Still on course...

So the March "make" was completed with a few days to spare - and I'm really pleased with it. I wanted to see if I could concentrate to follow a pattern (turns out I'm not a natural..) but after a zillion false starts, I got into the swing of it. I doubt I'll make another one - I prefer less fussy patterns though I loved the colours of the yarn (Crofter).  That said, it's a sweet wee cardi for a toddler and I'm now on the hunt for a dress/leggings or tights for underneath.  The girl is due to arrive in a week or so.

Pattern reading is a whole new kettle of ball games and I'm more of a 'wing it' girl so I really struggled with this - though I am pleased to have found new depths of persistence on the journey!

A boy's jumper next (already on the needles) - requested from friends who work in an orphanage and school in Nigeria.  They've also asked for wooly hats - the craft group in church are knitting like the world's supply of yarn is about to end.  This is a hat prototype - looks a bit odd/long but actually is soft and stretchy.  What more could a wee head want?

A possible challenge...?

So I've set myself a wee challenge or two this year. One is to make as much of our own bread as possible and the other is to "try" and produce a garment a month. So, not a big stick to beat myself with, but a carrot to encourage me to have a go and there's no harm done if it doesn't always happen. 

The garment a month is on course - mainly because I'd so much hanging around time in hospital with a poorly mum. January started off with a simple knitted jumper for my brother's 50th birthday present. Mum then fell for multi-green sock wool of all things... and requested a crocheted waistcoat - February's garment.

 I'm pleased with both garments - especially as they've been appreciated during the endless cold weeks of February and March. Also pleased at how productive I feel! On the needles now, a baby cardigan and a hooky blanket to use up the stash.... And at the machine, a black linen jacket (unlined, though I'll probably regret that). I've had to stand back from work until Easter for sure and have taken on the role of full time carer for now, so am making the most of my spare time.

Bread wise, I've made white yeast, brown yeast, potato farls, soda bread and wheaten. Tonight, having nursed a sourdough starter for weeks now - it looked like a bit of a faff and what with various bouts of illness and an elder fall, I just kept feeding  it and bunged it in the fridge until I'd more time.

Had I known how easy it was, it would have been made ages ago. It's tangy and delicious. I'll play with the recipe a little - probably won't add any whole wheat next time just to see how that works out. Anyone any suggestions for flour combos to use?

Thankful moments.

I think we might have something to learn from our neighbours across the ocean when it comes to thankful things, so I'm pausing, inspired by Christine at A Colourful Life, to note what is bringing contentment and gratitude this week.

#1  Finding a home for two wee jumpers - I started knitting them for my 'soon-to-be' 3 nephew - but just got round to finishing them this summer.  He was 11 a few weeks ago.  A friend with two toddlers was grateful to have them and I was delighted to see them go to a good home.

 #2  The smallest member of the family who 'joins in' the conversation watchfully and feels entitled to 'take a pew' literally when we all linger round the table with a cuppa.

#3  Daffodils popping through earlier than ever - last year it was Christmas week and that was early.  I didn't even think to look to see until the yellow caught my eye so they've been out at least since November 12.  

#4  I'm thankful to have reached the end of a very busy few weeks on the road with work and grateful the next phase means staying at home to complete the work gathered up.  Now I can stay in my pjs all day if I want (I won't!) and flit between desk and kitchen all day filling up the teapot (I will!)  Bliss.

#5  Wood smoke.  Someone has a fire lit and the smell of burning wood hangs on the slightly damp air.  Sigh.

#6  Dried fruit in the cupboard for the Christmas cake - ready to make when the notion takes me.

#7  Groceries delivered to the door this evening.  It's only the second time I've ordered online ever,  but it's been an exceptionally busy few weeks and I'm exhausted.  Luxury.

#8  The smell of fresh laundry on a cool pillowcase.

#9  Hearing the rain on the window and snuggling in under the quilt.

#10  The quiet, contented breathing from a sleeping loved one who's been struggling with pain all day.

Here come the cosies...

All quiet at the Cove these days. The free-range days of summer are coming to an end just in the nick of time - I'm ready for a bit more structure to the days.  Plus a good salad can only tickle the taste buds for so long and the season of soups and comforting casseroles is upon us.

