Saturday, 31 December 2016

Goodbye to 2016

I hesitate to write a Year in Review post, because 2016 has been the worst and yet the best year of my life.
And to think that, let alone write that feels traitorous.
I lost the centre of my universe.
I spent the best part of 2016 spiraling wildly out of orbit, trying to make sense of who I am on my own.
Who I am.

I am not there yet.
I have caught myself repeating the old patterns, looking for FL, seeking the touchstone.
When what I really need to do is find myself.

So I have been investing in the future, my future as a single woman of a certain age who finds herself... independent.
Yeah, go on sing the song, I don't mind!
Throw Your Hands Up At Me! 
The house I live in? The car I'm driving?  All depend on me.

In the past few days I have taken a little more control of my life.
Tiny steps.

I bought a new(er) car that I can depend upon to stop when I hit the brakes.  Always useful.

I stripped out my wardrobe (again).  Because I am older, leaner, aiming to be wiser.
I replaced the saggy old undies which no longer fit.

I catalogued my yarn stash.
So many possibilities!

I joined the gym.
I fought that one for a while, not trusting myself to be doing it for the right reasons.
But today I put myself through the torture that is an "induction session" and discovered an unexpected talent for performing The Plank.
The look on my Inducer's face was priceless, after my fumbling, bumbling attempts to operate gym machinery.
It will be something to do at stupid o'clock in the morning before work, when I can't sleep and am blazing with energy.

Because that is how I am these days:  ablaze.
And rather than explode, I need to set the world on fire in a controlled setting.

Write a book.
Dance it out.
Do whatever the hell it is that makes me... me.

Have a happy New Year, people.
That's my plan.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Twenty Four, Christmas Eve Cast On

A new sock-start on Christmas Eve.
Dani of Little Bobbins has been doing it for a few years now.
I like to join in.

Such a lovely idea!

In 2014 I started these:

In 2015 I started these:


Off we go!

Have a lovely Christmas, friends!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Twenty-Three, Home

Today is the first day of my break from work.

The Girl is here for a week.
The Boy is playing guitar in Senegal, as you do.

We have no particular plans for the holiday.
The Girl is an art student now, with an assignment to work on, so there is a good chance that we will each be getting on with our own projects and will take it in turns to bake brownies / gingerbread men.

My Tree for Christmas (I might add tinsel)

Weather permitting, we will pull on our boots and stomp round the fields.
We might watch some films.
Drink cider.
Read books.
Rant about boys.
(Like girls do.)

Love it.

Hope you and yours have some time set aside for being "Home".

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Twenty-Two: Spontaneity

Today's post was supposed to be called "Planning".


How very 2015!  Planning, Roo?  Really?

That's not where it's at.
Nordic Arrows by Susanne Sommer from Laine Magazine
Public Service Announcement:
Spontaneity is the future.
Leap to your feet, grab your coat and JUST DO IT!

On a very small scale, I just treated myself to the first issue of Laine Magazine.
Just like that.
I found a copy in Ysolda's online shop here:  Laine.

You can see what is in it here on Ravelry.
Ditch the queue.
Knit something new.

Instant decision-making:  it can be done!
Some folks call it freedom.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Twenty-One, Take a Break

I was at a loss today, wondering what to write about.
I didn't start this Advent-ure with a plan, it just picked up its own momentum as I went along.
And today?
I was flagging.
I went to a Seasonal Soirée yesterday.
I avoided the Big Bash in an effort to preserve my sanity, but you can only get away with so much staying away before it becomes rude.
And while the event itself was pretty calm, and I only drank water, it set me jangling.
Because... stuff and things.

So I went home and watched a Rom Com and had a drink and upset myself.

I was up at 5.30 (which is late for me these days) and in the office in plenty of time to witness delivery of the leftover Very Important Mince Pies.
But I missed my 10 am coffee ritual.

