Friday, 17 November 2017

Frumpy vs Farcical

I'm a huge fan of Imogene Lamport's blog, Inside Out Style. She compiles an enormous amount of information about colour, proportion, contrast, silhouette, etc. to help women look their best. I've bought some of her e-books and one of her courses and I can tell you they are excellent value for money. 

They talk about personal style, a separate issue from current fashion. She has explained to me why I love lace and ruffles but can't bear to think of wearing them (being fair, short and small boned, I'm already feminine enough); why highly textured fabrics make me look like an over-stuffed pillow (because I'm petite and texture is overwhelming); why I tend to avoid wearing prints and if I do, they must be small stripes, dots, paisley or the like (because my comfort zone is 'classic', not 'rebellious' or 'creative');  why some outfits feel like I'm wearing a costume (either because they are suited to a more 'dramatic' personality than mine).

She recently did a post titled "11 Ways to Style Cardigans" and as my old-lady cardi's are part of my British-winter (fall/spring) survival uniform, I read it with interest. Using my principle of 'wear the next thing in the closet', I pulled out a purple and brown print skirt I've had for 10-12 years, my brown knee-high flat boots, a long sleeved tee and a brown v-neck cardigan. 

I thought I'd give one of her tips a try:

As you can see, hers worked well and she looks great. My Edinburgh Woolen Mill cardi with gold buttons down one side and button holes down the other and the now-sideways pockets was a...different look to my usual (you should try this for yourself, you know you want to!).

I went downstairs to the dining room  to show Bill and to discuss. I'm writing to tell you I found a way to bring Bill to his knees. He laughed so hard he folded up and put his head on a dining room chair, helpless to speak. I had a really good laugh as well.

Aside from his reaction I'd already decided it wasn't going to work as it left my middle open to the cold. Besides, I'm a 'classic' woman, not a 'funky' type at all. 

But a good belly laugh is not to be dismissed. And I (seriously) can't recommend her blog highly enough. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Thanksgiving at Dent

As Bill's three children (all fully-growed now) acquire partners and make babies, finding suitable sleeping quarters in my house is an increasing challenge. 

The last time we had all three kids and families, Bill pulled the motor home up outside the house and ran an extension cord up over the sidewalk. 

Sarah and Gareth said they enjoyed that experience, though the party people on their way to and from the pub were a bit loud and scary. I never notice them anymore, but I remember when I did.

So, just for fun, last year I rented a holiday house in Dent, which we judged was fairly central to the three coming from the NE (Edinburgh) and  SW (Chester). 

As it turned out Sarah and Gareth didn't make it but I knew enough in advance that I only got a three bed house. 

It was an end-terrace house square in the middle of Dent, along a narrow cobbled road. The terrace ended at the pedestrian entry into the church yard, which was the view from all the north facing windows. 

Oddly, the grass of the cemetery came up to the level of the window sills, providing a rather unique perspective. In the front, just across the narrow road was the George and Dragon pub. I had the feeling that folks leaning out of the windows there could just about touch anyone leaning out of ours. 

That was one of the downsides, the noise from the pub.  I'm all for people enjoying themselves, but pub closing time is past my bedtime. Also, there was no parking place outside the house, not that this bothered the tradesmen doing improvements next door or unloading goods for the pub. They parked so close to the front door it was hard not to take it personally. Then again, that was because (I think) they assumed the place was vacant. One of our entertainments was watching drivers edge past each other or inch around the corner (we were at the top of a t-junction), particularly the lorries doing deliveries. Online shopping was clearly the main resource for the villagers.

The ground floor of this house was just a large kitchen and a sitting room with a wood-burning stove. 
One of the oddest roof lines I've seen, or is it a roof within a wall?

The first floor (what would be the 2nd in the US) had our en suite bedroom, another double bedroom (for Simon) and a full sized bathroom squeezed into an odd place under the eaves. 

I've lived with double glazing so long that single panes in sash windows
(as in houses where I grew up) are unusual now.

The 2nd/3rd floor was probably an attic at some point. It had a large room with a telly and a child's bed which opened into a very large bedroom (for Helen, Martin & Charlotte). The views over the hills were lovely from up there.  

I loved the funny little niches in the wall, with stone 'sills'.

In addition to having a cemetery straight out the window, there was a cat flap that opened onto a stone shelf next to the sink. Thinking of food hygiene and resident dog, Daisy, I made sure it was locked. The kitchen was reasonably well appointed with an American-sized fridge, but I just managed to squeeze the turkey into the oven, located strangely at floor level.

