This week my walking buddy Jill (cover photo artist!) and I have made the most of being off for Christmas and headed out ‘early doors’ (she’s from Yorkshire) for a couple of welly walks. We love our walks: we put the world to rights, appreciate the scenery, stomp on icy puddles and squish our way through the muddy ones. Some weeks she is grouchy, other weeks it’s me. We test out ideas for work or catastrophise in the knowledge that we can go into the office the next day with our heads back on straight. It’s like therapy. There’s something about walking next to someone, not facing them, that allows stress and those wake-you-up-at-3am thoughts to spill out.
Some days we go further than others: round the roads to Tawney Common, or across to Toot Hill, or round past Dial House and the farm to see the cows, or the old golf course and flood meadows. Sometimes it’s the short 5k through the woods and back, or to the end of the village. Whatever, I always come back feeling better and ready to face the week.
It was a week of extremes: one day it was -4°c and the world was white. The sun was coming up in spectacular fashion, the puddles were frozen and we crackled our way down to the farm and home via the station. The plan was to check what time the light fantastic train was running that day so we could drag the kids up to Marconi Bridge to watch it go through, but they were only doing the Santa Special till after Christmas. We allowed ourselves to be seduced by the smell of frying bacon from the station cafe and indulged in a bacon roll and tea, listening to the brass quartet playing Christmas carols and watching overexcited kids waiting for Santa’s train to arrive.
The following day was much warmer so the puddles were squelchy once more (as you can see from the cover photo). That day’s route took us through the fields to the radio station (hence Marconi Bridge) and past North Weald Redoubt, finishing up at Jill’s house for tea and a rummage through boxes of craft stuff from a friend’s house clearing. I was very good and only came home with a few balls of yarn and some toy eyes. My plan this week was to try and destash some craft things from the shed, not bring home more – I did send some yarn up to Jill’s mum, and got rid of a whole lot of jewellery making stuff, which was a start.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed at least a few days off and will be grabbing the opportunity for a Boxing Day welly walk – we have A, H and the grandchild over today, but I’m looking forward to a few more walks this week.
All can now be revealed…
As it’s after Christmas I can share the gifts I made – the wall hanging was for our Dungeonmaster and his wife and I made them open it while I was there playing board games on Monday. The ‘Eira Owls’ were for their daughters. The little pigs in granny square blankets have been ridiculously popular and I ended up making more than 20 of them as Christmas ‘cards’* for colleagues and my swimming buddies, and then as requests for people who’d seen them on Facebook. They’ve gone off to Wales, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and London. I still have several to do after Christmas but I have to get two presents out in January and a couple for February first!**
(* I don’t send cards to anyone but immediate family, but donate to a charity every year instead – this year it was the Trussell Trust. I make little decorations that can be brought out year after year – I love seeing people’s photos of their trees with my work on!)
(** Yes, I am taking orders. They are £6 each plus postage!)
I hope you’ve all had a great Christmas with family and friends, that you’re all safe and warm and looking forward to 2022. By the time next week’s post appears we’ll be in a whole new year!
What I’ve been reading:
The Untold Story – Genevieve Cogman
A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (Audible)
A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler
The Toast of Time – Jodi Taylor
The Long and the Short of it – Jodi Taylor (Audible)
This time last week I was in Criccieth, North Wales with London sister (LS): we were peering out of the window at the torrential rain and howling gale and wondering what to do with our day. Luckily, having spent most of our childhood holidays in Wales, we are waterproof and hardy.
We drove up on Friday, via Abergavenny and mid-Wales: through convoy road works, diversions for road closures (including the old Severn Bridge) and finally up through the Dolgellau pass where the car in front of us burned out their clutch, the clouds were down on the road and there were free range sheep on the roadsides. We were staying at the Lion Hotel in Criccieth, where LS explained she was learning Welsh. She asked if it was OK if she practised on them and they promised to help. The hotel is family-run and so friendly, with hot showers, big breakfasts and comfortable beds. We ate in the restaurant on our first evening: whitebait and a freshly baked steak and ale pie for me, and spring rolls and gammon for her. The gammon steak was HUGE, from a local butcher, and came with egg and pineapple – none of this ‘or’ malarkey! They even had a gin menu, featuring local gins – I tried the Rhubarb and Ginger gin.
