Adventures in knitting

I have finally got around to applying myself to what to knit with this fabulous yarn.


It’s Schoppel Crazy Sauberball sock yarn in indisch Rosa and, it turns out, is ridiculously hard to photograph in any kind of light. Even in quite strong natural light the pinky red turns a horrid orange. The photo below is the closest in colours as seen on my screen but quite honestly it could look awful on your screen and I would never know. The colour changes from a rish, deep purple to a sumptuous fuschia pink/red and then variegates on those themes. It was a ball I felt unable to leave in the shop, the shop being a yarn outlet in a garden centre in Solihull, and it’s been languishing in my stash for I think at least a year, because I hadn’t thought of a project that deserved it.

After many months of on and off thinking about it, I decided to flout my usual rule of keeping patterned yarns and patterned knitting for separate projects, and decided to go for Pomatomas, a Cookie A pattern from Knitty.com. I’ve made these twice before, one pair I gave away to a university mate (who, I gather, has subsequently felted them, oh dear) and another pair for me in (I think) malabrigo, which are quite honestly a little bit large & have a tendency to “bag”. I wear them around the house or in the winter, with boots. I thought that the graduated colours would look fab, and the colour change is slow enough that the pattern wouldn’t get lost.

I was right.


However, my reckless approach to gauge (swatch? What swatch?) on this occasion has bitten me on the arse. It’s a stretchy pattern but, it turn out, not that stretchy. When I tried it on, having turned the heel (as you see here above) I could get it on, but I could *only just* get it on, it turns out. Also, the distressingly sudden colour jag you can see at the bottom of the picture disturbed me greatly, and I couldn’t think of an easy way around it. I know that for the most part this bit is likely to be hidden within shoes at times when other people can see them, but
1. I know it’s there, and
2. WTAF do you mean people aren’t going to be looking at my socks? and
3. I know it’s there and making me feel distressed.

In spite of it having been much admired at the knitting thing I went to on Wednesday (thanks, guys) I agonised for what will seem to others to be a surprisingly short amount of time before unleashing the frogs. The demi-sock has gone the way of the Norwegian parrot, it is an ex-demi-sock.

What, I hear you clamour, is plan B? That would be Hexagons (Ravelry link) by Kirsten Hall from “Think outside the sox”, a book I was given for Christmas in 2014. 

The socks are constructed with a series of hexagons where you pick up each one in turn to construct the main body of the sock, and then add in a toe & cuff in a semi-conventional fashion (or not – I haven’t actually read that far through the pattern yet. Again: reckless is my middle name). So far so exciting, and it’s working well with the colour gradations. One problemette is that I’m finding myself squinting quite a lot when doing the picking up for the next hexagon. I’m really, really hoping that it’s because the light was too dim and my eyes were tired rather than because I’m turning into one of those Old People who need reading glasses. I’m reasonably confident it is as I’ve not long had my eyes tested (in January or so) and I was perfectly fine then.

So – onwards & upwards. I managed 2 hexagons last night. Let’s see if I can beat that record and get 3 on there tonight.

Another link gone…

This winter has seen off another of my mother’s creations – a Celtic mask. It was hanging on a nail on the wall by the patio and when the trampoline went walkabout in one of this winter’s storms, it was knocked off with a fairly predictable outcome.

Lily tried valiantly to reassemble and glue it back together, but it became clear that that wasn’t going to really work. So on Friday I thanked it for its service, and consigned it to the bin.

Beyond its obvious value in being a connection to my mother, this piece had several other things going for it. It was one of her later pieces, which I had specifically chosen to own, as opposed to some of the things which have kind-of drifted into my possession. It was a departure from her usual style into things which she was hoping would appeal to a wider audience, and I’d say was largely successful. I also love that although it was a very successful recreation of Celtic style masks, I can see her “signature” style in it.

So: dear mask, thank you for scaring the bejeezus out of small children, and giving me a link to my mother for a few years:  I now send you on your way.  

I want your blood (well, not me so much)

In the run-up to Hallowe’en it seems appropriate to delve again into the world of free-flowing blood that is stem cell donation.

Just over 3 years ago I was lucky enough to be selected as a stem cell donor for an anonymous recipient on the continent, presumably (because if not, then it was quite cheeky) because they are/were suffering some form of blood cancer. Going along with the process seemed like a no-brainer to me, indeed at most stages I was really concerned that some reason would be found why I wasn’t a suitable donor, or couldn’t donate at that time. I still feel quite bitter about the time I was turned away from donating blood because I had a cold, even though I understand the reasons.

