Making Rainbows, Singing Songs

In these difficult times, we grasp the little things that make us smile. Children everywhere are painting pictures of rainbows and putting them in a window. It’s become a lovely symbol of hope and positivity.

My cousin, who is a Crochet Queen (we were both taught to crochet by our grandmother), has just returned home to Australia after a trip to New Zealand with her partner. They had stayed longer than originally planned as it became harder to get a flight after travel restrictions to combat the spread on COVID-19 were imposed. Now safely back in Canberra and in self-isolation, she shared a post from the Just Pootling blog with a free pattern to make a crocheted rainbow – we are so glad they are back home.

A while back I saw these packs of cotton yarn in Flying Tiger and thought they’d come in useful for something, though at the time I had no idea what. It turns out that they were just perfect for this little project.

It was easy to do, with concentric circles of the rainbow colours, folded in half. You can get the pattern here, I added a loop I can use to hang it in a front window and hope it makes somebody smile when they walk past.

Earlier this evening, I enjoyed a “Pop and Prosecco” informal singing session online with The Singing Elf – over 20 of us joined the informal session, which started with a warm up and a mashup of Price Tag, Living on a Prayer, Call me Maybe, Firework, Paparazzi, and Someone Like You! We also had a music quiz and ended with a rousing rendition of Earth, Wind and Fire’s September. These are now a regular part of my Friday nights.

How has your routine changed with the lock-down?

The Ukeladies: Apart and Still Playing Together

Isn’t technology wonderful? We may have to stay at home but I’ve been trying to maintain contact with all my lovely friends – thanks to Zoom I’ve been doing this all week. Tonight my ukelele group (alias the Ukeladies) had a bit of a practice, so we belted out Eight Days a Week, Country Roads, Wagon Wheel and Sunny Afternoon. It was good to catch up.

On Sunday we had our first virtual coffee morning on Zoom, joined by other friends, including one that recently emigrated to Australia. It was 7pm rather than coffee time for her, so she had a glass of wine instead! It was interesting to see how things are going in Australia compared with here.

We also held a virtual quiz this week. Five couples took part over Zoom. Each couple set ten questions on a subject of their choice and took their turn reading them out. That way nobody got lumbered with having to think up 50 questions. Obviously you can’t score on your own round so with five teams and 50 questions, your maximum score would be 40. of course it relies on honesty, no cheating, no using Google or Alexa. It was a great laugh so we are going to do it all again next week.

So, I’ve been able to maintain my social life, despite the restrictions…..it just means I switch the computer on instead of going out! Virtual Knit and Natter anyone?

Sea Glass Mosaics

A few weeks ago I went on a mosaic course at The Amble Pin Cushion (you can read all about it here).

I realised I had a load of material that I could use for mosaic work. K, who takes the dog for long beach walks (he’s a big dog and needs a lot of exercise) is constantly beach combing and comes home with loads of sea glass, worn fragments of china, shells and pebbles. The best pieces of sea glass are those beautifully rounded translucent pebbles, but it takes years of abrasion from sand and shingle for them to get like that. Most of the pieces are newer and less sea-worn than that, with maybe just the sharp edges worn off and a slight abrasion to the surface.

The main issue here was that the glass pieces were all of different thicknesses – I tried to select flat ones of similar thickness. I drew around the old coasters I was covering and arranged the pieces on the template, leaving slight gaps in between. I used my newly purchased glass and tile cutters to make a few of the pieces fit. Most of what I had was colourless, – I wanted a green and white colour palette but had very little green glass. I raided my nail polish collection (I have a ridiculous amount of nail polish and am a bit obsessed with my nails). I painted the back of some of the glass pieces with different shades of green polish. I was really pleased with this – you could not tell the difference between the green glass, which comes in different shades of green, and the painted ones.

I painted the old coasters with white acrylic paint so the original design didn’t show through. When it was dry, I applied a thick coat of PVA glue, let it go tacky, then added another coat. When this started to dry I transferred the glass pieced and such them on the coaster – the thick glue was to allow for any differences in thickness: Thicker pieces were pressed fully into the glue, thinner ones, presser more lightly to get as uniform surface level as possible.

When the glue dried, I mixed up some grout and filled the gaps and edges with it, running a finger along each edge to neaten it. You really need to use your fingers to make sure all the crevices are filled, which is delightfully messy. Using a damp sponge, I gently removed as much grout as I could grout from the surface of the glass pieces before it dried and repeated to remove any residue after it had fully hardened.

I love my finished coaster! They are not perfectly flat, but are ideal for chunky coffee mugs (maybe less so for delicate champagne flutes!)

