Double, double, treble trouble

My Coast blanket is finished and I am soooooooooo happy with it. 🙂 It is soft and ripply and colourful and gorgeous and I just want to wrap myself up in it – which, given the current weather, would be a pretty unintelligent thing to do. In fact, I really wanted to rush it down to the beach for another Attic 24-esque photo shoot but given it is the height of the holiday season here and there are a lot of happy people trying to go about their beachy business in peace, I thought maybe that would be a step too far along the Mad Englishwoman path. So, I went to the beach for a cooling swim and left the blanket relaxing in the dappled shade of a walnut tree instead.

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Now I know it’s unlikely that anyone out there is counting the ripples in the photo but it’s just possible that someone in the know might want to point out that the pattern calls for 84 ripples and I’ve only done 66. Um, yes. Confession time. I’ve been having such a lot of fun in recent months immersed in my second go at crochet that it wasn’t until I needed to sit and follow instructions to the letter for the first bower bird that I realised I have been doing my treble stitch all wrong. Somehow I manage to put an extra stage into it and I’ve been doing this forever. I know there’s a difference between UK and US crochet terms so I wondered if maybe I’ve been a secret American all my life? Well, no I haven’t because I can’t find this particular stitch anywhere masquerading under any nationality: it’s not a treble or a double treble or a treble double or a treble treble or any combination of the above . . . so I’ve decided to call it my Trouble Stitch.

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By the time I made this somewhat alarming discovery, I had already worked several ripples of Trouble and wasn’t inclined to undo them so on I went; given that the stitch stands an extra loop taller than UK treble, it only took 66 ripples to reach the required length of 180cm, hence the missing few. Never mind, I’ve lived and learned and at least I can feel like I’ve put my own little stamp on the blanket – even if it is one born out of confusion!

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So what now? Well, time to get cracking on the patchwork blanket I dreamt up when weeding leeks some weeks ago. I’ve ummed and aahed a bit over this, especially when I discovered there was a pile of Parma Violet left and thought maybe I should use it for a joining colour as in the Harmony blanket . . . but no, I decided to stick with my original plan and joint the colours directly. The only change I’ve made is to back off from the all-in-eclectic-mix-of-every-colour idea: I know, I know, I’m being a bit of a wimp with that one but when I saw that the vast majority of the colours I had left were blues, greens, purples and neutrals, those reds and golds and screaming pinks (plus grey and khaki) just begged to be left out. I did manage to stop myself going down the colourwash mood blanket route, tempting though that was, and so I am having great fun pulling balls out of my basket and whizzing up the little squares.

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Having weighed and measured, the maths tells me there should be enough yarn for 160 squares, putting aside enough to work six or seven rounds of border. I’m going to err on the side of caution and aim for 15 x 10 squares to start: I can always add a 16th strip if there is definitely enough yarn left. This is such a lovely, gentle activity, requiring next to no concentration and so easy to pick up and put down in odd moments.

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Unlike my next project in the pipeline . . .

Just look at this yarn, isn’t it beautiful?

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This is Manos del Uruguay lace, a gorgeous luxurious blend of baby alpaca, silk and cashmere. Cashmere! Wow, I’ve never worn it in my life so I’m feeling a bit decadent to say the least. I have never spent so much money on two skeins of yarn either, but this project – my summer wedding shawl – is going to be a very special one so I think it’s justified. In my opinion, this yarn has a lot going for it: not just the obvious fact that it’s 100% natural fibres but also because it brings economic and social benefits to rural artisan women, too. The yarns are hand-dyed in large kettles and no two skeins are the same; the colour choices are rich and beautiful and I was very torn when choosing but in the end went for ‘Nixie’ which sings of summer skies and meadows to me. In fact, the photos really don’t do it justice because there are gorgeous strands of yellow and lilac marbling the blues and greens.

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Oh, it is exquisite! I have a shawl pattern designed specifically for this yarn (I’m taking no chances) and I have invested in a 3.5mm circular needle with shiny brass tips . . . so all I need now is the courage to start. Ah, there’s no rush, surely? At the moment I’m a very happy little bunny just gazing at the yarn and stroking those soft silky skeins. 🙂

Healthy neglect

The builders have finished, the scaffolding is down and all is peaceful once again on our mountainside.

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Rubble shifting over, and I suddenly realised how much I’ve been neglecting the garden over the past weeks; just a quick whizz round with hoe or watering can to keep everything together from time to time is all the attention it’s had. Definitely time to get stuck in to some long overdue maintenance.

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Apart from the usual weeding and cutting back, there were a few bigger jobs that have been waiting. I pulled the old pea and broad bean plants out weeks ago but never got round to digging the patch over properly . . . and of course, the weeds have had a bit of a field day in the interim. I love jobs like this: take one messy patch, dig it over, remove weeds, pick out stones and there’s a lovely patch of bare earth ready and waiting for the next crop (probably some winter kale).

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I’ve also been neglecting the poor summer calabrese and broccoli plants. They have been cropping well for several weeks but I haven’t been keeping on top of them enough and they had started to flower. I know the bees love those flowers, but it’s amazing how quickly the plants will crop again if the flowers are cut back. Sorry, bees . . . your turn will come!

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One thing I did manage to do a couple of weeks ago is a little more planting for crops later in the year: a row of ‘Autumn King’ carrots, some Florence fennel and then more beans. This is bean country: if all else fails we will never starve because there will always be a bean mountain. The speed at which they germinate and grow is quite incredible, you can almost sit back and watch it happening. So, I’ve planted another half row of bush borlotti and dwarf French beans (can’t remember which variety) and a full row of a cannellini bean for late autumn harvest.

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The climbing beans have got away from me once again and Roger is now having to use a step ladder to pick them. I threw a few sunflower seeds in next to them (more of my ‘frivolous’ flowers!) and they are quite spectacular – at 3.2 metres, definitely the tallest we’ve ever grown and they’re certainly giving the beans a run for their money. Gorgeous, gorgeous things!

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I can’t find words to describe the state of the squash garden: in fact, it’s got to a point where I’m almost too nervous to go and look because to say they have taken over is the understatement of the year. They literally meet me on the path and have completely blocked the steps up to my salad patch. Cutting them back from around the leeks, purple sprouting broccoli and winter cabbages (all of which are thriving despite the encroaching jungle) was almost a machete job, not helped by the fact they have sent down strong little roots from their stems and anchored themselves down everywhere.

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Not that I’m complaining (much) because rummaging about with the hoe under those huge leaves revealed a plentiful crop. The ‘Crown Prince’ and ‘Guatemalan Blue’ are lounging about in full view on the terraces like sunbathing beauties but the butternuts are hidden in a sea of green . . . and what a crop there is lurking under there!

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After a slow start, the peppers have all burst into life and look set to crop for many months like they did last year. I have to confess to a complete pickle where plant labelling was concerned earlier in the year so I’m really not sure what we’ve got (actually, one of the reasons I keep a garden blog is so I can look back and check what I’ve planted!) but we are eating a yellow ‘Sweet Banana’ and a bell variety which I think is ‘Carmagnola’, with what looks like Red Marconi’, ‘Golden Cal Wonder’ and ‘Padron’ to follow.