No reasons were found why I shouldn’t/couldn’t donate, so I had a lovely trip to London where the stem cells were sucked out of me. The hardest part about it was guiding the community nurse who had to visit me to the holiday cottage I was staying in, in Ludlow (which I didn’t know *at all*, and neither did she. Her: “I’ve just gone over a bridge into town.” Me: “I need more clues. All I know is I can see a castle from here.”) closely followed by remembering not to bend my arm when it had the big metal needle in it for 4 hours. Oh, and having a cannula stuck in my hand overnight in warm weather made me feel slightly like I could do with one of those cones the vets use to stop me gnawing my arm off.

But other than that, it was a breeze.

I go more into the pro’s and cons in my summary, written at the time.

So, why revisit it now? Other than to perpetuate the smug feeling a bit longer (I donated stem cells, did I mention that?), and join in with the general bloodthirstiness of Hallowe’en, my whole point in writing anything about any of this online is to encourage other people to put their hands up.

Sign up to be a bone marrow donor.

They hardly ever stick wide bore needles into your thigh bones these days. While it’s not a procedure for the needle-averse, it’s not properly painful and your worst enemy is boredom. I got through day 1 with Richard Herring interviewing Tim Minchin and laughed so much I nearly bent my arm (see above).

If you’re over 49, work on the young people you have in your life to get them to do it – you’re close to being over the hill as the cut-off, depending on which organisation wants your blood, is either 30 or 49 – but under that age you have no excuse.

Another reason why this is on my mind is that I’m lined up to give blood again for the first time since then, in a couple of weeks. You should (all) do that, too and if you already do then signing up for the bone marrow registry is super easy – just ask them about it while you’re there.  I’ve left it shamefully long, which is going to make it harder for me to hit my next milestone of 25 donations. My competitive self is giving me a good kicking about that, worry not.

So, I’ll say it again. Sign up to be a bone marrow donor. You may never get called, but if you do, you get to save a life. And you may get a free t-shirt.

Harvest number one

This is how the garden looked “before” this weekend’s gardening… The weeds are plentiful, the onions clearly need lifting, and it all needs a bit of TLC… …and this, below, is the “after”. This view shows how I’ve lifted all the onions and broad beans and dug over where they were. You can’t see where I’ve lifted the potatoes because they were at the back corner by the compost heap, but I assure you, ’twas done.
So, the empty patch where the potatoes were is at the left of the photo below.

To the right, with the flowers on, you can see the evidence that we really need to pull our fingers out and eat more things with rocket on/in. At the back you can see that the tomatoes are doing OK. I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to describe them as “thriving” but they are larger than they were and, crucially, not dead.
So, the dug-out patch below is where the onions and broad beans were. The rows at the back of the dug-over patch are garlic, some of which have now fallen over, so are ready to be picked. Behind that is a super-large clump of lettuce – we need to eat more lettuce!!  The carrots are ready, too, so I’ll have to dig them up soon as well. Next year I’d like to have more space and do more staggered planting – especially with the stuff like lettuce. I’ve managed it a bit, but I still seem to have over-catered by quite a lot.

This is the onion harvest – I’ve attempted plaiting them into strings, many of which are now hanging up in the shed. Fingers crossed I let them dry out enough that they keep a bit longer. And finally, these are some of the garlic I lifted on Sunday – they smell *gorgeous*, especially the little nuggets which have sprouted in the stems.

I’m hoping that further practice will help my onion/garlic plaiting skills…

Oh so stiff…

I had another time-ran-away moment in the garden today. Well, many moments: another incidence.

  • Lily, Joel and I weeded the drive.
  • I tidied up the tool shed and found some paper that some mice have shredded.
  • I planted out the tomatoes into the ground and some pots.
  • I planted out a courgette plant. Or 3.
  • I moved some mulch.
  • I set up a trellis for the tomatoes to cling on to.
  • I planted more French beans.
  • I planted chives, basil, coriander and dill.
  • I ran out of compost.
  • I decided that the peas have had more than enough time to germinate, and that the space will be given over to plants that show some willing.


The tomatoes still look very sorry for themselves, but I’m hoping that’s just shock. I’ve watered them plenty, but not too much.

Later on, I tried to get some pictures of Lily making massive bubbles. It’s harder than you’d think.  

garden update

Today I’ve expended so much energy in the garden I don’t have the energy to think of a snappy title to go with it. I started out tidying up the patio a bit by taking some weeds out, and then moved on to the weeds in the veggie patch.

newly planted rocket

This strip up the middle of the picture above had been planted with spinach at the same time as the onions (left) and shortly before the shallots (right) were planted. I’d left things to get a bit out of hand because I have no idea what newly sprouting spinach looks like. Before today, things had got out of hand enough that I could say with some confidence that *none* of the things that were growing in this space were spinach.

