Archive for category Life in General
Once upon a time, back when we called yarn ‘wool’ and there was often a little wool shop or ‘kiosk’ in even the smallest of towns and independent knitwear designers were twinkles in their grandparents’ eyes, my Mum taught me how to knit.
Actually, I think she first used me as a living wool winder as I remember my early encounters with wool involved standing for a long time, arms outstretched, whilst a skein was converted into a ball. Despite this unpromising apprenticeship, I took up the needles at a young age and have continued, on and off, ever since.
I don’t remember my maternal grandmother ever yielding a pair of knitting needles so I wonder what started my mother off on her lifelong hobby.
Perhaps it was this. ….
…..which would have been just a little after the time she looked like this.
I wonder if she made those pompoms herself.
When I moved to France almost thirteen years ago Mum would come and visit several times a year as well as at Christmas and, what with my sister living in Spain, she was nearly always on her holidays which I hope compensated just a little for us not living next door. Regular readers will know that, during these visits, all other activities were practically abandoned in favour of knitting and chatting together.
This is Mum with Mlle. Tialys the Elder who, while not having caught the knitting bug at the time of writing, is a dressmaker and cross stitcher and could probably be brought into the fold at some future stage.
She made this for her Nan as an early Christmas present.
Back in 2013 Mum was nominated for a voluntary carers’ award for visiting a housebound elderly lady every week – almost without fail – for ten years. She was 80 herself at that point but this was the sort of thing she did. She wasn’t going to attend the award ceremony – being far too shy and modest – but I said I’d go with her and she agreed to go. She received a framed certificate from the Lady Mayor and afterwards we had a traditional English tea (another one!!) in lovely gardens in the sunshine.
While I was in England caring for my Mum with my two sisters, I knitted this little scarflet for my Stitching Santa partner.
Even though Mum didn’t have the strength to knit herself any longer by this stage it still felt like a bonding experience as I’m sure she could probably hear the clicking needles and the quiet chatting as my youngest sister began to knit a bear and my other sister started to knit squares for a blanket. One of my nieces visited, saw the three of us companionably knitting, and wanted to learn. And so the passing on of skills continues.
I have to say – and I know she’d agree with me – that Mum never really progressed beyond ‘enthusiastic amateur’ status. Mainly due to the fact that she hated ‘the sewing up bit’ and looked at me as if I were mad if I ever suggested anything as radical as ‘blocking’ a finished garment. She was the Queen of UFOs (unfinished objects) – her loft was full of half finished jumpers, cardigans, baby clothes, etc. – but even those things she finished weren’t deemed good enough to wear or pass on to the new babies of the family. The little baby jackets, cardigans and bootees we found cast off, in both senses, was poignant to say the least. The joy for her though was in the choosing of the pattern, the
yarn wool and the actual knitting – if something decent came off the needles that was a bonus.
You may remember my recent post about the Ugly Christmas Jumper and how it came to be and I hope you will be pleased to know that it was finally finished (once I’d added proper ribbing to the sleeves and lengthened the body) and handed to ‘the nephew’ one week before Mum died. I think he will treasure it forever.
It was a shame, as she loved Christmas so much, that she died the day before the first window of her advent calendar was to be opened, especially as there was a chocolate inside.
Family was everything to my Mum and I am so pleased that my sisters and I were able to be with her, in her own home, in the last few weeks of her life and could be there for her final, peaceful breaths as she had been there for our first ones. I am finding that a huge comfort at this difficult time.
Wherever you are now Mum, I hope there’s lots of wool and chocolate and laughter.
10th September 1932 – 30th November 2017
A bit of an explanation for those of you who might have noticed an absence of my usual waffle in the comments section of your blog posts. I have been to the U.K. for a week but not for the usual fish and chips, underwear grab in Marks and Spencer and other frivolities. Unfortunately my Mother is ill and my sisters and I are taking it in turns to keep her company while she receives palliative care at her home. Logistically it’s quite difficult as I am in France, one of my sisters is in Spain and the youngest is in Wales which – though in the U.K., is still a 3.5 hour drive away from where my Mum lives. Still, whilst it is still possible, she wants to stay in her own familiar surroundings so we are doing our best to make sure she has one of us there at all times. I did take my iPad but screen time was sacrificed to quality time and, although I have certainly read most of your posts, I haven’t been commenting. In fact, since I returned home yesterday I had just under 300 emails and had to be ruthless with the delete button – just so you know.
