Sunday, January 30, 2011

Blog statistics...

If you've got a Blogger blog like me, have you tried looking at the stats for it (on the control panel)? Mine are most amusing. I can see which sites have referred people to me (usually Ravelry), what people have searched for on Google and then found me ("lopsided cake"!) and which countries the people who read my blog are in. Which seems to be a fair few scattered right across the world. The only continent not represented is Antarctica!

A bit more knitting time this week, and I managed to get the baby cardigan finished off and blocked. I would highly recommend this pattern - it's fun to knit, only the top of the hood needs sewing up and it's very clearly written.

I got some digital kitchen scales last year, which are now proving useful for weighing odds and ends of yarn as well as cooking ingredients. I have 54g of the variegated purple cotton left, i.e. just over half a ball, which should be enough for a very small tank top or I might do a bigger one with stripes?

Some more yarn arrived, this time some acrylic for a tea cosy requested by a friend at church. She had requested cream and terracotta to match her kitchen and I struggled to find some terracotta at the cheaper end of the spectrum. Eventually, this came from Knitwell, who also seem to have quite reasonable postage - I investigated a few other places for cheap acrylic but the postage was much higher. It's Hayfield Bonus DK, which does feel rather acrylicky, but I doubt a teapot is fussy about what it feels like. I'm using the Terrific Tea Cosy pattern by Martin Storey.

The amaryllis put on a spurt this week, I took the first picture yesterday for the blog, and ended up taking the second picture today as it had managed to grow a couple of cm overnight! And the sun came out today so it's easier to see.

We went off on an outing to a garden centre yesterday, and went to the Longacres one which is a bit further away than the usual one. I was pleasantly surprised - it had considerably more plants than the one closer to home and they also seemed to be cheaper. We had lunch there too but the café wasn't as nice as the other one though. Amusingly we drove past two other garden centres on the way there, which makes about 5 garden centres in the space of 10 miles - do they really have enough business?!

Anyway, I'm pleased with our plant purchases. Not only were the rhubarb plants cheaper than elsewhere (the reason for the trip in the first place), we found a lovely Dogwood to go in the back garden, as well as a holly and I unearthed a Euonymus reduced to 99p in the sale section!

We also got some compost and propagating trays for use in the next few months when I want to grow some more plants from seed. And the OH found this in the pet section:

A squirrel proof bird feeder, which we're also hoping will be pigeon proof. We've been attempting to feed the birds here for months now, but the old bird feeder kept being inundated with pigeons, some even tried clinging to it and doing a humming bird impression to get seed out, and this scared away the smaller birds. As we live in a conservation area with a lot of woodland we've also been having trouble with squirrels and it was getting annoying having all the bird seed gobbled up by vermin! Hopefully this will do the trick.

Any human heart arrived at the library and I've been reading it this week. It's OK, not that interesting though and not really grabbing me. I don't really care what happens to the character and, as it's written in diary format and he's only just gone to university, there's a loooonnnnggg way to go yet. I have a feeling I'm not going to get it read in time for reading group in February...

And I've been doing a bit of clearing out. I've put some knitting magazines on Ebay to see if they sell, so if you're interested, look here.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fairtrade yarn & other nice things

I bought some yarn. I'd seen someone else's copy of the March 2011 Yarn Forward mag at knitting group and liked some of the patterns, so the OH went and got me a copy. Then I bought the yarn for one of them on Saturday! It's Manos del Uruguay Maxima and is lovely and squooshy.

See, I spent half of Saturday at Christian Aid HQ in London on a "Making London Diocese a Fairtrade Diocese" morning. Very interesting and most entertaining, particularly the bit where they tried to do Ready Steady Cook and bananas were flying everywhere. Now Christian Aid HQ is on Lower Marsh, just behind Waterloo station, so almost immediately opposite...

Iknit! And as I'd spent the morning doing Fairtrade whatsits it seemed appropriate to buy some Fairtrade yarn. The Maxima is intended to be knitted into a present, so it still fits with my current intentions to only buy yarn when I know what I'm going to do with it.

Back at home the amaryllis is growing a cm a day!