Most days, I potter over to the coffee shop with a colleague from another section.
We buy a take-away tea or coffee, exchange the occasional inappropriate remark and are back at our desks within ten minutes, ready to face the rest of the morning.  With caffeine.
It is a chance to get away from the emails, the phone, the ominous clang of the Double Doors.

Today we missed our appointment.
It was 3pm before I realised that I needed a break.

So I took myself to the Posh Coffee Shop.
Which is to say it is the most expensive one.
The kinda hip one.
Where they have beards and play heavy metal music.
They do?!
They do.

And even though it was a dark December day outside of term time, it was buzzing with academic life.
It took the artisan a while to craft my flat white.
These things can't be rushed.
And while I waited, I was drinking it all in:  the people, the conversations, the music, the energy!

And what was the Lesson Learned today, Roo?
Just take a break, girl.
Everything looks better with coffee.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Twenty, Paper Love

I mentioned in November that I was taking part in an e-course called Paper Love.

The premise of the course is that those who take part... love paper!
And of course I do!
Is it a coincidence that my paternal family were actually paper-makers?
Not in a romantic hand-made sense:  they were mill-workers, labourers.

I was raised in a "mill cottage", as was my father before me.

My house was the last but one in the row beside the playing fields in the centre of this picture from 1972.
All demolished now.

My father "bettered himself" after the war by learning how to draw the machinery, becoming an engineering draughtsman.
He had box after box of black and white photographs of rollers.
Piles of drawings of valves and pipes.
It was his job to redesign the machines to make them run more efficiently.

I just now went onto the web to look for an example of the sort of thing I mean...
And I found a picture of my father in 1960!

That was a shock.


My e-course was an opportunity to explore the manipulation of a medium:  book-making, folding, cutting, collage, playing with ink.
I was busy at work so did not complete all the exercises.
I am looking forward to exploring the projects I missed over the holidays.

And early next year I am going to a workshop in Edinburgh for Paper Love "alumni".

I would love to explore further.
Rachel runs courses in Amsterdam, Venice, Paris...


Monday, 19 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Nineteen, The Gothic

At the end of November, I attended a creative writing workshop on the theme of "Gothic Fiction".

My main motivation in attending was that it was there, and such opportunities are few and far between in these parts.

Somewhere in the back of my head I remembered that many of my favourite novels are branded "Gothic", so I expected to be on familiar ground:  Jane Eyre, Villette...

But I hadn't really appreciated that there is a modern version of the Gothic Imagination, and that the genre had crossed over into film.  Interesting.

My fellow participants wanted a definition.  They wanted to be able to spot The Gothic at a hundred paces and slap a label on it.
The tutor preferred to give examples of books and films which exhibited elements of the Gothic:  because, really, why would you want to conform strictly to a set of "rules" in your writing?

Identifying features:

  • The Gothic invites you to challenge anxieties - either in the culture or personally
  • There is a Monster - real or symbolic
  • "Special effects" are used to intensify the atmosphere
  • The Hero is the one who makes the right choice
  • It is a genre that forces you look at the thing you don't want to look at - it might be yourself
And much more.

So what is Roo rambling on about now, you ask?

Just to say, that I think I have found a direction (if not a genre) for my unwritten novel.
I already had the title.

I just need to write it now.
A minor detail.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Eighteen, Sleeping Moomin

It's all been a bit heavy and emotional round these parts this week.

So let's just calm down and breathe.

I bought a print to hang in my bedroom:  Sleeping Moomin.

That's better, Roo.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Seventeen, Touchstone


1. A hard black stone, such as jasper or basalt, formerly used to test the quality of gold or silver by comparing the streak left on the stone by one of these metals with that of a standard alloy.
2. An excellent quality or example that is used to test the excellence or genuineness of others:
"the qualities of courage and vision that are the touchstones of leadership" (Henry A. Kissinger).

This is the American Heritage Dictionary definition, the one I like best.

I am a silver streak against a hard black stone.