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Our beat-the blight tomato experiment has been interesting. We have kept all the plants out of the garden soil and instead planted them in sterile containers and placed them in several different positions around the house and garden. The good news is that we have certainly enjoyed far more tomatoes than last year, not a huge glut but enough for regular pickings for salads and the barbecue; the best performers have been the cherry variety ‘Sungold’ and the plum ‘Roma’. The bad news is that, even though it took much longer to happen this year, they have all succumbed to blight (although they are continuing to send out new growth and ripen fruit). I think we will give it one more try next year, focusing on some blight-resistant varieties and hiding some plants away from the mountain mist in a polytunnel. At the end of the day, if we never manage huge crops of toms here, it really doesn’t matter: the local shops and markets are bursting with sun-drenched tomatoes in every shape, size and colour imaginable. We might not be able to grow them well here, but we certainly live in a country that can!

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Something that is growing very well is our little patch of sweetcorn and I am so thrilled as it’s years and years since we grew any. It’s looking very majestic next to a tripod of Asturian beans; not quite ‘three sisters’ although believe me, the third one would be in there if I hadn’t had my machete moment! There are some rather lovely self-set nasturtiums tangling themselves around the corn, I love it when things like that happen all on their own in the garden.

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Despite my neglect, a number of things I’ve raised from seed this year are making an impact in the garden now. There are several patches of hyssop, which is a plant I love; I’m not keen on the smell, which I would describe as ‘herbal with an undercurrent of fox’, but it is such a beautiful colour and bees can’t get enough of it.

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I’ve never grown asters from seed and they have been sooooooooo slow to get going but now they are making pretty little splashes of colour all over. I’m very excited about the morning glory, too; I planted it very late but it’s up and running and hopefully we should see the first flowers in the next few days.

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One lovely little surprise was a flower on the ‘Polish Spirit’ clematis we planted months ago as the tiniest stick on a root I’ve ever seen. Well, it’s obviously happy here!

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In truth, looking around I see colour and food everywhere. Despite my neglect, the garden has carried on merrily which is no great surprise, really. Nature knows what it’s doing . . . and that to my mind is a wonderful thing! 🙂

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The need to knit

Having reduced my woolly projects sensibly (and unusually!) to one – the crochet Coast blanket – it’s amazing how much progress I made over a couple of weeks. This is quite surprising given that I didn’t have time to sit around doing serious rippling, there were just too many other things going on. It’s still a case of five minutes here and there, usually with a mug of tea or coffee, but I’m now over two thirds of the way through and it really is starting to feel like a blanket. I can’t wait to see how it’s going to look dressing up our old blue sofa but I need to be patient: the sofa, which we brought back from France a few weeks ago, is still sitting on the trailer on account of the fact that we can’t get it into the house because of the scaffolding all over the steps! Ah, all in good time.

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Much as I really, really love this crochet project, I suppose it was inevitable that eventually my knitting fingers would start itching and twitching for something to do. Despite the fact I have more than enough to occupy my hands – crochet, gardening, harvesting, cooking, painting and decorating, shifting building rubbish, etc, etc – there’s nothing quite like the feel of those woolly little stitches slipping off the needles and I was missing it. Face it, I needed to knit. At times like these, my default project is always socks because they are relatively quick and easy, and forever useful . . . and I had just the project in mind. It’s been a fact of our lifestyle for many years that we spend a lot of time wearing wellies, and in winter that tends to leave Roger with cold, sore feet. He won’t wear the hand-knitted socks I’ve already made for him, partly because he doesn’t want to trash them in wellies but also because he is sensitive to ‘wool itch’ and prefers to wear them in very cold weather over thin cotton socks – not practical in wellies as it makes them too tight. So, I am on a mission to try and create a pair of itchless, hardwearing socks that he will wear.

My starting point obviously needed to be the yarn. Most commercial sock yarns are a blend of 75% wool and 25% nylon (for strength); when I spin sock yarn, I replace the nylon with kid mohair or silk as I prefer natural fibres. Trying to find a reduced wool sock yarn without going down the 100% synthetic route wasn’t easy but in the end I chose this Rico Superba Bamboo. I really rate bamboo as a fibre: it’s natural, renewable, biodegradable, silky and antibacterial – but perhaps a little on the ‘soft’ side for welly socks? However, I was hopeful that this combination of 25% bamboo, 50% wool and 25% acrylic would hit the spot, although I had a slight doubt about elasticity. Nothing for it but to knit and see.

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For a pattern, it was back to default mode once again. When I first started knitting socks many years ago, I found a free knitting pattern calculator on the Violet Green website and printed off several basic sock patterns which I have used so many times that I practically know them off by heart. Just look at the state of that pattern! The website has changed a fair bit since then but the pattern calculator is still there and it’s an amazing resource. Sock pattern calculator No fancy stuff planned for these socks, just a case of plain old stocking stitch all the way and letting the self-patterning colours do their thing.

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Creased, dog-eared and coffee stained . . . the signs of a much-loved pattern?

At the beginning of the year, I challenged myself to try new skills . . . which is how my whole crochet adventure began. One of the things I have continued to back away from is knitting socks on a circular needle so I decided that the moment had finally arrived to bite the bullet. From choice, I like to work with a set of four very short double-pointed needles, but having cracked the ‘magic loop’ method when knitting Annie’s hobby horse head, I know it’s time to give it a go. No toe-up business for me, though; I’m definitely sticking with top-down socks for now – there’s only so many changes a person can make to her favourite routines! The first few rounds were really tricky and I could feel the negative vibes beginning to buzz . . . but they’re always a bit tricky on double pointed needles, too, so it was only fair to plough on (even if my teeth were ever so slightly gritted).

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So, this is what it looks like now and in some ways it’s going rather well. On the down side, I’ve found the needles make my fingers quite sore – just a different way of working, perhaps?  It also felt strange working the instep gusset decreases on two needles rather than three, meaning that I needed to use markers which I wouldn’t usually bother with. (In fact, I don’t even own proper knitting markers, I tend to improvise with small safety pins which seem to do the job.)

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Otherwise, it’s been plain sailing: the yarn is beautiful to work with, so soft and knit-able and the one thing that has really surprised me is how much faster I’m working. So fast, in fact, that I was halfway along the foot before I really stopped to think about size: didn’t this sock seem a bit small for a mansized foot? I went off to find a sock from a pair I’d previously knitted for Roger in order to compare . . . PICT0309 (2).JPG

Mmm, now this always fascinates me in knitting: same weight of wool, same gauge of needle, same pattern, same knitting nit and yet two different sizes of sock appear! I can’t believe it’s the magic loop method, I think it must be the yarn. Roger suggested I carried on and knitted theses socks for me which defeats the object really but I have to admit I really don’t want to undo it all and start again. I suppose I can at least test-drive the finished socks in wellies on his behalf but I have a sneaking suspicion they will be too soft, so it’s back to the drawing board once again.

I also feel slightly guilty at walking off with his socks because when I bought the wool, somehow another ball fell into the basket. Well . . . I couldn’t remember the last time I knitted myself a pair of socks from commercial yarn and this is super budget stuff (King Cole Zigzag).

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I love this colour combination which I think will look great in my cosy winter boots: I could have chosen ‘Summer’ or ‘Harmony’  but in the end, I had to go for ‘Wacky’ which probably says it all, really.

