That Beach Trip

So!  What did we get up to when J’s Mum was visiting?

Well…  We spent the rest of the week enjoying the bizarrely fabulous weather, and eating and drinking way too much.  It was fantastic.  And we did go to the beach!

We made our second trip to Hunstanton in less than a month, after years of saying we should go, but never getting around to it.  The dogs adore Hunstanton; Kita in particular will run and run and run on the beach.  I don’t think she’d stop before she dropped from exhaustion.

Woody made friends with a beautiful lurcher called Henry, who was even more of a wuss than he  is!  He is normally scared of other boys, especially if they are large, or bouncy, or have a dark coat, so it was wonderful to see him be so playful.  He also got a little bit overexcited by this strange ‘sea’ thing.  Unfortunately, he didn’t quite understand that the beach can go up and down underneath all that excitingly smooth water, and scared himself silly when he ran off a shallow sand bar and found himself rapidly out of his depth!

Suffice it to say, an hour on the beach allowed us to redefine ‘dog-tired’.  Both the hounds sacked out when we got back to the car; as they dried out, little white salt-tips formed on their coats.

Bye-bye, Leylandii

One of the ‘features’ of our garden is a Leylandii ‘hedge’ along one of the borders.  For anyone who isn’t familiar with these monsters – firstly, congratulations.  Secondly, they’re a coniferous hedging plant, common in suburban gardens, presumably because they’re difficult to kill and form a tight, meshy growth that isn’t easily seen through.

Unfortunately, they are also very vigorous, and need regular attention if they’re not going to get away from you.  If they *do* overgrow, you end up with a huge, bushy, straggly and potentially very tall hedge which is only thick and green on the outside.  If you cut it back far, you will be faced with scrubby, brown, dry growth which will take forever (read: years) to green up and look nice again – if it ever does.

Our hedge was a little rambunctious when we moved in, but I managed to trim the sides back up to a height of around six to seven feet.  The plan was to take the tops off above that height and maintain them there.

As you can see, it hasn’t happened (dog included for scale):

The ‘controlled’ part is still about six feet tall; there is at least another six feet above that, now, which takes us well beyond the ‘tall hedge’ height (above which neighbours have the right, under law, to ask you to sort the damn thing out).

As you can probably imagine, we also lose a lot of depth (easily a metre, at a guess, probably more) to the thing.

There is, in fact, a path (juuust visible in the picture above) that runs alongside the hedge and which can hardly be walked thanks to the overgrowth.

Much as it pains me to cut down a tree, these are clearly beyond our control.  In addition, they don’t add much, if anything, to the ecology of our garden.  So today, we have some nice men coming in to cut them down and erect a fence in its place.  The reclaimed space will become a border, either for flowers or to house my collection of Fruit Trees In Tubs (more on those later) – or possibly for a cold frame or two, because the location and orientation is ideal.

We’re also going to have this ‘passageway’ down the side of the house cleared and the fence will continue down there:

That’s the wall of our house on the right.  The Leylandii start just outside the left hand side of this shot; that fence panel behind the elder bush is (mysteriously) the only one standing on the border.  The old shed door, on its side, stops the dogs getting down the passageway, which has a dead-end and has become a bit of a dumping ground for Things That Need To Go To The Tip.  I will be *so* glad to see it opened up!

In fact, I think the only person who will be sorry about any of this is Woody, who spends a lot of his garden-time investigating the myriad smells to be found under the hedge.  Quite often, all that can be seen of him is his tail, bottom and hind legs, sticking out from the undergrowth as he sniffs and snuffles eagerly.  Still, I’m sure he’ll cope: there’s still the back of the shed to enjoy.

More thoughts on Shipwreck

In my earlier post, I was grumbling that the Corriedale roving was too bouncy and springy to spin into a laceweight yarn – and yes, it’s definitely not ‘right’ for the yarn I had in mind.

But now… I’m thinking that the yarn I had in mind isn’t necessarily ‘right’ for Shipwreck.  Shipwreck calls for a fingering weight yarn, and lots of it; it’s a big, snuggly shawl.  I’m thinking I can spin a snuggly fingering-weight.

