Friday, 30 January 2015

Happy snowy Friday

I had such a lovely time exploring other blogs last Friday that I've decided to join in with the Planet Penny Happy Friday again.  I think the idea is to post about one thing that's made you happy, but I have cheerfully ignored the rules and intend to show you a few more!

This week, the snow has made me ridiculously, giddily happy.  Would I be so ecstatic to see if it I lived in a place where the winter lasted six months and it was a marathon event just to get my outdoor clothes on every time I wanted to put my feet outside?  I don't know, but as we don't see the snow very much in Winwick then it makes me very happy when the world turns to white.

The dog and I headed off into the snowy wilds of Winwick this morning - well, actually not that wild or snowy by the time we set off, despite the fact that we had another snowfall last night.  By the time I got home from dropping small daughter off at school and had wrapped myself up against the wind, the snow had started melting and we were accompanied by the sound of snow dripping from the trees as we walked.

We spotted rabbit footprints in the snow.  Luckily, the dog didn't spot any rabbits or we'd have been off across the fields after them (probably with me flat on my face - it wouldn't have been a pretty sight!).

We also spotted the alpacas at one of the farms.  The baby over on the right looks like it's whispering sweet nothings in the sheep's ear!  The alpacas were so dirty - hardly surprising given the weather - but I imagine it will take some doing to get the fleeces clean when they're sheared! The dog's not quite sure what to make of the alpacas, so he sits very quietly at my feet when we talk to them.  Given their reputation for guarding sheep, it's probably just as well!

I bought this primula at the farm shop earlier this week.  I couldn't resist the colour - it's an unusual vibrant orange.  The rest of the primulas in my garden are all shades of yellow, pink and purple and it'll be nice to have a different colour in the mix.

On Tuesday this week, I had another day out in Skipton.  I headed up the M6 again and thoroughly enjoyed myself with Lucy and the other ladies at the Knit n Natter.  It feels very decadent to spend the afternoon knitting! 

This week I've been trying to remember where my snow obsession came from, and I think I've always just really liked snow.  Maybe it's because I'm a winter baby, or maybe it's because the world seems more magical when it's white and silent.  I have no idea.  

This book was given to me on my fourth birthday and I've lost count of the number of times I've read it.  I've enjoyed sharing it with my girls, too.  It's a rhyming story about two children and a dog playing out in the snow, throwing snowballs, sledging and building the world's biggest snowman.  It's a Dr Seuss book, although it wasn't written by him.  I think there's a tendency to assume that Dr Seuss books are confined to the famous ones that he wrote - The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham (I do not like them, Sam I Am!) and How the Grinch Stole Christmas to name a couple.  However, there was also a collection of beginner reader books, some by other authors, written with a small vocabulary of words and this is one of them.

Just reading these words never fails to bring a smile to my face.

I've read the book so many times that the words are part of the enjoyment of being outside in the snow now - although I'm not so keen on snow in my face!  The dog in the picture looks as if he wouldn't be keen either!

I love the idea of filling the freezer with snowballs to keep them for another day.  My Mum was less than impressed when I tried it once, though!

Finally, a different kind of reading to keep me happy over the weekend.  I've subscribed to Simply Knitting for quite a few years now and although I don't knit many of the projects, I do enjoy reading the magazine and seeing which character Alan Dart has brought to woolly life this month. My Dad bought me a subscription to Love Sewing last Christmas and I'm enjoying reading this magazine too.  There's always a free pattern and some of them are definitely on my "to-make" list, although I don't sew as much as I'd like to.  I think it's because dressmaking isn't as familiar to me as knitting so it takes me much longer to get anything done.  If I persevered, I'm sure it would all get faster, so maybe that's a good excuse to do more of it!

It's a lovely idea to remind yourself of what's made you happy during the week.  Gratitude is the surefire way to bring more happiness into life and being grateful is something we should all do as often as we can.

I hope you have a lovely weekend, whatever you are doing.  Stay warm! 

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Snowy day

Well, the snow finally found us in Winwick!

From nothing but hailstones when we left the house for school to a couple of inches of thick white snow an hour or so later, I was quite amazed at how quickly it fell - and the chaos it caused.  Roads were snarled up, accidents seemed to be happening left, right and centre (hopefully everyone involved is all right) and big daughter was stuck on the bus to college for three hours. 

Once safely back home from the school run I took myself outside (ostensibly to take photos but actually just to be outside!) and snapped away whilst the snow was falling.  The dog came with me - for about five minutes!  Although he's very happy to get into any water he finds when we're out on our walks, from ponds to the dirtiest of puddles, we've discovered that he's not that keen on cold wet stuff that falls from the sky.  He took himself back inside and I found him later, snoring in front of the Aga as usual!