I’m going to try a few more and use some of the china fragments.

It’s been great to find something absorbing to do to take my mind off these troubled times. Have you been trying any new crafts and hobbies while we have to stay at home?

The Virtual Ukelele Band

Trying to keep our spirits up during these difficult times is so important and the social isolation is going to be hard, especially for those who live alone. Even when you live with your family, being with them and only them 24/7 could be a little claustrophobic.

I’ve just found out about video conferencing with Zoom. Several choirs are using this programme to interact online – you can enjoy the uplifting activity of singing and have social contact even when you are self-isolating or in quarantine from Coronavirus.. I’m planning on joining in with one of these choirs on Friday night, but then I thought we could try something with my ukulele group.

Some of us tried it tonight. It was great fun, though not perfect. When we all played together it was a bit of a cacophony! The volume on my laptop was a long way from being in the room with the others (might be worth trying headphones) and there was a slight time delay. It worked a lot better when one person led and everyone else muted themselves. That way we were each singing along to that one lead player. Tomorrow we are going to try taking turns leading songs.

There is also a 40 minute limit on meetings of more than 3 people, unless you subscribe to the premium version of Zoom.

In between tunes we unmuted and had a good catch up. Various husbands, children and dogs joined us at some points too which was nice. One of our members got a FaceTime call from her son in London in the middle of it all so she pointed her phone at the laptop camera and we all said hello.

It was so lovely to spend some time online with my friends this way. It really cheered me up. We might even use it for our book club or have a virtual coffee morning.

Have you come up with any creative ways of dealing with social isolation?

We have Frogspawn!

Spring has sprung! The frogs in the garden ponds have been busy and we have several clumps of spawn. K reckons they have been a couple of weeks later than usual this year, so I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has noticed the same.

I went for a wander round the garden today while the boys had gone out to take the dog for a walk. The primulas are flowering as are the daffodils and crocuses. The buds are swelling on my beautiful little amelanchier tree, so it will soon be covered in the prettiest star-shaped white blossom, followed by reddish foliage. I promise to post a photo when the flowers are out.

That’s one thing at least to look forward to. Everything is being cancelled as the Coronavirus measures ramp up. Our plans for a theatre visit to Edinburgh to see The Lion King is off, as is a late birthday present for my mother, to see a show at the Sage, Gateshead. I also had tickets for two shows at the recently refurbished Alnwick Playhouse. As a community venue that receives only a small proportion of its income from public funding, this much-loved local theatre has asked if those who had tickets would either waive refunds or accept a credit to be used against future purchases instead. Other theatres are doing the same. No doubt the Elbow concert we were to see next month will be off too. I hope the vibrant UK Arts Scene recovers and that the businesses threatened by this crisis survive.

Regular activities are curtailed too as unnecessary social contact is advised against. For me that means that choir, ukulele group, book club and knit and natter are stopped for the foreseeable future. Most of us make use of WhatsApp and other social media to keep in touch and I hope we can be creative about maintaining some sort of virtual activity online.

All this is against a background of no reported cases in Northumberland, though as people are being advised to self isolate if they have symptoms there may well be some affected by now. It makes the whole situation seem rather unreal.

We live in interesting times!

Are you involved in any groups that are grasping the challenge of online-only activity? I’d love to hear about what you are doing.

Blue Sky in Bamburgh

It was a glorious day today: sunny and almost warm! We headed up the coast to Bamburgh, with Son at the wheel. He’s learning to drive, so it’s a good way for him to practice.

Bamburgh is a pretty village, with plenty of pubs and cafes to visit. There is a historic church and The Grace Darling Museum. Grace was a local heroine, daughter of the lighthouse keeper on Longstone, one of the Farne Islands, just offshore here. In 1838 father and daughter famously rowed out in high seas to rescue the passengers and crew of a stricken vessel, the Forfarshire. The village is dominated by the magnificent Bamburgh Castle.

We drove along The Wynding (the lane leading to Bamburgh Golf Club), where there is car parking, and stopped at the end of the bay, by Stag Rock.

No one knows why there is a white deer painted on the rocks here – there are lots of stories. It gets a regular coat of paint to keep it looking pristine. In the distance you can see Holy Island and Lindisfarne Castle.

There are usually eider ducks swimming by the rocks here, and oystercatchers feeding. In summer the terns that nest on the Farne hunt small fish here. Occasionally you can see dolphins further out. Today’s sign of spring was the sound of skylarks soaring above the fields behind here.

Son and K took Buddy for a walk from here.They had plenty of space – Bamburgh Beach is huge and stunning.

The Farnes looked really close today.

While they walked, I knitted. I’m working on brioche wrist warmers. I couldn’t have asked for a better view.

