Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Year of the Monkey

We are approaching a Chinese new year and this one will be the year of the monkey.  In Edinburgh I worked for several years in an office beside a collection Chinese greengrocer shops, quite famous for their wonderful selection of exotic fruit and veg at rock bottom prices.  At Chinese new year there was always some celebration involving a dragon dance which is supposed to scare away evil spirits, and a beating drum.  We used we leave our work and go out into the street to watch the festivities.  
Apparently 2016 is the year of the fire monkey and heralds a decisive and confident year, one of adventure, resolve and innovation, a year to expand and nurture relationships.  So an adventurous path and clear goals are this year's mantra.
Call it serendipity, it certainly wasn't planned.  I have just finished these socks that I can wear on 8 February the first day of the Chinese new year, they are Monkey by Cookie A.  I downloaded the pattern in 2007 and have finally got round to tackling it.  I enjoyed the knit, an interesting but not too complicated design that I'd certainly use again.  Perhaps I should be making plans to come out of semi hibernation and grasp the new year opportunities, but not just yet I'm far too lazy and comfortable in the penthouse unless mass producing socks qualifies as a clear goal.  

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Colours of spring

For now I have solved the problem of not being able to see my knitting by resorting to lighter coloured yarn, impossible not to see these. 
These are Tidal Wave which I have knitted before but for this pair I continued the pattern down the top of the foot.  It didn't work out quite symmetrical as the pattern begins with k1 yarn over and obviously that wouldn't work at both ends but I'm happy with the result.
There has been a lot of sunshine colour in the penthouse lately.  Having worried about boiling up oranges for hours in an apartment building, I decided that a citrusy scent wouldn't be that bad and produced my usual batch of marmalade. 
In fact the smell didn't drift outside our place which smelt delicious. 
Bunches of daffs are so cheap at the moment and so uplifting,  worth every penny.  Also a little pot of tiny daffs on the office window cill, I am hoping that when they are finished I can take the bulbs to Italy otherwise they will go into our communal garden.  I noticed the other day that the snowdrops I brought last year from my brother's farm and planted out here are flowering nicely.  I must go down and no a bit of weeding soon.


Saturday, 23 January 2016

Conservation from two sides

Mr FF is currently doing battle with our conservation officer for permission to replace four bedroom windows in our apartment with double glazed units that would be more serviceable than the current wooden sash and case frames.  We are at the 4th floor, unable to open the windows wide enough to clean the outside and totally unable to maintain the frames and cills, which is recommended every year for wooden windows.  
Window washing, which is part of our service charge, has to be done by specialist cleaners abseiling from the roof.  At present the rope anchors are not fit for purpose and we haven't had the windows cleaned for over a year.   The conservation officer insists we won't be able to retain the finer details of wood with windows in aluminium or upvc, that will be the finer details that are so visible 4 floors up.  We continue the battle and are adamant that we won't use wood again,  the current single glazed windows are only about 12 years old and already splitting, rotting and sticking, one is totally distorted and unopenable. Last year we obtained listed building and planning approval for aluminium doors and windows in the lounge, it doesn't really make sense that we can't do the same with the other windows on the same elevation. We would replicate the current style and appearance with double glazed windows and cills that require no regular maintenance and could be opened inwards for cleaning.  We sleep with a bedroom window open year round but every morning when I wipe up the pools of condensation, see the state of the outside cills and the black mould growing on the inside frames I get so cross that we are so restricted.
However, despite our disagreement with the guardians of our heritage, I was very pleased to read that we have this beautiful piece of sculpture in our town that has recently been recognised as worth preserving.  
The sculpture, the Story of Wool, on a building that used to be the International Wool Secretariat in Valley Drive, Ilkley, is among 41 public sculptures across England being given listed status by Historic England (formerly knows as English Heritage).  There is more information about the wonderful sculpture, the artist and the building here.
You can read about other recently listed sculptures here, who knows there may be some treasure near you, they are all free to view so just look around.
I always knew I was living in the right place, this celebration of all things sheepy just confirms it.  

Monday, 18 January 2016

In the dark

Most of my knitting is done in the evening, settled on the sofa in front on the telly hopefully watching a good drama and lately I've noticed that I can't actually see what I'm doing.  
I position myself under one of these mother and child floor lamps that has an uplighter and an adjustable spot but generally only the uplighter is on to create a nicer ambiance in the room. I only switch on the spot for more technical operations, if the pattern goes wrong, a dropped stitch or to pick up stitches at the heel.

But knitting these London Man socks, a free download from Filcolana, which aren't really that tricky just 4 cables of 2 stitches each with a pleasing line of cable continuing down the heel flap, I have made so many mistakes.  I had to take back about 20 rows when I'd completely missed out some of the cables, I do look at my work regularly to make sure it's right but I didn't spot that error until it was daylight. 
Then I got totally confused picking up and adjusting the stitches for the heel on the second sock. Generally I don't follow a pattern that closely, I understand the geometry of a sock now and while this pattern uses 5 needles and explains how to arrange the stitches on them, I like to use just 4 with all the foot front on one needle and the sides of the heel on 2 others (plus a needle to work with makes 4) .  I also decided to continue the rib down the front rather than just abandon it which worked fine for the first sock.
For some reason I got the pattern placement of the rib on top of the foot for the second sock different to the first and had to juggle my work to make it acceptable.
I don't know what the answer is, a brighter light in the lounge would be far too clinical, I don't want to get stronger glasses, in winter knitting with only light coloured yarn might help or knitting just plain socks that I can practically do with my eyes shut.  I could get a head torch but that would be distracting for Mr FF I'm sure. Does anyone else have this problem I wonder, any advice will be considered but not necessarily taken.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Beauty empties