We went for a walk before dinner, as the rain had stopped and we needed to stretch our legs after the trek up from London: straight to the beach, where we watched a surfer and I got water in my wellies attempting to cross the stream. I squelched for the rest of the walk, causing LS to snigger a lot.
LS had planned our weekend itinerary, and Saturday saw us heading for Aberdaron to pick up the Wales coastal path on a route that would take us to the most westerly part of North Wales….after breakfast, of course, where we discovered that no one knows the word for ‘hash browns’ in Welsh. Google has it as ‘brown hash’ but LS decided ‘tatws wedi hashio’ was better. Not sure we convinced the waitress though!
The sun was out, and we got to Aberdaron in time to buy freshly-baked pasties from Becws Islyn for a picnic lunch on our walk. After a few false starts (getting on the wrong bit of beach, for example) we picked up the coast path and, using the trusty Ordnance Survey book, we headed up. And up. And down. And up. There are steep steps cut into the cliffs and in some cases the path takes you right down to the beach and back up again – Porth Meudwy, where the boat for Bardsey Island leaves from, is a prime example here. It’s a narrow cove with a slipway and not a lot else. The weather by this point was glorious: breezy and fine, and we even had to remove a layer of fleece.
Mynydd Mawr was our destination point: there’s a coastguard station on the very top and the remains of a wartime radar station. The walk instructions at this point were ‘keep walking upwards’: straight to the point there! After a quick peek at the coastguard station we found a spot on the cliff to eat our still-warm pasties and, as we were facing westwards, we could see Ireland in the distance as the weather was so clear. We waved at Ireland sister but we’re not sure she saw us! We moved round the mountain to drink our coffee, eat Snickers bars (the perfect walking snack) and admire Eryri (Snowdonia) in the distance.
The route back took us through some farmland – we were diverted from part of it due to landslips and erosion, and then we rejoined the coastal path back at Porth Meudwy – sadly at the bottom of the steps, so we still had to climb up again! We admired bluebells, foxgloves, late primroses and lots of gorse, and learned about the National Trust’s activity to replace the gorse with heather to create heathland. The final stretch was a scramble across the rocks at Aberdaron as we couldn’t face the final set of down and up steps: the tide was coming in but we raced the waves and rewarded ourselves with an ice cream on the beach. After nine miles of mostly hills we had earned it!
Back in Criccieth, I decided to go for a swim. LS sat on the beach with her book and a G&T. The sea was calm and the beach shelves very quickly, so you don’t need to go out very far to submerge. The hotel landlady thought I was quite mad, and now we get to say ‘o mam bach!’ instead of OMG…
We had fish and chips on the beach for dinner – quite the best I have had for a very long time – accompanied by prosecco and hovering gulls. We didn’t share.
Sunday’s weather was the complete opposite of the previous day, so we headed to Caernarfon for the family zoom call to wish Ireland sister a happy birthday, and then to Newborough Forest and Traeth Llanddwyn on Anglesey for a walk. The Forest is a red squirrel sanctuary, but we didn’t see any: I suspect they were tucked up in their drays hiding from the weather! We did see a woodpecker, two ravens and a lot of sand dunes, and made the sensible decision not to go to the island to see the chapel as we’d have been blown away. We drove back via Llyn Padarn and Llanberis, being awed by the waterfalls in full spate and the number of idiot drivers, and then in the evening we ate at Dylan’s in Criccieth: a beautiful Art Deco building designed by Clough Williams Ellis in the 1930s. No mussels were available so more whitebait, crab arancini and then crab salads.
On Monday’s homeward journey we called in to see our cousin Myfanwy and her husband in Fairbourne, where sheep roamed the streets and the bakery makes excellent brownies. It was lovely to see them – last time I met them it was in Kings Cross so the scenery was very different!
I think the kids were pleased to see me when I got back, it’s hard to tell…
The excitement continued on Wednesday as it was the monthly sunset and full moon swim at Redricks – this month was the flower moon, so there were some mad hats on display. The lake looks so pretty lit up by torches in drybags and glowtubes.