So I went off on my own around the garden to see what I could find.  The twisted hazel catkins look like little bunches of snowy bananas!

And the Heuchera is almost hidden.

Snowdrops.  It wouldn't seem right to take pictures of a snowy garden without the snowdrops being in the photos.  I think they look very "at home" in their snowy setting, and the ivy sets them off beautifully.  It won't be long before they open properly and I'll be able to see the green edge to the leaves.  How does each flower know how to do that?  Magic!

I couldn't resist going to find the Hellebores.  I do love snowdrops but these come a close second as my favourite winter flowers.  A couple of years ago, I transplanted lots of Hellebore seedlings from around the garden and it's only really been this year that they've done anything.  It's lovely to see them finally maturing and getting ready to flower.

Within the hour, the snow had stopped and it was starting to thaw, leaving wet mush everywhere. Small daughter still managed to play in it for a while when she came home from school but was cold and wet in a very short space of time, and was easily persuaded to come inside for hot chocolate.  

I'm not sure what the forecast is for overnight - more snow is bound to cause more chaos tomorrow morning but if it freezes, that will cause even more chaos.  It does seem incongruous that such fluffy white stuff causes so many problems!  Still, I'm glad that we got some snow today. It feels like it's been a proper winter now!  

Monday, 26 January 2015

Strawberries and Simon Drew

I had no intention of writing a blog post about Simon Drew, an artist I have long admired whose pictures are often based on a pun.  I was going to tell you all about my strawberry bed which is in desperate need of renovation and which I found time this morning to start work on, but then I took my gardening mug outside and decided to take pictures of that too.

This is the strawberry bed.  It's got rather embarrassingly overgrown this last year and with the damp weather the buttercups have taken hold.  As you can see, I've had a bit of a go at it already, but it was time for some serious effort.  

It was also time for a brew, and serious gardening effort calls for a serious gardening mug.
Here it is.  I've had it for years and it's a good sturdy mug for being outside - I never take my favourite Herdy mug out of the house.  I'm not entirely sure that I love the picture on it: "Famous Slugs of History" as I have a big slug problem in my garden, but I like the biscuit saucer ...

which doubles as a lid.  A nifty idea, don't you think?

We've got a few Simon Drew pictures around the house.  This was one the first we were ever given as a wedding present.  I worked with a lady whose entire hallway was covered in Simon Drew pictures and I loved looking at them - I could never choose which one I liked the best so she chose for me and that was our wedding present.  Puffin Nuffin has hung on our wall ever since.

This one's a biscuit tin which my lovely Yorkshire friend gave to me for Christmas a couple of years ago.  It makes me smile every time I get it out of the cupboard.  You probably know why she chose it for me J.

And what I really like about it is that there's another picture on the bottom.  This one makes me smile too, although I don't look at it very often.  I like the attention to detail of having a picture on the bottom of a tin; it's a bit like a sculptor who bothers to work the back of a sculpture even though they know it may never be seen.

So, anyway - back to the strawberries!  It didn't take long to clear the bed (it's only 4ft by 4ft) and I've got weed-proof membrane underneath it so the weeds are quite easy to pull out.  I took all the strawberry plants out too.  You're supposed to replace them every three years or so anyway and in theory, you save the runners from the year before to replace the older plants but I never remember to do that.  I've just ordered some new runners which I'm looking forward to arriving in the post soon.

Once all the weeds were out, it was easy to see how low the soil level had dropped.  I'll need to raise the level again before I plant my new runners; I've got compost in the compost bin which I'm hoping will be ready to use and I'll probably add a bag of bought compost too.  It's surprising how quickly the soil drops in raised beds, but it's the easiest way for me to keep the soil in good condition and keep some kind of control over the slugs too.

The blueberry raised bed is next to this one - that'll be the next job!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Friday happy moments

The hyacinth on the windowsill has finally decided to flower.  I've seen lots of beautiful hyacinths in blogland over the last couple of weeks but mine is a bit late to the party.  Never mind, there's nothing like making an grand entrance and smelling wonderful to boot!

A cup of tea and a toasted teacake.  Just what you need after a cold wintery dog walk - and no, I wasn't sharing with the dog!

Snowdrops are finally peeping through, we're lucky to have lots of them in our garden and I always love seeing their little white heads appearing through the drabness of the winter borders.

Hellebores too!  These ones are tucked away underneath the apple tree and it's easy to miss them unless you go looking.  It always makes me so happy to spot flowers that I haven't noticed before.

More hellebores.  I just love them in all their varieties - even the stinking ones that seem to be taking over one of the borders.  This one is the Corsican hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius.  Aren't those serrated leaves wonderful?