But Touchstone is also a character in "As You Like It", described as "a natural fool":  one of those Court jesters whose fool-ish witticisms are searingly perceptive and strike at the true heart of the matter.

Hmmm.  Not what I was looking for, let's go from old culture to new, the Urban Dictionary definition: 

Person of importance. Significant other. Your constant, the person who completes you and makes you whole. A true friend without criticisms and judgements, who loves you unconditionally."

And I realised that this is the nature of my loss, the core of my grief.

And that I cannot possibly write "Thank you for being my touchstone" because my touchstone has gone.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Sixteen, Speech Therapy

Yesterday I wrote about a film, The Inheritance, in which I believed FL had an inadvertent role, having walked through the set on several occasions on Skye, February 2007.

My copy of the dvd arrived the day after I ordered it and I set aside my knitting to give it full concentration.
And although I remembered several scenes as if I had been there... (because I was there!) there was no sign of FL, or me, or even our car.  Which was disappointing for a "Road Movie"!

I watched the "making of" documentary and discovered that although the film itself was shot over 11 days, it took six months to edit the 50 reels of footage.
Every trace erased.

And that brings me to the subject of today's Advent-ure.
I am pretty good at summarising the content of a meeting in a few written words:  my bullet-points are accurately shot.

But the spoken word eludes me.
Speech is too fast a medium.  I don't have the time to get it right and so often get it wrong.
It can be a bit of a liability.

  • I tell Most Senior Person that I will "lurk in Reception" to await important visitors.
Raised eyebrow.
FFS Roo!

  • I tell Quite Senior Person that it is "boring" that he has to deal with a major incident.
When what I meant was: "Oh dear, that's the last thing you need to worry about the week before Christmas.  You have my sympathy."
I got short shrift for that one.
And it is no use clarifying what I mean after the words are out, because the damage has already been done.

So I am working on it.
I am trying to increase the speed of my speech by rapping along to "Guns and Ships", in the hope that my brain will learn to keep up.
I have myself in training, rehearsing appropriate responses to workplace scenarios.

Which is fine until I get caught off guard and offer to teach a VIP how to knit.
For realz.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Fifteen, The Inheritance

I thought I was being so clever - but you will have to go to YouTube to watch it:  HERE

I found out just yesterday that The Inheritance, an incredibly low-budget Scottish road movie is available on dvd.
Yes, of course I ordered a copy.

I have waited since 2007 to see it.
Longed to see it.

They filmed it over only 11 days in February 2007.
And we were there, on Skye, my man and me.
I lost count of the number of times FL and I drove or walked through the shot.

Will I see him?  Us?  In the last holiday of full health, before his diagnosis?

Just watching the trailer gives me goosebumps, because the moment when the camper van pulls out into a dark street?
We were there.
I can touch the moment.

There is an interview with Tom Hardy here, describing the making of the film.

And his scene is here.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Fourteen, Cities

I am beginning to stray into the realms of my hopes / dreams / plans for 2017.

But maybe that is entirely appropriate for the mid-point of my Advent-ures.
I am almost half-way there.
Wherever "there" might be.

So... I left London in 2004.
I lived there for 17 years.
And I have never been back, not even for the day.
And the longer it has been, the greater the gulf has grown between my old life and the new.
I am a farm girl now.  A hermit?  Maybe.

But sometimes I long for culture.
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh  how I long for culture!
Imagine a place with art and music and theatre and people who care about those things?
When I picked up a copy of The Skinny in Edinburgh, I was struck by how the listings stopped at Dundee.

[N.B.   Disclaimer:  This is not the corporate line.  Come to Aberdeen, it is a vibrant cosmopolitan city.  Obvs.]

I have been watching the knitting podcasters "vlog" their way through advent, and I have felt the longing build.  London?  New York?  Berlin?  Wow.
There are plenty of people in my organisation who think nothing of flying to London for a meeting and coming back the same day.
And although I would prefer to have a grown-up (probably tall and male) sleeve to hang on to in the crowds, it's about time I got my city legs back (like sea legs but wobblier).
Even if it just for the day.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Thirteen, Blanketty Goodness

2014-15 was my big year for blanket-making.