Anyway, despite taking a new crochet project with me and some small sewing bits to keep me occupied, it was all put aside in favour of ‘the Christmas jumper’. This project was entrusted to Mum, just after she received her diagnosis, by my nephew. I think he thought it would give her something to work on and keep her mind occupied. She was actually knitting a rather lovely top for herself at the time but, as the sun shines out of his proverbial, as far as my Mum is concerned, all else was swept aside in her desperation to finish it for him and the boring stocking stitch began.
My nephew knows absolutely nothing about knitting and printed a very basic pattern off the internet and told her that was what he wanted. Despite knitting for years, my Mum has never got the hang of intarsia knitting and the chart left her dumbfounded. My middle sister was with her at that stage and decided to make the Christmas tree in felt and appliqué it on to the front. It was, I am told, a disaster. So, despite not even being a regular knitter herself, she came up with a separate knitted version of the tree, complete with pompoms for the baubles and star, and sewed that on. Mum completed the back before the extreme fatigue she is now suffering from kicked in, the same sister took some of the yarn back to Spain with her and did the sleeves and my task was to pick up the stitches and do the neckband and then sew it all together.
Could this be the weirdest Christmas jumper you see this year? It is like the Frankenstein of woolen wear – being made by different makers at different times and all of different abilities. Unfortunately, my sister was unsupervised when she knitted the sleeves in Spain and so mistook k1, p1 rib for moss stitch so there is absolutely no difference between the width of the cuffs and the width of the sleeves. I didn’t have time to do anything other than to sew it all together but it did occur to me that it might be worth picking up around the ends of the cuffs and knitting a proper ribbed piece on. What do you knitters think? Would that work? I know that the moss stitch piece would have to stay but we could call that a design feature.
He will be delighted to get this for Christmas. No, really!
I am sure of two things however: it will be the only one of its kind and he will never wear it in public.
Did I mention he is 35 years old?
This is my old boy Taz – he turned 12 in September. He is in recovery mode.
The day before I was due to leave for the U.K. I had slept very badly because, not only was I very nervous about my trip not knowing how I would find my Mum and worried about my caregiving abilites but I could hear the dogs marauding about downstairs in a restless manner. I got up to let them out in case they needed to pee and then I noticed that Taz’s stomach was hugely distended and rock hard. I thought it might be the very dangerous condition called ‘bloat’ which happens when a dog’s stomach fills with gas, food, or fluid, making it expand causing it to put pressure on the other organs. I wondered about calling out an emergency vet – it was 5.30 in the morning – but suddenly he was incredibly sick and I remembered that I had found the dog food delivery ‘tampered with’ the evening before and a kilo of one of the two 15kg sacks stored downstairs suspiciously missing so I put it down to him gorging himself. So, instead of rushing to the vet, I took my daughter to work at the normal time but, when I got back , I thought I’d take him to the vet anyway as he needed some more pills for his arthritis and let her have a look at his stomach – ‘just in case’. Luckily I did because she did an echogram, saw his spleen was in a bad condition and decided to whip it out on the spot. So, he lives to scent our lives with his gaseous emissions another day – while he was having the echogram the nurse was at the wrong end holding his feet still and had to run and fling open a window. ‘Welcome to my life’ I told her. Luckily, Mr. Tialys was on his way home from the U.K. to cover for me while I went to the U.K. and we picked him up at the end of the day. We put him in one of the girls’ t-shirts instead of a buster collar and, just over a week later, he appears to have recovered well.
Just what I needed before setting off for a week of grappling with multitudinous medications and daytime television but I am now an expert in both.
Not being a daytime t.v. viewer myself I am amazed at what gets discussed, dissected and repeated over and over again between the hours of 08.00 and 17.00. The worst of it is, because the target audience is obviously older the adverts are nearly all for life insurance ‘so your children aren’t burdened with your funeral expenses’, fund raising pleas for cancer charities with images of patients and, as it was Halloween while I was there, numerous coffins and other death related paraphernalia – all very uncomfortable viewing when watching with an elderly, sick loved one It was worse than an unexpected explicit sex scene coming up while watching with all the family round at Christmas time.