On which theme . . . I’ve had a slightly crazy idea knocking about my head this week, one which a huge part of me hoped would fade away as I know it is pure madness on my part. Why don’t I knit myself a beautiful lace shawl as something a little different to wear to Sam and Adrienne’s wedding? It’s a knitting project I’ve thought about several times over the years but always backed away from and in all honesty, if I go for it then in personal challenge terms it will be the woolly equivalent of running the half marathon. I’ve never knitted any kind of shawl before. I’ve never followed a shawl chart, and have always preferred written instructions to any kind of chart, anyway. I’ve never knitted with laceweight yarn. I’ve never had 400+ stitches on my needle at once. I have never ever ever got on with or enjoyed lace knitting; in fact, in my experience it would be better to call it ‘lace unpicking whilst muttering loudly and looking for a different pattern’ as that is what I spend most of my time doing. A sensible person would walk away now, but . . . I am so in awe of the gorgeous creations on blogs and websites, I dream about making something from a truly luxurious yarn and I love a good challenge. So, something I have been doing this week is having a little trial run – after all, if it turned out to be a non-starter, that would be that. Armed with a slightly bigger gauge needle than the pattern requires and some spare merino/silk yarn from my leaf lace socks, I settled down with a pattern chart . . . and fell at the first hurdle. ‘Cast on 3 provisional stitches’, read the instruction. Three what????? Thank goodness for the internet, I say (why have I never done provisional cast-ons before, it’s such a clever trick?). Anyway, I must admit I was truly surprised at how it all went: of course, there was a bit of unpicking here and there, but on the whole, I managed to follow the chart without any problems.  I only increased from 3 to 69 stitches which is a far cry from the 405 I will need in the real thing, but I worked far enough to start repeating blocks of pattern, making little mathematical jottings on an old envelope as I went.

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I think I might go for it. After all, I have plenty of time and it would be something so different. Now all I have to do is find the courage to order the rather beautiful, totally luxurious and astronomically expensive hand-dyed yarn I have fallen in love with. Well, it is a wedding after all!  Happy knitting! 🙂

 

Reasons to be cheerful

I’ve read a good deal about ‘runners’ high’ but I have to confess over the last couple of weeks or so I have been experiencing what I can only describe as ‘runners’ low.’ It’s a strange and horrid thing which is quite difficult to define but ever since running 16k (10 miles) in France, I seem to have lost all sense of rhythm, energy,  stamina, motivation and self-belief. Of course, I’m still training  – with just under five weeks to go, I have to – but I’m finding it incredibly difficult and I’m backsliding into my old ‘resistance’ ways. I’m not moaning: after all, I wanted a personal challenge and there’s a clue in the definition. If it were all plain sailing, there would be no challenge: I just have to find a way of overcoming it and getting back on a happier track. Roger often reminds me to lift my head and look up when running and it’s great advice; focusing on the beauty of the landscape and wonders of nature around me help me to forget I’m running at all. So, with that in mind, I decided that perhaps it was time to stand back, forget running for a while, and spend a little time reflecting on some of the things that have made me smile this week.

🙂 A wonderful abundance of vegetables from the garden. Wandering around with my trusty trug each day and gathering colourful and delicious ingredients for our meals never fails to please me. Even after all these years of growing veg, happy harvesting still thrills me no end!PICT0124.JPG

🙂 The start of peach season. What an amazing luxury to have such a glut of these gorgeous fruits. So beautiful, sweet and juicy, they are as good as a drink.

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🙂 Peaches are not the only fruit . . .

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🙂 A new roof (well, almost!). It’s the last week of building work: we are finally tarpless  rather than topless, and waterproof; suddenly, it’s all starting to look a bit smart.

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🙂 A riot of red in the garden.

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🙂 A parade of purple in the woodland.

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🙂 A little beauty softening the new fence we made earlier in the year . . . this is surely better than those rusty old bedsteads?

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🙂 Some quiet tea and crochet moments.

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🙂 A rather large escapee heading off across the lane (Guatemalan Blue banana squash)

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🙂 Noticing that one of our neighbours has an even worse squash situation than us!

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🙂 A new freezer. Mmm, this is a good one. We used our move here last year as an opportunity to downsize; in a few short years we had gone from being a family of five with several pets and livestock to only the two of us with  . . . well, just each other. One of the pieces of equipment we decided to leave behind was a large chest freezer which had done sterling service over the years; when we were both working full time, feeding three growing teenagers and running a little smallholding it was an essential piece of kit. In latter years, though, it had been half empty much of the time – inefficient, uneconomical and taking up too much space – so we put it on Freecycle and off it went in a jiffy to start a new life elsewhere. Since then we have been coping with a small three-drawer upright which is fine for basics but leaves no room for us to freeze anything from the garden, so this week we finally got round to investing in a new small chest freezer. Yay! It hasn’t taken me long to start filling it.  First to go in were bags and bags of peaches for jam (which we eat as marmalade), relish and generally fruity things. Next, the first row of borlotti beans which yes, we could dry, but freezing them is more useful (we don’t have to remember to do the whole soaking the night before thing).

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We have the best basil for years, so I’ve been picking, chopping and freezing it in ice cubes which will be perfect for tossing into sauces, soups and stews. This is such a great way of preserving soft summer herbs; coriander is another top candidate, although it carried on growing outside here all winter last year. Simply pick and wash the leaves, then chop finely and pack into ice cube trays – it’s amazing what a huge amount goes in when packed down. Top up with cold water and freeze. The cubes can then be turned out and kept in a labelled bag in the freezer until needed.

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How I love this squirrel behaviour . . . but the greatest joy is the fact that there is room once again for making ice cream. We very rarely eat desserts but there is something so good about homemade ice cream made from wholesome ingredients.  It’s a habit I started when we had an abundance of fresh free-range eggs from our own hens and although I know ingredients like yogurt make great healthy alternatives, I have to admit I just love a decadent creamy, custardy base to work with. It seemed to me that peach ice cream just had to be tried so here’s my recipe which – as always – comes with fairly vague quantities . . .

Peel and stone several ripe peaches and whizz the flesh into a puree. Take 4 yolks from the freshest eggs possible and mix to a paste with a tablespoon of cornflour and 2-3 tablespoons of caster sugar. (Two notes here. 1. I keep a kilner jar of sugar with a few vanilla pods in it specially for making ice cream – I just add a few extra vanilla seeds or extract if I want to make plain vanilla ice cream. 2. We don’t have a sweet tooth so other people might prefer to add more sugar.) In a pan, bring 250ml of milk to the boil and pour carefully onto the egg mixture, whisking thoroughly until blended. Return to the pan and heat very gently, stirring all the time, until the mixture thickens into a custard. The cornflour helps to stabilize the mixture so it won’t curdle, I promise! Remove from the heat, allow to cool (stir occasionally to stop a skin forming) then fold in 250ml double cream (as it comes or lightly whipped). This is my basic custard – great as hot custard, by the way –  which can be frozen plain like this as vanilla ice cream. Stir in as much peach puree as you want, depending on taste (and capacity, if you are using a machine – ours holds 800ml). Allow to cool, then churn in an ice cream machine or freeze in a container, breaking down the crystals several times during the freezing process. Like most homemade ice creams, it freezes pretty solid so needs to be removed from the freezer and allowed to soften a little before serving. Any remaining peach puree makes a good sauce for the ice cream and is also great with oats and yogurt for breakfast.  So simple, so delicious . . . and obviously, the peaches can be replaced with all sorts of other fruits depending what’s good and seasonal.