On Thursday I had my last day on site at the museum, as we had to be out on Friday for the building work to start. It looks so empty! We recycled and donated as much as we possibly could: scrap metal and wood, charity shops, the Scrap Project, schools, other museums, churches and charities. It’s going to be an adventure for the next few years to say the least!
Baby cow, do-do-do-do-doooo
A finish this week has been this cow and calf, which is probably one of the weirder things I have made – it was a commission from a friend as a gift for her sister in law, who loves all things cow.
I also frogged half my latest sock (Mulled Wine by Vicki Brown Designs) as I decided I didn’t like the solid colour I was using. I took it back to the toe and redid the foot with a self-striping yarn from West Yorkshire Spinners – Winwick Mum in the Wildflower colourway.
The year of handmade gifts
I had a brainwave a few weeks ago and made a chart of all my work colleagues’ birthdays so I can plan a bit better! I am now ahead of myself, having finished the next one and kitted up two more – one for work and one for a friend who is getting married soon.
I have also picked up the Hobbit Hole pattern again, which has been on hold while I’ve been making gifts – I was stitching in the garden yesterday, and while watching films last night.
So that’s been my week! A lot of heavy lifting, glorious walks, time with my sister, cross stitch and crochet. And it’s a bank holiday weekend too – hurray!
See you for week 63, which won’t be nearly as exciting as this week I am mostly doing spreadsheets.
What I’ve been reading:
Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure – Joanne Harris (Audible)
Attention All Shipping – Charlie Connelly
Pel is Puzzled/Pel and the Staghound – Mark Hebden
And a slightly belated Merry Christmas to you all! Our lockdown Christmas was good, despite not being able to see family. As a child this was how our Christmas always was: we would do a round of the Cardiff family on the 23rd (my late grandma’s birthday) and then we’d know Christmas could start properly. On Christmas Eve, as we got older, we’d usually go out for a meal in the evening and to midnight mass at the local church. In the morning my Grandad Bill would arrive at a ridiculously early hour – before he went back to Cardiff for Mass – then we’d have stocking presents. Later, when everyone was dressed, we’d have family presents followed by Christmas dinner in the early afternoon, and turkey sandwiches in the evening.
Since meeting my beloved my Christmas has been a bit different – we would have his older girls for a few days every other year (alternating New Year in the other years), and we’d spend Christmas Day with his mother until she passed away in late 2012. One of the older girls now has her own son, and we had planned – until Tier 4 – to spend Boxing Day with them. We’d hoped to see the other one on Christmas Day, but she was isolating as her boyfriend’s mum had tested positive for Covid a few days earlier.
Usually we’d see my London sister and her husband between Christmas and New Year as well, but we had a family Zoom on Christmas Day instead – our parents, the Irish contingent, London sister and her husband, and us. It was lovely to see them, but it’s not the same as being together.
Back to Christmas Day! Thing 2 has always been a child who likes to know what’s happening: she finds it hard to jump into new things, and prefers to sit back and watch for a while before joining in. She likes to plan how things will work on Christmas Day, as she knows there’s elements of chaos, so we were woken up on schedule at 6am to watch them open their stockings. Wisely, they also brought coffee up with them!
I love watching the children open their presents. This year we bought Thing 3 a Nintendo Switch, which he hoped for and didn’t expect. Shortly after he opened it we had a brief snow flurry, and he was so completely overwhelmed he didn’t know what to do with himself. Thing 1 had shoes that she’d wanted to spend any Christmas money on, so she wasn’t expecting to have them on Christmas Day. I like to go off-list where I can, to surprise them a bit. Life’s no fun if you know what’s in all your parcels!
So we whiled away the day quietly: everyone ate Christmas dinner and far too many Quality Street, and in the evening I broke into the Christmas cake. I have been feeding it with rum and it’s quite delicious.
On Boxing Day I went for a very chilly socially distanced swim – 5.6 degrees. If someone had said to me last year that I’d be looking forward to jumping into a freezing lake I’d have laughed at them, but my swimming gang and I have had so much joy from this newfound passion this year. Some of my Christmas Amazon voucher has been spent on a wetsuit changing bag and a new tow float, in fact.
