Friday 30 May 2014

Messing about, ... Park Güell ... and waiting for the sun to shine ...

Every time I go out I can't help doing a quick mental inventory of the wild flowers that are in bloom over here on the Costa Brava. It amazes me how many different types of colourful blossoms I stumble upon during my daily comings and goings. The cheerful orange poppies, that bob happily in the breeze, are my favourites.
This past week we've had a pretty mixed bag weather-wise; not at all what we'd been expecting for the end of May.

There have been some sunny days, but there have also been some stormy ones with spectacular thunder and lightening, nature's very own son et lumière show, for which we've had ring-side seats.

On Tuesday evening the weather came charging down the mountain in a blaze of fury. It was the wind that caught our attention first. It came suddenly, out of nowhere, to assault the old pine tree in the garden outside, twisting the branches this way and that to the point where they seemed certain to snap. Then we noticed that the noisy seagulls had disappeared. The sky darkened, and we watched from our sitting room window as the swirling clouds came tumbling down to earth, obscuring the view and leaving an impenetrable white fog. A moment later the thunder crashed, then the lightening flashed and the heavens opened. Rivers of water cascaded down the street, the garden became a floodplain and fat, swollen rain drops battered the window panes like tiny, angry fists.

We responded by fetching some logs from the basement and lighting the fire. Cosy in front of the hearth, with the weather doing its worst outside, we watched Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. Have you seen it? She really rocked her role, and in my view she so deserved her Oscar for such a convincing performance. I absolutely believed in her character. Her stylists did a great job too. I know we're talking about a lady who'd still manage to look stunning if she were dressed in a bin liner with her face scrubbed and her hair in rollers, but she wore such chic outfits, which were then re-cycled continually as her fortunes declined. It felt like her frocks were a metaphor for what was happening inside her head.

This week they've been holding a second hand boat sale in our village. I'm not much of a one for messing around on boats; I'm a bit of a landlubber. The thing is I get horribly seasick once we start bobbing around on the waves.

If I could get over my nausea I'm sure I'd love to go boating on one of these, especially if the weather was calm, the sky was blue and the water was like a mill pond.

I'm not sure what the connection is between selling boats and donkeys, but they've also had a gang of these little chaps doing pony rides along the beach.

Meanwhile life has carried on as normal down in the harbour.

The fishermen have mended their nets.

And the folk who simply sail for the fun of it have puttered around as usual.

We had a great day out with Emi's cousins down in Barcelona.

They took us for a romp around Park Güell, which was sensational. Antoni Gaudí is one of my heroes. I read the other day in the newspaper that there's a pressure group petitioning the Vatican to have him beatified, and subsequently canonised as a new patron saint for architects.

As with all his other buildings there's a playfulness and a sense of fun in the design of Park Güell. If you ever get a chance, please go inside one of his buildings because they're as special once you're in them as they are from the outside. Gaudí really wanted people to enjoy being inside his houses. He introduced as much natural light as possible, and everything has a wholesome, organic feeling: a bit like living in some enchanted forest where life is perfect, the wind never blows too strongly and the sun never shines too hot.

Sadly we didn't have time to go inside the monumental zone as we had to go to a family barbecue. The queues for tickets were frightening, and the next time slot available at 1 p.m. was for 3:30 p.m., which would have totally scuppered our plans for the afternoon. If you plan on going it would be advisable to book your tickets online in advance.

You can get all the details here if you'd like to arrange a visit: Park Güell information

As it was, we enjoyed the rest of the park even though it was crazy-busy with people. I made a mental note to myself that we ought to revisit in the winter on a nice, clear day when there aren't so many people around.

There's also a museum about the great Gaudí, but our time constraints meant that we weren't able to get a ticket to go in for a nosey around that either.

Nevertheless we enjoyed some great views down over the city and out to sea.

And the most important part of all was for us to enjoy a day with my sister and brother-in-law, and for Emi to catch up with his lovely cousins.