This is pretty disappointing, because they were new seeds – not ones that I’ve kept in a cupboard for 5 years, which has been known.

So I decided that enough was enough, and after I’d performed a weedathon across the two veggie patches, half of a new packet of Rocket was put in here. The archways of twigs are an attempt to stop the local cat population from digging them up under the mistaken impression that newly turned ground is an ideal place to poo!

carrots & lettuces

Much poo was removed from here, along with a lot of weeds. Removing the weeds uncovered the few carrots which appear to have germinated – you can see some here to the left of the poly tunnel – two rows were put in but looking at it we’ll be lucky to get 3 meals. Fingers crossed! The lettuce again, very disappointingly, have all but failed to grow. You can see a tightly knit cluster of 3 at the far end of the tunnel, and I moved one from the middle of the path to the far end of the row. I’ve put in another half packet of seeds of assorted lettuces in a couple of rows, and then put the tunnel over for anit-cat protection while they get going. The hydrangea heads are another attempt at an anti-cat device. They are quite flimsy so I’m not super-confident, but we’ll see. It’s possible they may make it just uncomfortable enough that the cats are deterred…

disappointing peas

The peas, as you can see, have so far been super-disappointing. Of 3 rows planted, I have had TWO PLANTS poke their noses above ground. They don’t even have the common decency to be in the same row. And, the large green thing you can see in the middle of the middle row is not a pea. OH NO. It’s a sodding potato.

I’m told that the peas may be slow to germinate because of the cold weather. They have either one day or a few weeks, depending on how energetic I’m feeling tomorrow. The space could be used for something a bit more enthusiastic. Like courgettes. Or tomatoes. Tomatoes are looking good right now.

On the theme of potatoes, the compost heap is doing us proud again this year. And appears to be a refuge for snails.

compost potatoes

I also pulled about 5 plants out of the winter onion patch. Fortunately, of the 3 I planted before the frosts were over, two potato plants have survived & appear to be thriving in their intended location, so I may have broken the intentionally-planted-potato curse.

panorama

And so to the overview – I put a couple of wind breaks in to “protect” the courgettes after taking away their poly-tunnel, as it was a bit blowy this morning. The beans have been wind-blasted to oblivion, I fear, so I will start some off again tomorrow and plant in the many wide gaps.

All in, it’s not looking too bad I think – could just do with a little more space which I will see to… presently!

We’re going to need a bigger boat.

Variable weather this weekend meant I didn’t really crack on with anything garden-like until Sunday. Saturday was earmarked for acquiring a smart new outfit for Joel to attend his first communion in – fortunately we found just the right style of pure white dress in the form of a spiderman suit with purple monocle, so there was plenty of time to have a make-me-favourite-parent lunch at MacDonalds before braving the rain on the way home.

Anyway – garden news.

strawberry terraces

On Sunday my plan was to “free” the strawberries and rhubarb – a thick carpet of weeds had grown up around them and all over Lily’s patch, so my happy plan was to dig out the weeds, expose the strawberries and give the rhubarb a bit more breathing space. That turned into “relocate the strawberries to the front of the veggie patch for most sunlight as you’re digging them up anyway” which then turned into “and terrace the patch and have another strip of strawberries because it turns out you’ve got LOADS in there”. So, they are salvaged, spread out and heavily mulched. I found a couple of old shelves in the garage to hold back the dirt and I think it looks more attractive than the previous sloped effect.

You can see from the picture above that not much rhubarb was freed up. More on that later, if I remember.

The onions and garlic I planted last autumn are going great guns – I’m now wondering how I know when they should be harvested. I’m sure a short amount of research will give me the answer…

onions, garlic and broad beans

On Monday I had a helper – she actually came out to help briefly on Sunday but interest waned pretty quickly. Monday was a longer session, with clearing of her little patch, planting a couple of plants and chopping back of the bush which is really really invasive.

Lily gardening

Here she can be seen planting a couple of “spare” courgettes next to some french beans.

beans & courgettes & garden architecture

As usual, I’ve totally over-catered on planting stuff in pots. I had about 20 french bean seedlings altogether. Some are sharing holes, there’s a row down the middle of the tunnel and Lily has 5 planted in her patch. Luckily we like beans – I hope these survive the cool spring we are having and are super-tasty. The cloche contains 4 courgette plants. I still have 8 in pots, so if anyone wants any, give me a shout. NOBODY wants a repeat of the great marrow glut of ’76 and I fear that’s where we are heading if I don’t offload some of these plants.