The giant red doily belongs to The Boy, as always intended.

Kex has gone to University with The Girl.  I understand its Harris Tweedy-warmth is much appreciated in her draughty bay-windowed dorm room.

The crochet throw is now the focal point of my front room.  It would never keep anyone warm but it does a pretty fantastic job of covering the faded old sofa, while still allowing it to breathe.

All of which to say:  I need a blanket for me :)

There are two blanketty UFOs (Unfinished Objects) on my shelf:  a small pile of 12 Barn Raising Squares, hilariously begun in 2009 (?!)  and a smaller heap of 6 Vivid Squares, knitted in the hospice.
What are the chances of me picking up either of those projects again?
So I am considering my options.

I quite fancy a Brighton Plaid.

It does occur to me that I could use the Barn Raising Squares within a modified mixed-media version. Because who says crochet and knitting can't play nicely together?  It is quite the rage in Japan to combine the two crafts.

But my strongest yearning is for a Briochevron Blanket.
I would use fingering-weight yarn I think.
And basically bomb through my stash.

Stephen West in action

Monday, 12 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Twelve, Singing in the Car

You do it too, don't you?

Let it rip when nobody can hear you?
I thought about joining a choir, but I am not ready.

If it is uninhibited "belting it out" you need, there is nowhere quite like the car, on your own in the middle of nowhere.

Try this one:


Oh... you need the pictures too.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Eleven, The Sea

In all the years since my return to Aberdeen, it had been my intention to go down to the shore.
To be by the sea again.

I thought that when I came here, I would spend every weekend walking on the beach with FL, hand in hand.  Like we used to do.

But other than a few excursions with my children, in the early years, it just didn't happen.

When he died, I said to myself that it was the first thing I must do.  I almost went there on the way home from the hospice that night, but I knew better.

And then it turned into one of those things that it felt impossible to do without him.

So this morning, I took myself there.

I was kind to myself and went to the "busiest" beach I could think of.
Aberdeen Beach in December, Roo?!
There were of course a few joggers and dog-walkers.
One bewildered-looking family.

But mostly it was just me and the waves.
Daring them to come too near.
Watching the swell.
Turning into that crazy old woman staring out at the horizon trying to turn back time.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Ten, Vetebullar

Baking is not what it used to be.
The Great British Bake Off has a lot to answer for.

Back in the day, the simple fact of baking my kids' birthday cakes elevated me to the status of SuperMum, and it didn't matter in the least that the resulting edifice had an ominous dip in the middle that the icing ran into like a sugary swimming pool.

Nowadays, baking is a competitive sport.
And we all know how I feel about sport.

But I do like a sweet treat.
And my recent trip to Edinburgh and the Akva Bar reminded me how much I like Swedish Buns.
I didn't get one on this trip and I regretted it.

So I decided it was time to make my own.

I used the recipe for Vetebullar from Fika, by Anna Brones and Johanna Kindvall.

This was no quick sugar fix.
This was an investment of my Saturday morning.

But it was so worth it.

The whole house is infused with the smell of cinnamon and cardamom and that amazing freshly-baked-bread aroma.
Actually, it smells of Christmas.


Friday, 9 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Nine, The New Uniform

A post about your style crisis, Roo?
How very old-school of you.

You may have noticed I have been sewing less this year.
And I have made the occasional reference to shop-bought clothes.
I may have apologised for this, but I am going to stop doing that as of now.
Try to make good choices, but stop being "sorry".

The pursuit of a handmade wardrobe was somewhat of a passion of mine.
I would drop incisive comments about wardrobe ethics into any conversation about my borderline inappropriate dress in the workplace.  I would meet the raised eyebrows with a steely stare.
My position has shifted.