And the thing that's made me most happy today ... my skein of Sparkleduck yarn for my new socks is now in a ball and I've made a start on the gauge swatch.  Happy, happy, happy!

This week I've discovered Planet Penny Happy Friday and it's been lovely to see everybody else's happy moments.  Flowers, beautiful skies, pets and knitting ... what wonderful, uncomplicated souls we are!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

New socks

Ooh, I really love that moment when you start a new ball or skein of yarn - and especially when the yarn in question is a hand-dyed beauty like this one I bought at Yarndale!  It's sock yarn (of course) but much posher than the yarns I usually knit with.

It's superwash merino (hooray for superwash!), nylon and Stellina.  It's the Stellina in the yarn that sold it to me - I simply couldn't resist a yarn that sparkles.  Yes!  I will have sparkly socks! (And it's made by Sparkleduck, how good is that?)  You can just about see the fibres shining in the picture and in the not too distant future, they will be shining on my feet!  

I had to show you this ... look, even the label sparkles!  It doesn't take much to make me happy!

(I stood for a long time at the Sparkleduck stand with two skeins of yarn in my hand, really tempted by the other one but needing to have socks with a bit of bling.  In the end, I bought both skeins.  Having travelled all the way to Skipton to spend the day looking at yarn, I decided it would have been rude not to J)

It seems to me that such special yarn needs a particular type of sock.  I've had a look around on Ravelry but I'm really enjoying creating my own patterns at the moment so I've decided to work on another design of my own.  Would you like to see?  

I've been experimenting with stars - it seemed appropriate, given my twinkly yarn!  I found a chart on Ravelry which has been perfect for what I want.  I've played about with the shapes and changed some around a little, and I've been able to draw stars in all sorts of directions.  (One of the cats decided to help out and if you look closely, you can see footprints in my galaxy!)  For what I think is probably the first time ever, I have actually created a swatch to try out the shapes and see how they work in the yarn.  I'm usually far too lazy to do any swatching, much preferring to assume that my tension is fine and leap straight in, but if I'm going to be sharing my patterns with you then I need to be less haphazard and make sure that I get it right.  I've just used some leftover purple sock yarn for this rather than experimenting with my new yarn which may not be so forgiving of the amount of frogging I've been doing!  

So far, I've been playing with purl stars on a knitted background ...

and knitted stars on a purl background.  

I don't know how well you can see them as they're in various stages of completion - once I worked out whether they were going to be what I wanted to not I either finished the stars or abandoned them mid-knit and moved onto the next one.

I'd love to be better at drawing designs before starting work on them, like fashion designers do with their preliminary sketches, but although my Mum was an artist and small daughter is showing signs of following in her footsteps, that particular skill passed me by.  So all my designs stay in my head until I can manage to get them down in some sort of pattern format and this one will be no different.  I know what I want to do, and hopefully my socks will look like the ones in my imagination when they are finished!

I've been testing out a few ideas for the heels too.  I know there are many different types of heels (and one day we'll do a short-row heel sock together - very useful for socks with contrasting heels and toes) but I always find myself returning to a heel flap.  I find them easy to do and I like the way that I can create a cushioned heel very easily.  Yes, yes, I know that you can do that on other heels too, I just like heel flaps!

I started with my usual heel stitch which creates a durable, comfortable heel and it looks fine ... 

but then I tried out a heel flap made with star stitch.  Ooh, I do like this effect!  Little tiny woolly stars!  Well, wouldn't you want a star stitch heel on a pair of starry socks made with beautiful, blingy, sparkly yarn?  I think I do.  I am a bit concerned about how you would darn this heel, but in all the years I've been knitting socks it's never been the heel flap that I've had to mend, always the toes or the base of the heel.  I'm inclined to take the risk.  What do you think?

So there you are.  My new socks in progress.  The next job is to wind the skein into a ball.  I LOVE doing this!  I don't have any equipment for it, I just drape the skein across my knees or around my feet and start winding.  It's such a lovely, rhythmic, meditative thing to do and I'm always a little sad when I get to the end of the skein.  Then I need to check the gauge on my swatch against the gauge of my sparkly yarn before I get started.  Oh, and I need to draw out my stars again in the pattern that I want them on my sock.  Perhaps I need to do that first.  Actually, I don't think it matters as long as I do it before I start knitting! 

I've never created a sock with a pattern like this one before and I'm really enjoying the process. Knowing that I'm going to be sharing it with you is good for me too, as it is making me more considered about what I'm doing and the order that I'm doing it in, and it's also stopping me from giving up if it doesn't work out first time (or second, or third ... I've knitted a LOT of stars! J).  