panorama
panorama – click to embiggen

So – the beds that I have are pretty full now. I’ve kind-of decided that the tomates are going to be in containers on the patio. Assuming I have enough containers and patio space, which let’s face it is quite the assumption, given how many I’ve planted. I have lots of seeds left to plant, though, and nowhere to put them. These include things like rocket, more lettuces (although new lettuces could go where the existing lettuces are, given that only a handful appear to have successfully germinated – grr!), fennel and squash. And I’m sure I can think of more things as time goes by. Possibly even some courgettes…

I have my eye on this bit of lawn. Watch this space!

doomed lawn

ps. The rhubarb? Has been mostly freed in what we in the half-arsed gardening trade like to call a half-arsed job.

pps. in other news, I got stung on the bot by a nettle. The nettle is now stewing in order to provide us with tasty nettle wine later in the season. I know, I’m not really convinced either, but I feel as though I ought to try it at least once…

Progress

I planted lettuce a while ago, and have been a little disappointed that there are no signs of life yet… (Click to embiggen)

 

Given the general apparently cat-based disruption in this area, and the single clump of sprouting things that could be lettuces, I’m quite concerned that the local cat population has sabotaged my attempts to grow cheap salad.

All I can say for now is “watch this space”. I may have to employ more active anti-cat measures in future as (predictably, some might say) a single piece of string along the row just isn’t doing the magic.

On the other hand, this is a view of the tomato seed tray I planted up at the weekend. I’m hoping these are both tomatoes – they appear to be in the right places, and so far don’t look like not tomatoes, and I used proper compost from a shop, so I’m quietly optimistic.

 

Howling gales

No pictures today on account of the howling gale which kicked in about 5 minutes after I’d started gardening. The last time I was outside attempting to do stuff in weather that bad was when Mum & I were laying a brick path across the back of the “old” veggie patch. When it got so bad we couldn’t see the ground, Mum finally persuaded me that continuing was folly. The path never got finished…

Today I had got as far as digging over the next area for planting and putting in a row of shallots when my lack of a waterproof layer became ridiculous. I came back in to warm up and get a coat on. Leaving it a short while until I thought it was raining less, I went back out with a hat and coat on. It was awfully muddy, but I managed to get 3 rows of sugarsnap peas, 2 rows of broad beans, and another row of carrots in. Just for good measure I “planted” an old packet of marigold seeds I had. They were a gift from mum so they are at least 5 years old, if not more, but I figured that if I left them in the packet they would never grow. If they do grow, they are good companion plants for the onions and garlic.

My concerns with the shallots are that I’m not really sure what to expect. The things I planted were about the size of shallots I’d buy from the supermarket. Do they divide into multiple bulbs? Or just get bigger? I’m not optimistic about there being any outcome other than I’ve just stored some shallots in the ground for a few months.

Anyway – I’ve scheduled in another plant-a-thon (ish) for next weekend. In the meantime I need to get some tomatoes started, but frankly, by the time I’d got everything else in the ground, I was too darned cold to stop out any longer.

A little bit nippy

 

I’m just back from our fourth summer-kick-start break in Portugal. The weather this year was significantly windier than in previous years – to the point where, having not “anchored” the ever-present inflatables in the evening, I ended up getting up in the middle of the night to make sure they hadn’t blown away. I was pretty sure, at the time, that they would be far afield, but they were only just the other side of the pool.

technology-free-not

joel at Silves castle

A rain storm was threatening as we went around Silves castle and enjoyed the brooding skies over the surrounding countryside. We ducked into Rui’s for a fish-based lunch and by the time we emerged it was raining like it was the end of the world.

nasturtiums

I must have not been a gardener last time we went to Caldas do Monchique, because I don’t remember the carpet of nasturtiums that was all over the place. I narrowly avoided having a full-in Granny moment, as one of my favourite pictures of my mum with Lily was taken here when we came to Portugal when Lily was a year old. Mum would have appreciated the nasturtiums as well. She used to put the flowers in salads. Bless.

We managed a couple of visits to one of my favourite restaurants as well. The boys like it because of the artwork, but I like the food (quite key) and the service – they always look after the children very well, and it’s definitely appreciated.  The place is Onze – well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

The high winds made for a lot of good wave-watching. I find being by the sea very restful, even when the waves are crashing into the rocks, so long as I’m a good distance away… In the picture below there is a 10-foot drop immediately behind Lily, caused by the choppy sea of the past few days. The sea that night was calmer than it had been for a while. And, I appreciate the colours are probably thanks to rampant pollution, but I really like. A lot.

We had a couple of awesomely warm days before I came back, so the front of my legs is nicely toasted. Fingers crossed the guys make it back OK – there are French air traffic controllers grumbling which caused switch-over problems last week.

So, I’m back in the UK and planning a plant-a-thon for this afternoon. It’s fair to say it’s a little bit nippy compared to Portugal. And not as sunny…