Hasta la próxima,

Bonny x
As shared on Welcome to the weekend and Friday Finds

Wednesday 28 May 2014

C is for cousins ...

For little boys who don't have any brothers of their own, cousins are very important people. And for Emi his two little cousins from Barcelona are the very best people on earth ... .

We had a great time with them last Sunday in Park Güell.

So here's to cousins,

Bonny x

As shared on the Alphabet Project

Monday 26 May 2014

Cushion makeover part 4: vertically striped crochet cushion

So how do you like my clutch of cushions?

I'm quite pleased with how they've turned out: a nice combination of stripes and textures in a constrained two-way colour scheme. They're perfect for relaxing on the terrace on mornings like this when the sun forgets to shine and there's just a little bit of a nip in the air.

It's taken me a while, but I've finally finished the last one - the one with the vertical stripes over on the left of the sofa. It's been hard to find the time to crochet recently with all the little bits of nonsense that life's been chucking in my direction.

If you fancy making them you can find the patterns for the others here:

Crochet lime loopy cushion (front left hand side): Loopy cushion

Knitted horizontal striped cushion (back right hand side): Horizontal striped cushion

Crochet Astrakan cushion (front, right hand side):Astrakan cushion

As with all of the other cushion patterns that I've written about, this one is dead easy. I've worked the striped pattern on the front only, and kept the back plain double crochet so that I could bomb through it as quickly as possible.

I used Sirdar's Bonus Chunky wool for all of the cushions, worked with a 5 mm crochet hook so that the work was quite tightly woven. This one took about 150 yards of grey wool, and about 80 yards of lime wool to make.

I started with a cushion that measured 24" x 15" (61 cm x 38 cm).

How to make the front of the cushion:

This striped pattern repeats over 8 stitches, with one stitch for turning. Each stripe is made over 4 stitches. You should start by calculating the number of stitches you need to make the size of cushion you require and then fine-tune that number so that you can work it to a multiple of 8 with the single stitch for turning. It's best to do this by chaining the length that you think will work for the width of your cushion, and then checking after a couple of rows that you've got your calculation right.

I chained 73 stitches, which gave me 18 stripes (plus one stitch for turning). As always I like to knit or crochet covers slightly tight as the fabric will stretch with wear, and if you're not careful you can end up with a sagging cushion that doesn't look great: think Nora Batty's tights.

Row 1: Using the grey wool I worked a row of double crochet stitches (American single crochet stitches), starting with the second chain from the needle (72 doubles in total).

Row 2 (right side row: that is a row with the right side of the work held facing you as you crochet):  I chained 1 stitch to turn, and then worked 4 double crochets into the last 4 double crochets of the first row. With the last of those four stitches, I changed the colour of the wool by not completing the stitch with the grey wool. On the last stage of the stitch, when there were two loops remaining on the needle I drew the lime wool over the needle, and finished the stitch ending with a lime loop on my needle. Then I worked the next 3 stitches in the lime wool, and repeated the process with the grey wool on the fourth stitch.

Let me show you that fourth change-colour stitch with some step-by-step photos:

Insert the needle as normal to work a double crochet stitch ...

... wrap the wool around as normal ...

... and draw it through, so that you have 2 loops on the needle ...

... then take the new colour (the grey wool) and loop it over  ...

... and draw it through ... so that you have only one (grey) loop and you're all set to go with the new colour ...

 ... and then just carry on with the new colour until it's time to change again.

You keep going like this, working four stitches in one colour, and then four in the other until you reach the end of the row. The change-over stitches for this row are easy as the wool will naturally fall on the wrong side of the work, so you don't have to think about where it is.

Row 3: This is a wrong side row: that is a row with the wrong side of the work held facing you as you crochet. This row is a little bit trickier as you have to remember to flip your wool over so that it's carried on the wrong side. It's not a big deal, and you'll soon see that you've made a mistake if you forget. The wrong side, with all the loops of dormant wool that are being carried across, will look like this when you get going:

Anyway for row 3 you need to work one chain to turn, and then 3 double crochet stitches normally.