Any more signs of spring where you are?

No Knit & Natter Today

I just had a call from Tony, the Practice Manager at Alnwick Medical Group to let me know that this afternoon’s group is cancelled. He asked me to put something on the blog.

As they haven’t received full guidelines on how the surgery should respond to latest Coronavirus guidelines it was decided to err on the side of caution and try to let everyone know not to turn up.

I did wonder if this would happen. It seems sensible to play safe. In the meantime it is up to all of us to follow the guidelines to protect ourselves and others.

It’s also important to keep a sense of perspective. There’s a lot of misinformation on social media so let’s stick to reliable sources like the NHS…and keep calm!

Hopefully normality will return before long. I’ll be staying at home practising my brioche knitting instead this afternoon.

Has the Coronavirus outbreak made you change your plans today?

Scone of the Week 12th March

It was a bright and breezy day in Northumberland when we set off today, so we decided to start by driving down to Alnmouth Beach to see the sea. it was very choppy with lots of white tops on the waves and spray blowing about, though not much surf.

The Aln estuary main channel has moved north over the winter as storms have shifted the sands. The wind had kept people away and there was only one dog walker in sight. Apologies for the marks on the car window!

We drove down the coast to nearby Warkworth. This historic village, which nestles in a bend in the River Coquet, has ruined castle and some nice pubs, cafes and shops. We decided to try Bertram’s.

The cafe is on the ground floor of a luxury B&B on the main road through the village on the right just after the bridge as you come from the north. It’s lovely inside, all duck-egg blue paintwork which looks perfect against the natural stone and scrubbed pine and it’s quite roomy inside. I loved the art on the walls, especially the pictures of hares. I took this photo of an empty table to show the decor, but it was soon occupied – the place was quite busy. They don’t take bookings. Tables are available on a first come, first served basis and a queuing system operates at busy times. It’s dog friendly too. I had to say hello to the Labrador that arrived shortly after us.

We sat at one end of a long table which was already occupied at the other end, but this wasn’t a problem as it was a very big table! Breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea are served and it’s a good menu with plenty of choice. Lunch includes hot and cold sandwiches, soups and quiche, with daily specials and preferred use of local produce. There’s a good range of cakes too…and scones!

The staff were pleasant and friendly and our scones and coffee soon arrived. Each of us was served two small cheese scones. These were at room temperature and came with a small dish of butter that was from the fridge and rather too cold to spread. The scones themselves had a good light texture but little or no cheese flavour apart from the crust. The coffee was good. Compared with other places we’ve visited, this was one of the more expensive ones. It was nicely presented and looking around at other tables all the food looked very appetising.

Bertram’s was buzzing, with plenty of atmosphere and lovely surroundings so we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

On our walk back to the car we called in at The Greenhouse – one of my favourite shops, which is situated in a prominent position on the corner as you turn off the Main Street towards the church. It sells an eclectic mixture of gifts, tableware, ornaments, mirrors and cards. There are some fascinating and beautiful items – it’s well worth a visit.

All in all, we had a thoroughly delightful trip out for Scone of the Week.

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Brioche Breakthrough

I hadn’t intended to post on the blog tonight but I can’t contain myself!

Back in January I set myself a list of knitting resolutions for the New Year. Learning how to do brioche was one of them. I’d seen so many pictures of the most gorgeous brioche knits, – those two colour ones and branching patterns are just to die for!

I’d mentioned it to a friend (who I refer to as a ninja knitter) and she actually showed me one of her brioche projects – a single colour scarf – I’d heard how squishy and cosy brioche stitch work is but when I felt that scarf I knew I’d have to try this and soon! It feels amazing! Tonight I sat down to watch some You Tube Tutorials (there are many).

I started with single colour brioche. First attempt went horribly wrong and I had to pull it out and start again. Second go went much better.

Apart from somehow acquiring a couple of extra stitches at one end, my little swatch came out ok. I love how it feels!.

That done, I thought I’d start another swatch and use two colours. This went even better at first attempt.

I love how it is reversible and it feels just as soft and squishy as the single colour version.

I’m feeling very pleased with myself and I’m so glad I had a go. The next step is to find a pattern I like and make something useful, maybe some fingerless gloves or wrist warmers?

Are there any knitting or other craft techniques that you are dying to try?

Frogs and Blogs

One of the most dramatic spring milestones is the arrival of frogs in our garden pond. They are late this year, by a couple of weeks but since yesterday the water has been seething with writhing amphibians seeking a mate. There’s no sign of frog spawn yet (just frog porn!)