I love Autumn - question is, does it start officially with the tidy dates of the meteorological autumn of 1 September or with the slightly more satisfying astronomical date which this year is 22 September?  I'm happier with the slightly more organic second date, though there's no denying the seasonal changes are arriving daily.  Not all of them good I guess; the weather news from around the world this week is grim.  I'm thankful to live in a fairly mild Northern Ireland - not too blowy and generally manageable quantities of rain.

So, a 'ta-dah!' moment - the autumn rug is finished and already been put to work in the cooler evenings.  The pattern is from Lucy's Hydrangea Blanket  pattern here but with colours which work in our room - all autumnal.

Outside, the apples are fewer on the Bramley tree - the result of haphazard pruning over the last year, so while disappointing, it's not unexpected.   The pollinator (maybe Felspar and James Grieve?) is in  a pot and doesn't usually produce much, but we got these... even though the insects have been at work on one of them.

The rhubarb is chomped to bits and I'm still on the hunt for a very fat caterpillar or slug somewhere.  but the broad beans and peas have been enjoyed by the humans.

There are still some vestiges of summer weather about though - the lobster catch at the harbour a few miles down the road was brought in on a glorious Sunday morning - all seagulls, church bell and clanging masts.  I love the colours of the lobsters.

The shellfish are on their way to Spain for the markets - and now I can tell the difference between a male and female crab!  (Female on the left with the broader 'V' and the male with a narrower, sharper 'V' on the right.  I'm sure there's a biological name but hey ho.)

Cake.  A very delicious, light, warm, lime syrup drenched polenta cake with creme fraiche to be precise.  A huge portion that fed mum and I at a local cafe.  This I need the recipe for!

Hooky happiness returns

Ulster's Causeway coast is lovely - despite the choppy looking sea, it was great to be outdoors for a while - but too hot for my very pale skin. I love to sit out, but even with a really high factor block, there's only so much scorch I can take so while the darker skinned brother and mother enjoyed sitting out to read for a while, I hid in the car and hit the hook on the new rug.  It's based on the hydrangea pattern from Lucy at Attic 24 but I've chosen colours to work for us.  Love this pattern - the hooky equivalent of chick lit - just what's needed on holiday.

Because it's been a tough few months, we've been trying to crawl out of the cocoon a little - a couple of wee tea parties for some of mum's friends who've been really kind and supportive.  I've reached the stage of life where the tongue-in-cheek thing allows me to use mum's Old Country Roses china tea-set.  The ladies love it as part of the afternoon tea elegance thing.  And who on earth uses a rose bowl anymore!? It's fun doing the whole retro thing for mum and her chums.

The raspberry and cream do-dahs are little elderflower and berry jellies.  Last time I made them with a (healthy) quantity of Prosecco but didn't have any left nearby.  They were ok I guess, but next time, they'll have a little something grown up added!

Seeing quite a few of these guys hiding in the hedges and fields recently.  I love the colours.  

Spring pops and a little escapism

Cold, bright, cheerful spring days with the sqawk of seagulls, bleating from lambs and a multitude of metal wires clanging against masts around the harbour.  A happy soundtrack.

In the shelter of the walled garden at Bangor Castle, we walk, our spirits lifted by the intensity of colour.  We'd retreated there, far from a crowded gathering at Church - my lovely mum was overwhelmed by the noise and bustle of the full pews of friendly and familiar faces and the quiet of the garden with its gentle waterfall was needed.

I guess this is all part of journey onwards from intense grief.  She's 80, and had known dad since she was 13 or 14 - a long time loving one person.  I'm learning there's no single script for those who live on - we're all finding our own way.  Spring bulbs and lambs help though.  They're hopeful; just when everything is dark and gloomy and seems dead, new life, new growth emerges to startle and encourage us to keep going.  

Back home, I lit a wood fire in the chiminea and sat with a hot drink, warm jumper and my much thumbed copy of John Seymour's book on self sufficiency and day dreamed - my way of escaping.  I was hoping for wisdom on what to plant in the raised bed that will be built over the next few weeks - but lost myself in the mysteries of managing a small holding - which I don't possess, probably will never, but can still dream about....

Left over Christmas cake etc

Am I the only person who still has a chunk of Christmas cake left by the third week of March?  It's moist and delicious and I don't want it to end so I refuse to serve it to visitors (I'm sure they're delighted!) I allow myself a wee nibble now and again.  I don't want it to finish this year.  Ridiculous I know, but dad enjoyed a small slice a few days before he died in January and somehow, when the cake is gone.... another link to him is too.