In fact, I did.  This is spun from the end of the roving, so semi-worsted, in about the thickness that the fibre seems to ‘want’.  I washed it fairly roughly to get it to bloom, and I love the end result (though this is one colour only, not the marl I had planned):

Only trouble is, at 30m/10g, I’d have about half the required yardage for the shawl.  (Well, not the only trouble, as a matter of fact.  The other trouble is that Woody wanted some attention too; he seems to have hurt his back or hip on yesterday’s walk, and he’s a bit sorry for himself, and extra-snuggly.  So his nose was in All The Shots this morning, poor boy).  Anyway, I might not manage to make a Shipwreck with this fibre, but I have an idea for an alternative design, drawing on some of the elements from Shipwreck, that I could use instead.

Whilst waiting for the mini-skein to dry, I started playing with some of the Shetland humbug, spinning long-draw from the fold.  Whooooo!  I’ve not done this before, at least on a wheel.   It’s a bit like spinning from rolags, except with less carding.  It’s producing light, lofty woollen singles, , and I think it might work awesomely well for the Corriedale, too.  So I’m going to do another Corriedale sample, and see what weight it comes out at and if I like the fabric.  I’ll probably even swatch.

But only once the Shetland is done.  I only have so many bobbins, after all.

The Porridge Ritual

This time of year, I mostly eat porridge for breakfast. I like it savoury, with salt rather than sugar, and I make it with water, quite thick, then top it with liquid.  For quite a few years, I topped it with soy milk.  I think this habit started because I used to eat breakfast at work, and if I kept my own milk in the work fridge it would be ‘borrowed’ – but no-one ever borrowed soy!

This year, I’ve started topping the porridge with my own, home-made yoghurt.  A little odd, perhaps, but it doesn’t have that slightly objectionable sweetness that warmed-through milk has, and it’s not made in a factory with imported soy beans, like soy milk is.  And the taste (and creamy texture!) has definitely grown on me.

Anyway, it’s safe to say that the dogs approve.  They’re not allowed to beg whilst we’re eating, but they do get to clean our plates when we’re done.   (It’s good pack-reinforcement, and acts as a really awesome pre-wash for the dishwasher.)  The waiting for the porridge-bowl is always particularly keen.

The trouble is that Kita, smart cookie that she is, wants more than her fair share.  It starts out fair and equitable, for all of about five nanoseconds:

Then she gets strategic:

The little monster has worked out that if she eats from his side of the plate first, he can’t reach her side.  (Look at that tongue trying to make it to the food!)  Having displaced Woody from his side of the plate, she can work her way back to her side, leaving only the cleaned sections behind for poor Woods.

Inevitably, he gives up and leaves her to her ill-gotten gains.

I think her eyes glow red because she’s devil-spawn,  how about you?

I make it with water, quite thick, then top it with liquidI make it with water, quite thick, then top it with liquid

A tale of two projects

The January project roundup post left me with the distinct feeling that I was going to abandon the Nightingale Wing stole, but that the Wiseheart Wool spinning was going well – if slowly.  How things can change in a few weeks.

Spinning
The colour difference issues in the spinning project have proven too great for me to continue.  If I’d spun all the singles before plying, maybe I’d have gotten away with it, but I have no storage bobbins, so I’ve been plying as I go.  (Actually, I avoid having too many bobbins, or acquiring storage bobbins, for fear of WIP-accumulation.)  The only way to *really* get this one right would have been to card everything together at the beginning.  I’m not willing to have that great a colour shift in my project; it goes agains too many of the reasons why I make things by hand in the first place.  So I had a junk-TV-and-ply-athon on Wednesday afternoon, after my kind and lovely boss sent me home from work, and plied up all the singles from the first batch of roving.