Still, there was always the Jeremy Kyle Show on to remind us that perhaps a more rigorous programme of contraception ought to be promoted amongst people who can shout at more than 90 decibels and use one swear word for every two ordinary ones in any given sentence whilst demanding to hear the results of the DNA test to prove who, out of a number of possible candidates, is the father of their unfortunate child.
Anyway, I’m back now.
We went on holiday – the first one on our own (longer than a weekend) since the girls were born. We pleased ourselves what we did and when we did it. The Mademoiselles (plus the boyfriend of one of them) were the guardians of home, dogs and cats and, astonishingly, the house was still standing and the animals still present and correct when we got back.
Remember the t-shirts, years ago, that said ‘My Parents Went On Holiday and All They Bought Me Was This T-Shirt’ ? Well, due to her father’s sense of humour, this is what Mlle T. the elder got for her trouble
She wasn’t amused when I texted her this photo from the apartment we were renting in Girona. It didn’t help that the weather in France hadn’t been very good while we’d been away and she’d been looking forward to sunning herself by the pool. She’s a sensitive soul – but we gave it to her anyway.
We started off by going across the border into Andorra where, every year the Cirque du Soleil give free performances throughout the month of July. No photos but I’m sure you’ve seen events on T.V. or been to one yourself so you know they are amazing spectacles peopled by incredibly bendy, muscular and (usually) tiny athletic types.
We then crossed over on to the Spanish side of the Pyrenees and proceeded on some very windy roads to a village called Bonansa and, yes, I kept humming the theme tune because I’m that old.
Around the village were several of these ermitages which are centuries old (those parts that haven’t been restored) and were used both defensively against invaders
and as places of sanctuary.
We then went further West into Aragon and to a magical medieval Moorish town called Alquezar which has labyrinthine old streets and is cut into a hillside surrounded by deep gorges.
Lots of people go canyoning but we contented ourselves with walking
of the slightly precarious kind
These walkways have been attached to the rock face so that, when the river below is in full ‘gush’, you can still walk through the gorge. I had no trouble but Mr. T is very tall and had to almost bend double to get under some of the overhanging rocks.
When we reached the end, we saw one of the paths that had been closed and, if you zoom in (click twice), you can see why.
I was glad we’d already done a circuit otherwise it might have put me off.
Oh, and we also did lots of sitting around tlaking and eating. I love it in Spain because they don’t even start dinner until around 8.30 whereas the French restaurants where I live are thinking about closing around about then.
From this vantage point we looked down into an olive grove where an old man tended his little herd of goats until late at night and the local feral cat population begged for food from the diners above.
This one nearly came home with us.
A face only a mother could love?
Then we continued on to Girona – very much back in Catalan country, with the flag of Catalonia hanging from many balconies – and spent the rest of the week there in an apartment in the old town and right on the riverside.
You know how I love to say ‘you can see our house from here’ – well, for three days I could say it every time we crossed the bridge.
We walked the old city walls for the views and to work off some of the excess eating (and drinking)
Quite a few scenes of ‘Game of Thrones’ were filmed here and (spoiler alert) one of the ice cream parlours make an ice cream in the shape of Jamie Lannister’s severed hand.
Here he is on the steps of the cathedral – I had a very nice Mojito at a café just at the foot of these steps although the people milling about on the steps looked a bit different when I was there.
I hope the cast didn’t need to use the loo too often though as this one is very high up on the old city wall and just empties directly on to the street below
So, that’s the holiday snaps over with – sorry about that but it’s nice for me to have a record of our visit and my blog’s the best place for me to put it. Back to normal i.e. sewing, crochet, knitting, patchwork, dogs and cats, next time.
On a side note, as it was my holiday reading so therefore a little bit pertinent, I read ‘Daughters of the Dragon‘ by William Andrews. Not your usual escapist holiday read but a very good fictional account (though based on historical facts) of the so called ‘comfort women’ taken from Korea as young as thirteen and used as sex slaves by the Japanese army in World War II. Tortured and abused some of the survivors – women now in their seventies and eighties – are still asking for acknowledgement and some sort of repentance from the Japanese government who were aware of the provision of these ‘comfort stations’. Shocking but also an interesting look into Korean history, the author was inspired to write the story by his Korean daughter and asks that readers spread the word by leaving reviews and mentioning it on social media in order to increase the awareness of the fate of these, often forgotten, women. I’m happy to oblige.
