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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

September Treasures

I've bought myself a new camera.  Nothing flash or fancy, just a new little point and shoot which happened to be on offer at our local Aldi.  Currently I use my old camera and my phone, both of which produce photos which are perfectly acceptable - but I want them to be better, and despite the discounted price, this camera has more settings and more megapixels than both.  I figured I had nothing to lose.

So, having taken the camera out of the box and charged it up, I wanted to try it out.  There are umpteen settings for different scenes and situations - I may well end up with never using any of them but I wanted to see how it worked.  I decided to take the dog for a walk.  He was quite happy to be part of my camera experiment, although not keen to be in the photos himself.

We set off across the fields.  I should probably apologise in advance for the number of photographs in this post, but I needed to try out all the settings just once if never again.  I'm sure you understand!

It was only a week or two ago that the crops on both sides of this path were so tall that you could hardly see the path, and certainly not along it to the hedge like you can now.  It looks rather desolate at the moment, but the farmer has been out ploughing already.

And already the green fuzz of winter wheat is starting to show in the furrows.

Time to change the setting.  I wanted to see if I could zoom in to take pictures of the dew on the grass.  It's not too bad, this one, but I may need more practice - and definitely on a day without a dog tugging on his lead!

As the fields merge into each other, the footpath swings to the left.  The field beyond is full of fluffy seedheads, and as we approach, a flock of goldfinches rises into the air. 

This is what they've been after - seedheads from the thistle plants.  

I'm trying out the plant mode now.  I'm quite pleased with this picture of berries.  What do you think?

It's definitely starting to feel as if summer's coming to an end now.  I still don't really want to call it autumn yet, but as today is officially the first day of autumn, it looks like there's no choice!  Heavy dew in the mornings, berry-filled trees and horses with jackets on.  It won't be long before there's no escaping that winter's on it's way.

For now, though, I'm enjoying the morning sunshine.  This road has been re-surfaced since the last time we walked along it, and the new tarmac shines. 

Ooh, look, now I'm using the zoom to spot the alpacas at the other end of the field!

On the way home now.  I just love the colours of this tree.  This is one of the better things about autumn - I'm not so keen on the rain, the wind and the fog that will be heading our way before long.

Late blackberries.  They're a lovely size but too close to the road for me to want to pick them.  I have got a bag full in the freezer that are going to become blackberry and apple jelly which I picked from Culcheth Linear Park the other week, so I'm happy to leave these here.

We're on our way home now, walking through the village back towards our house. I spotted these Cosmos flowers over a garden wall.  Aren't they pretty with their pink edges?

Round the corner we came across these sunflowers peering over the fence.  The dog paused to sniff a particularly interesting smell and I tried out the backlight setting on the camera. 

Back home again and I've found a couple of late summer jewels in the garden.  Sweet peas which have refused all summer to climb upwards but have insisted on spreading across the path ...

Flower buds on the witch hazel ...

The last of the marigolds ...

Dew on the nasturtium leaves ...

The garden is starting to look tired now and ready for a winter rest.  I've already started cutting back some of the plants but there's still plenty more to do.  It's nice to find treasure, though, just when you think that there's nothing bright left around.

I'm still no expert with the camera but improving my pictures is on my to-do list (along with 101 other things!) and I'm keen to work on it.  The only thing is that you'll have to look at them all ... I hope you don't mind! J

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Noro yarn trial (and a free pattern!)

Earlier this year, Black Sheep Wools asked me if I'd like to trial some new Noro yarn that they were bringing into stock for the autumn season.  I've often looked at Noro (and in particular the sock yarn, although that won't be a surprise!) and admired the vibrant colour combinations but until now, I've always been put off by the variations in the yarn thickness, despite this being a key characteristic of the yarn.  This would be an ideal opportunity for me to try it out so I jumped at the chance!

The yarn Black Sheep gave me wasn't sock yarn but instead was more of an aran weight.  and the trail ball was a bit like a lucky dip - there was very little information on the yarn band and no needle size suggestions at all.  It took me some time to gauge which needles to use, although what I did discover whilst making my swatch was that it knits up into a much softer fabric than I expected. In the end, I used the wraps per inch method and settled on 4.50mm needles which produced a nice firm fabric.  (You can see my swatch getting bigger as I changed needle sizes!)

I was surprised to find that despite the differences in the yarn thickness on the ball - in some places it was almost lace-weight and in others as thick as chunky - it didn't seem to make a great deal of difference when it was knitted up.  It has a slubby texture which is quite attractive, so this is not the yarn to use if you only like smooth knitted fabrics.  

I did enjoy being able to sit and knit in the afternoon with a legitimate purpose instead of sneaking in a few rows here and there between other jobs as I usually do - although I felt as though I should be looking over my shoulder every few minutes to make sure that I wasn't going to be caught out skiving!  I could quite get used to this!

I was told that I could make anything I liked with my ball of yarn, so I decided to try to use it all up.  Big daughter started sixth form college this week and is busy trying to define the style she wants to present now that she no longer has to wear school uniform.  This is what I did with the ball ...

and this is how she wore it ...

It's a cowl, a simple knit and purl version which took almost exactly one ball (I think I had about 5 inches of it left) and knits up quickly on a circular needle.  If you'd like to make one for yourself, the pattern is below, and is also available as a PDF.

Simple Twisted Cowl


1 ball of Noro Hanabatake (shade shown is 09)  (2021 update - now discontinued)
5.00 mm needles (optional – see note)
4.50 mm circular needle in 60cm length
Wool needle


16½ sts and 31 rows to 4"

Cast on 100 sts loosely with 4.50 mm circular needles.  (Note - if your casting on tends to be tight, use 5.0mm needles then transfer to 4.5mm circular needle for round 1)  Before joining into the round, twist the stitches once, place marker and join to create a circle.