We've had seven weeks without him and slowly, steadily, his mark on our home is fading.  There will be a day when there is no more Christmas cake... no last jar of his delicious windfall apple jelly...  or pots of his favourite peppermint tea - we drink it, but not often, so I can't imagine any more will be bought when this packet is finished.

I've found myself burying my face in his jumpers in the hope of a remembered smell.

All the efficient practicality of the hours and days after he died have passed now too.  I fooled myself into thinking I was ok.  I was for a while. A funeral attended by around 450 people went like clockwork; warm, affectionate and tearful but with laughter and his favourite hymns - two of which he and I sang the day before he left us - he croaking from his pillow and me doing my best with a lump the size of everest in my throat.

The paperwork... policies.... banks.... legal matters - some relating to his older, bewildered sister who
is now my responsibility... And some for my mother all processed, organised and in order.  Now I've lifted my head I wonder where everyone has gone?  We'd several hundred people in our home over the five days between his passing and his funeral... and I breezed through - 'coping', dealing with, arranging.. Now?  Now I cry at the sight of a slice of Christmas cake and a pot of apple jelly.

I need to knit I think.  Socks.  New challenges.

A welcome to the new year.

The first week of January is now over and I'm breathing again and happy - relieved - to see a few brave daffodils bloom in the border by the front door.  The (ridiculously early) wild garlic flowering in one of the hedges nearby also fools me into thinking spring is close, so now, my shoulders are relaxing.

This has been a strange, stressful season and I'm all over the show.  New diaries have been sprung into action with no pleasure at all - no frisson of the possibilities of fresh pages in a lovely new journal.  Needs must and I've been in organisational overdrive in an effort to keep things on track.  

A pile of unopened Christmas presents still waits on the floor where the tree was until yesterday.  Barely touched Christmas cake waits and the fridge is full of unexpected food gifts - hearty soups and delicious pies - delivered by church friends showing love in the most practical of ways.

Christmas Eve started well, but by lunchtime, we'd a paramedic first responder hooking dad up to an ECG machine, confirming a heart attack and in minutes, we were in an ambulance en route to the hospital.  The days since have been spent juggling home stuff, a slightly bewildered and very anxious mum who lives with me, twice daily hospital calls, visits to an in-law, seriously ill in a different hospital and work - where half the team left unexpectedly at the end of the year.  I think the word for my life at the moment is 'intense'.

But, having had several weeks of 'up close and personal' access to Britain's National Health Service, I'm reminded again of how downright amazing it is when it works.  I'm grateful and humbled by the sheer dedication and kindness of the paramedics, nurses, doctors, porters, cooks, cleaners and others who make this lumbering, clunky, vastly under-resourced machine so magnificent in an emergency.  

So now we're about to enter the world of daily carers, and all the accompanying accoutrements - an air bed, walking aid, commode chair... and soon, MacMillan nurses - dad's cancer was already progressing rapidly. 

But next week, his pile of Christmas gifts will be opened - though the best gift will be him, back home with us.  Then, with time to gather ourselves and talk, we'll plot a way along the road to a new kind of 'normality'.

A few favourite places...

White Rocks near Portrush - you can see the stretch of sand in the distance.  It's a snap from the Magheracross picnic area near Dunluce Castle on Northern Ireland's Causeway coast - and a favourite place to gather my thoughts when I'm 'up north'.  I love the colours of the sea and sky.

A few miles along the coast is this other gem - Ballintoy Harbour - the view behind is in the shot below.  The winding road down to the harbour makes it unsuitable for coaches thankfully, though it's still full most days with tourists in search of sites where "Game of Thrones" has been filmed.  Another favourite spot!

And the current hot spot - literally - a log or two on the chiminea, my feet up, a rug or fleece, cup of tea and a good kindle read.  At the moment, that's "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr.  I'm loving it - and enjoying the not too busy summer months.

It's chilly and sunny today in my nest by the beach - a very welcome change from the almost daily rain and grey skies. I normally love winter but after a damp, dreary 'summer' and Autumn, I'm ready for any wholehearted weather - snow, frost, Sun - just something that looks definite. The daily dismal has worn thin.

I've been busy though. On the hook, a shell pink silky, lace weight, free hand jumper. Lace weight! At my size it'll take a decade to crochet. What was I thinking?

