Old Year, New Year

It’s the time of year to reflect and to plan. I know I am a bit late with this, as it’s the start of February but I have lost my blogging mojo a bit. I made a serious error at the end of last year and deleted all the photos from my blog. I’m slowly trying to add them again but it takes time and it’s thrown me a bit. If you go to older posts, all of the photos are gone. I almost decided to give up on this project but I have lots of happy memories stored here. It’ll take time but I’ll get everything sorted out eventually.

So, onto reflecting and planning. This is a relatively new experience for me. Last year was the first time I consciously made any ‘resolutions’ for the year ahead. On the whole I’m pleased about how things turned out. Some of the things I wanted to do were run, knit, sew and grow…

1. Run 

IMG_0250I started training last January and progressed really well. I wouldn’t say that I am a committed and converted runner but it was satisfying to see how quickly I could build up my distance. Ultimately I completed my goal – the 10km ‘Total Warrior’ course that my husband had done the year before. I am back in training because I want to do it again. I also want to do the Great North Run, if I can get a place.

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2. Knit

After stocking up at the inaugural Yarndale in September 2013, I had a fabulous stash of yarn. Some of it really, really needed to be worked with needles, not a hook. I started my knitting adventures this year by casting on my first pair of socks. It did NOT go well to start with. This picture is actually the second sock, which I managed without my Mum, unlike the first one.IMG_9362Once I got the hang of holding the needles I began to LOVE sock knitting. Just going round and round doing plain old knit stitch is quite mesmerising. I found that working in variegated yarn was very helpful as a beginner. It’s much easier to identify and put mistakes right when each row is a different colour. My first socks were done in a non-traditional way with an ‘afterthought’ heel which was also knitted ’round and round’ and a toe done in a similar way. I had no idea how to pick up the stitches for the heel but I found a YouTube tutorial and away I went. When it comes to learning new knitting skills, Google and YouTube are your friends. IMG_9539I was ridiculously pleased with my first pair of socks and cast on pair two, this time in rainbow colours for my daughter.

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This time I wanted to learn how to turn a heel in the traditional way. I took my socks on holiday with me and put up with much joking about how much it would cost to pay me to make socks. If I was charging by the hour, they’d be very expensive socks.

IMG_9820IMG_0007Not only did I ‘turn’ the heel, I also managed to complete the toe with grafting or ‘Kitchener stitch’, thanks to this tutorial by Sarah, over at Continuum Mama.

Sarah also helped me learn another skill this year. She kindly gave me a live tutorial via Skype in which I learned the basics of intarsia. In other words, I learned to change the colour of my yarn and knit a coloured pattern. She choose a simple heart pattern centred into a wash cloth. It was a great first project and made a cute little birthday present for my great aunt.

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Spurred on by the success of these projects my current WIP combines sock knitting and intarsia. I’m not going to share it yet though as it is going to be another gift.

One of my more expensive purchases at Yarndale was some fluffy, fine kid mohair from Northumbrian producers, Whistlebare. I really only bought the yarn because I loved the free scarf pattern that came with it. I wasn’t at all sure that I would ever be able to knit it as  another new skill was required (using a circular needle) and the pattern clearly stated that it was not for beginners. I eventually plucked up the courage to cast on the required 216 stitches, carefully marking every 20 stitches. I did NOT want to start creating the pattern and find I had cast on the wrong number.

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Creating the ‘daisy’ pattern was a challenge. I couldn’t make any sense of the pattern and neither could my local knitting friends. Of course the great thing about the internet and dealing with small producers is that a couple of emails later, all my questions were answered by the pattern designer herself.

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Job done!

3. Sew

My Mum has always sewed, on and off, and it’s something I’ve always felt I should be able to do. I got put off as a child because my Mum’s sewing machine was very temperamental. I usually ended up jamming it up in great twists of thread that had to be hacked at and fought from the teeth of the machine. Now she has a much easier to use, modern machine that helpfully beeps at you when you do something stupid, like try to sew with the presser foot up.