Round 1-2      knit
Round 3-4      purl
Round 5-7      knit
Round 8-9      purl
Round 10-43 knit
Round 44-45 purl
Round 46-48 knit
Round 49-50 purl
Round 51-52 knit

Cast off loosely (use 5.00mm needles again if required) and sew in ends.

Finished size:             depth approx 15cm, circumference approx 60cm

The yarn is now available at Black Sheep in a choice of 8 colours and all the information on needles and tension is on their website, so there's no need to worry that you've got some complicated swatching to do!

Would I recommend this yarn?  Yes, I would.  I was very pleased the way it knitted up, it didn't split or break and despite the thickness changes the finished fabric felt very even.  I liked it, and big daughter seems very pleased with it too.  

The yarn for this project was kindly provided by Black Sheep Wools.

This cowl pattern is free and will always remain so, but if you have enjoyed using it and would like to make a donation towards future projects, it will be gratefully received!  You can find the donation button on the sidebar on the left hand side.
  Thank you! xx

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The Great Winwick Bake Off

There was a flurry of baking activity in our kitchen this weekend.  It doesn't often happen quite so early on a Saturday morning, but this one was different.  Today was the day of The Great Winwick Bake Off.

It's a fundraising idea to raise money towards mending our church roof.  We're nearly there, only another £30,000 to go, so events like this are a great way of getting the community involved and pushing the total a little bit higher.

The way that Winwick's Bake Off works is quite different to the TV series.  No TV cameras, for a start, no spectators as the contestants race against the clock to complete miraculous culinary achievements, no Paul Hollywood or Mary Berry ... but it's all good fun and involves eating lots of cake.

Contestants for each of the sections - biscuits, scones, sponge cakes, fruit and nut cakes and wildcard - make their entries at home and then deliver them to the Winwick Leisure Centre where the Bake Off is to take place.  

This is going to be my entry ...

It's called Chocolate Chip Cookie Bar and it's one of our favourite traybake cakes at the moment.  It's moist and chewy, full of oats and chocolate chips - mmm!  The recipe comes from a book called The Traditional Aga Book of Bread and Cakes by Louise Walker.  I can't copy the recipe out for you as it's covered by copyright, but if you've got an Aga and you haven't got this book, it's definitely worth buying.  I met Louise Walker at an Aga cookery demonstration once, so every time I use the book I'm reminded of that day and what a nice lady she was.

Then it was off to the Leisure Centre with small daughter to hand the cake over to the organisers.  We weren't there first there - the entries had already started to arrive by the time we dodged the raindrops and dashed inside.

The Bake Off itself didn't start until 1pm.  You pay your money and choose a category to vote on, getting a selection of cakes from your chosen category and a voting form.  This is second year that the Bake Off has run and it was even more popular this year.  Small daughter had asked if we could go into town to spend some gift vouchers she had and we were later getting back than we had intended. By the time we had collected big daughter from home and arrived at the Leisure Centre, there wasn't much left!  You can see by the big spaces on the plates that the event had been well-attended, though!

Because we were so late, we didn't get chance to vote, but we did get platefuls of cake which went down very well!  We were just in time for the results, too.  

My cookie bar didn't win the wildcard category but a friend's daughter won the biscuits category with her rather scrummy raspberry and white chocolate cookies. She was very pleased with her winner's mug.

We got to take the rest of our cake home.  As I forgot to photograph it when it came out of the oven, I can only show you what's left of it.  By Saturday night there was even less of it.  Just crumbs, in fact.  But you can take my word for it that it was very nice!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Monthly Musing - September 2014 - Far-flung family

We've been very lucky this summer in that we've been able to meet up with family that we've not really been able to spend much time with before.  That sounds a bit odd, so let me explain that our immediate family tree is quite small but the branches of the bigger tree are spread very wide.  Our summer holiday this year included a visit to Canada specifically to visit relatives that we might otherwise only contact by Christmas card or occasional email – quite a trip but definitely worth the effort.

Now, I know that just because someone is family doesn't mean that you’re going to get on with them, but that’s where we've been really lucky.  It occurred to me, whilst standing in my Canadian cousin’s kitchen on our first evening, chatting about everything and nothing as we prepared dinner together, that it was just like meeting up with an old friend – in this case, one that I hadn't seen for more years than I care to remember.  Out of the window I could see my husband and big daughter sitting at the garden table, laughing and joking with other members of the family who had made a special effort to come over to meet us for a family party whilst we were visiting.  My cousin’s three-year-old twins, who we were warned were terribly shy with newcomers, were both holding tightly to small daughter’s hands as they showed off their garden and were reluctant to let go even when it was time to eat.

Small daughter has always found it easy to make friends.  When my husband’s cousins from Wales came to visit last weekend, small daughter and her cousin had disappeared to play even before we had finished our greetings on the driveway.  Big daughter now joins in with the adult conversations, absorbing different viewpoints and cultural ideas as she develops her own view of the world.  It has been like discovering a whole new set of friends and it’s been lovely to think that these people are part of our family.

The connection makes me think of a spider’s web, stretching out across the globe.  Such a tiny thread that holds us all together, but strong enough to withstand the buffeting and turmoils of life.  I like it.  It reminds me that I’m never alone, that there’s always someone who “belongs” to me somewhere in the world, whether I’m in regular contact with them or not – and, perhaps, always a few extra places to visit on my holidays!

I hope that when the girls are older, they will be able to keep up the contacts for themselves.  The web will always grow and change as the family changes, and I like to think that my girls will always know that there is someone in the world who “belongs” to them too.  Suddenly, the world is not such a big place.
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