The chunky rug has been warming it's owner since Christmas but I forgot to take a photo of it when finished - the quickly hooked pastel rug was carried to Australia by one cousin for another cousin.

And so to my quilt top. Double Irish chain in crisp white and smoky blues. I'm in love. Just some tidying to do on the reverse and then the curvy pins then it's time to start on the slow - but satisfying task - of tiny stitches. I'd love to get into the way of using a thimble but previous attempts were abandoned- it felt as clumsy as sewing with a shoe on my finger.

Any experienced quilters like to share their wisdom on thimbles?

And a final bit of faffing - this time in the kitchen - a puff pastry and apple rose.  Like there weren't a pile of more important things to do.. but sometimes, I just need to faff a bit.  You too?

The Season of New Beginnings

It's happening - the seasonal fizz that September brings.  I wander past shop displays of pens and notebooks and long to be back teaching - the season of new beginnings.  Although, a confession.  I did give in and bought a packet of sharpies - I tried to resist for months, literally.  But when they were reduced... I've had to colour code my notes this week just to sort of try them all out.  (What is the point of a yellow pen?)

A family highlight was mum's birthday - the annual end-of-summer-birthday bash at our home.  All the cousins, aunts and uncles gather and as we've several August birthdays - so a cake to suit everyone was required.  It was fun to do.

Outdoors, it's been a long, damp, too-cool August and despite the craving for a little more heat and even some sunshine, I'm glad to see Autumn approach so things can get back to 'normal'.

The tomato plants aren't exactly heavy with fruit, and most of it will never ripen now.  The apple trees did their best and we have a reasonable amount of fruit, but not enough.  Even the "Lord's Larder" - my normal foraging lanes - have a few scant blackberries and lots of wee green, runty berries which would need a heatwave and a miracle if they're to feed the birds never mind my empty jam jars.

My pioneering inner self is nervous about a lack of home made produce in the store cupboard - I may just have to buy jam this winter.  Ye gads, a shocking state of affairs - especially when the met men are warning of a cold winter in the pattern of recent el nino years.  How will we survive without jam?I also have such an urge to chop wood - pointless when we've a gas Aga and central heating... but it's taking real restraint.  Almost certainly the outcome of a Laura Ingalls Wilder addiction as a child.

Happenstance? Coincidence?

I love when paths 'accidentally' collide.  It's happened twice in the last few days...

Late home, I wanted to watch this week's BBC "Who do you think you are"programme about Derek Jacobi.  A cousin had recommend it as his family background (and mine) traces back to the French Huguenots who sought refuge in the British Isles.

I watched the first few minutes - up until he arrived at a pie and mash shop in London his family had frequented when he was a child - M Manze.  Tiredness kicked in so I paused the programme at this point and headed to bed and a few pages of a new book ("Jam and Roses").  I turned the page and started to read... the main characters were heading to their favourite pie and mash shop - M Manze.

It might be well known in that part of London - I'd never heard of it before but what are the odds of it being mentioned twice in about 10 minutes?

This afternoon, I was listening to the news coverage of one of Van Morrison's 70th birthday concerts in Belfast today.  The interviewee was hoping the song about Van's old home "On Hyndford Street" would feature in the second concert.  They started to play the song and the phone rang....

You can see it coming can't you...  I took the call - a change of address someone wanted to pass on to my father.  And the new address was..... yes, you got it - Hyndford Street.  Seriously, what are the odds!

Does this ever happen to you?

Colour coordinated weekend

Things have been blue and white here over the last few days - the bride wanted the colour and pattern of the blue invites and her ivory lace dress to be reflected in the cake.  I really enjoyed making and decorating her cake and my lovely mum enjoyed helping to deliver it.

A friend's new son arrived a few days early and a blanket was called for - finished just in time and spot on for a wee boy - with Northern Ireland having had the coldest July weather in 20 years, the cosy warmth was needed!

I thoroughly enjoyed all the baking, decorating and crochet.  It was an intensely creative end to the working week and it all left me feeling relaxed- just as well as I'd an early start back to work for a Radio 4 broadcast on Sunday morning.  The service was from the Corrymeela community on Northern Ireland's beautifully, misty coastline... more grey and white than blue and white though - a very misty, damp morning.

A wee bit of hooky, new baby cuddles and being part of someone's special day - and a programme that went smoothly. Perfect.  What makes you happy?