I learned about the hazards of south-facing windows, which was a good thing to know. I sometimes envy the neighbours who face north/south but the glare from the sun isn't always a welcome thing. Never mind taking photos, I sometimes couldn't actually see what I was doing. 

There isn't a lot to see or do in Dent if you're not into walking (and when they say 'walking' in Britain they mean as in with boots, in all weathers, more like what you might call 'hiking' in the States). We did enjoy a visit to the museum and tearoom. That said, I had to get back to supervise the turkey so didn't see much of the museum on this trip. Helen surprised me at Christmas with a video about the 'terrible knitters of Dent'.  

Dent is a place Bill goes regularly and I've been a couple of times. The village needed funds to pay for a teacher and so they organised a race, the Dentdale, a 14 miler up and down hills. It's a tough one that Bill did regularly with running buddies he's known 40 years. I've even done it a couple of times. I remember the first year he introduced me to Wensleydale cheese, definitely one of life's greatest pleasures. Bill's the only one of his gang still running, but they meet up every year around that weekend. 

But I've digressed. When you read 'terrible' knitters you should be thinking 'awesome'. The people - men as well as women - knitted as a livelihood and they turned out quality products quickly. It wasn't unusual for people to knit as they walked to the next village, go to a friend's house and knit with them, to knit well into the night. It can't have been an easy way to make a living. 

As with up here in the North East, knitting sheaths (called pricks in Yorkshire) were common. This device tucked into the knitter's belt and held a needle so that the hands were free to manipulate the other three or four (socks being knitted 'in the round'). A wooden sheath was often made by a man as a betrothal gift and they could be quite ornate. The one I remember had a notch, sort of a hook, to keep it from sliding down into the belt. Clever stuff, being able to carve and knit with such skill.

If you Google 'terrible knitters of Dent' you'll find all sorts of stories/videos.

We also visited the historical church and found it attractive. I love the 'box stalls' - I'm sure that's not what they are called - made of wood. I gather there would have been a thermal advantage to gathering all your family into this enclosure, a desirable thing sitting in an unheated stone building.

The food turned out alright and there was plenty of it. As I figured, it was easier to cook in a strange kitchen than to cook at home and clean house from top to bottom in preparation for guests. We stayed up past Charlotte's bedtime playing various games. It was a good weekend as I recall, well worth the rent I paid. 

Sadly, I couldn't get a firm commitment from everyone in time to rent a house this year, so Thanksgiving will be here. The cleaning schedule is on the fridge, next to the shopping and cooking lists. {sigh} Perhaps I should have just grabbed a 4 bedroom house earlier on?

Have you ever gone away for a change of scenery (and to avoid housework?)

Monday, 13 November 2017

More Granny Squares

Were you taught as a child 'not to ask for anything'? I certainly was. It seemed that if I asked I would likely be denied, but if I expressed appreciation without expectation, I might just get lucky. I'm not sure I disagree with this practice, I do dislike a demanding or whiny child. Then again, I've never broken the habit of not asking for much. Bill tells me off for not stepping forward more, for settling for the leavings. 

I would say that in addition to being shy of asking, I do find a rather perverse satisfaction in making something nice from what others have disdained. Like maybe I'm smarter/more creative than they are, which is certainly a false conceit, but there you are.

I tell you this by way of explaining how I ended up crocheting a blanket from thread. Because our knitting group functions mostly from donated 'wool' (the British term for what I would call 'yarn'), we take whatever we can get. The most popular stuff is double knit. Chunky wool or aran weight get used pretty well, but 'novelty' yarn gets left to the last. The cones of very fine wools used in knitting machines aren't very popular either. Meriel has a windy-up contraption that will wind several cones together, but I thought I'd give it a go to use up a few without that. I seem to like my colours like I used to eat my food: one item at a time. Rather than have variegated wool, I selected a fluffy, chenille-like pale green and a more staid navy to work. 

This was also last winter. One weekend Bill had a Long Distance Walkers' meeting down in County Durham at the village of Bowes. I didn't get out and explore but he led me to believe that the Ancient Unicorn Inn (a pub/B&B) constituted the business district of this place. I knew that the spectacular Bowes Museum and Barnard Castle (the name of the town, with a ruined castle) were nearby, but they didn't appeal on my own. 

It was cold and snowy and our room was in what used to be a stable. This meant some nifty arched windows. The pub was across the 'yard' (remember that term?). I asked the landlady to keep the heating on all day for me so I could stay cosy in our room (I may have threatened to make a mess in her pub if forced to hang out there for warmth). I spent the day walking back and forth, stringing the navy thread out around the room and rolling up a triple-stranded yarn to work with. The green I doubled up later at home. 