Today I spotted some unusual mushrooms in the garden
An unusual turquoise-y green colour I thought might be poisonous so I didn’t touch them.
It crossed my mind they might be birds’ eggs fallen out of a nest.
I was going to Google ‘small turquoise fungi’ after walking the dogs but on my way back down the hill from our walk I realised it wasn’t necessary.
Sometimes I worry.
Another ‘should’ve gone to Specsavers’ moment?
I think I have said on this blog before that life is too short to stuff a mushroom but, evidently, it’s not too short to paint rose petals with egg white and dust them with sugar.
Why, I hear you ask, were you engaging in the sort of shenanigans usually only bothered with by celebrity chefs and contestants in baking competitions? Because I was making a dessert for a Ruby Wedding celebration is my answer and I thought it appropriate to have red rose petals sprinkled artfully over and around said dessert. Well – they were definitely red to start with but after a brush with the egg white they turned a pinker shade of red. No matter – they were pretty anyway and I move even closer to my Domestic Goddess status .
Some friends of ours were celebrating 40 years of marriage – and look! they’re still laughing.
A mixture of French and Brits were present to help them celebrate and, of course, being a Ruby Wedding Anniversary, there had to be a Ruby Murray on offer. Firstly because you can’t get a decent curry here for love nor money unless you make your own , secondly because we are Brits and we have to have curry occasionally in order to survive and what better excuse than when the name is in both titles? For those not in the know a ‘Ruby Murray’ is cockney rhyming slang for a curry.
The occasion demanded another foray into my new passion for freehand machine embroidery.
Colin is a massive Chelsea Football fan and so I had to portray him wearing something with the crest on it and Jan has got a gorgeous mass of curly hair. They are dog lovers and have a particular soft spot for golden retrievers which they generally find in re-homing centres and so they had to be in the picture too. I must perfect my dog breed representation but you get the drift. I was gratified to see that, despite not having seen my gift at that point, Colin had dressed to match it.
I had a bit of a scare because when I showed my French sewing buddy the embroidery last week she told me that a Ruby Wedding is not 40 years of marriage and, even though I would practically have signed away my house on the certainty that I was right, I did have to Google it when I got home and discovered that the French call it a Ruby Wedding at 35 years – trust them to be different 🙂
So, I didn’t have to undo any stitching and the French friends and neighbours present at the ‘do’ all happily went along with our quaint foreign ways anyway – even sampling the curry!
Anyway, back to the rose petals which I used to adorn a fruit tart – my contribution to the dessert table. If I tell you it was an adaptation of a Nigella Lawson recipe it won’t surprise you to know that it probably didn’t do anybody’s cholesterol levels any favours. Originally a black and white tart – using blackberries and whitecurrants – this was, once again, from her ‘How To Be A Domestic Goddess’ book which is now my go to bible for puddings/cakes and other wickedness having rediscovered it on my bookshelves recently.
I thought the raspberries would look like little rubies – well big ones actually – if you had one that size in a ring or a couple in a pair of earrings you wouldn’t complain would you? **
The digestive biscuit base was ‘enhanced’ by a spoonful of cocoa powder and the mascarpone filling was ‘further enhanced’ by some melted white chocolate, the remainder of which was grated on top (well, most of the remainder, some might have found its way elsewhere 😉 ) Anyway, I think it was good but, by the time I got up to the dessert table, it had all gone.
The dessert table – before
I should have nabbed a slice instead of taking photos 😦 Luckily, I have made it once before, without the cocoa and the white chocolate and I know that version was good and, as it so happens I have a photo of it too, albeit taken on my phone in artificial light.
I only paint rose petals on special occasions 😉
** I was reminded here of one of my favourite one-liners from Only Fools and Horses where Del buys Grandad some strawberries and he complains they’re not very big to which Del replies ‘What do you mean they’re not very big? You wouldn’t want one of those up yer nose for a wart would yer?’