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🙂 Sam and Adrienne announcing their engagement. Ah, that’s the biggest smile of all. Congratulations, Monkeys! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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So back to the running and if I’m still struggling physically, then at least I’m feeling a bit more positive about things now. On reflection, I didn’t do too badly in July: I ran 119k (74 miles) in 14 runs, with an average run of 8.5 k (5.2 miles) and a total climb of 2440 metres (8005ft). I learned to cope with running on consecutive days. I ran my furthest ever distance and took part in my first Spanish race. I also – totally unbelievably and probably never to be repeated – ran all the way up Christa’s Hill. Now, I don’t look for any running rewards – just seeing the donations on my JustGiving page is enough, each new one makes me smile all day – but Roger had promised me a bottle of bubbly if I ever ran all the way up that hill, and although I’m having a ‘reduced wine’ month ahead of the race, I was happy to accept my prize graciously. I have so many wonderful things in my life to be grateful for, so many reasons to be cheerful . . . so let’s raise a glass. Here’s to the ups and downs of crazy personal challenges. To a new roof. To a lovely garden and great fresh food. To the simple joy of cooking. To the beauty of flowers. To Sam and Adrienne and a sparkly ring. To health and happiness. To life and love. Cheers, everyone! 🙂

My JustGiving page

 

 

No lettuce? No loss!

Oh, happy, happy days: look what is ripe and ready to eat! We have so many plans for these beauties this year which is good as there is going to be a mountain of them in the coming days.

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At the opposite end of the scale, we are almost out of lettuce in the garden: having had an ongoing glut since the end of April, we are down to the last couple.  I have tried to be very diligent where successional sowings are concerned but for some reason, the latest bunch of seedlings is not quite as enthusiastic to get going as earlier ones. Exactly the same thing happened last year and to be quite honest, I’m really not bothered because where salads are concerned there is life beyond leaves.

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The last ‘Red Rosie’ for a while.

One of the joys of this time of year is the sheer choice of ingredients from the garden to make delicious salads, and I particularly love to spend some time in the morning creating something tasty for lunch with whatever looks good and ready (so much more interesting than a cheese sandwich!). I am definitely not a cookery writer or photographer – there are many, many people out there who do both so brilliantly – but occasionally it’s nice to share ideas and the happiness that simple fresh food brings to our lives. It’s great fun to create dishes from complex recipes using a long list of ingredients and many cheffy processes but sometimes a little simplicity is all that is needed. Eating well and healthily doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive or time-consuming but should always be enjoyable; isn’t it, after all, one of life’s greatest pleasures? 🙂

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A plate of lunchtime salads – quick, colourful and tasty.

Roger has questioned the logic of planting six cucumber plants this year when four were too many last year (I suppose he has a point!) but I’m quite enjoying the little cuke fest we have going on here at the moment. I actually love picking a sun-warmed baby and munching it as a piece of fruit as I wander around the patch. If you peel and de-seed a larger cucumber you don’t have a lot left, so it’s easy to use up several at a time. Chop the remaining flesh, sit it in a sieve over a bowl sprinkled with salt to draw out excess moisture, then dress simply with olive oil, lemon juice, a sprinkle of fresh herbs (whatever takes your fancy) for the simplest, freshest, daintiest salad going.

With hotter weather on the horizon, I have also been experimenting with recipes for chilled cucumber soup. I am hopeless when it comes to carefully measured quantities as I tend to cook by eye, feel and taste: just throw it in until it seems right is my favourite approach. That said, I really don’t think you can go wrong with this kind of recipe. We have grown two varieties of cucumber this year – ‘Green Tasty Burpless’ and ‘Diva’ – so I opted for a mix here; I also used Welsh onions (grown easily from Sarah’s seed last year) which are a great perennial bunching variety, every bit as versatile and flavoursome as spring onions, and went for mint and dill as my fresh herb choices as both are currently thriving in the garden.

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I peeled and de-seeded the cukes (I found two and a half the right quantity for our blender) and chopped the onions, then whizzed both in the blender along with the herbs until smooth. I added three pots of Greek style yogurt (375g), a slosh of lemon juice, a good slug and then some of olive oil, and plenty of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and whizzed the whole lot up again. Job done in under 10 minutes. My goodness, does this even count as cooking?  It went into the fridge overnight and made a fabulous lunch in the heat of the following day, topped off with a little diced cucumber, shredded mint and olive oil. Unbelievably delicious. Can’t wait to make some more!

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I also have gazpacho in my sights as soon as we have a glut of green peppers; after all, what could be easier than whizzing up a pile of fresh ingredients in a blender and calling it lunch?

We always keep a good choice of grains and pulses  – bulgar wheat, pearl barley, quinoa, lentils, brown rice and a variety of dried beans at the very least –  in the store cupboard and these make fantastic bases for salads when mixed with garden goodies. There are no rules here, it’s just a lot of fun making it up as we go along and adding raw or cooked veg as we like. It’s interesting to experiment with flavours, too: for example, homemade spice mixes add a completely different dimension to fresh garden herbs; sesame oil in place of olive oil changes things totally; garlic and chilli warm things up; nuts and seeds add crunch; citrus zests and juice bring zing. I love the sharpness of capers, the saltiness of olives, the sweetness of roasted red peppers, the tang of cheese slivers, the crunch of croutons . . . mmm, where to stop?

When the oven goes on for bread baking, we often throw in a tray of veg to roast specially for salads; when we barbecue (always over wood), it’s amazing how an extra pile of courgettes, peppers, aubergines, onions and tomatoes finds its way onto the grill. Eaten cold – nude or dressed, alone or combined – these salads are the food of kings.

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Cooked green and yellow beans, new potatoes and courgettes dressed in a harissa-based dressing: delicious hot or cold.

Roger doesn’t like beetroot very much (he remembers it being served as a hot vegetable with gravy for school dinners  so it’s hardly surprising he’s not a fan) but I love it and always grow a row to enjoy. It is such an easy and forgiving specimen in the garden, hugely nutritious and, in my humble opinion, better off kept well away from pickling vinegar. Young raw beets grated and simply dressed (I love orange zest, coriander, olive oil and walnuts) or  thinly sliced or shaved for something more sophisticated are superb; bigger ones wrapped in foil and roasted in the oven are softer and sweeter and keep in the fridge for days. Dress it with a swirl of yogurt to create a piece of pretty art work!

Speaking of yogurt, we love it as a lighter alternative to mayonnaise in coleslaw. Although this has a reputation as a winter salad, it’s a lovely one to enjoy in summer, too; after all, we have crisp summer cabbage, sweet carrots and flavoursome onions to hand, so why not?

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Green summer cabbage ‘Greyhound’ . . .

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. . . and red ‘Kalibos’: summer coleslaw in waiting.

In the same vein, a salad of new potatoes boiled with slices of lemon then cooled and dressed in olive oil, lemon zest, shallots, mint and parsley (a trick we learnt when living in Cyprus) makes a lighter, fresher alternative to the norm which is truly delightful. This is really saying something as I adore a classic mayo-heavy potato salad.

On the subject of lemons, they are one of my favourite foods and we are so lucky to have them in cheap abundance here. As well as chilled soups, I’m playing around with ideas for homemade drinks to enjoy in hotter weather and this week I’ve had a go at good old-fashioned lemon barley water. This is so easy to make it’s ridiculous, especially as I used the cup measuring jug that Roger’s Canadian family gave us many years ago which makes recipes very easy to remember. I simply put 3/4 cup (about 200g, I think) of pearl barley in a pan with 6 cups of cold water and the peel of 2 lemons, simmered for 30 minutes, strained and added the juice from both lemons to the liquid.