Bill just pretended he didn't know how I spent the day, he thinks I'm pretty mental sometimes. Which is OK, I think he's crackers going off in the wind, wet and ice to walk the moors for 20 or more miles. He came back from this to a hot shower and then we went off to the pub for dinner with the rest of the crazy people long distance walkers. So we both got to indulge ourselves. 

The blanket took a very long time to complete, but since I loved the colours I didn't mind a bit.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Things I've Made

Looking back, it seems there were times I practically lived on / through / for this blog. Clearly that hasn't been the case recently. I'm ambivalent about that. It's good to just live / do / be; then again, I have no record to look back on. So I'm trying to strike a balance. I'm more imbalanced by nature, however, so we'll see how that goes.

Anyhow, I realise I've not shared many of the things I've made this past year. I pretty much always have something on the go (not even counting all those UFOs - UnFinished Objects). 

Remember the rows and columns of Smoothie hats I knitted for AgeUK? I did another batch last winter. We'd taken down some pictures from the wall for decorating (oh, about a decade ago) that never got put back up. So I used the little nails to hang the hats.

I gave every 10th hat a pom-pom to save me re-counting them a million times. I think I ended up giving them something like 203 of the silly things. Mind, our knitting group - 15 or 20 women - produced something insane like 6,000, so my 200 is hardly anything.

I tell myself I'm sick of these, but months have passed and I find myself collecting the odd little pieces of wool into a large ball to knit more of these with. Even Meriel thinks I'm crackers, but I do hate waste (everyone should visit a landfill at least once in their life). 

I was over the moon to discover that my sewing and yarn scraps (like less than an inch in size) could go to the charity shop. They sell it on by weight to companies who make things like mattresses and carpet underlay. 

But for now, 'Winter is Coming' and I'm gearing up for more Smoothie hats...

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

The Art and Science of Gardening

What a grandiose title! Especially since I know next to nil. I'm a longtime wannabe gardener, this being one of Mom's passions but also because, well, a beautiful garden is a joy. I complain the weather here isn't conducive, but I've always been able to find an excuse. In Oklahoma it was the creepy crawlies in the soil, in Salt Lake watering was a hassle. That said, I still dream of the home grown tomatoes I produced in SLC.

Anyhow, our WI had a talk by folks from a local gardening centre. I took copious notes with little understanding. It's not just the Latin names, it's the simple terms that trip me up. For example 'herbaceous border' is a phrase you hear a lot here. Initially I thought this was something to do with growing herbs, though I wondered what it bordered.

American-British 'English' strikes again. In childhood, the large green (brown-ish) areas in front and back of our house were the 'yard'. In Britain, the 'yard' is an area of hard-standing (bricks, concrete), usually at the back where the sun rarely shines in the narrow strip between house and wall. If they hate green stuff, the whole of the front area is covered, with perhaps a potted plant. 

Mom's garden was the area with flowers and bushes in it, bordering the yard, or lawn. Suddenly it dawned: the herbaceous border was what we called 'the garden'. It borders the grass (or hard-standing).

As to what 'herbaceous' means, apparently even Brits struggle to define it. I'll go out on a limb (as it were) and say it's plants that aren't trees.

Bill and I were running errands and went to find the Greenwold garden centre down at Royal Quays: an outdoor mall, normally the coldest, windiest place on the planet. I don't often go. That's about to change. They're about plants, not kitsch. A leaflet listed some coming workshops, most for free (you pay for what you use). I signed up for several.

Fiona found this sweet little nest on the ground during a woodland walk.

Last Friday I got a lecture from Fiona on bulbs vs corms, the dormant periods, and of course, how to 'plant' bulbs in a pot (they pretty much sit on the surface). We started with breaking some crockery for drainage, which is always great fun. I brought home two shallow clay pots and saucers, one with blue hyacinths, the other for white narcissus (everyone knows the mythological story, right?).

I'm calling this 'winter gardening indoors' and counting it along with the dill and basil I grew in the back porch as baby steps towards practising... [see title].

Tuesday, 31 October 2017


Well, better late than never. This is another of the Halloween costumes I made for my step-son after my "frugal awakening".

It's not the best photo (and clearly I should have washed the window first), but this scarecrow outfit was a relatively successful and inexpensive costume.

These were old jeans that may or may not have already had holes at the knees, but I added patches anyhow. I found bits of rope to tie around his waist, ankles and wrists. I remember we visited the fairgrounds to find some straw to glue here and there, mainly sticking out of the front of the flannel shirt, which was a charity shop find. 

