More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Last few days of autumn 2014 - photo essay

We're having a glorious week here in Mid Wales. Day after day of sunshine, it may be short lived at this time of year, the sun setting before 4pm, but the clear blue skies send my spirits soaring.
This old fatsia is there to welcome us in the front garden,
I love how it flowers in November
The first thing I always do when we get here is to walk around the garden, say hello to all my old friends and see how they're doing.
The grass was covered with a brilliant crop of crab apples
I always love how Cotinus 'Grace' lights up the garden
in her autumn mantle
Another favourite, the everlasting wallflower
brightens the barn garden
I'm a sucker for slate steps, even though they're a tad slippy in wet weather!

The ferns were looking gorgeous  and upstanding
just before they start to wither for the winter
And I love to see the grasses around the garden waving in the wind
Miscanthus against a massive ash
Can't remember the name of this grass,
but I call it the knitting needles
Miscanthus again
Looking out to the west down the valley
Dry stone wall covered in moss
 and lacecap hydrangeas
We have to keep all gates closed all of the time to keep out the very insistent sheep!
Little fuchsia in amongst the hydrangeas
Tis the season for holly and the trees are covered this year
Rose hips aren't so good though so maybe it balances out the holly.
Confuses the old saying that  lots of berries heralds a cold winter though
Couldn't resist snapping these on the road nearby, the whole tree was bare of branch
 but covered in lichen and  pinecones -  and a very pretty sight it was too
The sunbeams sent multiple rainbows shooting round the kitchen in the morning
On a shopping trip to Machynlleth, I stopped to
snap the  colours of the  Dovey estuary  

We collected sloes from the lane, then it was time to make sloe gin,
should be ready to warm us up in the dark days of February
Arlo snoozes in front of the stove while Django
is out terrorising anything that dares move
Over the weekend we paid a visit to our friends Toej and Wyck, who were until very recently, our neighbours in the valley. It was our first visit to their new home, which is an 80 minute drive south from here, so we were excited to see them and hoping they'd be settled in, as they moved about six weeks ago. Their new home is a lovely Edwardian cottage with beautifully proportioned rooms with large windows letting the light flood into each room. The garden is on a south-facing slope and has many mature trees and perennials and Wyck has his eye on a spot for a kitchen garden where they can grow lots of delicious vegetables. Wearing my garden designer's hat, I felt the locus genii was fabulous, a place that will bring our friends much happiness.

We got there the day before the extensive programme of renovations began and the builders were eagerly awaited. I found myself feeling very anxious for them, thinking if the work goes anything like it did in our living room then they'd be better moving out till it's finished. However they were confident and calm that all would be well, so I hope  that their positive attitude will prevail and that they'll soon be enjoying their newly restored home.
We'll miss you so much!
I love it so much here in Wales, especially in the autumn, although I know I say that about spring as well. Back to York soon  though - the peace and stillness of our Welsh garden will be replaced by the dark Dickensian nights and twinkly lights - the hustle and bustle of Xmas in the city.
Happy advent!
Come back soon x

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Walk Tall

It's been a difficult time recently in our family. Over the summer and autumn my eldest son's 3-year-old daughter became increasingly sick, she couldn't eat, was reluctant to drink and very disturbingly, walking caused her so much pain that she gave up trying to even stand.

She was duly admitted to hospital and every test was done to determine the cause. Each test came back negative, which was incredibly distressing for her parents as they really needed to have a diagnosis so that something could be done about it. The MMR vaccine, chickenpox and brain and spinal tumours were all considered to be possibilities, then ruled out by MRI scan, lumbar puncture or blood tests, resulting in a scenario of nowhere else to turn. She was discharged from the local hospital and her parents were given the dubiously helpful news from her consultant that most cases of undiagnosed lameness resolve spontaneously within six months to a year.

However, a few weeks passed and she seemed to get no better. Their family were going through a stressful time anyway as they were moving to York due to a change of job for her Mum. The little girl got increasingly worse over a period of a couple of weeks ending up being admitted to York Hospital, as no amount of persuasion could get her to eat, drink or move. She seemed to be shutting everyone out - even her parents. The hospital's priority was to get her rehydrated and to eat something before the walking issue could be addressed.

Four weeks down the line there's better news and she's been discharged, still with no diagnosis, but is a much happier little girl and slowly starting to walk again and hopefully the eating and drinking will get better in time. I'm so happy that she seems to be finding her old self and taking pleasure once more in the things she loves like nature, colours, rainbows and fairies.