Result: just over 1000 m of light DK/heavy 4 ply yarn (14wpi), in a rather awesome heathered blue colour:

Considered objectively, I’m rather pleased with it; nice colour, pretty good spinning.  But I am disappointed that I won’t have enough for the project it was intended for.  I’m now thinking that a vest with some sort of texture – probably a knit/purl pattern rather than cables – might do it justice.  And, of course, I have a similar amount of nearly-the-same-colour fibre remaining, just in case I can’t make up my mind.

Knitting
By contrast, great progress has been made on Nightingale.  I decided that if I didn’t want an itchy mohair shawl, I wanted an itchy mohair cowl even less, and decided to just knit on it for a bit, and see.  And now, both in terms of the total number of repeats, and the available yarn, knitting on this has now reached the official half way mark.  Unblocked, it’s big enough to act as a blankie for Kita (just in case a rough-and-tumble border collie cross should need a kid mohair, lace knit blankie, you understand).

The yarn you can see remaining is the last of the second 25g ball off kid-mohair laceweight (not KidSilk Haze, and not Drift, either, though it’s similar to both).  I have two more remaining, and this photo was taken a few rows after the half way point: pretty perfect on yarn use, I think.

For some reason, this project has suddenly taken on a potato-chip quality: just one more row!  Can I make it to the end of the repeat?  Can I make it halfway?  All of a sudden, I’m seeing the bigger pattern, I’m used to the yarn and the needles, and I can work twice, if not three times, as fast as I was before.

That Dog
Incidentally, Kita has a minor obsession with being under things.  She loves to be tucked in under a cover, often with just her nose and maybe a paw sticking out:

Last night she fell asleep on the sofa beside me, and was completely unbothered by the shawl-posing-and photograping shenanigans.  Though she was a bit indignant when I took it off her again.

73) General update: the Very Bad Photos edition

Well.  My phone was fine for five days or so, then I started getting SIM card errors.  On boot up, or randomly in the middle of a conversation.  I made a not-very-convincing investigation into possible fixes, and then leapt with unseemly haste towards my local iPhone vendor.

I am starting to love the thing, but also feel that I should be doing absolutely everything with it.  I've been taking photos sporadically during the week, but it's taken me until today to get the things off the phone and onto my computer so I can document what I've been doing.  Unfortunately, I'm not yet impressed with the iPhone camera.  So!

Spinning:  This is the start of the yarn for Sandi Wisehart's Sweater KAL (available on Ravelry). I'm definitely very behind on this, as lots of people have knit up to the armholes already.  It took me a while to get the right sort of thickness for the singles – I want a DK weight 3 ply, and my fingers are now used to ultra-fine-laceweight – but I think I've got the hang of it now.

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The photo is sort of hazy and blue.  I know why this was – something was occluding the flash and flaring it onto the lens.

Dogs:  Woody doesn't approve of the current cold snap in the weather.  However, if it means he gets extra sofa time, and a blanket, he's prepared to live with it.

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He would like to point out he's not quite that yellow in real life, though.

Fibre acquisition: I bought this little lot from SpinGirl's destash – and one of the dogs (I suspect Kita) killed it as soon as it entered the house:

009 It isn't actually too badly damaged, and I was thinking of carding it anyway, so I'll let her off this time.  The exposure on this photo is about right, but it's much more pink in reality.

Then, I recently passed J's Nan's old sewing machine to a member of the Cambridge KTog knitting group – and in thanks, she gave me this lovely fibre!

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It's not really that dark.  Let's try again:

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Hmm.  Not a lot better.  The fibre – which is Corriedale – is lovely, though.  And has inspired…

A bit of fibre dyeing!  This is also Corriedale, and has dyed up to a lovely stormy grey.  This is the first time I've dyed Corriedale, and I'm impressed with how well it stands up to the process (read: no felty bits, even in this dark shade):

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Exposure and colour: not too bad.  Focus: bah.

I have more very bad iPhone photographs to share with you, but I'll save them for another post.  I'll be trying a few more times, see if I can get a consistently good acceptable photograph with the New Technology, but it might be back to my old camera if the learning curve is too steep.

29) Taking the pressure off

Wow, it's been a while.  I think my laptop has all but forgotten my login details!

