Thursday 31 December 2015

Knapweed ... or floral super-hero?

"Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."
said Winnie-the Pooh 

I'm completely in agreement with Pooh - especially at this time of the year when there's not a whole lot of colour around anywhere for us to enjoy. I saw this rather glorious cluster of knapweed this morning growing quietly beside the path I was following up the cliff. It called out loudly for me to stop and admire it ...

Aran beanie hat ...

I've made this beanie to match the Aran Scarf that I finished just before Christmas. The cables and central thread-of-life pattern are pretty much the same as in the scarf, save that they're simplified and knit in the round.

  It's a fairly quick, easy project. Just read on for the pattern:

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Harbour patrol ...

We'd hardly touched down when the Wonder Dog and I were drawn to the harbour. There's something irresistible about all those boats parked up, and bobbing around on the swell. I love, love, love the harbour. It's a strange, illogical thing this love affair of mine. I'm a rubbish sailor - always sea-sick, but I hanker after this place, and all these lovely boats that I have no desire to ever board and sail away on.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Belfast to Barcelona roadtrip ...

We've made it! We've arrived on the sunny Costa Brava for New Year, or Noche Vieja as Mr B's family term it.

And what a difference a year makes. Last year when we bombed down to the Costa we ran into frosty weather at home and blizzard conditions up in the mountains of the Haute Roussillon. This year we saw massive floods across North Wales and not a smidgen of the white stuff anywhere. Along the length of our journey the weather felt unseasonably warm, and now, down here on the Costa Brava, it's sunny and a balmy 18°C this morning.
Dublin Bay lighthouse in the dawn light

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Apple and salted caramel pies ...

I love traditional mince pies, but I've noticed that Emi and a clutch of his chums from school aren't that keen on old-fashioned sweet mince - so I've knocked up an apple and salted caramel combination that no one, but no one can resist, especially if you toss on a scoop of ice-cream. There's something especially delicious about the sweetness of the caramel, the slight tartness of the apple and the saltiness of the sauce that's guaranteed to have them begging for more ... .

These pies are really quick and very easy to rustle up if people drop in unexpectedly. Just read on for the recipe:

Monday 21 December 2015

Home for the holidays ...

We've made it back home to beautiful County Tyrone for the Christmas holidays. And we're so grateful to have arrived safely. We had an epic ferry crossing from Holyhead to Dublin in really rough seas, which made us feel relieved to disembark and stand on terra firma without the horizon moving around chaotically with the rise and fall of the waves.

This morning the sun shone, and we rounded up the dogs for a walk around White Ness. It's actually called the White Lough, but Emi always refers to it as White Ness in the hope that one day it'll have its very own resident monster - just like Lough Ness in Scotland. Hope springs eternal  when you're ten years old.

Thursday 17 December 2015

Osterley Park's 7 swans a-swimming ...

I'm almost there ... I've almost got everything sorted for Christmas. It's been busy, but I feel as though I'm finally cantering up the home straight. Emi's been off on his Christmas holidays for a week now, and together we've got everything sorted from last-minute presents and Christmas cards, to hair-cuts and dental appointments.

And, powered-on by this new and relaxed sense of completion, we took the Wonder Dog for a gallop round Osterley Park this morning, where we met this lovely chap:

Monday 14 December 2015

Aran scarf

It seems to have taken me forever to get this baby off the needles. Aran patterns take time with all those intricate cables and designs, but when you’re done they’re totally worth it.

I don’t use traditional weight Aran wool as it bulks up too much for my liking so I downsize to something closer to a double knitting weight. On this occasion I’ve used some wool from my stash: SMC Super Fine Merino Opera wool, which is now an obsolete product line. I must have bought it a couple of years’ ago at the Ally Pally Knitting and Stitching Show. I’d totally forgotten about it and, when I  found it squirrelled away, I decided that Aran with a few winter sparkles might work in the run-up to Christmas. I rather like how it’s turned out, and there’s a part of me that regrets not having enough left to make some sort of cardigan that would look cool over a party dress. Instead I may have to think about a sparkly beanie to co ordinate with the scarf for a dash of apr├Ęs ski chic.

I added some faux fur(ry) pompoms, also resurrected from the depths of my stash, for a slightly more decadent look, but this scarf would look really lovely with a long-tailed fringe made from the sparkly wool along both ends.

My scarf measured 137 cm/ 54" in length and was 20 cm/ 8" wide. On the aran pattern this worked out as an average tension of 41 stitches x 30 rows on a 10 cm x 10 cm swatch, and I used about 650 metres or 707 yards of wool, which translates as 4 and a bit 50g balls. 

If you’d like to make one for yourself,  just read on for the pattern.

Friday 11 December 2015

Happy Birthday ad hoc labels ...

Today my baby turned 10. Ten! He's in double figures.

And to celebrate we had a special birthday lunch at a sushi bar close to Mr B's office, and then he and Emi headed off to Brick 2015, where they appear to have passed a very happy afternoon indulging in one of their greatest shared passions ... Lego!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I've been busy wrapping Christmas presents. I ran out of parcel labels to match my wrapping paper and improvised with these:

Thursday 10 December 2015

Christmas wreath ...