The reason I'm now telling you all this is that I wrote a song for her which I'd like to share with you. I found the whole idea of a small child being so vulnerable and poorly incredibly painful and writing a song seemed like I was doing something when nothing else was any good. It's said music heals the soul and I'm sure there's truth in that, so I've played this song every day in the hope that it will somehow find its way to her and help the healing process. So here it is, recorded on my phone, let me know what you think:

Walk tall, you can touch the stars in the sky
If you believe you can do it, you can climb the mountains high
Your tiny legs won’t fail you, they’ll keep you safe from harm
Walk tall, little one, walk tall and keep calm.

Run free, chase the wind around the trees
The world is full of wonder, just waiting for a key
Unlock the door and step on through, with feet as light as air
Run free, little one, and shed your woes and cares.

Your eyes will sparkle once again, your smile will light the room
Walk forward into happiness, the future’s there for you…
If you walk tall.

Step lightly through the rainbow, approach that pot of gold
Imagine some new stories like the fairy tales of old
Life’s mysteries and problems weigh heavy in your head
Step lightly, little one, and learn to trust instead.

Your eyes will sparkle once again, your smile will light the room
Walk forward into happiness, the future’s there for you…

… the future’s waiting for you if you walk tall.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

November news

Well, unfortunately we're still in the throes of home improvements, waiting patiently to be able to enjoy the new wood stove. The novelty of having all the furniture stacked in the hall has worn off, also watching a few fave TV programmes on my laptop isn't exactly hitting the spot either. The time has come to nail this thing and move on!! Completion has seemed forever further and further away, but without wishing to speak too soon, at last I can see a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Something seems to be happening.

P has now got our friend Humph to help with the insulation and laying of the oak floor and thankfully things have seemed to motor along since. In fact by the end of next week I'm hoping we'll have got the electrics done and painted the room and can then consider moving the furniture back in! No doubt I'll be pleased with the finished result but at the moment it's all just taking too long.

Last bit of the floor being taken out
Insulation being cut prior to being inserted between the joists
Insulation half finished
However, life isn't without its compensations. We've had a glorious autumn and even now in the middle of November, there's enough in the garden to make me want to be out there. 
Seedheads of Japanese anemones
Abutilons seem to go on forever
Fat buds of the camellias developing for early spring blooms
Little cyclamen poking through the pebbles
Many consider this tiny calendula to be a weed, but it tries very hard and I haven't
the heart to pull them all up...and their starry blue brightens up the garden
when there's little else. 
Potted geraniums are lasting well this year...
... even the less hardy ivy-leaved white ones 
It's been so mild that the birds haven't eaten all the grapes yet
The hydrangeas are putting on a final show before going to sleep for the winter
There's even the odd Japanese anemone in bloom still
Winter jasmine starting to bloom for the holiday season
Had to throw this away last week after forgetting about it in the garden
- thought you'd like to see our Halloween witch and her cat 
So lots of interesting things still happening in the garden. The castor oil tree is flowering too and the fig tree is nurturing lots of embryonic fruits for next year's delectation.
First scarf finished
Meanwhile I've started my gift knitting for Xmas. With everything else going on I haven't been able to think straight recently, so opting for Noro yarn and garter stitch has been a bit of a lifesaver - I can knit scarves and rely on Mr Noro to deal with both the colour and texture. I love Silk Garden  and the wonderful colour combinations he comes up with make me want to always work yet another row, just to see what happens next. Some people say that there's always a colour they don't like in the mix, but I love that that very colour is there, it makes me reassess my colour preferences and frames other colours in different ways.

When Isabella and Ava saw the scarf, they loved it so much that I'm now knitting one each for them. Halfway through the first one I had a lightbulb moment. I realised that in all my years of knitting I've never worked on two identical pieces at the same time. I know some people work on two sleeves at the same time and also socks, but it had never occurred to me to try until now. So... I've got two scarves on my needles right now and enjoying it... eureka, you can teach an old dog new tricks!
Yummy handmade birthday macaroons from Annabelle
Finally, thanks again to everyone for your lovely birthday messages. I had a wonderful day, made even more special basking in the warmth of all the cards and messages from friends old and new, actual and virtual - you rock!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Domestic flux!