I had a massive clearout of my wardrobe earlier in the year.
A great many of my home-made clothes embarrassed me.
My new status as "widow in her 50's" made short skirts feel dangerously attention-seeking.
The vintage shapes suddenly seemed to tip over the edge into frumpy territory.
Busy prints felt childish.

I have spent the greater part of this year learning new behaviour patterns.
Growing up?
It has been really hard.

Earlier this week I had an experience which upset the balance altogether.
I had to facilitate a development event for VIPs, involving presentations and a guided tour.
I was catapulted into the frontline as the public face of my organisation.

And later that same day I was scheduled to cover a Very Serious meeting with Very Serious people.

So I dug out the black suit I bought last year to wear to the funeral that never happened.
First time on.

 I wore it with a high-necked Victorian-style blouse (from Zara).

And the silver locket that FL gave me on the occasion of our decision to get married.
That silver locket has become my amulet this year.

 I polished my black boots.
(Just to say:  The DMs remain non-negotiable.)

And I was taken seriously.
Nobody ever takes me seriously!

The VIPs engaged me in polite conversation.
I am accustomed to being ignored.
Even within the scary meeting I was aware that I was noticed.
And somehow I held it together and maintained something approaching... gravitas?
It's enough to make me snort my tea.

I discussed it with The Girl and we agreed that while it should not be true, the only way a woman gets taken seriously at work is if she dresses like a man.
Damn it.

So I guess I have chosen a new path.
No Roo, don't just "guess" - commit!

My current style aspirations involve edgy androgyny.
Getting a proper haircut is no longer optional.
The colour palette is more sober, the lines stronger.

And I am not interested in sewing those things.
I would much rather spend my free time knitting myself some subversive neon socks, or a statement shawl.
Because you didn't think I had lost my mind altogether did you?!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Eight, Dance

I have always harboured dreams of being a dancer.
As a child, it was made clear to me that ballet classes were out of the question.
That was not the sort of thing "people like me" could do.
I waged a war of attrition upon my mother until at the age of eleven she grudgingly allowed me to go to "acrobatics" classes, to learn how to do a forward roll in time to music.
This was not really what I had in mind and I was not very good at it.

Unpublished illustration for "Ballet Shoes" from the Seven Stories Collection

I read everything I could on the subject of dance.
In those pre-internet days, this was confined to the snatches of information I could glean from  the novels of Noel Streatfeild.

Fame was a defining cultural moment for me.
There was lots of leaping about in my room after I saw that.
I had the soundtrack on vinyl.

At University, I was sufficiently bendy to get myself cast as a very stretchy cat in the garden of Eden, followed by the narrator in a Victorian melodrama, which involved lots of lunges with a lantern and a cloak.

But as a grown-up, the opportunities for expressive movement are more limited.
I have a few "exercise" dvds, including two from the New York City Ballet, which are amazing.
I used to entertain FL by bouncing around the kitchen while I cooked.
We had a long-running game in which I would wait at the end of the farm track for his car to appear on the "main road" and explode into a dramatic dance to suit whatever opera was blasting from his open windows.  More than once I surprised a neighbouring farmer who was coming from the opposite direction...

I still dance around the kitchen.
But I needed more.
Currently I attend Jazzercise classes twice a week.
I am on the point of increasing that.  By the time I get to Sunday I am blazing with untapped energy and running round the fields is just not the same.
I have discovered that I have a need for particular movement patterns, and if they are missing from a Jazzercise class, I am disappointed.

I am gradually learning the language of choreography.
A "Contraction and release" improves my breathing and posture like nothing else I have ever known.
"Triplets" are the grown up equivalent of playing ponies - they make me laugh every time.

I have found some amazing technique videos on YouTube.
But I would love to take myself to a grown up contemporary dance class next year.
They are pretty thin on the ground in my part of the world but I have discovered that they do exist under the horrifying umbrella of "mature moves" for the over-50's.
Own it, girl.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Seven, Work

Never blog about the workplace.
It's a fundamental rule isn't it?
You could so easily embroil yourself in an implied criticism of your employer and end up in breach of contract.