I’ve also realised that I am a person who likes to do things by the book. I like instructions and I like to know that I am doing things the right way. Mum, it turns out, is much more instinctive and learned a lot just by watching her Mum. I do not work that way and am probably a nightmare to teach.

Earlier in the year, inspired by the Great British Sewing Bee, I decided I would make some pyjamas for Son Number One. I trawled the internet looking for a pattern that was simple enough but still looked like a traditional pair of button up pyjamas. This is what I settled for

Next I hunted in all the local charity shops for the fabric. Call me cheap but I had this idea that an old duvet could be ideal material for pyjama making. I wanted something soft, simply patterned and mostly cotton. I’m pleased to say that I managed to buy the fabric and make the PJ’s in time for the local show in September. I entered them into the ‘up cycled garment’ class and won first prize! It only took about five months from start to finish!IMG_1955 IMG_1956Later in the year I decided to make another garment, also using recycled fabric. The day my Mum and I went to Yarndale, we had a trip around the charity shops of Skipton. Mum was very taken with the print on this curtain and promptly bought it.

IMG_2282We then spotted this tunic in Joules and thought we could make something similar.

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So here is the pattern I chose

IMG_2273It turned out well but I must admit I haven’t worn it much yet. I need something to put under it for winter and I haven’t found a top the right colour yet.

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I’m pretty pleased with how my sewing skills have come on this year. I  think the most important thing I learned was that if you don’t measure yourself carefully you will probably make the wrong size. I generally wear a UK size 12 when I buy from the shops but I think I ended up making the size 16 on this pattern.

4. Gardening

My final aim for 2014 was to get into the allotment more and grow more of out own food. I don’t think I did a spectacular job of that. My biggest failing is letting pests get out of control. I’m not keen on slug pellets so I need to find another way to get rid of these beasties.

The things that did the best were the usual suspects: onions, courgettes, pumpkins, strawberries and gooseberries. My cabbages and broccoli survived but mainly by good luck. The sweetcorn also grew well and produced cobs of corn but I couldn’t seem to harvest them at the right moment – they were either under or over ripe. I’m hoping that some of them might still be useable for popcorn.

onions hanging in shed full grown sweetcorn purple sprouting broccoli psb cabbages and grass mulch growing cabbageIMG_4991IMG_1038chardcolourful harvest leeks chard beetrootopen pea pod

This year I’m going to try and produce more flowers.

sunflowers in vase I really enjoyed having a few homegrown blooms at home last season so I have planted a few rows of alium, tulip and iris bulbs though at the moment it looks more like I am growing canes with bottles on top.

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It seems unbelievable that it will soon be time to start sowing and growing again. The months and years tick around so quickly. One month of 2015 has gone already.

So, what will 2015 hold? More of the same I hope. My training runs are well under way, I’ve got a special intarsia project on my knitting needles, I’m sure more pyjamas will be required soon and I’ll have to check my seed stocks before long.

I hope your 2015 is going well so far and your New Year Resolutions have lasted into February.

 

 

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Autumn time begins in the allotment

My allotment is a disgrace. You can’t really tell from these photos because I’ve been very selective. You may note the lack of wide angle shots…IMG_1885

However, parts of it are thriving. The courgettes continue to grow at a fantastic pace. I can’t make them into cakes fast enough, even though I quadruple the recipe and make four loaves at a time. I’m on the lookout for the perfect chocolate courgette cake so if you’ve got any ideas about where I can find it, let me know.

sunny pumpkin patch and sunflowers

We’ve been really successful with pumpkins over the last two years. They are the ideal plant for me because they suddenly put on a lot of growth in late July and August, just at a time when I don’t get much opportunity for gardening. They are so big and prolific that their leaves seem to suppress a lot of weeds. Except for the ever present nasturtiums, of course.

IMG_1847 In my opinion, we have a nasturtium problem in our patch. Just like the pumpkins, they also have a tendency to take over in July and August when I take my eye off the ball. At this time of year, before any frosts, they are at their height. The Husband insists that there are worse weeds we could have and I suppose he is right. They are not particularly difficult to rip out, unlike the creeping buttercup and bindweed I’m currently wrestling with as I clear the onion patch. They are just very, very good at self seeding.