I received an exciting parcel from Nicsknots, all beautifully packaged up.

It was my Phoenix Cards order. I started getting these from Nic last year sometime, the cards are really nice, made to high environmental standards and are also considerably cheaper than cards in the shops! I'd reached the point when I resented buying the extortionate prices for shop cards, had a go at making my own but didn't enjoy it or have time for it, then found out about these ones, which solved all those problems. I considered switching to email cards only, but I think it's more fun getting a "real" card through the post, plus a lot of my relatives aren't on email. I've only pictured a few of mine below, but you get the idea. I think my favourites are the notecards - you get a pack of 10 postcards with envelopes. The best ones are the sheep ones, which I think a few readers will probably recognise as I've sent them this one. The only hiccup I've had so far is remembering where I've put the cards when I want to send one.

Knitting-wise I haven't made much progress, it was a bit of a busy week, with meetings on 3 evenings so I wasn't at home a great deal! I got the body of the baby cardigan finished and started one of the sleeves, switching to DPNs. I'm loving this pattern so far, it just seems to flow along very smoothly and there's going to be so little sewing up to do! :-)

Reading-wise I collected Any human heart from the library but have only read two pages whilst waiting at the hairdressers. It hasn't made me want to read any further. But I have been reading the History of Christianity: the first three thousand years by Diarmuid MacCulloch. It's very readable (apart from being so stonkingly heavy it crushes your chest if you read it in bed). I've just been picking chapters out to read, rather than starting at the beginning as it's over 1000 pages long, so I've been jumping in at the bits of history that I know least about already.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In the middle of January

Despite a very long day at work one day this week when I went into London, and a migraine on another day, I got quite a lot of knitting done this week. I finished off the second baby tank top - pattern made up as I went along. This used another 1.5 balls of Rico baby cotton soft DK, using up what was left in my stash.

Then I cast on the Easy baby cardigan, from Knitting Pure & Simple, which has been fun and easy so far and promises to have little sewing up involved. The yarn is Wendy Supreme Luxury cotton DK in variegated purple, on 4mm needles.

I liked this post by the Yarn Harlot: The Steph School of Slightly Less Crappy Knitting. I end up not even trying new things because I get frustrated with not being able to do them Really Well straight away. (Perfectionist, me?!).

I've finished Sarah Dunant's Sacred hearts. Really enjoyed this one, unlike some reading group books I've had to wade through! ;-) It's set in Ferrara in 1570, when girl's dowries had become so expensive that most families could only afford to marry one daughter off, and any other daughters would end up in a convent (where the expected dowry was much less). The book is about one girl in this position, who had fallen in love before being forced into the convent after her sister's marriage. The action almost entirely takes places inside the convent, but it's brilliantly described - I love the way it means different things to different sisters - some find it a prison, some an inspiring place to live. Indeed, one of the various themes in the novel, is women's leadership. In the convent some can become far more powerful than they could have done in the outside world as a wife, and also receive much more of an education and have a much longer, healthier and more fulfilled life. The action also takes place with the changes made at the Council of Trent going on in the background, with the potential implications for convent life so there is a lot happening for the convent as a whole and the individual women. I will definitely be getting other books by this author from the library! Of course, I managed to have the migraine the night of reading group so I didn't actually get to go and talk about the book itself...

Next month's book is William Boyd's Any human heart which I haven't started yet. I hated the Channel 4 adaptation of it on before Christmas so not sure what I'll make of the book.

And the amaryllis has shot up during the week. It's now almost 10cm tall!

Saturday, January 08, 2011

First sign of Spring?

Something is beginning to come up in the garden - it still seems far too cold and early for anything though. I'm also perplexed about what they might be. I definitely don't remember planting any bulbs just there and am wondering if it's grass seed gone AWOL from an attempt to re-seed the lawn?!

 Meanwhile, I've enjoyed watching the first parts of Alys Fowler's The edible garden  and Carol Klein's Life in a cottage garden. Both are on BBC HD and the Klein one is on BBC 2 at the moment as well as being available to watch on the website. I think I like the edible garden  best, mainly because she's gardening in a relatively small space, more like my garden - although her garden is quite large for in a city! And I already enjoy reading her weekly column in the Guardian Weekend magazine.