I'm a fine one to tell anybody about beauty.  I do have a regime where I cleanse and moisturise twice a day and I take great pleasure in rubbing various body butters and creams into my arms and legs, particularly when I'm in Italy, but I have no brand loyalty whatsoever. Stick on a reduced or clearance label or attach a free gift product to the outside of a magazine and my purse is out.  
There are some wonderful blogs featuring monthly beauty empties that often amaze me by the quantity of products used.   I enjoy these very much but am rarely influenced by them except to get through more lotions and potions.   Today I give you my one and only beauty empty post.
Mr FF found this massive 250ml jar of face cream last Christmas (2014) in a charity shop for £1.99 and knowing that I will rub anything into my skin if the price is right he bought it.  I was a bit dubious but the jar was sealed and a quick google confirmed that it was genuine.  
It was absolutely fine, I haven't noticed any difference from any other product being of the persuasion that to see a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles you only need poor lighting or to take your glasses off. However, the jar has just gone on and on, admittedly I was away for half the year while it languished on the bathroom shelf but it seemed to be never ending and I was totally sick of it. Not that surprising as it is the equivalent of 5 normal sized pots.

Finally I can see the bottom, the jar was large and cumbersome, quite utilitarian and I just wanted it to end though my Yorkshire heritage prevented me from not using every last smear  Its funny that a stash of yarn is delightful, you can smugly handle and admire the fibres, but a stash of toiletries has quite the opposite effect with me, just an irritation and since my local Boots is 10 minutes walk away I have no need at all to stockpile. I am often bored half way though products I don't particularly like, though I will be cutting the SBC gel bottle in half to get the final dregs out.  Something to be said for the No 7 cleanser that not only shows me clearly how much is left but is tamper proof, and yes I would buy these two products again in case you are wondering.


Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Knit knit knit read read read

I am devouring yarn.  Maybe its the lazy days of Christmas, not that I'm not usually lazy but perhaps I allow myself even more time on the sofa at the festive period.  
Before the Christmas decorations are down I have produced a pair of cabled socks for Mr FF, the pattern is Red Wine socks from Jane Brocket's The Gentle Art of Knitting and the yarn again Cygnet wool rich 4 ply, which I have discovered is produced in Turkey and not in Bradford as I hoped.   The top pair in plain pattern is for me using Regia's Kaffe Fassett design line.  
A scarf using 3 balls of Rowan Cork that may have been a Rowan subscription free gift many years ago.  The pattern is Rib Lace Scarf/Cowl by Fiona Morris, a free Ravelry download, simple but effective and the yarn feels very cosy.  I am tempted to keep this for myself but I have such a lot of hand knitted neckwear.
And so far I have completed one Spindle Sock in West Yorkshire Spinners Aire Valley dk, which is made in Yorkshire.  This pattern was from the blog My Fashionable Life which I don't think is available now.   I downloaded the pattern in 2007 and a web search didn't produce any results, a pity as they are extremely pleasing to knit and wear, well the one I've finished is.
Additionally there are two paperbacks in the hall read and waiting to be taken to the charity shop. If 2016 continues at this pace we shall be able to move into a smaller apartment by the end of the year.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Backwards and Forwards

Significantly 2015 was a year of two halves as we split our time between Italy and England.  We left Yorkshire in June, returned for 3 weeks in August, then back to Italy until mid November.  It's rather like living two lives, we have two homes, two sets of friends and two very different life styles both enhanced by each other.  When I'm in Italy I miss family, our cosy penthouse and our lovely accessible little town.  Naturally in Ilkley I miss the Italian weather, our garden and our cats (who we heard on Christmas day are still around),  but I feel so fortunate to be able to spend my retirement in two such beautiful places.
2015 was the year I came down to earth with a bump, literally when I fell in the garden in Italy and injured my wrist.  I was out of action for several weeks, the accident left me feeling frail and vulnerable.  Back in the UK I went to my doctor who whilst he couldn't rule out that I might have broken a small bone said that everything was back to normal and working properly.  Such a relief and hopefully this confirms that my bones are not as brittle as they might be at my age.
We seemed to takes ages to recover from the stormy ferry ride back to Hull, it left us feeling exhausted for days.  Even now I can lay in bed and remember how it felt as the ship rolled and creaked through the night, it may be some time before I consider this route again.  
Being ill over Christmas was another reality check.  I am so very bad at being unwell and whilst I think that my years of long distance running on the hills and roads might give me some resilience, at the first hint of nausea I am ready to give up on life, hence not eating for nearly two days.  Lets not dwell on this, I am now fine, my appetite still slightly curbed but that I like.  
Having talked myself into feeling old I should remember that we have neighbours in Italy who are in their mid 80s, currently spending winter on the mountainside with no one else around, growing so much produce they are practically self sufficient and both bright as buttons.  
2015 was the year I surprised myself by falling in love with Denmark and all things Danish.  Such an uplifting destination, I knew as soon as we arrived at the airport that it was my kind of place and the delights just went on and on.  
Ilkley football club Boxing Day
So I go into my 68th year feeling positive, living this blessed life while so many people suffering in the world it would be wrong not to and I have special thoughts for those affected by recent flooding in the north of England.  We are fortunate here that there are not so many riverside properties but the town was cut off for at least a day when the Wharfe burst its banks.
The old bridge, Ilkley on Boxing Day
I am hoping there will be big improvements in the penthouse soon and that we shall have another wonderful summer in Italy.  I won't make promises about reducing my stash of books and yarn though I will keep chipping away at both but I will resolve to delight in everything I have and try to look forwards not backwards.



Happy New Year everyone.