But, they are pretty. The bees love them and we can harvest them too.pale yellow nasturtiumnasturtium pesto

The leeks are one area that I have managed to weed. Don’t look at the edges of the picture though. In hindsight, I wish I’d grown more leeks to see us through winter. Maybe next year. So far they seem to be pretty low maintenance plants, which is a priority for me.

IMG_2148This is the chard patch. Another easy to grow, low maintenance vegetable that I have been adding to curries instead of spinach. I think I am more in love with how it looks than how it tastes, to be honest, but, I just keep thinking about how healthy it must be. It should stand all winter, being resistant to frost. A perfect cut and come again crop.

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climbing french beans I have managed a few meals from my climbing french beans. I think I will need to start these off earlier next year. It seems that they are just beginning to grow well. This is the most success I’ve ever had with climbing french beans so I’m pretty happy.

plug plants I succumbed to buying some plug plants from the local garden centre a week or two ago. I never got around to raising any purple sprouting broccoli or kale earlier in the summer but I really want to eat some in spring. I don’t normally like buying these kind of plants, it feels like cheating. However, I’ve got clear ground and I want it to be filled. I’ll just have to do better next time.

IMG_2142 Some of the cabbages I sowed in the spring have survived my lack of attention and the surplus of attention from the slugs and cabbage white butterflies. They are now growing well. I’d better start planning how I’m going to encourage the children to eat them. I’m hoping my mulch works. It is made up of dead grass that I pulled up from elsewhere in the plot. Using waste as a mulch? Will it work? Time will tell.

IMG_1891 The autumn raspberries are starting to ripen up but they are few and far between. I think they are still getting established in their new position and they are also a bit swamped by a vast carpet of nasturtiums. There are usually just enough for a little treat after a hard afternoon of weeding.

The start of September was very sunny, as it often is just as the summer holidays come to an end. As the children returned to school and nursery I returned to my routine of trying to get to the allotment more regularly. Having that little bit of space to dig and weed and plant and just sit in the sun is a real pleasure.

One day as I sat I was aware of lots of buzzing. The enormous flowering weed plant next to me was full of hoverflies busy sucking up all the nectar it had to offer. If I was a real gardener I wouldn’t have let this plant get so big, never mind flower. But, after spending time watching and trying to photograph all the insects I didn’t have the heart to chop it down.

IMG_1859IMG_1914Our sunflowers seem to be reaching their peak now, the tallest one is over 7ft.

IMG_2262These too attract the insects. There is something very appealing about watching a big, fluffy, bumble bee work it’s way across a sunflower head, probing each tiny flower for nectar.

IMG_2190I’m so glad I managed to plant some sunflowers. They are such happy plants. When the bees have had all the food they can get and the flowers have faded, the birds can take over and enjoy the seeds.

Autumn is slowly starting to make it’s presence felt. The autumn equinox was a day or two ago and my last few visits to the allotment have been in cooler weather. The mornings I have visited have been still and slightly misty with the damp air highlighting numerous, silky spiders webs.

The elderberries I could reach have been harvested and the birds are stripping the rest of the tree. Rose hips and other berries are brightening up the hedges as the leaves slowly begin to change and fall.

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IMG_1792The garden is fading from green to brown.

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So far this February…

The garden has begun to wake up and I have even planted some seeds….

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IMG_9187and finally got round to harvesting the last of the potatoes and a few more leeks.

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IMG_9182I made my first ever rough-puff pastry. It was delicious considering how hastily I made it. Lemon, leek and goats cheese tart, courtesy of this recipe. A bit too lemony for me but still enjoyable.

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IMG_9136Look how well it puffed up! It was slightly disconcerting to work out how much fat and how many calories were in it. Never mind, I’m still running.

Trying to enforce some ‘screen free’ time. This was the surprise hit of last weekend. It is a good game and easy to play too. Even babykins could get involved.