The amaryllis progressing slowly. It has grown a microscopic amount and turned green. Maybe I should stop staring at it and it'll do things a bit quicker?

Tina, whose blog I've been reading for several years, posted about how she was going to take a picture of her garden from the back door on the first of the month every month this year to show how the garden develops. I really like this idea so have decided to have a go too, although obviously a bit late for this month. And until it gets lighter in the evenings the pictures are going to have to be taken at the nearest weekend as I don't see the garden in daylight on week days at this time of year! It also might spur me into action as last year I mainly concentrated on the front garden (i.e. people see it!) due to all the other stuff going on, and the back garden was a bit abandoned. Hmm. It does look rather bleak though! Especially with the washing line across the front of the picture - maybe I should have hung some washing on it to hide the garden?!

 So, after my spectacular failure at Iron Knitter, I have, of course, signed up for something else. But this is just a mystery blanket (I refuse to call them afghans, they're blankets or throws to me) knit-along with one square a month. Surely I can fit that in?! There's a group on Ravelry for it here. Of course, all I've done so far is join the Ravelry group, not thought about yarn, knitted a swatch or actually done something productive about it.

Someone has asked me to knit a tea cosy for them. I'm going to use the terrific tea cosy pattern by Martin Storey, which needs 2 x 100g balls of DK but I'm struggling to find some suitable DK in a terracotta colourway (she wants cream & terracotta) so if anyone has any ideas for cheapish DK yarn please let me know!).

 And I received my final Christmas present. The Amazon delivery chaos caused by the snow in December meant my present from my brother's family hadn't arrived with them before they set off to see us before Christmas, so it arrived in the post this week. It was actually quite nice getting a present this week when everything was dank, damp, miserable, grey and we went back to work (surely getting up when it's still dark should be illegal?). It's Gwen Bortner's Entrée to entrelac, which I had read a few reviews of and been wanting to read it for a while. It looks really good, with plenty of detail and diagrams about how to do entrelac, as well as some lovely patterns.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Pictures of things in saucepans

The OH thought the post about knitting was a bit boring (mainly because it was just about knitting, all of which he'd already seen being created) so I thought I'd go one better and write a post about things in saucepans.

I've been taking advantage of having some time off work - 13 whole days, what bliss, time to actually DO things - to do some batch cooking and fill the freezer up ready for when we both go back to work and all of our time vanishes again.
This is vegetable stock to use up leftover vegetables from Christmas (yes, normally I would just use an Oxo cube).

And beef casserole (from Clever cooking for one or two which I highly recommend as an alternative to all those recipe books that assume you're cooking for hordes of people or have lengthy ingredients lists. It has a good chapter on making stuff for the freezer). Quinoa bake (not for the freezer, two portions for me, using Anne's algorithm) and mincemeat, cranberry and almond Eve's pudding (from a Waitrose recipe card) to use up more Christmas leftovers.

Then I did tuna pasta sauce (from the Good housekeeping cookery book), ordinary tomato pasta sauce (from Jamie Oliver's The naked chef) and smoky chicken hotpot (from Clever cooking...)

Sick of pictures of saucepans and my hob yet?!
Last one coming up:
Ratatouille and ham pasta bake, yet again from Clever cooking... Oh, but those aren't saucepans.

And I have got more knitting done too - we watched a bit of the first series of Cold Feet (I LOVE that series so much) which the OH gave me for my birthday, so I got more knitting done then. As well as listening to the Archers 60th anniversary programme and trying to cope with the trauma...

I finished the cabled baby tank top off, and have now started a plain one. It isn't really as wonky as it appears in the picture!

And that's it for now. Having produced 4 posts over Christmas normal blog service will now resume as I return to work tomorrow! I don't find the actual blogging part takes up much time, but the sorting out of pictures does - I end up with loads stored on my camera and downloading them, organising them into their category folders (I am a librarian, after all), smallifying them (I use Microsoft Office Picture Manager to make the file sizes smaller so they upload faster and take up less storage space) etc seems to take up ages so I never get any further or end up with pictures intended for a blog post but extremely out of date.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Hyacinths and books (and presents)

A few months ago I planted some hyacinths to flower in time for Christmas - and they mostly just made it in time, although one didn't do very much at all!