It sometimes occurs to me that our home is a time warp... or maybe just a work in progress that began many years ago when we moved in, and never ended. Things evolve in an organic sort of way, and walls get painted or washed as and when each one needs it - here change happens by a gradual process of osmosis. Hence we still have speckled paintwork in the kitchen, as I once went around dabbing spots of paint in different places to see how the colour looked in different light... and we never did get round to actually painting it.

It's at least a couple of years since we decided to have a 'new' kitchen. So granite worktops were bought and fitted with newly-tiled splashbacks, a beautiful new racing green stove was installed, the electrics, plumbing and lighting were overhauled, but the quarry tiled floor and the solid timber units stayed, resulting in the overall look of the kitchen staying the same as it always had been. This was not through any conservative wish for time to stand still, but because of the old adage if it's not broken why fix it? There's enough waste on the planet, without adding to it and anyway the units and floor tiles were perfectly serviceable, so recycling seemed like the best option.

We had planned to paint the kitchen and maybe even the units, but there are always too many other demands on our time, plus there's always the problem of having to agree on a colour. It's almost unheard of for us to decorate a room, finish it, then be able to stand back and admire the results. In our home, generally things take years to evolve into something that can be perceived to be anything different from how it's always looked - even though there's constant tweeking, to the untrained eye it all remains ostensibly the same.

So... when the mood seems right to do something which really will make a difference to the way things both look and work, I usually jump in with both feet. Enter the project of the moment - opening up the fireplace in the sitting room, lining the chimney and installing a wood stove, then replacing the floor with new oak boards.

The existing floor had to be carpeted after we were underpinned years ago. The contractors robbed Peter to pay Paul, taking the best of the original boards out to patch another room. They then replaced those in the sitting room with very short lengths of new boards of the cheapest timber, and sadly no amount of staining would ever get them to blend in.

We've always enjoyed our wood stoves in Wales and every so often P would say something about getting one here in York, but as my head is usually somewhere else when vague intent is perceived, I never really gave it a second thought. When he eventually told me he thought it would be a good project for the autumn, my ears immediately pricked up.
Before we started
I believe there are three types of people, those who live in the past, those you live in the present and those who live in the future. P loves to plan and dream and consider what if and why don't we, without ever feeling the urge to actually act upon it, whilst I'm more interested in what's going on in the here and now. Is this a gender or a personality trait I wonder? As you can imagine it's sometimes not easy to reconcile the two!
Dust sheets on
But I digress, the important thing is that the builders, Andy and Paul, arrived last Monday. They took one look at the fireplace, then said hmmmm, not seen a corner chimney before, we'll have to go out and have a think about this.
Point of no return - wonky brickwork filled in with rubble - even the
builders who do this job every day were slightly fazed to say the least
After much deliberation they returned and set about what turned out to be a very messy and difficult job. This was because the fireplace had been built in 1910 at the same time as the house, and I can only hope the rest of the work was done rather better than what we found behind the fireplace. When I saw the hole I nearly cried and certainly started to wonder why we ever started the whole thing.
Right side of the facing done, starting the left side
First job was to mask up and chip the years of congealed soot and tar out of the chinmey. Even though it had been swept in preparation, something much more drastic was necessary. Didn't get around to taking a pic of the used dust masks but I can only say I hope Andy and Paul don't need to do this every day, the masks had about half a centimetre of thick black soot on the outside! 
Facing finished and Paul starts restoration work on the hearth
Over the next couple of days Andy and Paul were like two men possessed, totally driven and devoted to getting the job done, possibly desperate to see the back of it. All I can say is that the work seemed to progress exponentially to its eventual conclusion, fuelled it seemed by nothing other than endless cups of tea and the odd biscuit.
Job done, phew!
By Wednesday it was finished and I now stand and wonder what all the fuss was about - I love it. However, we're far from out of the woods yet. Today P is taking up the floor and the process of laying the oak floor will begin, this time with P doing it himself... I'll say no more, except I expect tempers to be slightly frayed over the coming days! A kind friend came over yesterday to help empty the room, so all now stands neatly stacked in the hall, ready for the off.
Just had an awful thought - last time the floor was taken up, the builders nailed the new boards down with Bertie, our newly acquired kitty from the RSPCA, underneath. He'd decided it was a good hiding place! Luckily, after searching the neighbourhood for twenty-four hours, we heard his plaintive cries and prized up one of the offending boards to release him. Remind me to keep the door closed this time :) Happy days ahead!  Watch this space x