But this is not really about my workplace, so much as the work I do there.
I love it.
Hear me out, people!

The Girl Who Wrote a Love Letter
Pietro Antonio Rotari - 1755

Once upon a time I had a husband who believed that The Employer was evil incarnate.
Not any employer in particular - just the concept of an organisation which contracts you to a certain number of hours a day / week / year and therefore enslaves you.
This made my life difficult.
If I was seen to be, in his eyes, subservient to The Employer, I was failing as an independent human being.  So I was discouraged from going in early / staying late / working at home.
Career suicide.

Ironically, when FL fell ill, I had to become more flexible.  He understood that my employer was being generous towards me, allowing me to take him to hospital appointments or to work from home when he needed me around, so he grudgingly accepted the laptop on the kitchen table.

This time last year I was "restructured".
I had no idea who was going to line manage me, or even if my role would continue to exist.
And my husband was dying.
It all felt terribly precarious.

Fast forward to where I am now...

Yesterday morning, I was at my desk by 8 am.
It was still dark, and my lamp cast a lovely pool of golden light on my salvaged real-wood desk.
I had the window open and the frosty air was filling my lungs as I sipped my tea.
I sat there, reading and writing the hours away.
I did not leave the workplace until 6.30 pm.
It didn't feel like an imposition.

As I explained recently to a mystified Professor, when I told him that I loved my role:  what more could anyone want from their job?
To have a Room Of One's Own and be paid to write all day?

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Six: Audio Books

I have written about this before:  I am a recent convert to the joy of audio books.

I have never been so up-to-date with current literature.

Since signing up to Audible's "£7.99 a month for one book a month" scheme I have been able to "read" the latest books almost as soon as they are published, instead of waiting until they reach my local library or paperback.
And actually, even then I have limited time to dedicate to sitting down with a novel as it requires me to do nothing else.  So my ink-based reading has been slow this year.

I am a real multi-tasker.
Audio books allow me to knit or sew or walk or travel at the same time as "reading".

I have a great need for narrative in my life.
It reminds me that I need to keep writing too.

So what have I read this year?
So far:

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
This Must be the Place by Maggie O'Farrell
The Girls by Emma Cline
The Turning Point by Freya North
In Gratitude by Jenny Diski
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
The Strays by Emily Bitto
Out of Time by Miranda Sawyer
All at Sea by Decca Aitkenhead
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Orphans of the Carnival by Carol Birch
Hamilton:  The Revolution by Jeremy McCarter and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Swing Time by Zadie Smith

And ready to go:  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, narrated by Thandie Newton

It is such a luxury to have someone read to me.
Especially someone with a magnificent ear for the "voices" of a narrative.

It works for me, and it also works for my elderly mother.
I did not blog about this, but at this time last year she had a medical emergency which resulted in her losing her sight.  The doctors were able to give her vision back in one eye, but she is now partially blind.

I cannot imagine... ouf.

And because I was embroiled in other waiting room situations, a few hundred miles north, there was little I could do to help.

So I gifted her a "Listening Books" subscription.
They have a special service for the partially sighted:  MP3-format CDs drop through her letterbox at regular intervals - as soon as she sends one back, another appears - brilliant!
She can ring up the nice young man in London and discuss her preferences.
We seem to have honed it down to "cosy murders"...

Monday, 5 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Five, Meeting other Knitters

This year I vowed to get myself out and about to meet other knitters.

There was the Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March.
Woolfest in June.
And the Curious Handmade Country House Retreat in October.

This weekend I rounded off my year of yarny adventures at the Wool Tribe Christmas party.

It all started off quite quietly, as the yarn-lovers gathered, collecting a raffle ticket at the door.

There were a few hand-picked vendors with wonderful woolly displays of their wares.
I am a rubbish blogger so have no pictures of the stalls - tsk!

But I did purchase a skein of super-sheepy North Ronaldsay laceweight from Queen of Purls.
An absolute bargain!
It is beautiful.