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As neither of us has a sweet tooth, I added the tiniest amount of caster sugar to literally just take the edge off: a bit of tasting and adjusting were needed at this point. I think a light floral honey would be a great alternative to sugar but the one we have here at the moment has a pronounced flavour which I didn’t think would be quite right. Once the sugar had dissolved, I cooled the barley water, bottled it then chilled overnight in the fridge. So refreshing! The real beauty of this recipe is that the leftover tender lemon-scented pearl barley, far from being waste, makes a perfect salad base as described earlier. Two birds with one stone . . . now that is my kind of cooking! 🙂

 

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Yesterday’s yarn = tomorrow’s project

It’s been a satisfying Getting Things Done sort of week in my world of yarn messing. First, some playing about with colours and crochet flower designs to finish off Bower Bird 2. I love this stage, moving bits and pieces around until I’m happy with them and maybe diving back into my wool basket to make a little extra flower or leaf where I feel there’s a need.

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I did make a butterfly but it looked completely wrong somehow so I abandoned that idea and decided that flowers and leaves were enough embellishment. So there it is, my soft and sweet little bird finished and all ready to greet a precious new baby in the autumn! 🙂

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Next, the leaf lace socks. Blimey, it seems like an age since I first picked up my needles to start these – not to mention spinning that blend of Merino wool and tussah silk in the sunshine – but at long last they are done. After several boot sock projects, the silky softness of these socks is indescribably luxurious: they wouldn’t last long in wellies but should wrap round feet and toes in a lovely cuddle. I’m still not a great fan of lace knitting and I think it will be some time before I embark on another pair of lacy socks but I’m pleased that I have at least managed to meet this particular challenge head on without hours of unpicking, cursing and – my usual trick – giving up and resorting to a different pattern!

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My next big knit will be my special ‘Granny gift’ for William. I have a plan and pattern all sorted and I know it will be a lot of fun but before I can start I need to spin then dye 300g of Jacobs fleece. As my spinning wheel is safely tucked up in storage and needs to stay there until the building work is over, I think this will have to be an autumn project, much as I am dying to get stuck in. In the meantime, I am back to a single project – the Coast blanket – which I can potter at happily when the weather isn’t too hot.

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Talking of heat . . . on a very hot day several weeks ago, I was head down in the leek patch pulling out weeds for the umpteenth time this season – is there no end to that oxalis? – when the idea for a new woolly project started to creep furtively into my imagination. Why on earth this happens when it does, I have no idea. After all, at that time I had more than enough things on the go: several ripples and a border needed to finish the Moses basket blanket, a couple of extra possible rounds of border on the Harmony Square blanket, a leaf lace sock to knit and a whole bower bird project to complete before September, plus of course my lovely Coast blanket not even half done. Did I need to be thinking about a new project? No, of course not . . . but then I’ve learnt over the years that need and common sense don’t come into it. When that little creative itch starts up, there is nothing to do but scratch it for a while and see where it takes me.

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What had started me thinking was the fact that I am clearly going to be left with a fair amount of yarn scraps when all my blanket projects are completed and I really don’t see the point in keeping them, for three main reasons. First, we are short of storage space here; second, I like a minimalist approach to life so I am not a natural stash builder; third, to my mind a pile of yarn isn’t very useful if it’s left as bits of balls  – in fact, it’s a waste of good resources. As an example, another little project I’ve had on the go this week is using up some leftover cotton yarn by making it into crocheted dishcloths. It’s so simple: 30 stitches, 19 rows of treble stitch and a border (probably totally unnecessary but I’m in blanket mode) of double crochet. Done in under an hour, and suddenly those yarn scraps have become something with a purpose.

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Anyway, back to my planning. Here, then, is an opportunity for me to create something from scratch, a project I can call my very own and the opportunity to turn a pile of leftovers into something useful . . . another blanket, in fact, and one that is based on the idea of patchwork quilts.

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‘Useful’ is the key word in my plans. I’ve stitched several quilts in the past, buying fat quarters of gorgeous fabrics and piecing them together to make something that was beautiful first, useful as an afterthought. For this project, I want to go back to the real roots of patchwork where bits of fabric from old clothes and bedding which had already had quite a life were cut down and used in their final incarnation to make something warm and practical.  I have a hotchpotch of colours to play with, the three blanket packs I’ve used having 35 different colours of yarn in all. That said, I know that there is only a tiny amount of ‘Citron’ yellow left so that won’t be making an appearance and there is a big difference in the amounts of other colours left from my first blanket pack.

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Obviously, the final size of my blanket will depend on how much yarn I have left over and I won’t know that until I have finished all my projects; so far it amounts to about 1200g with the Coast scraps still to come. My first thought was to make a square blanket but on reflection something rectangular would be more practical. I’m hoping there will be enough to make a reasonably sized all-purpose blanket, something that can be spread out for a picnic, used to pad a garden seat, thrown over a camping bed or simply curled up under or wrapped in whenever a little bit of extra warmth and comfort are needed.

I love the idea of simply pulling out balls of yarn, whizzing up squares until there is nothing left (not forgetting to leave something for the border!) then seeing what I can create from them all at the end. The main drawback, though, is that I really want to use the join-as-you-go method as I think it’s much neater and quicker than slip-stitching (and I’m not even going to give sewing up a second thought, it’s a job I detest) but it would mean joining in strips as I go along which means there would have to be some thought given to colour choices . . . not for the first time, I can see that easy-going ‘random’ doesn’t really work. The next problem, then, is how many squares in a strip? Well, that of course depends on how much yarn I have which I won’t know until I’ve finished all my projects. Suddenly I realised I was going round in circles. At this point, the part of my brain that deals with logic took over from airy fairy creativity: wouldn’t it make sense to make a square first then weigh and measure it so at least I could work out what was possible? Good plan. Having finished weeding by this point, I decided it was time for a tea break and maybe just a few minutes playing about with yarn . . .

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Part of the charm of the Flower Garden and Harmony squares (Attic 24 patterns) I made for other blankets was the fact that they used different colours and stitch patterns in each square.

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For this blanket, though, I want a more solid utilitarian patchwork effect so I plan to work each square in a single colour. Having messed about with different stitch pattern ideas, I settled on a very traditional tried and tested Granny square of treble clusters; the only change I made was to leave out the chain spaces (except at corners) as I want the blanket to be more fabric than hole. Six rounds seemed about the right size, the last round on all but the first square being the joining round. The finished square measured 10.5cm along each side and weighed 8g: now at least I had a starting point.

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I used that little ball of turquoise to make a second square and practised the join-as-you go technique. Perfect.

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So now I am all ready to start but I can’t do much more until the Coast blanket is finished; I could of course potter away with other colours but I’m risking ending up with later strips being mostly ‘Coast’ colours rather than a more eclectic mix. What I will need to guard against is getting too hung up on harmonious colour combinations; just look at how I couldn’t help but drag some sweet peas into the photo with my ‘Parma Violet’ square because I love how those soft colours look together . . .

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No, I need to accept that there may well be some eek! colour moments in this project and that will be part of its charm. That’s fine, there’s no hurry and I have plenty of time to mull things over.  For now I’m happy that at least that itch has been well and truly scratched. Time to get back to the garden! 🙂

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Relaxation, running . . . and return.