I'll keep you posted! 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Winter walks

I don't know what it was like where you are this morning, but here it was bloomin' cold!

So far this winter, the dog and I have walked in weather that's anything from damp and drizzly to gale-force winds and sideways rain.  We've not had any of the snow that we saw in Yorkshire this weekend, apart from a few flurries which haven't amounted to much.  It's just been dull and wet and that's not how winter should be at all!  Occasionally, though, we get a day like this and it's a joy to be outside, especially early in the morning (small daughter had a before-school club) when the sun is just rising.

Our path took us past the theme park, the skeleton of the rollercoaster visible through the bare trees.  I always think it seems a little strange to have a theme park tucked away between housing estates, but it's been there for years.  The frost was thick on the grass and our breath steamed in the cold air.  Much nicer than sideways rain!

The moon was still out, shining bright against the blue sky.  I love mornings like this.  I like to walk at quite a quick pace so it doesn't take too long to warm up.  We don't meet too many other people this early in the morning either, so it's just me and the dog - him snuffling about in the bushes and me with my thoughts.  It's a lovely opportunity to get ready for the day ahead.

And as we walked, the sun started to appear, painting the first pink streaks.  

It's so low at this time of year and is often in your eyes.  I find it especially difficult to see when I'm driving to school in the afternoon, but there have been some spectacular sunrises this winter which I've actually got to see because they're a little later in the day.

Most of the water that we passed was frozen solid (although true to form, the dog did manage to find some to splash in - he mustn't feel the cold at all!).  I stood here for a long time watching the sun reflected on the ice.  It was quite beautiful.

I think these are chicory seed heads.  They all had frosty caps on!  I must have walked past these a hundred times but only noticed them today wearing their winter coats.

These leaves were frozen into the ground.  They've lost their autumn colours now apart from a few tinges of red around the edges.

There were frozen footprints too.  These always make me smile - seeing them embedded in the mud always reminds me of dinosaur hunters looking for evidence of long-ago creatures!  Boot-tracks make great fossils, don't they?

The dog skittered across the frosty bridge.  He very rarely walks anywhere - he's always at full pelt which worries me at this time of year - he's far too heavy to carry if he damaged himself!  Just past this bridge, I spent a good ten minutes trying to spot the woodpeckers which were tap-tapping away in the branches.  I found one, but although I managed to take a picture, it wouldn't zoom in close enough for you to be able to see him without a large arrow to point him out! 

And we spotted Mr and Mrs Swan.  They were on their own so it's a good job I took the photo of the cygnets the other day as it looks like they've left now.  I hope they live happy lives, wherever they end up.

As we headed back out onto the path home, the sun sparkled through the trees.  It was a lovely walk - but I was very glad to get back to my nice warm house for a cup of tea in front of the fire!

I hope you're staying nice and warm! xx

Sunday, 18 January 2015

A wintery drive

Yesterday we headed out from Winwick onto the M62 and towards West Yorkshire to visit one of my best friends and her family for the afternoon.  We have one of those relationships where we don't see each other as often as we'd like to, but when we do meet up it's as if we saw each other only a few days ago, and I very much enjoy the time that we do get to spend together.

We'd already been in contact about the weather as there had been some heavy snow falls in the part of Yorkshire where they live, but as the day wore on we agreed that it wasn't as bad as we'd expected and we should be fine to make the journey.  The motorway webcams also showed that the roads were pretty clear so we set off.

As we drove further east, the wet fields and hedges on either side of the motorway began to take on a distinctly more wintery look.  I'm trying to get into the habit of taking my camera with me everywhere these days, and decided to see if I could take some photos out of the windows.  Small daughter took this one when we were playing with the settings; this is the sport setting.  It's not too bad, is it?

This was the view from my front passenger seat, watching the snow get thicker on the ground with every passing mile.

We passed Stott Hall Farm, situated between the east and west carriageways of the M62.  It fascinates us and we wonder every time we see it what it must be like to live there and farm so close to the motorway.  There was no sign of life when we drove by - anybody with any sense would surely be tucked up inside where it was warm!

Finally, we came off the motorway and took a quieter road.  The sun broke through the clouds and everywhere looked quite beautiful.

We turned off the main road and headed up over the hills.  You never quite know what the roads are going to be like here - sometimes they've been cleared by farm traffic and sometimes they haven't.

Yesterday, they hadn't and we met quite a few drivers struggling with the steep hills and the icy conditions.  In fact, we had a few hairy moments ourselves and we were very glad to find ourselves in my friend's village in one piece!

We had a lovely afternoon catching up and like all good things, it came to an end far too soon.  It had snowed again whilst we were there - so we chose a different way home.  We didn't fancy those icy hills in the dark!

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