And it blended in well with the decor at my Airbnb for the night (another first!)

Back to the party...
Some people had come with friends but there were others like me who just turned up with their knitting (or crochet) and joined in.
Because there is one thing that knitters have in common - talking about knitting!
Someone at my table remarked that it is a unique community in that way - there is a place for everyone.

The food was buffet style with lots of vegetarian bits and pieces, and turkey and mini burgers for the meat eaters.
Then Louise of KnitBritish compered a party game quiz, "Heids and Bahookies", where in my best attempt I got to the third question before being knocked out. Ha!
There were amazing prizes! One woman won a sweater blocking kit. There were lots of books and kits.
More knitting.

Then it was time for the door prize raffle. As prize after prize was drawn, my table was getting despondent, as we all had low numbers and they seemed to be drawing from the top of the bag (the later arrivals!).

But then we had a sudden run of successes - yay!
I won two skeins of camel/silk blend in cobalt blue (Byzantium)  and grey (Isfahan)  by DyeNinja.

By then it was almost ten and I was feeling tired after my 5am start, so went back to my flat.

My landlady was in her front room and was interested to hear about my evening. 
She had been inspired to dig out her knitting and was weaving in ends on a stripey scarf :)

I set off bright and early on Sunday morning and treated myself to a hipsterish urban breakfast at Loudon's.

I had a very very lovely coffee  with my eggs and toast and have just now ordered myself a packet of aeropress ground in the same blend as a Christmas self-indulgence, from their suppliers, Artisan Roast.

My son's Christmas sock looked right at home with my cultural breakfast reading.

Allegedly this publication can be found in Aberdeen.
Clearly I need to explore my own city more.
You never know - I might find some other knitters!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Four, Test Knitting

I love test-knitting.

It is an opportunity to challenge myself to knit something I might not otherwise knit, learning new techniques and often stash-busting along the way.

And it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to think I am helping a new designer develop a pattern to the point of being knit-ready.

I know there are debates about whether testers should be paid for their work, and I suppose that if you are working for someone who earns lots of money from selling their designs that is only fair.

But I tend to offer my services to less well-known designers, the ones I think might be "up and coming", who can't afford to give me anything other than the pattern I have tested and therefore my own Finished Object.

And that is more than enough when it turns out to be something gorgeous, like my Brioche Crush shawl!

My most recent test-knit was for a more well-known designer.
I don't think I am authorised to tell you who that was, quite yet.

However, the first details of the Big Project of which my test was a part have now been announced.

Old Maiden Aunt, Lilith, is publishing a book to celebrate ten years of dye-ing.

And those mitts on the front cover?
I didn't knit that pair, but I did knit a test pair in the same pattern.
They are really long and cosy!
I used some JC Rennie Unique Shetland wool to knit mine.
The red and the pink were a couple of mini balls, little knitty treats that you need in your life!

Now that I see the designer's pair, I am really looking forward to making another set in brighter colours.  They remind me so strongly of the tiny violets that grow in the top field in summer.

My pair don't have the same inspired energy to the colour choice, which is of course the downside of knitting something "blind" from stash.
You can't always tell where you are heading.

But that's all part of the Advent-ure!

Oh - and in this case, I did receive a "payment" for my work - I was invited to choose a skein of yarn from Lilith's online shop - woo hoo!

This is 2-ply Shetland laceweight in the colour "Something Herbal".

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Three, Porridge

If you had asked me a year ago what I ate for breakfast, I would have told you:
Toast and marmalade, with a mug of coffee.
Or at the weekend:  scrambled eggs.

I would probably have told you I preferred a home-baked wholemeal made with Shipton Mill flour, but because I lacked time, M&S Miller's Blend was a fair substitute.
And I was rather partial to Bonne Maman marmalade.

Under no circumstances!
The smell was enough to send me out of the room in horror.
Salty oats boiled in water until they stuck to the bottom of the pan?
Just no.