They say a change is as good as a rest and we have certainly indulged in both over the last few days. The thirteen-hour drive to northern France was incredibly dull and ridiculously tiring considering we spent most of it sitting on our backsides, but it was well worth the effort for the holiday we enjoyed once there. Mayenne is very different to Asturias: no dramatic green mountains or rugged coastline, but instead a rich and fertile open land, rolling softly beneath wide lark-filled skies.

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This is growing country, the poppy-edged fields of ripened grain rippling like water in sunlight, the massed ranks of sunflowers turning their faces obediently to the sun and the thick groves of maize brooding and silent, greening the patchwork landscape. We lived there once and it is always a pleasure to go back.

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Away from the noise and busyness of the building work, it was lovely just to unwind and relax and spend some time enjoying old haunts and treats. When the temperature hit 35 degrees we decided it was time for a swim and headed to one of the beached lakes the French do so well; it was blissfully quiet (I’d forgotten how sacrosanct lunchtime is in France) and the water was warm enough for a long, indulgent swim. Wonderful!

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Of course, I had a bit of yarn therapy planned, too. Initially when packing I had thought just to take my sock knitting as it’s small and very portable . . . but my little bower bird looked so appealing in its nest of wool that I succumbed to temptation and decided to treat it to a French holiday. Well, why not? There was plenty of room in the car for my basket after all and I can’t resist having a choice of activities to fiddle with, which is why my projects tend to run away with me at times.

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One happy hour with my crochet hook, one striped bower for the bird.

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Where the sock knitting was concerned, sitting in the dappled shade of a young oak tree to work on that intricate leaf lace pattern seemed very appropriate. Having got off to such a tricky start with the pattern, I truly love these socks: they are so pretty and feminine and summery, just what I had hoped for. A bit on the tardy side for a June birthday gift but hopefully I will be forgiven!

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One of the important things on our French agenda was a long run. Roger is toying with the idea of running a marathon in October so he wanted to try something close to 20 miles to help him decide. (He said he probably wouldn’t bother doing any more marathons as the training means he can’t enter other races but I have a sneaking suspicion that is about to change . . . ) For me, it was an attempt at 10 miles / 16 k where I could give it a go on the flat. Despite being on holiday, I went to bed early the night before, gave up my lie-in to have an early breakfast and passed on the pain au chocolat, having a healthy bowl of oats, yogurt and banana instead. Talk about commitment, this is not normal behaviour! When we have run down the old railway path before I have tended to plod out only two or three kilometres from the car, telling myself I can always run a bit in the opposite direction if I feel the need to run any further once I’m back. Ha ha, like that ever happens! I have always made sure to take a book or knitting and a deck chair so I can enjoy some post-plod relaxation while Roger is off pounding out the miles.

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The old Mayenne railway path: perfect place for runners, walkers, cyclists and horse riders . . . and SO flat! Also not a bad place for a deck chair . . . 

Ah, not this time. This was all about running 8k out and 8k back with no wriggling out of it in a well-I-could-always-do-6k-each-way-and-the-rest-when-I-get-back-to-the-car sort of way. After all, in a race you don’t get to the finish line then have to do several kilometres beyond it so I needed to take this seriously. I even carried a little bottle of isotonic water Roger had been given at the end of a race in Spain; I don’t like the stuff, but stupidly I felt quite nervous so I think it was my security blanket, really. I promised myself a very quick pause at the 5 mile /8k marker if I needed it – after all, I may well stop at a water station in the half marathon so it’s not cheating as such – and off I went. Did I do it? Well, yes, I did. I ran 10 miles, the furthest I have ever run in my life, with just the briefest of breaks at the halfway point to strip off my vest, blow my nose and have a slurp from my comfort bottle. I was so intent on keeping my pit-stop to a minimum that I didn’t even notice the message of encouragement that my coach had lovingly scrawled across the gravel path on his way through. The last mile was excruciating, pure agony as I started aching in places I’ve never ached before. Roger tells me this is quite normal and will happen in the race – that’s why the long training runs are so vital. What is strange is that I had expected to feel physically exhausted and mentally elated if I managed it . . . but in the event, the only word to describe it was ‘shell-shocked’. It all seemed a bit surreal, actually: I wanted to feel happy and joyful and bouncy but I didn’t.

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Almost at the marker: another kilometre down.

Reassurance from Roger once again: it’s a perfectly normal feeling, partly because I was tired but also because I know subconsciously that even though it was a mighty milestone, it’s still not enough. There is another 3.1 miles / 5k to find (I can’t think that’s just a Park Run because I find 5k as hard as I ever did) and a lot of work to be done before September. I’m not there yet . . . but on reflection – and after a good night’s sleep – I did manage a little smile at the fact that I’m well on my way.

So, home again, and what have we come back to? Well, the roof is shaping up nicely but new scaffolding has appeared which makes getting in and out of the house an exercise in gymnastics.

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There obviously hasn’t been a drop of rain in our absence and the garden is dried to a crisp, so emergency pot watering was the first job. I love that first look round to see what’s new, it’s incredible how much can change in just a few days. We certainly have food a-plenty and lots to come.

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There is a serious outbreak of cucumbers.

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The first aubergine.

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The length of the yellow climbing beans is ridiculous.

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We really rate the Italian ‘Costata Romanesco’ courgettes – every bit as tasty (and pretty when sliced) as the ‘Latino’ we’ve grown previously.

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I’ve forgotten exactly how many types of pepper I planted . . . but they’re on their way.

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‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes, sweet and juicy.

The squash patch is now officially out of control and all I can do is try to encourage the plants from swamping other things as they go about their business. We will definitely be playing ‘hunt the squash’ come autumn but that’s part of the fun of growing them. I can’t resist a little early peep, though . . .

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‘Crown Prince’, our absolute favourite.

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Baby butternuts (one of three possible varieties, don’t ask me which!).

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‘Guatemalan Blue’, a special heirloom seed we had from Sarah in a seed swap moment. To say this banana squash variety is thriving in Asturias would be a serious understatement; actually, it’s taking over the valley quietly . . . 

Ah, holidays are great things . . . but it’s good to be home! 🙂

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French leave

The roof is off and we’ve decided to run away! Well, escape to France for a few days anyway, and leave our trusty builders Jesús and Felix to it. It was quite a moment on Tuesday when the house went totally ‘topless’.

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. . . and there it was gone. Adios, old roof.

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On Wednesday, the serious business of reconstruction began with the two massive main beams being lifted onto the house by a crane on the back of a lorry. It’s very exciting: now at last we are starting to see how the new roof will look.

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Once the work is finished, ours will start in earnest. We’ve spent a couple of days replacing the ceiling in one bay – me painting the wooden panels, Roger putting them up and sorting the cabling – so now at least we have two lights back in the kitchen.

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My painting workshop in the shade of the kiwi: 70 panels down, 150 to go!

With the old roof timbers stacked in several piles ready to chop for the stove (we certainly won’t be cold this winter) there’s not a lot else we can do for the time being, so a few days’ holiday seems like a good idea and Jesús and Felix can crack on without us getting under feet.

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The vegetable garden is at that stage where it’s just doing its own thing i.e. it’s slightly out of control, but we will pick a pile of veg to take with us and hopefully everything will be fine left to its own devices for a few days.

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The builders have had to lower the phone line temporarily:  the cucumbers (foreground) and climbing beans (background) are planning to make good use of a new aerial support . . .