For the fourth double crochet stitch work insert your needle as normal ...

... throw the wool over and pull it through so that you have two loops left on the needle ...

... and then pick up the new colour wool (grey) from the bottom: do not throw it over the needle in a loop. Instead draw it through the two (lime) loops on the needle, catching it with the hook from below ...

... so that you have only one (grey) loop, and then ...

... flip the old wool (lime) over so that it's lying on the wrong side of the work, facing you. This is really important as you want the loops of dormant wool that aren't in use to be carried on the wrong side of your work. You can see in the photo below how I've pulled the lime wool towards me so that it's going to be carried on the wrong side.

And then you just carry on that like this, changing your wool colour every four stitches until you reach the end of the row.

Carry on repeating rows 2 and 3 until your work measures almost the correct length to fit your cushion. Then work one last row in plain double crochet with the colour that you used in row 1 (grey in my case).

Cast off.

How to make the back of the cushion:

For the back cast on the same number of stitches as you did for the front (73 in my case)

Work a double crochet into the second chain from the needle, and then keep on going all the way across the row (72 double crochet stitches).

Chain one to turn and work another row in double crochet.

Carry on until your work measures the desired length. Then cast off and sew the two sides together.

Ta-dah! You've made a striped cushion.

Now stand back and admire your handiwork,

Bonny x

Saturday 24 May 2014

Another mad dash through France ...

On Thursday afternoon we picked Emi up as soon as school finished for the half term holidays and headed straight for le tunnel to make our customary dash through France to get home to Spain for a week in the sunshine. Traffic on the M25 was bad. We counted three accidents along the way. Thankfully no one seemed to have been injured.

This jolly little caravan caught my eye as we zoomed past in the fast lane:

It looked like a tear drop, and was perfectly colour-co-ordinated with the car that was pulling it.

We missed our train with all the shenanigans on the motorway, but they allowed us to catch a later one and we made it to France only half an hour behind schedule.

Driving around Paris was tricky. The police seemed to have closed all the exits we wanted to take, which mixed things up a little more than we were comfortable with. It's not totally straight forward driving around the French capital in a right hand drive car, but finally we made it to our hotel in Orléans, and collapsed exhausted into bed.

The next morning we breakfasted on more of those delicious French croissants than we ought to have done, and bombed off to the south.

By lunchtime we were in the Auvergne, admiring the peaks of their now-extinct volcanoes.

We ran into some interesting weather along the way, but the great thing about heading south is that the weather blows over and, if you wait for half an hour, something else comes along.

By the time we got down to the Languedoc things had settled down a bit. The sun came come out again, and we decided that we needed an ice-cream and coffee break, so we pulled into Perpignan.

When we'd sampled the ice-cream menu we went for a stroll to stretch our legs after all those long hours in the car. Maxi seized on the opportunity to check out the locals. They seemed to be friendly.

Bonjour! Do you speak Schnauzer?
Perpignan is a lovely little city. We're always tickled to see any mention of Catalan in France. It makes me think how arbitrary some of our international borders are. This one, between France and Spain, seems to have cut the Catalan nation in half.

Perpignan, France

We discovered this little gem, which used to be the old Sea Consul's house. They told us it had been built back in the fourteenth century.

Perpignan, France

Isn't it a beauty? I have a soft spot for the original gothic.

Perpignan, France

At the other end of the spectrum we also liked the funky, modern theatre. It's great when a city has the confidence to mix things up a bit as between the old and the new, and the traditional and the avant garde.

Perpignan, France

Then we took a turn around the citadel in the middle of town.

Perpignan, France

We went for a walk down the side streets, but the rain seemed to be following us, so we cut it short and took refuge in our car.
Perpignan, France
Views of Perpignan
And then we sprinted the final stretch across the border to Spain, playing catch-up with the rainbows as we went.

Have a great weekend,

Bonny x