And then I went to the Curious Handmade Country House Retreat.
There I discovered the joys of Bircher Muesli.
All sorts of grains and seeds soaked overnight in some kind of milk, served with fresh fruit?
But when I tried to recreate it on my return home, it was just too cold to face.
I chased it around the bowl with a pointy spoon in dismay and disappointment.

Maybe... maybe I could warm it up a bit..?
And so it was that I discovered the joy of porridge.

It didn't take long for me to start experimenting with actual "recipes".
Anna Jones's Goodness Breakfast with Maple Pears   - yum!  With fewer sesame seeds.
Her Baked Apple porridge with almonds is another favourite, though I don't mess about with ovens or cashew butter.

But really, all I need is a couple of tablespoons of some sort of flakey grain muesli base (I am partial to this gluten-free one), an overnight soak in soya milk, and some fresh fruit.
Blackberries!  Mmmm!
Three minutes in the microwave while the kettle boils for a herbal tea.
It's a revelation.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number Two, Advent Calendars

This should have been Day One!

A Countdown used to stress me out.
Every time we made a plan to go somewhere, FL used to start making lists days ahead of time, with our itinerary set out minute by minute.  There are still piles of these to be found sifted among his papers.
And yet he was always late.
And this in spite of him starting the car ten minutes ahead of the allocated time and revving the engine at me, while I was still packing / feeding the dog / assembling children / switching off radiators / taking out the rubbish.
(None of these things were on his list, because it was HIS list!)
And it didn't always include fundamentals like "take pills".
On our wedding day, we had driven for an hour before he remembered he hadn't listed his kilt.
Back we went.

Last year's December Countdown was the worst.

So this year I need to take back Advent, and make it all about happy anticipation.

My friend at work gave me an Advent Tea Calendar.
Maybe this means she knows I was her Secret Santa a couple of years ago - she got a tea-filled Christmas bauble :)

Day One was Moroccan Spice tea.
It made a lovely warming start to my morning, while I still had my desk lamp on and the window open to let the frosty air fill my lungs (yeah, that's what my colleagues say too!)
I sent my mother a fancy chocolate advent calendar.
She has a serious sugar problem, so I wanted to give her a measured treat.
Oh, I know she will eat other chocolate and cakes and biscuits and puddings across the day, and I am appearing to condone her sweet tooth...
But she will enjoy it.

And it is almost Christmas.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Advent-ures: Number One, Alice

This time last year, I began writing a daily blog post to track the progress of my advent socks.
It turned out to be the countdown to the end of my old life.
I can't wear the socks.
I can't even look at them now.

Deep breath.

So let me start again this December, with a new series of Advent-ures.

Every day this month, I plan to share something that makes me happy.
It might be knitty.
It might be a book.
A song.
An image.
A taste?
Who knows?!
Not me!  It's my new daily challenge!

Advent-ure Number One:

A fragrance.

When FL was in the Hospice and things were getting particularly... difficult, one of his carers started to come in daily with an aromatherapy oil.
Putting aside any feelings of fear or revulsion (because she was indeed human, despite all angelic indications) she anointed FL's fragile limbs with her essential oils, filling the room with... peace and hope.

I remember two young nurses coming into the room and exclaiming that it was like a spa in there.
What was that wonderful smell?
Something orange-like, but not pure citrus.
Neroli with a touch of may chang and perhaps ylang ylang?
Whatever it was, it filled our lungs with something approaching exhilaration.

I did not ask at the time, and now I really don't want to know the precise blend of oils.
But it mattered to me that I should find its companion.
A new scent to accompany me every day.
A fresh start with the blessing of the past.
With a hint of orange.

I hadn't expected it to be Alice.

I ordered the sampler set, expecting to find my soul-mate in Anne of Avonlea.
But she was too sweet.

Alice has more edge to her personality.
I inhale deeply and find the energy I crave.
I am restored.
Who knew a scent could have so much psychological power?