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Of course I have no problem entertaining myself. I have been working on the back of my cushion cover. Random stripes made up of trebles. Typically I ran out of several colours. Just when I was hoping that this might use them up for good I had to go and buy more.

IMG_9149The weather has been mostly dull, wet, cold and windy but there have been occasional days when the sun has shone. Then it has only been cold and windy. It’s been a time for staying inside with a cup of tea and a nice bun (or two).

IMG_9190At least we are not flooded in this part of the country. Fingers crossed that this stormy season will be over soon. Spring is definitely on the way, the days are lengthening, only two weeks of February to get through.

 

(Semi) Silent Sunday: Showtime

It was our town carnival and garden show last weekend. Very tacky in places, very expensive when you have three children who want to ride the rides, very exciting when you win a prize in the craft show (I got a first for my pink crochet bag, my rhubarb chutney, a black and white portrait of The Middle Miss and a second for my hanging heart decoration) and generally very good, old fashioned fun. Are these shows a British (and ex-colonial) eccentricity or do other cultures do them too I wonder?

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IMG_8242Three cupcakes (children’s class – 3rd prize)

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IMG_3452Winner: Best fancy dress, dog and handler (not best behaved dog though)

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Digging Days Part 2 – Alone in the garden

I’ve had a strange bank holiday weekend. It feels as if I have spent quite a lot of it on my own. In all honesty, I haven’t been alone that much, just more than usual. When you spend most of your waking (and sometimes sleeping) moments with a small child it seems awfully quiet when someone else takes over.

The Husband has been dealing with Babykins for the last few nights. It’s bliss to not have to jump out of bed and try and settle him down before he disturbs the rest of the household. I’d love it if he could consistently sleep all through the night, solidly for twelve hours. I just don’t think that it’s part of his make-up.

Anyway, I’ve been getting my shut eye alone, while the Husband has taken to the spare bed next to Babykins’ cot. He has got up with him early in the morning and been busy, busy from the get-go. Yesterday, by the time I’d surfaced, they had disappeared to the allotment. They had collected the green waste and taken it to the local tip before I’d eaten breakfast!

The older two were enjoying their ‘holidays’ at Grandma’s so I woke up to an empty house. I can imagine many parents of small children sighing and wishing for the same experience but let me tell you, it was weird. I had a glimpse into the world of the ’empty nester’ and I did not like it one little bit! It seemed that suddenly, nobody needed me.

When the biggest and smallest boy came back from their errands, we decided that I would go down to the allotment myself and try to get on with some planting. That is the usual division of labour. I leave the hard, back breaking work to the Husband and then faff about deciding on which direction the rows of seeds should go in. Or in this case, Charlotte potatoes.

I felt a nagging sense of guilt as I got started on my own. Surely I should have been looking after the children? I put it to the back of my mind and tried to enjoy the experience of being in the sun, fresh air and peace and quiet. On days like this when my emotions make me feel mixed up, I am grateful for the time I have spent doing yoga. I am really out of practice with the physical side of yoga but I find myself coming back to the mental side of things again and again. I don’t really have the words to express how it works for me, I wish I did. The best I can do is to say that learning about yoga philosophy has given me a sense of being ‘mindful’. Sometimes just acknowledging feelings is enough to allow me to move on. It isn’t always that simple, but often it is.

Getting interested in blog world is another strangely mindful experience. When I started reading other people’s blogs I realised that documenting everyday life somehow makes you value ordinary, daily existence. It’s just like writing a diary, something I’ve always like the idea of but never really got to grips with. Perhaps it is the ability to really capture moments in time with pictures as well as words. There’s something very therapeutic in reflecting on the things in your life that have given you pleasure.

Anyway, don’t feel too sorry for me and my lonely moments (er, it’s ok, I know you don’t!). I enjoyed having a bit of time to play at taking photos of the buds and blooms that are around at the moment. I have been quite pleased with the results from my iPhone camera.

It wasn’t long before I had a visit from Babykins and the Husband. I had a fun, if slightly strained time (I knew he had no spare clothes with him) helping Babykins get to grips with mud and water.