I love the smell of them in the house and it's nice to have something growing when there isn't much going on outside in the garden.
I've also just planted an Amaryllis, which should hopefully flower within a couple of months. And by then things will be kicking off again in the garden.

Bookwise, over the last couple of months, I've read:
The Friday Night knitting club, and Knit Two by Kate Jacobs. These are both fun reads, and have a bit more to them than the Maggie Sefton knitting mystery books. Still definitely in the chick lit category, but there's nothing wrong with that. I would definitely recommend them if you want a nice relaxing read that features yarn and knitting. I bought these two on honeymoon, one from Warwick books, the other from a secondhand bookshop in Warwick (Warwick is obviously the place to go if you want independent bookshops AND a yarn shop!).

I bought Knit Fix: problem solving for knitters by Lisa Kartus when I visited Wales, from another independent bookshop (why don't we have any of those round here?!) in Llanidloes this time. This isn't a book you read from cover to cover, but dip into when you're trying to resolve a crisis, having a knitting emergency or otherwise need some help. It would have been extremely useful six years ago when I started knitting, but I still found useful hints and tips in it for now and there are some very clear diagrams.

We gave my Mum Clare Morrall's The man who disappeared for Christmas, but I got in first and read it over Christmas before Mum went home (I do this every year if I give her a book, oops)! I'd really enjoyed two of Morrall's previous books Astonishing splashes of colour and Natural flights of the human mind and had read a review of this one and thought Mum would enjoy it. And me. It didn't disappoint - I love the way the author uses words and description. This one follows the story of the man who disappeared, Felix, from his point of view, his wife's and two of his children, all of whom are realistically portrayed (the children were hilarious especially the younger son who is obsessed with alien invasion) and it is only gradually, over the course of the whole book, that you get to piece together what actually made Felix disappear. I will definitely be adding another of her books, The language of others to my list to get from the library.

I read The little stranger by Sarah Waters for reading group one month. I've not been doing too well with reading group, having run out of time to read two of the books and missing a couple of meetings due to work commitments! But I'd been wanting to read this one so was glad to get an excuse to get on with it! The book follows a country doctor immediately before the introduction of the NHS, who looks after the family and servants in a country house he visited when he was a boy. Strange things start to happen at the house, but it isn't really a scary ghost story, but a lot more about the relationships between the family at the house and the doctor as he gets drawn into their world and their house continues its decline. I would recommend it though, it's quite compelling reading and not too scary (!). Probably not for anyone who wants a Really Scary ghost story though, but would be great for anyone who enjoyed watching Downton Abbey on ITV!

My Advent book this year was In all senses: daily meditations and prayers for Advent by John Cox, which, as usual with Advent/Lent books, I ended up about a week behind. This one involves exploring the meaning of Christmas using all your senses, and each day has a Bible reading, reflection/meditation, response and a prayer. Each chapter was a sensible length for attempting to fit the reading in during Advent and it was nice to do a different type of study that didn't just look at the nativity story. I did actually keep up with the reading until I caught 'flu when everything went a bit wrong...

These are the books I/we were given for Christmas:

  • The newly published Lincoln cathedral: a journey from past to present which looks really good. It's somewhere inbetween massively in-depth history and one of those annoying guidebooks that hasn't got much information in, so this seems like a good balance. 
  • Cold comfort farm by Stella Gibbon - one of my favourite books but I've only ever taken it out of the library before so now we have a copy!
  • And the OH gave me The fruit expert as I want to do more fruit growing next year!
I have just started reading Sarah Dunant's Sacred hearts, for January's reading group meeting and so far I'm enjoying it!

    And to finish off, the other Christmas presents I was given:
    Spotty casserole and pie dishes from Lakeland!

     And my new handbag (from the OH), as well as some home made damson jam and a tub of body butter from the Body Shop from my brother and SIL!