In the meantime, I've been doing… not a lot.  In knitting, I've finally finished Moor, including bands and stitching down the facing.  I'm reasonably sure that's my longest running project in the last five years, which is pretty crazy for a sleeveless top.  I've also been inching my way through another Ann Hanson pattern – the Nightingale Wing stole – at the rate of about one row per day.  And that's it.

Spinning?  Some blue silk on my wheel.  But I'm yet to finish the first bobbin.

Weaving?  There has been some, but not that much, really.

Dyeing??  After my wonderful success at Textiles in Focus, don't even ask!

And other than that, my cooking mojo has all but deserted me – sourdough is now a regular habit, but I can't remember a year since leaving home when I've cooked less.  There has been some brewing activity (two batches of beer and one of wine have been started), and I've been gardening a fair bit, but in all honesty, I'm not sure where my time's been going.

One thing I do know, is that I've felt under a lot of pressure.  This post could have been titled, "What to do when the whole world looks like your to-do list," except I don't have a good answer.  Mostly, I seem to have been chasing my own tail and falling into myself in an introverted spiral.

Now, though, I think I might be waking up.  I've revisited my aims for the year:

  • Appreciate what I have;
  • Release what I don't need;
  • Keep up with the obligations I have taken on;
  • Be more aware of what I am achieving.

And I've been thinking about what they mean.  To mix it up a bit, I'm releasing some obligations I really don't need, and I'm trying to work on understanding that I don't have to overshoot every target; that it is worth doing a little bit of everything, to let go of the perfectionism I tend (just occasionally!) to lapse into.  Concentrating on relaxing

Now, I feel a bit like a flower emerging from a bud – unfurling, unwrapping, sighing in relief at the release of pressure.  Petals being teased out and ruffled by the wind, and a sense of ease being allowed to creep in to my life.

I'm starting to give myself permission to sit on the sofa and knit for a whole evening again.  I'm not sure when, but that's stopped being a nightly scenario and now feels unspeakably lazy and self-indulgent.  I think the fact that I'm blogging is itself a good sign – its too easy, when you've taken a break, to feel you have to catch up with the backlog of things you 'should' have been writing about.  Maybe I will catch up on some of those – but I won't make myself.

Besides, it's kinda hard to stress when Woody is sharing your sofa:

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25) How can this possibly work?

I've just read a news article which states that legislation is being passed so that it will be compulsory for all dogs in the UK to be microchipped, and that it will be mandatory for all dog owners to pay a 'third party' kind of insurance so that victims of dog attacks can be compensated.  The online BBC article (FWIW, this isn't the first article I read on the subject) states, specifically, that "Ministers say the consultation responds to concerns about the use of animals to intimidate or threaten people."

How??

How is this going to make any difference to the kinds of people that keep dogs as 'weapons'?  I can just see them queueing up to get their dogs insured and microchipped – right next to the stand where they can hand in their illegal guns and knives.

How is this going to be enforced?  They can't even make sure that all cars on the roads are insured, and I'm damn sure that they're not going to hang a registration plate off of my dogs' butts.  Also, cars don't breed.

Is it the responsibility of the bitch's owner to get the puppies chipped before they are sold?  Or the responsibility of the new owner?  At a minimum of £10 per dog, let's say 8 pups in a litter, might we not just see a lot more drowned puppies?

Speaking of – well, disposal.  Unwanted dogs are often dumped or abandoned.  But at least they are left alive.  Quite a lot are at least left, anonymously, at rescue centres.  Sad, but better than healthy dogs being killed, legally or otherwise.  Under these new rules, the owner of a dumped dog could be traced – will they be forced to take the dog back?  Or to pay for its rehoming?  If they can't afford to keep the dog, will it live?  Or will they attempt to remove the chip before dumping the dog?  Racing greyhounds have ear tattoos, so they can be permanently traced.  Unscrupulous owners who want to dispose of their dogs' corpses simply cut their ears off.  (For heaven's sake, don't Google that unless you want a really upsetting day.  It only gets worse).  Will people cut out  subcutaneous microchips, too?