Not long after he had gone, the other two arrived with Grandma. They worked together for a while, taking straw to the strawberry patch but they weren’t really in the mood to cooperate with each other. Grandma decided to take the Middle Miss off to the shops and Son Number One stayed behind with me.

I was trying to finish digging over the patch where the broccoli had been, in order to plant the rest of the seed potatoes. Fortunately, this was a job Son Number One was happy to help with. We did some digging, We did some raking, then I made the holes and he planted the spuds. When we had no more potatoes left, we decided to fill in the rest of the bed with a few rows of peas. I was very glad I had a helper at this point because I wanted to construct some sort of support for them to climb up. It would have been a tricky job on my own. It’s been a long time coming, having a boy who was more of a help than a hindrance in the garden but it’s happened this weekend.

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Digging Days

We are starting to feel a mild panic about the state of our allotment. We have not spent anything like enough time in it this year. The beds are slowly getting turned over and dug but really, this is work that should be done in winter.

A few weeks ago I managed to plant a few rows of potatoes and two beds full of onions.

Son Number One and the Husband worked on the strawberry patch.

The first batch of seeds finally went in today: beetroot, chard, spinach, rocket and mixed lettuce. They should provide us with a crop, it will just be a bit later than it could have been.

Every year I promise myself that I will be planting rows of early peas in February but it never happens. Every year I persuade myself that I am too busy looking after the house and the children. Am I just looking for an excuse? I beat myself up with thoughts that if we were starving, I would make sure I was out there digging, hoeing and planting. Is that a bit mad?

I think the truth lies somewhere between laziness and lack of time. I must confess that I rarely even think about working in the garden during the winter months. As soon as spring starts to make an appearance, I really should make more of an effort. The trouble is, gardening and supervising a toddler don’t really mix. You might get away with it in a fairly tidy, safe back garden but not in our allotment where there are masses of uneven surfaces, sharp corners and nettles-a-plenty. I can’t turn my back on him for a moment. Not only are there dangers, but he is still of the opinion that he needs to test most things by putting them in his mouth. Lovely.

It’s not just toddlers you can’t turn your back on. Forget about a garden during April and this is what you will find when you go back.

So today, with Babykins safely playing at Grandmas house (and the other two next door with friends), the Husband and I got going with the digging and weeding. We had a bit of help from Son Number One later in the afternoon. He is starting to get useful. He managed to ride his scooter safely from his Grandmas house to the allotment, bringing our packed lunch with him. He enjoyed doing some ‘destructive gardening’. The photo below shows his efforts digging out the purple sprouting broccoli that is starting to go to seed.

There is always some interesting bug life to be found. I have no idea what this is. Son Number One pronounced it to be “Some sort of mini beast”. It was rather shiny and beautiful so I will be sad if I find out that it contains a garden pest.

There were plenty of ladybirds around today. Though I like seeing them I’m never really sure if this is a good thing. After all, if there are plenty of ladybirds surely that means there are plenty of pests around for them to eat. Still, I can’t help but think they are a cheery sight.

Another cheery sight was to be seen amongst our soft fruit. With very little effort from us, the gooseberries and redcurrants are starting to swell. You may also have noticed the strawberry flower above (with the ladybird). How exciting to think that in a couple of months they will be juicy, red fruits, ready to turn into quick desserts, ice cream and jam.

Now that I have bought myself the appropriate bowl, I might even get around to a summer pudding this year.

Remember the rhubarb patch I posted a picture of back in February. Back then it was mainly full of buds and promise. Now it is in all it’s leafy glory and we have enjoyed roasted rhubarb for our pudding for the last two nights. The Husband is even having it on his morning muesli.

We are lucky to have a babysitter on standby most of the time. Even more lucky that said babysitter can (mostly) cope with three children at once. I think it helps that the babysitter also enjoys the fruits of our labours in the allotment. She has been feasting on the purple sprouting broccoli and rhubarb over the last few weeks too.

Hopefully after our efforts today (and possibly tomorrow) there will be a few more things to tuck into when the summer arrives.