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la ...

Yesterday I had a very merry morning over at Osterley Park doing a Christmas wreath workshop with the lovely folk at the National Trust. And this is what I produced:

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Popcorn and cranberry garlands ...

Gosh it's been busy over here at Talk-a-Lot Towers.

We had a trampoline party for Emi's birthday on Saturday. I can't believe that my baby is about to have his first double digits birthday - 10! Whaow!

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary. Emi's birthday is Friday and Mr B's the following Thursday. Everything seems to happen in December. The rest of the year is a little bit dull by comparison.

But somehow amidst all the other stuff that was going on I've got the tree up, decorated and illuminated with Ms. Angel on top. Emi has named her Annabeth. Not sure where that comes from, but we'll go with it for now.

By way of extra garlanding Emi and I spent a merry hour last night threading popcorn and cranberries onto a length of twine to add the finishing touch. The Wonder Dog is very keen on popcorn - so it's fifty/fifty whether this genius touch will actually last until Christmas.

If you want to make a garland like this for your own tree it's super easy-peasy. All you need to do is air-pop the popcorn so that it's not greasy. I do this in the microwave in a brown paper bag. Toss the corn in, zap it on high for a minute and a half - or until all the popping stops. Leave it overnight to sit in its bag so that it's not so brittle when you thread it. If it's fresh it'll be very crumbly, and you'll be busy with the hoover when you're done.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Cosy times ...

May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night and the road downhill all the way to your door,  runs a traditional Irish blessing that resonates with me on cosy nights at home.

When the world outside is cold and grey and dreary it's lovely to have the lights of Christmas inside to keep us going.  And I guess that need for light and warmth in the middle of the Northern hemisphere’s winter is pretty universal. In some small part it may explain why we embrace festivals like Hanukkah, Diwali and Christmas, all celebrating light and life and hope in midwinter.

Over here at Talk-a-Lot Towers we’re pretty expert at the fine art of chill-axing and letting the weather do its worst outside, but if I were to judge which of us truly excelled at taking life easy, the prize would undoubtedly have to go to … <drum roll> ... the Wonder Dog.

These days he always bags the best spot on the sofa in front of the fire, where he luxuriates in the warmth, stretching out to his full (not very extensive) length and snoring loudly. You could be forgiven for mistaking him for one of my woolly creations - a schnauzer-shaped cushion, perhaps. Moreover he never sees any reason why he ought to move out of that prime spot when anyone else wants to sit down, which often results in people sitting on him. Still he could teach us all a thing or two about our priorities: enough food, our loved ones around us and a warm bed to sleep in, what else do we really need?

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Christmas trees ... plastic or real, cut or growing ... ?

I've gone down the plastic tree route before, but I've never really liked the finished look. It's always been a bit ... well, synthetic,  and it's never provided that wonderful pine-fresh, straight-from-the-forest smell that's so much a part of the Christmas tree experience.

Yesterday the Wonder Dog and I dragged this year's Christmas tree home. It's not a huge tree as we don't have a huge amount of space in the cosy sitting room for which it's destined, but it's a living tree with its root system still connected. And the big idea is to take it outside after Christmas and plant it in the garden, where it will hopefully grow and prosper until its services are required again next Christmas.

Last year I bought a small potted tree for the kitchen. <We spend 90% of our waking hours in the kitchen so it would be madness not to make it look festive too.> The little tree grew happily in its hessian sack/ pot until after New Year, whereupon I planted it in a great big pot outside. It added a little bit of structural shape to my patio, contrasting nicely with the crazy sprawl of the geraniums and the fan-like swell of the cordylines. I put plenty of water-retaining humus in the soil and made a big effort to not let it dry out over the summer months, and here it is today, all ready to come back into the kitchen again and help us celebrate Christmas. I'll pot it down into a smaller pot as the Leviathan that it's living in now would never fit into the niche from which it has to spread its festive cheer.

Last year I had minimal needle drop from my growing tree. Whereas when I've had a cut tree - even with watering it occasionally - I've had a covering of pine needles on the carpet that's needed regular hoovering to keep things ship-shape. I've also found it easier to water a real tree than a cut one. The soil absorbs the water whereas I've had more spillage when there's only a reservoir in a dark corner at an awkward angle to pour the water into.

And then finally in those dull, grey days when all the holidays are over and you've got nothing to look forward to - other than going back to work - you don't have the hassle of dragging your tree out to be dumped and chipped with all the other trees. That task, always symbolic of the good times ending, is substituted instead with planting your tree in the garden. And that sort of thing always gets me in a positive let's get gardening it's almost springtime frame of mind, which is so much happier.

If you are minded to go down the growing tree route, think carefully about the size. If you want your tree to last for a few years it's best not to get a real whopper at the get-go. Conifers grow quickly and you'll soon find yourself scaled up to something unmanageable. Think also about handling. I've chosen a Nordman Fir, which has soft, dark green needles that won't jag the good-humour out of me when I have to replant it, and will also look rather splendid when contrasted against the other foliage outside.

All the best for now,

Bonny x