For me the most fun part of this costume was the birds (a blue one on his shoulder and a red one on the hat) and the hat. These were also charity shop finds. The hat was actually a straw basket thing intended to cover a plant pot (was that ever a thing here in Britain?). I just turned down the top edge and flipped it over to be a straw hat. 

The costume was a success in that it was comfortable enough for him to wear all day at school and it kept him warm when he went out to trick or treat.

We're not participating in Halloween this evening. I've taken in my (uncarved) pumpkin from the front porch; it was actually purchased for making pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving. We will be hiding at the back of the house, pretending we aren't home. Hopefully my observation that most kids haven't yet worked out what 'trick' means will still hold true.

On a slightly different note, I've just finished reading Better Than Before, a book by Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project author) about habits and how we form them. Each chapter begins with a quote. I found some of them rather disturbing / motivational. So I will leave you this slightly scary thought:

"All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits -- practical, emotional, and intellectual, -- systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny."
                      --William James, Talks to Teachers and Students

I set the alarm and went out for a run the next morning, something I've not done in ages.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Grandma's Birthday

It's been a funny sort of year pertaining to paternal grandma's. I write this for today to remember the Grandma who helped raise me.  On the other hand I've spent a significant amount of time searching for and learning about my genetic paternal grandmother.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about family and how I define it. Many times I've said that my friends are my family, in part because I haven't a large number of immediate family members left and also because I haven't a great deal in common with those family members who remain. However, for all our differences, and in spite of how fascinating it is to discover the stories of my genetic family, my 'real' family members are the ones I grew up knowing. The feeling of family comes most strongly to me when sharing memories of those loved ones long gone. I can listen to reminiscences about my parents and grandparents, about my aunt Rita for a very long time. 

I hope I take after my genetic grandmothers, as one lived to age 91 and the other to nearly 97! However, the older I get the more I appreciate my Grandma's qualities. 

I've been working through the pile of stuff in the attic while the weather is mild enough to make it bearable. It is as much a curse as a blessing to have a space like this. There have been times when I felt a bit dizzy at the top of the step ladder, looking around at the accumulation of shelves, boxes, bags, oddments, Bill's luggage collection, my canning jar collection. Christmas stuff aside I have at times looked around and worried I might have a DSM-5 code looming. However, with my new environmentally-friendly standards for clothing fabrics and a renewed commitment to wearing 'my' colours/contrast, etc., there has been a steady stream of upper-body strengthening donations to the Relate charity shop in Whitley Bay. 

Never thought I'd say bright sun was a nuisance...

Two items I came across that will be always remain are these aprons that belonged to Grandma. They were Christmas gifts from one of her sisters, I'm pretty sure from Myrtle who was her younger sister by three years. Grandma had a sister, Millie, just one year older but Millie died in 1961 when I was five. Myrtle outlived Grandma by nearly a decade.

I remember a green one and may run across it some time. I see there are some tiny holes in the brown apron which, as they are about 50 years old, I think can be forgiven. Given the long life of decent fabric I consider 'disposable clothing' an obscenity.

I rarely remember to wear aprons when I cook, a habit I keep thinking I'll change. However, when I do don one of the aprons hanging on the back of the kitchen door, it covers both above and below the waist. I always thought these little half-aprons sort of a house-wifey costume. Then again maybe in the 50s women weren't as sloppy as I am.

I was just thinking it was a shame I never wear these aprons and it suddenly dawned on me that I am developing the skills to cut a top piece and attach it to the bottom part. I remembered that the hems on these are quite deep - 4 or 5" - and so I could steal a bit of the hem to make a matching trim on the top. Or I could go all out and do some red and green cross-stitch. Pink, red and green aren't colours I would have mixed, but I must admit the roses are a nice design. As it happens I have quite a bit of plain white cotton that could be shaped with a loop for the head and some kind of trim. When and if this happens, I will be sure to share them with you. I can see a deadline of her next birthday post would be useful. 

The other thing I've done this past year is to knit dishcloths (no photos to hand at this moment so that will have to be another post). We have stopped buying sponges that wear out in a week. I've made dishcloths for Christmas gifts (not sure how well that went over). 

I gave one to my sister-in-law, Jane, when I knocked off a couple during our holiday together in Switzerland last May. I took a couple to our Thursday night craft group since there never seemed to be a sponge around for washing tea cups and I began to worry about the hygiene levels there. I've taken to drinking hot water instead of tea/coffee and though I know tea stains aren't important, I was pleased to be able to scrub a few off. I think some of the ladies at the craft group were pleased as well, from both a crafty and a cleaning point of view.

I know Grandma would be very happy to know some of her ideas have stuck with me. I also know that she wanted very much to be remembered after she passed, and so she will be for as long as I can see to that.