Saturday, December 31, 2011


We had a great Christmas. We put the tree up a few days before (we leave it up until 6th January), and also had a poinsettia that a friend had given us.

The nativity scene was a little dwarfed by the knitted wedding figures on the mantelpiece. Obviously there were giant knitted wedding figures at the birth of Christ, not to forget the giant knitted robin too.

And I did get the Christmas cake finished on time! I took a day off work the week before, when I got the marzipan put on, then did the icing just before Christmas. Unfortunately I didn't realise until the last minute that we don't own a holly shaped cutter, so this is my attempt at cutting out holly shapes with a knife (much to the amusement of the OH and my Mum). There were also rude comments about my anaemic green holly leaves and "pink" holly berries. Next year we'll go for e numbers rather than the "natural" food colouring...

Someone in the US wanted to know what mince pies are. So this is the batch I made to take into work (I decided to make mince pies for everyone instead of doing Christmas cards).
 This is just normal shortcrust pastry, made with flour and fat, which has sat in the fridge for a few hours, then rolled out. I didn't make my own mincemeat, so this came in a jar from the supermarket. Mince meat (which used to be savoury with actual meat in it) is a mixture of dried fruit, apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, suet and booze. This sort uses vegetable suet so it's vegetarian.

 You cut the pastry into rounds of two different sizes, and put the bigger ones into a greased Yorkshire pudding tin, then fill with mincemeat and put the smaller round on the top, after wetting the edges of the bottom with water.

 Then bake in the oven. I usually put a cross in the top as well, to let the steam escape, but I forgot this time.

I got the Christmas presents I was making done in time. This is part of a batch of lemon curd.

And a laptop case for Mum's laptop. I made the pattern up as I went along, the yarn is King Cole Riot Chunky, bought when we were on holiday in York. I was a bit worried about whether it would fit, as her laptop is bigger than mine, but, as you can see, it fitted perfectly!

 I lined the case with cat fabric, purchased at Gillie's Fabrics in York.

And what did I receive? Some really cool presents. These ones are shared with the OH - a gravy boat to match our crockery (amusingly we opened presents after Christmas lunch, when we'd had to use the milk jug for the gravy. If only we'd opened the presents earlier we could have used the gravy boat!). Some chocolate. And a kit to make raisin bread, with the dry ingredients, homemade marmalade, a bread tin and recipe included.

 And, for me, some gardening things, including Alan Titchmarsh's The kitchen gardener which I'd been wanting to read. A magic tool for making little pots for seedlings out of newspaper and some seeds.

 And this is my present from the secret santa at knitting group - a set of Chibi needles and some locking stitch markers. Cool or what?!

The on Boxing Day we went for a walk on Staines Moor, which looked suitably desolate and windswept, despite being so close to both Heathrow and the M25! Bit of a contrast with last year when it was so icy we didn't dare leave the house.

Hope you all had a great Christmas too!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Knitting for babies, children and me

I can post pictures of some of my most recent knitting now. I made this jumper for a friend's baby, born at the end of November. I was really pleased with the pattern - the Seamless Baby Sweater by Sarah Stanfield, which I first saw on someone else's blog. It was a really fun knit, with just the armpits to graft and no other sewing up (always good). In fact, I knitted a large proportion of this whilst camping at Greenbelt in August and it was a great knit for a festival as most of the time you can knit away without looking at the pattern. The yarn is Brown Sheep Wildfoote Luxury Sock yarn, which I got a while ago in a yarn swop with someone in the US. It's nice yarn to knit with, and I love the colour, it's more purply than it appears in the photo.

Oh, and I've been asked to be Godmother to the recipient of the jumper! Cool or what?! I've got two Godchildren already, but they're both boys (the nephews) so it will be nice to have a girl to knit for as well.

The recipient of this hat and bootees hasn't been born yet, he's due on New Year's day, but his Mum (one of my work colleagues) went on maternity leave last week, so I gave her these before she left. It's the hat and bootee pattern I've used several times before, using Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino. Several people were heard to say "Gosh, that looks so good you could have bought it in a shop", which surprised me (I thought handmade was better than bought-in-a-shop but there you go). I won't be knitting for them...

And these are my nephew's finished slipper socks. They're for his 7th birthday (how on earth did I get old and wrinkly enough to have a 7 year old nephew?). Pattern is Garter Rib from Sensational Knitted Socks by Charlene Schurch (I love that book) and the yarn is King Cole Merino Blend DK. It's nice yarn, easily available and sensibly priced, as well as being 100% wool and machine washable.

I squirted glow in the dark fabric paint on the bottom to make them non-slip.

And I'm still knitting my Isabella jumper, which keeps getting relegated behind other projects. This is the first sleeve, I knitted this far, then realised I wouldn't have enough yarn to do all the shaping at the top (I have one ball of it left, which I've divided in half using my digital kitchen scales). So after taking this photo I frogged it and am now knitting the sleeves from the top, reversing the instructions...

