I didn't use old tights as stuff though - but only cos I didn't have enough!

Anyway, he was very cheery to sew, and I'm enjoying having him hanging round in the kitchen. He's adding an element of cosiness at the minute, as our boiler was condemned today, just as it's starting to turn properly cold.

It's 20 odd years old, makes rather a racket, but was working pretty much perfectly, as far as this morning. Sadly, the man who came to do the annual service didn't quite agree...

There's been rather a lot of cursing about the obsolescence of boiler parts. Apparently, the part we need is small, relatively inexpensive, but they just don't make it any more, and because of this we 'have' to have the entire system replaced, at a cost of several thousand pounds.

Well, we don't always believe what we're told in this house... so there's been lots of tapping of keyboards and phoning of friends as we've searched for a better solution. Questions have been asked that others might consider a little bit extreme - Can we find this obsolete part anywhere? (possibly) Can we manage without central heating? (yes) Is it warm enough with plug in heaters? (yes) Could we possibly, possibly justify a cheery solid fuel stove?? (Probably not, but doesn't stop me dreaming about one!) Do we have enough blankets? (undoubtedly yes, but that's not a reason not to acquire a few more!) Shall I start knitting hats? (ooh, yes!)

So. A fair bit of pondering going on here. This is one of the disadvantages of a 'simple' life - sometimes it doesn't seem very simple...

Both of us grew up without central heating, and we've never heated the house up like a greenhouse and walked around in shorts and t shirts. This house is old, 110 years old, and has lived through plenty of those years without radiators. The walls are thick - but filled with rubble rather than cavity wall insulation. Fortunately we have double glazing, and thick curtains. So we won't freeze, but it would be handy to take the chill off the house and not let the damp set in... So for now, we've got four small plug in radiators, and that's working nicely today. Not sure the washing's going to dry very quickly though, and we don't have a tumble dryer. Mind you, doing less washing sounds rather appealing!

If we both worked full time, we might have just agreed to buy a new boiler straight away. But we don't, and we didn't. So this is going to require a bit of creativity. I'm up for the challenge.

Back to reality

Well, here it is..

Not entirely sure how it took me 6 years, but there we are! I did hardly anything other than write, eat and sleep for the whole of October, and so far November has mostly involved working, coughing, sneezing and resting.

I'm slowly starting to re-enter the 'real world' now (whatever that means). So far, it's meant strolling over the hills looking at the scenery...

Trying to see the positives of leaving the house for work at 7.30am...

Appreciating that our city air is clean enough for lichen...

And generally stomping through leaves and loving the colours...

I've slowly started sewing again this week too, and if the sun ever shines for long enough when I'm in the house with a working camera, I'll take some photos. I've got lots of plans for Christmas presents too, which will be underway soon... And I'll be heading back out into the garden this weekend - I've already been out and picked some last minute tomatoes which are ripening on the windowsill.

All in all, I've breathed a huge sigh of relief at having got to the end of this writing extravaganza. It's been a long, hard slog, and even though I willingly started it in the first place, there's been many times I've wished I hadn't... I'm grateful for the opportunity, and if you ask me in another six months, I might even say I enjoyed it, but for now, I'm trying not to think about it at all.

I've started lifting my head up again and taking notice of what's around me - in the kind of housework, bank account, overgrowing garden, late birthday presents kind of a sense... So if you're waiting for me to do something that I should have done and haven't, then it's (probably!) on the list and I'll get round to it very soon! I'll have more to say about work, money, making things, growing things, and undoubtedly lots of other things very soon...

So, gardening, sewing, dancing, music, eating, more sewing, more dancing, and a bit of cake is on the cards for the weekend I reckon :)