I have also had a few good muddy walks with various friends and their dogs this week, and some outdoor coffees on the way home which have provided some much needed adult conversations!. I was supposed to meet my permitted friend this morning for a wander, but there appears to be a typhoon – or Storm Bella – in progress outside so we have decided to regroup tomorrow instead.
Over the past year I have made a series of dolls for a DM friend, one for each of his campaign characters. The last one was finished this week, as his wife’s Christmas gift, so I haven’t been able to share progress on it. This one had to have armour and wings: while I could find lots of wing patterns on Ravelry I had to go off-piste with the armour and make it up as I went along.
I have also started work on this sampler from FiddlesticksAU on Etsy: Tolkien fans will recognise the list of Hobbit mealtimes! I love the colours against the black aida fabric.
Less geeky but quite delicious was the stollen I mentioned last week – I have made two loaves so far as they disappear quite quickly!
And that’s been my week. It’s been a quiet one but I am happy to be safe and well with my little family.
What I’ve been reading:
Without the Moon – Cathi Unsworth
That Old Black Magic – Cathi Unsworth
Zero Waste Sewing – Elizabeth Haywood
The New Anchor Book of Blackwork Embroidery Stitches
I am not good at Christmas – well, I’m not good at the build up to Christmas. I am tense. I am stressed. The mere sight of a Christmas tree before December 1st turns me into the Grinch. My family – bless them – have been asking me for weeks what the children would like for Christmas. I don’t know. Ask them! Ask their father! He is good at Christmas. He has ordered presents. I have not ordered presents. I have not booked my Christmas delivery slot at Tesco (other supermarkets are available).
I have not done Christmas cards for anyone but family for the last several years – work colleagues in a normal year get a tree decoration, and I donate the cost of cards and postage to charity. This year it will be a food bank charity. Until last Sunday I was in deep denial and we ended up dashing to Tesco to buy advent calendars (which we eventually got in M&S, as everywhere else was sold out)
And don’t even get me started on that bloody elf. He could stay on the shelf for all I care, but Things Two and Three come downstairs and look for the stripy little sod every morning. The first year we had an elf, the kids went into hysterics and I had to promise to send it away. I rehomed it, but that didn’t last and their dad bought a new one in Poundland a couple of years later. I salute my neighbour who has two big elves and three baby elves, which is a whole lot of work. Luckily our elf – dubbed ‘Candycane’ by the children – just does what it says on the tin and sits on various shelves rather than getting up to twee mischief.
I am mellowing slightly, however, and Christmas lights are allowed to be put up this weekend. The tree goes up two weekends before Christmas and I am not budging on that. I have noticed that Thing Two has persuaded her dad to get their ‘bedroom tree’ down already, but I’m ignoring it. Teddy the cat was thrilled to catch his first bird as a result of this, however, and proudly dragged the fake robin downstairs to show us… he was practically strutting for the rest of the evening.
This year – of all years – I am enjoying the Christmas lights on the way to school, and one of my neighbours always goes all out to decorate their house.
There is one thing that’s guaranteed to make me feel a bit more Christmassy, luckily, and that’s a Christmas movie (Christmas music, too, but we’ll do that another day). Thing Two refused to allow us to watch any before December 1st, but now it’s open season and I can indulge. So here, in no particular order, are my favourite festive films.
1.The Muppets’ Christmas Carol. Michael Caine in possibly his greatest role ever. Excellent ghosts. Muppets. It truly has everything.
2. Scrooged. You can’t go wrong with Bill Murray in anything, and this also has one of the best Christmas theme songs ever in the shape of Al Green and Annie Lennox’s ‘Put a little love in your heart‘. It’s not Christmas till Carol Kane has thwacked Bill Murray with a toaster, frankly.
3. Miracle on 34th Street – the 1934 version is my favourite, but I am quite fond of the Richard Attenborough one too.
4. Elf – The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing out loud for all to hear.
5. It’s a Wonderful Life – my dad’s favourite. James Stewart is wonderful as the frustrated savings and loan owner whose life never goes quite to plan. He’s so human, and if anyone deserves an angel its him.