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The courgettes have completely filled their patch.

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Beautiful borlotti beans: I just love those colours!

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Of course, the squash were never going to stay tidily on their terrace.

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Sunny faces.

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A trug full of gorgeousness for dinner.

We have been enjoying fresh figs for our breakfast lately – the ones the jays and blackbirds didn’t eat – and I suspect we will be coming back to the peach harvest. That’s no problem.

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One of the things I’m planning to do in France is go for my longest run yet. There is a great track along the course of the old Mayenne railway, lightly gravelled and specially designed for walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders. It’s relatively flat, pretty shady and there are kilometre marker stones all along it so it’s easy to measure distance. My coach suggests I have a crack at 16k (10 miles): it’s a bit ahead of my training programme, but he’s right that the psychological boost would be fantastic. We’ll see how that one goes! I’ve found my post-race runs hard work this week and some stiffness in my hamstrings reminded me how much I’m missing my yoga practice. It’s impossible to do any at the moment – just take a look at my usual yoga spaces . . .

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Kitchen yoga studio

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Barn yoga studio

. . . not very conducive to rolling out my mat (not to mention the noise)! Still, I plan to get back to it in August and to try some pilates, too; it’s not something I’ve ever really done but Adrienne has loaned me some beginners’ dvds and I’ll give it a whizz to work on building core strength.

I did have a really special moment on my run yesterday. I had reached the bottom of what I always think of as ‘Christa’s Hill’ (see below) and was deliberating whether to run up it or turn down the track to return home (it’s the same distance, just different running conditions) when the decision was made for me. There, bumbling along the track towards me in broad daylight and without a care in the world, was a young badger! I have to confess to pausing for a few moments to watch its antics, it was completely oblivious and so close at one point that I could have touched it. What a truly lovely moment . . . and I had my new Spanish word of the day, too:  el tejón.

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Bumble bee in the agapanthus: not quite as exciting as a baby badger, but every bit as lovely to watch.

So, Christa’s Hill it was. Oh good. 😦 Christa is our lovely neighbour who lives 1.4.k from us and I love running past her house for two reasons. First, it is the prettiest cottage, painted a gorgeous shade of blue with a terracotta roof. Second, she has recently acquired some new overspill accommodation for her B & B guests, the coolest tent I have ever seen in the shape of a blue VW camper van. It never fails to make me smile when I see it! 🙂 Christa’s B & B However, the run home from there involves a kilometre of continuous climb that makes the Hill From Hell look like child’s play.

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The bottom of Christa’s Hill: the only way is up . . . and up . . . and up!

It’s steep  – especially at the start – and winds round several hairpins as it goes. Last year, I had to walk the whole way every time; since then I’ve worked on a walk -run strategy, just running in bursts where I can. Now I can run most of it on a good day but I still have to take a couple of recovery walks; the problem is that because of the lie of the land, it always comes at the end of a run when I’m feeling tired. However, to run all the way up without stopping is the new challenge I’ve set myself . . . and if I manage that, I really will believe in miracles!

In the meantime, it’s hasta luego to the house, garden and meadows and time for a little R & R elsewhere. A bientôt, Asturias! 🙂

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Running scared

Countdown to Lake Vyrnwy Half Marathon: 62 days to go.

We’re moving ever closer to being without a roof completely now and starting to acclimatise to life under tarpaulin. I must admit there were times last week when I wasn’t sure where the best place was to be; with new beams going up in the kitchen and slates and tiles flying off the roof, there seemed to be rubble and noise everywhere. Still, it’s getting the job done: our builders are great – so hardworking – and with any luck, we are about halfway to our lovely new roof.

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Having got the hang of the builders’ timetable and activities, it was a bit easier to keep to my running programme last week. Actually, I made up for lost time and miles by doing three long (well, long for me) runs of 9.3k, 10.4k and 13.1k. I was especially chuffed with the last one, partly as it’s the furthest I’ve ever run but mostly because I ran from home so it involved plenty of hills. In fact, 6k was notched up running up and down the Hill From Hell three times. It has come to something when being out running has been preferable to being at home – another of my coach’s ploys, I wonder?!

My fourth and final run of the week was the Luarca 5k race yesterday. This is the first Spanish race I have taken part in and it was a good one to choose. Luarca is about half an hour’s drive from here, a pretty seaside town with a working harbour. We have become quite familiar with it since moving here as it is the main centre of any business we need to do (town hall, tax office, bank, dentist, etc); it’s also a lovely friendly place to wander round and has a good Wednesday market. Roger entered the race last year but had to pull out in the first minutes because of a calf injury so this year he was hoping for better things and to continue his winning streak. For me, position and time were completely irrelevant: this was all about trying to get a grip on my race day nerves.

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Slightly nervous smile – hope this is my lucky number.  Just look at how colour co-ordinated I am in my CHAS shirt, though!

 

My race ‘career’ so far doesn’t amount to much –  two 5k Races For Life, two Park Runs, one 8k and two 10k races – but each time I have felt very nervous at the start. I’m not entirely sure why this should be as I’m not athletic or competitive so it’s not as if I’m worried about doing well; trust me, finishing on my feet is all I ever hope for. I think perhaps it’s running surrounded by other people that I find difficult as I always run alone and enjoy that quiet solitude (even when there’s a hill involved). Whatever the reason, while everyone else looks like professionals as they go through their stretches, jogs and sprints before a race, my warm up generally involves a large dose of butterflies and a desperate need to wee (several times)! Mmm, it would be good to have that under control before September!

I have to admit I didn’t feel too bad this time. The race was very typical of all those Roger has run in in Asturias – well-organised, friendly and well-supported. I don’t mind starting towards the back: as I’ve pointed out to my coach (who’s not convinced!), it means a leisurely start after the gun while I wait for the pack to move off and of course there’s no chance of getting lost if there are plenty of people in front of me. Mostly, though, it’s because all the runners around me are like me, not trying to win but running for a personal challenge . . . or just because they can. There’s a sort of back-of-the pack cameraderie which I like and this race was no exception. There was also tremendous support from people on the streets right from the word go and the shouts of ¡Venga! and ¡Ánimo! were great encouragement.

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Okay, so remind me why I’m putting myself through this?

As the race was two laps of the same course, I saw Roger twice on the way round and it was clear that there were no injury issues for him this year.

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There goes my speedy coach!

In fact, he finished ninth overall in 16:51 and won the Veteran class – no mean feat as it was a 45-55 age group this time so at 54 he certainly gave those youngsters a good run for their money. I am in awe of his running ability and speed but then, if you’re going to have a coach you might as well have one who leads by example (and as I keep telling him, he’s not doing too badly for a Grandad – even if it does mean yet another trophy for the collection!).

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Another proud podium moment.

Needless to say, he was finished in plenty of time to cheer me towards the finishing line, just the encouragement I needed for those last few metres. I even surprised myself with a burst of speed, determined not to let the clock tick over to another minute. A far bigger surprise is that at that moment I was SMILING! Oh my goodness, now that really is a first!

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I can see the finish line . . . 

So, how did I do? Well, I came 199th out of 228 runners which is much as I expected and I was 10th out of 20 ladies in my age group which was better than I imagined I could achieve. My time was 28:30 which pleased me as it’s usually over 30 minutes but the best thing was I had held those nerves more or less under control. I was very glad of the water at the finish line and the bag of goodies which included a banana, apple, chocolate wafer and a couple of buttery biscuits . . .yum! What I wasn’t expecting was a sausage sandwich and a very cold beer which I have to say really hit the spot. Muchas gracias, Luarca – what a great event. I have to admit to slightly enjoying it: in fact, I’m even considering entering another race here before The Big One – and no, it’s not just for the beer! 🙂

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Cheers!