I also finally got round to doing some sewing, whilst watching the Downton Abbey blu-ray disc the OH bought me as a surprise. This is one of the tea towel loops I've been meaning to sew on some tea towels for about the last six months. This sort of sewing is OK, as I can do it in front of the TV (where I do most of my crafty stuff). I still haven't turned up my new work trousers (bought 9 months ago) because that involves getting the sewing machine out.

And I've done some more batch cooking whilst I had a day at home waiting for the man-who-clears-the-gutters to appear. This is Spicy Pumpkin and Sweetcorn soup, from the Waitrose weekly newspaper thingy, and which I can't now find online. As I now get a FREE lunch at work every day I've started making soup to have in the evening, as I don't want two cooked meals every day. It has actually made life a lot easier as some evenings before I started the new job I was producing a veggie and a meaty evening meal.

And this is vast quantities of tuna pasta sauce - I don't eat fish, but it's what I usually dish up for the OH on a knitting group night when there isn't much time for cooking!

Christmas knitting update to follow after Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Books read in November

 In no particular order, the slightly eclectic (eccentric?) range of books I got through in November.

The living garden: a place that works with nature by Jane Powers.
This was part of my leaving present from the old job. I read it once over the summer, then read it again! It has a nice, chatty style, with titbits about plants interspersed, with more detail at the end where there are suggestions for planting for different seasons and types of soil. It's a good read, and a great book for dipping into at the end of the day.

Love wins by Rob Bell.
This one's attracted a lot of controversy, but I suspect from people who haven't actually read it. The style is a little annoying - lots of tiny paragraphs with big spaces inbetween in quite a big font, as is the questioning tone, but it doesn't actually say the things it's been accused of (heresy, for instance). It is good for making you stop and think, which is probably what's scared some people away from it? Should be compulsory reading for hellfire-and-damnation-style preachers everywhere, but they'd probably spontaneously combust...

The good parents by Joan London
This was a random choice from the "quick picks" selection by the issue terminal in the library. It follows Maya, an 18 year old Australian, who disappears following the death of her boss' wife. And it also follows her parents search for her, which takes them back through significant parts of their lives. I found it very compelling. One of those books when you actively look forward to the commute as you want to read some more of it. It was also nice to read a book that wasn't set in either Britain or America! There are some incredibly evocative descriptions of the country. I hadn't read anything by Joan London before, but I've now reserved Gilgamesh from the library.

How to be a woman by Caitlin Moran
This seemed to be compulsory commuting reading for a while - everyone (who's female) was reading it on the train! The title also mystified the OH, who pointed out that he thought I'd already know how to be a woman. She didn't say anything I didn't know already, and some of the assumptions were a bit annoying (no, I've never liked wearing heels, unlike apparently most women, surely that's not true? No, I haven't been planning my wedding since I was a toddler) but I liked the way she told things. Some parts are particularly graphic - which did nearly give me the giggles on the train as I wondered how many of the Very Serious Looking other commuters reading the same book were reading the same section...

Give me time by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development
As the new job is a lot busier than the old one (where we actually had time to stop and have a tea break at 11 and 4 every day, complete with giant teapot) I thought I'd get something from the library at work about time management. This one is quite easy to dip in and out of, and also up to date (the first one I got out had been published in 2000 and felt the need to explain what email is (!?!?!) and thought the answer to all your problems was a fax machine). There are some very sensible parts of it - working out what aspects of your job (or your life) you can change and what you don't have control over, as well as working out what times of the day you function best, and then planning your time around that. It sounds obvious but I hadn't stopped to think about how the flexi-time in the new job helps me with this. I now work earlyish hours (usually around 8.30 - 4.30) whereas some of my colleagues work 10 - 6, or 8 - 4. It's made me stop bombarding them with questions at 10 when they arrive for work (because they're barely awake) but has also given me ammunition when someone suggests that 4.30 is a great time for a meeting... Apparently delegating is also key, although I suspect this is less easy if you're at home without anyone to delegate to?!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Garden at the beginning of December

I'm beginning to get caught up with myself. The warm weather we've been having meant the garden didn't stop growing when I thought it would, so I've been gardening at weekends when I thought I'd be doing crafty things and preparing for Christmas!

As you can see, this shot from the beginning of the month shows that not much has stopped growing yet. At the point the photo was taken we hadn't even had a frost, although we've had one now, but only for a few hours one night. 

Yes, we're even growing raspberries in December!

And the fuchsias are still producing new buds instead of looking like dried up bits of twig, which is what they would normally be doing by now.

The squirrel's disappointed it's eaten all the walnuts from the tree though, and is frantically trying to remember where it buried some. Wonder how many embryonic walnut trees I'll have to dig up next year? I found several this year...

It does seem a bit bizarre - it doesn't feel like only a week before Christmas. This time last year we'd had loads of snow!