6. The Christmas Chronicles – a late entry by this Netflix original, with Kurt Russell as a great Santa. Goldie Hawn needs to lay off the Botox though. Plus, a guest appearance by Miami Steve (Steven Van Zandt). The sequel is brought down by the really naff ending.
7. The Hogfather – I reread the book every year, and although this isn’t strictly a film its still part of my Christmas watch list.
8. Arthur Christmas. Another new one, but a great voice cast.
9. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. If only for the cat.
There are others, of course, but for me its not Christmas until I have watched this lot. (For the record, yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie.)
I feel more festive already.
Lost: one (crafty) mojo
This week – quite apart from it being December – has been a bit challenging, to say the least. Thing One was already isolating after contact with a Covid case in the last week of November, and then on Monday we received an email telling us that the whole of years seven and ten now had to isolate as the number of cases had risen among both students and staff. Back to the home learning then, and I made the decision to work from home with them. While I could leave Thing One alone for a few hours in between my beloved leaving for work and me coming back, it wasn’t fair to expect her to supervise the (very determined) Thing Two. And yes, mum, I know where she gets it from!
Thing One had a great virtual parent/teacher conference this week which told me what I already knew – my daughter is brilliant – and she has worked really hard this week. One of her English tasks was to write a speech, and she spent far longer on it than the allotted lesson time as she was so passionate about her subject. She was writing about mental health; as someone who has been diagnosed with generalised anxiety, this is really important to her (and to me, as someone who lives with depression) and I am really proud that she is engaging with this in her work.
Thing Two is a different matter. She is still getting used to secondary school after six months at home, and unlike her big sister she is not a self-motivator. My work week has been punctuated by demands for assistance with geography, history, English and science (though she did at least get on with the maths by herself). The only plus was that she did the art homework she’d been resisting while avoiding her geography. I have found meetings having meetings with a bad-tempered little presence in the room quite tricky, especially as she’s a curious little bird and likes to come and see who I am talking to. Really I should invite her to the design meetings as she’s the right age and we could pick her brains!
I am tempted not to send them back for the last few days of term, to be honest: the infection rates are highest in the 11-16 age group, as secondary schools didn’t close during lockdown, and keeping them safe has to be my priority. I don’t want whatever Christmas looks like to be spent watching them for symptoms of the virus – Thing One is already fed up of me pouncing on her and feeling her head for signs of a temperature. Poor Thing Three is having to go to school still, as the girls aren’t showing any symptoms, but I suspect he likes the escape.
Having to wear the mum head and the work head at the same time is tiring, as you need to have separate brain spaces, so by the time we finish for the day and I have fed the horde crafting is the last thing on my mind. Dinner is nominally 6pm, but I am flexible as to time zone: it’s six o’clock somewhere, to paraphrase the song.
The very quick stitch I started last week is mostly a frame and some wording, very little has happened with either blanket and the sock is positively languishing in my work bag.
Sometimes when the crafty mojo vanishes it’s good to pick up something different just to get the hands moving, so I delved into my Ravelry library yesterday evening and whipped up a weeping angel amigurumi which will end up on the tree next weekend. The photos were taken on the kids’ mini tree which is lurking upstairs (yes, the one where Teddy ‘caught’ his robin).
I dragged Thing Two out for a muddy walk yesterday, through the woods to the rope swing. We tested out our new wellies, and looked for fungi and mosses. The winter sun was golden and lovely in the trees, and we followed deer tracks through the mud. There has been a lot of rain this week, so it was good to get out into the sunshine.
So that was week 37. Winter has set in with a vengeance, with sub zero temps – the lake was 5 degrees yesterday, so hopefully it won’t be too much colder this morning. We didn’t get to swim last week as the police shut it down as a ‘gathering’ despite the social distancing measures that Redricks had put in place. Is it weird to be looking forward to getting into freezing water?
See you at the end of week 38, when the tree will be up and I’ll be well into my list of festive films. Which ones have I missed out?
What I’ve been reading:
Crochet Hacking – Emma Friedlander-collins
The Dark Archive (Invisible Library) – Genevieve Cogman
Forged (Alex Verus) – Benedict Jacka
The Third Nero (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)