What do you mean they ain't very big? You wouldn't like one of those up yer nose for a wart would ye
Even though the patchwork block swap I’ve been participating in hasn’t quite finished yet – there’s one month to go – I have actually made all the blocks I need to and I’ve already started getting withdrawal symptoms. Kate and Sue who have run the F2F (Foot Square Freestyle) swap for the past two years, have decided they need a break from organising duties and as I am more of a participant than an organiser I didn’t offer to take it over so, sadly, when Claire receives her 24 blocks from 8 other quilters around the world by the end of February, that will be it.
I found that participating in the swap really motivated me to improve my work, try out some new techniques and get things finished on time
So, what to do next?
I searched around the web for other swaps but the few I managed to find had either already started or didn’t appeal.
Kate has started making a quilt – unusually it will be for herself – from a book both she and I have had for years.
We’ve both been in love with one particular quilt inside it – I even made the templates for it and one block back in the mists of time – but never got any further.
It’s rows of vintage hatboxes made to look as if they’ve been covered in wallpaper, as olden day people used to do, and each one set in the angle of a little cubby hole with a floor and two walls. So, lots of design decisions to be made.
Kate has been busy with it for a few months now – you can see her progress here – and I decided I would join in with her and we would aim to make three blocks per month and publish them on our blogs at the end of the month. This will be my motivation.
I am making a wall hanging for my bedroom rather than a quilt – there is an empty wall behind the bed and I thought this might go well there rather than a picture. I don’t want it to dominate the room or anything so I’m not making it too large, just four blocks wide x three blocks high. If I make three blocks per month, it should be ready to start putting together in May.
Each ‘cubby hole’ is constructed by joining two trapezoids, one reversed, plus an 8.5 inch square which is set in to the angle of the trapezoids. Eek! I was so pleased when I got it right first time and then realised my perfect seam would be covered up with the hatbox appliquéd on top – still, that’s patchwork for you. Here’s a ‘blank’ just so you know I can do it.
And here’s the block after the hatbox has been added.
I decided to use scraps for the backgrounds where possible and Liberty tana lawn for the hatboxes. I realised too late that, because the tana lawn is so fine, you have to be careful what you put underneath it. You can see the stripes of my ‘flooring’ vaguely show through but I thought it sort of looks like part of the design on the box so I’ve left it.
This one is a darker print so I got away with it here but, for the other blocks, I won’t use that particular striped fabric. I am not usually an ‘appliqué person’ but Kate has got me trying several techniques I’ve either never done before or previously said I’d never do such as foundation paper piecing so here’s one more to add to the list. I am using Bondaweb to attach the hatbox shapes and then using a turquoise thread and machine appliquéing on to the background.
This next one had to be re-done because I had used light coloured tana lawn for the hatbox and the ‘floor’ was showing through and making it look as if there was a shadow across the box. I had to peel it off – a tragic waste of both Liberty and Bondaweb -and use a darker design. You live and learn.
I’m enjoying making these hatboxes but my workroom is a mess – strewn with fabrics over every surface as I audition them for ‘wallpaper’, ‘flooring’ , the hatboxes themselves and the bands. Decisions, decisions……
I will finish by proudly announcing that I have managed to complete Dry January without a drop of alcohol passing my lips – apart from that used in cooking which doesn’t count because all the alcohol comes off as vapour (boo!) . I never usually touch Pastis – the favourite aperitif of the French – because wine is my poison and the aniseedy alcoholic tipple makes me go woozy very quickly which is a feat in itself. However, Ricard (the favoured brand of the French when imbibing their favourite aperitif) make a version called Pacific which has no alcohol, no sugar, no calories, no nuffink apart from quite a few E numbers but I haven’t looked them up to see whether they are dodgy ones. As with the real stuff, you dilute it with 5 parts water but, unlike the real stuff, it is already a cloudy colour.
This, and Bucklers non alcoholic beer (which is really Lager if you are British) , kept me on the straight and narrow when temptation threatened to overcome me. I don’t know whether you can get it (or Bucklers) outside of France but, if you can, and you are the designated driver or want an alcohol free evening for any other reason, I would recommend it.