My JustGiving page

 

 

Builders, Blankets and Bower Bird 2.

I love the fact that we live in a small and cosy open living space, more like a cabin than a house; it suits our lifestyle so well. The only problem is that when the house is full of busy builders, there is nowhere to hide! The weather has done one of its spectacular Asturian turnabouts this week and we have enjoyed brilliant blue skies, sunshine and temperatures up in the thirties so I’ve been quite happy to escape outside. I’ve been going for a run as early as possible while the air is still relatively cool, then working in the garden for as long as it has some amount of shade.

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Midday and there is just a little bit of shade left above the stone wall . . . almost time to move out of the garden.

Once the sun is up over the mountain, though, the heat builds quickly so in the afternoons I’ve set up a yarn workshop under the sunbrella and turned my attention to woolly things. (By the way, the sooty, dusty, rubbly situation is so bad in the house that I’ve been storing all my yarn projects – along with our bedding – in the car to keep them safe and clean!) I started by finishing the baby blankets, adding two more rounds of border to the Harmony Square blanket, giving it a depth of colour that finished it off beautifully.

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I love this blanket, it is such a pretty design. I’ve even found myself mulling over the possibility of making one as a double bed cover for our guest bedroom (now that’s a lovely thought – a guest bedroom . . . ). Mmm, it would be a huge project. I’ll let that one roll round my mind for a while.

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I worked 40 bands of colour in the ripple blanket; this made it the same size as the rainbow ripple blanket and also meant I only used the combinations of pink twice rather than three times. I’m trying to keep my projects gender neutral and although the pinks bring a lovely old-fashioned sweet pea feeling to the blankets, I don’t want to over-sugar them as Babi Tachwedd could well be a little boy. I did feel the border needed to be a little softer than on the rainbow blanket, so I worked a round of treble crochet in Turquoise, then a round each of double crochet in Lavender and Parma Violet. So here they are, all finished and ready to keep a precious November baby warm and snug.

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Time to  move on to a bower bird. Yippee! I had so much fun making the last one so it was pure pleasure to find Lucy’s wonderful pattern once again and get stuck in. Attic 24 Bower Bird Pattern The first decision to make was all about colour. I played around with ideas and decided all the greens and most of the blues would be perfect for the bower. (Note: the soft bluey effect of these photos is a result of everything being under the brolly, not me trying to get arty with the new camera!)

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Bearing in mind my thoughts on pink above, I felt that purples would be the best choice for the bird: the darker Violet shade for the main body teamed with Parma Violet for the wings and tail.

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This pattern is so clever: I love the way a spiral becomes a circle that becomes a hexagon.

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Actually, at this point I realised I had got so carried away in my excitement that I was using the wrong sized crochet hook, whizzing around on a 4mm hook when last time (following the pattern to the letter) I’d used 3.5mm. Never mind, let’s see how it goes; I felt far too hot to think about climbing up into the horreo to hunt out the smaller hook and starting all over again. With the final round worked in the contrasting colour, the basic body was soon done.

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Time to add a tail and beak. When I made my rainbow bower bird, the bright Citron yellow seemed the perfect compliment to the red and orange of the bird’s body but I felt it would be a bit harsh and something softer was needed with this new colour scheme. Cue a quick little foray into the back of the car and a rummage in my baskets: perhaps the Camel yarn in my Coast blanket pack would do the job?

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Underparts next, then the part I really love – adding little bits of embroidery which gives the finished bird such a lovely crafty homely feel. I stuck mostly with blues and greens, just adding a splash of Raspberry in the lazy daisy.

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Day 2 in Bird World. The weather had cooled a little, low misty clouds clung to the mountain tops and the valley echoed with the sound of the tiles coming off our roof. It was supposed to be the day when the ceiling panels (known as ‘sandwich’) went up in the house to make us snug and safe from the elements but there was a distinct lack of any sandwich delivery in sight and the roof appeared to be coming off instead. Having finished my duties as electrician’s mate (highly technical stuff on my part, turning switches on and off as required), I headed out after lunch for some more yarn therapy. Luckily, I had remembered to extricate my sewing basket from the general mayhem of piled-up-or-hidden-away stuff in the house before the builders had started so I would have the black embroidery thread I needed to make little beady French knot eyes. Unluckily, when I opened my basket it wasn’t there. Not a good time to remember it was tidied away with some woolly stuff – along with the toy stuffing I needed – in the horreo. No question of climbing up there, the path was blocked with piles of tile and slate and given the speed at which things were flying off the roof I decided maybe another activity elsewhere was a safer plan. I did manage to sneak in a couple of bonus ripples on my Coast blanket, though, while a lorry load of the long-awaited sandwich was being delivered.

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So to Day 3, which began with our two builders lowering themselves into the house through a hole in the roof like Spiderman and his sidekick. I sometimes wonder if my life can become any more surreal and it seems that it can.

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Who needs a front door?

As this was going to be Major Sandwich Day, outdoors was looking good and I enjoyed a very busy morning in the garden. The flowers are all looking so cottagey and pretty and I feel they need a lot of daily inspection! I’m really chuffed with this rather beautiful cleome.

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This is a flower I’ve admired from afar for years; they are very popular in public floral displays in France, but I’ve never grown them until now. They have gone so well from seed  I bought from Moreveg, I shall definitely be planting again next year. Anyway, back to the serious end of gardening and it was time to lift the potatoes. As Roger had cleared the path so we could store them in the horreo – which meant I could retrieve my bits and pieces – the way was clear for a bit more post-lunch bird business. First, some eyes followed by the sewing up and stuffing part: suddenly, there was my little bird!

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I love the cheerful sun that hangs above my rainbow bower bird but, as with the beak, I didn’t feel the colours would work with this project. A hanging heart seemed far more in keeping and if I used stronger shades – Violet and Raspberry – I could avoid it looking too mushy. A quick trip back to the horreo for my bag of haberdashery bits and I was delighted to find I still had some tiny lilac heart-shaped buttons I cut off an old pair of pyjamas years ago; these would make a perfect decoration in the centre of the heart and also add a bit of extra weight. At this point it occurred to me that a pair of bower birds in the right colours would make a lovely wedding gift and when I spotted a length of lace in my bits and bobs left over from making Vicky’s wedding dress, I couldn’t resist a silly moment with the camera.

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Bridal bird!

Oh go on, indulge me! It was our wedding anniversary, after all – or maybe all the dust I’ve been breathing in the last week has totally addled my brain.

It fascinates me the way projects based on the same pattern or ideas can evolve in such different ways. When it came to choosing colours for the bower (I’m going with my electric cable idea again) I found myself rapidly backtracking from all those blues and greens. Somehow this feels like a ‘less is more’ project so I’ve decided to stick to just three colours – Aster, Storm Blue and Petrol – worked in equal bands of double crochet.

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Apart from anything else, that will give me the option of using blue for flowers (and a butterfly?) and a wider choice of leaf colours when it comes to working the little enhancements.  At this point, rubble began to fly off the roof in an alarming fashion once again: time to take cover, little bird.

To be continued . . . 🙂