In the last few days my little blog has passed a couple of milestones too: over 50 followers and 500 likes. I started blogging in November, but I’ve never written about why I started it.

Since I retired in 2015 I’ve made a point of trying to learn a new skill every year.

The first one was linked to my choir. Our musical director had brought a friend of hers to one of our sessions to run a beatboxing workshop. Beatboxing is simply making percussion sounds with your mouth. Of course unaccompanied choir music is just that – no instruments (including drums), but if you can add those rhythms vocally it can sound brilliant. If you’ve ever seen the Pitch Perfect films (which feature a lot of beatboxing) you’ll see what I mean. Anyway, I really enjoyed it and ended up doing the beatboxing part on our version of Seven Nation Army. It’s one of my favourite’s in the choir’s repertoire.

Another skill came about when I was approached by a friend for help. I’ve already blogged about my friend’s book Secrets and Guardians. Basically, She’s the creative one, I’m the computer-nerdy one and we worked together to get it published on Kindle. That meant learning all about how to format the text so it’s suitable for online publication and doing the uploading. I can now add online publishing to my new skills.

Skill number three was learning a bit about millinery, specifically how to make fascinators (hat blocking is a skill in itself). I started off doing a one-day course at The Amble Pin Cushion, in which I learnt how to work with sinnamay and made black and cream fascinator.

I decided it would nice to make some with pheasant feathers. These birds are extremely common around here. They aren’t very bright when it comes to traffic and you see as many as roadkill as you see alive…and they can do a great deal of damage to your car if you hit one. I didn’t really fancy picking dead birds off the road though. Then I had a brainwave – I asked a farmer friend (who runs a pheasant shoot on his land) what happened to the feathers after the shoot – he explained that someone comes in and plucks and draws the birds ready to go to the game dealer. I asked if he could save me a few pheasant tails. He suggested that the feathers would be better developed if I waited until the January and he’s get me some then. I’d almost forgotten about it when we saw him a while later. “I’ve got those feathers you asked for,” he said. There were two sacks full!I spent a couple of days preparing all the feathers, cleaning them, sanitising them with laundry disinfectant and drying them. I found the easiest way to dry them was to use those net bags you wash tights and socks in: put the feathers in and tumble dry on the gentlest setting. This is one of the fascinators I made. Not a great photo, but you get the idea.

Number four happened by accident in 20018 , really. When my friends told me that a ukulele class was starting in the next village and they were planning to go – I quite fancied trying that. There were instruments on loan for the first few weeks and it seemed like a great idea to do a taster session without making the commitment of having to buy my own ukulele. I have quite small hands and my wrists aren’t terribly manoeuvrable, which thwarted my attempts to play the guitar when I was in my teens. I really wanted to find out if I could manage a smaller instrument with fewer strings….and the course leader was called Barry White. I was curious!

It all worked out beautifully! I can do it! Some of the chords are rather challenging (and some are downright impossible) but it’s mostly OK. Barry White, is lovely (though not a bit like THE Barry White) and very patient with the us. We’ve now got a huge repertoire, have played a few concerts at local care homes and we always end up taking the instruments to any parties that happen and playing a few tunes. We have a good laugh.

I realised very late in the year (November) that I didn’t have a new skill for 2019 and racked my brains about what I could do quickly. I’d read a lot of blogs and was doing a lot of knitting at the time, so I set out to write primarily (though not exclusively) a knitting blog. I get very attached to the things I make and there’s always some story, whether that’s the reason I’m making that item, or where I bought the yarn. I also love where I live, here in North Northumberland, so that features in the blog a lot too. Since I started, the posts seem to be less and less about knitting, but that’s just the way it has evolved.

I have a couple of regular blog features: “Scone of the Week”, which has become a bit of a collaboration with my fellow scone-eater Mum, and “Knit and Natter Friday”. the other knitters are now quite used to assembling a display of their work for a photo to go in the blog. I was posting daily (sometimes twice a day) at the beginning, but now I’m a lot more relaxed about it and sometimes I might just post a couple of times a week.

I had forgotten just how much I enjoy writing. The brevity needed on social media just didn’t satisfy that need. I used to write articles for and edit community magazines when I was working and it was one of my favourite parts of the job.

The other thing that’s been really nice and unexpected is the feedback. I love reading comments from followers and always try to reply. Everyone is so lovely and that’s such a refreshing change from the bile that’s spouted on Facebook and Twitter. I always put links to blog posts on my social media accounts and get good feedback from that too.

It’s been a rewarding experience and I hope to keep it going throughout 2020…..and learn another new skill, which of course I’ll be able to blog about.

So that’s why I started my blog.

Fellow bloggers: why did you start yours?