The whole thing just seems crazy.  I can imagine random spot-checks from the police, wielding hand-held scanners ("Excuse me, sir, can I just scan your dog?").  Except microchips can move; I know one dog whose chip has migrated from between the shoulderblades (where it is implanted) to the skin under its throat, just by 'floating' between the tissue layers.  Are all police going to be trained in dog-scanning?  I don't want to have to go down the station on a Tuesday morning because I was walking the dogs and the local copper couldn't find a chip – I need to get to work!

What will happen to the insurance premium for a dog who was 'accused' of an attack?  What will happen to a dog who is suddenly a lot more expensive?  Should we really be able to demand that sort of compensation because we weren't watching the kid and it was taunting an elderly, arthritic terrier who had finally had enough? (One of my brothers got bitten in those circumstances.  Not badly, and no-one held any bad feelings, but if personalities had been otherwise, there could have been a very different outcome).

And whereas I agree that posties, milkmen and others who have to work on private property should be safe to carry out their business, I can't *wait* for the first burglar to demand destruction of a dog under the new 'on private property' section of the Dangerous Dogs Act.

I am all in favour of microchips.  And insurance.  Both my dogs are chipped and insured, for their protection and my peace of mind.  If they're ever lost, a chip greatly increases the chances they'll find their way back to me.  But I chose to do it.  It is my interpretation of what is good, and right, and it is all, ultimately, for the good of the dogs.

Making it illegal not to chip your dog will just add to the list of things that criminals do (or don't do).  Forcing someone to chip their dog will not increase its welfare.  I can't imagine anyone chipping a fight dog, can you?

The cruel, the vicious, the scofflaws will do what they always do, and keep it underground.

Ultimately, there is no legislation on this planet that can implant a social conscience into an individual.  Attempting to do so only makes life harder for those who follow the rules anyway.

21) Absenteeism

…just popping my head in to say I'm still here, just feeling rather quiet!  I had an absolute *blast* at Textiles in Focus last weekend, but I'm not a natural extrovert.  I love the company of other people, and all that enthusiasm, but after three solid days of it…  well, I just feel like curling up alone for a bit!

I've been working on my Sweet Georgia shetland roving, and it's all plied – yayy!!!  I'm just about to wind off the remainder and see how much I have, in total.  Then it's wash and whack, and it'll be ready to cast on for Scotch Thistle, whenever Moor is done.

Other than that, I have emails to answer, work to do, accounts to see to.  And mostly, what I want to do is snooze.  Normal service will resume shortly…

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3) Zzzz…

It's the end of my first week back at work, and I am so, so tired!  I feel like I could sleep the whole weekend away, but that wouldn't be any fun, now, would it??

Speaking of sleeping, these guys are the experts:

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And very versatile, too, it seems.  They can sleep with noses covered:

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Or uncovered:

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Curled up tight:

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Or… not:

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Woody has even mastered the very tricky tongue-out technique:

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(though the flash has been known to wake him up):

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As well as tail-over-the-nose:

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And even, amazingly, hind-paw-over-the-nose (yess, well done Woody, but why??):

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Gravity holds no fears for these brave hounds:

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And, indeed, can help contribute to a free-draining position for those with sinus difficulties:

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Though sometimes it is nice to prop your head up for a while:

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Pillows are generally approved of in the house:

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Blankets will do, if nothing els
e is available:

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but most hounds will always head for the biggest, softest pile of squishness they can find:

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It's safe to say, though, that everyone's favourite pillow is human-shaped!

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…and so, with this snooze-themed post, we come to the end of my self-imposed alphabet challenge.  And I'm glad.

It's taken me two months, one week to work my way through, averaging one post every 2.5 days.  That's better than my 2009-year-average of one post every 3.45 days, but most of the extra posts were in November.  Once I gave up trying to finish it in a month, it made things harder instead of easier, and I stalled.  It's going to be nice just to be able to post what's on my mind again, without having to fit it around the next letter…