Sunday, 23 February 2014

World Book Night 2014

I am so delighted and honoured to hear I have been chosen as one of the Givers for this year. The purpose of World Book Night (WBN) is to encourage those who perhaps don't read for pleasure and to share the love of reading and books. On the 23rd of April 2014, 20,000 givers will gift half a million books to their new owners. The only condition of accepting a book is to agree to read it and to either keep it or pass it on as you see fit.

I participated in WBN last year and blogged about my experience here. I spent my time in an Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department and gave my books to patients, relatives and staff. It was a lovely experience for me as the books were really well received and I was particularly touched by how grateful people were. My masterplan had been not to disturb the working of the department but the nursing staff were absolutely stars and keen to help me identify suitable patients to access to offer a book to and to hear more about what WBN was all about.

There were some funny moments too. A nurse and a patient and his wife were convinced I was dispensing Bibles. On finding out I wasn't one was relieved and the other disappointed! The other funny was when I inadvertently tried to gift 'The No1 Ladies Detective Agency' book to two male CID Officers who looked completely scandalised.

This year I plan to do the same in a different A&E department. I have been lucky to get my first choice book which is .59seconds by Richard Wiseman. I thought if I were waiting in a stressful environment I'd want something short, thought provoking and possibly a conversation starter. It also fits in well with the self improvement messages so beloved of hospitals.

I can't wait till I do this again but am pragmatically glad of the delay between now and April. Right now if I lurched in with my crutch and gammy knee I'd get lobbed into triage and mistaken for one of the casualties!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Illuminated Crochet Hook Review

Thank you all for your lovely comments on my last post and here is my review of the 'light sabre' crochet hook.
It really does work and has a distinct value when working with dark yarns. I tried it with some very dark navy cotton using a pattern with different height stitches and the need to identify points where slip stiching needed to occur. At first I thought it might be too bright but this was not the case. The shaft is illuminated but not uncomfortably so and lets you see immediately if your yarn has split which is a great benefit early on in the stitch. The light forms a nice sharp beam from the tip and is great for pinpointing exactly where you are placing the hook and also for using like a small torch when checking back how many of a particular stitch you have done when your are working a pattern.
It is very light and I think it feels roughly the same weight as a 5 or 6mm aluminium hook. It comes with three tiny little battery cells and an easy on off switch. My only concern would be that an acrylic hook and plastic handle may be more fragile than a metal or bamboo hook. I am not going to snap it just for research purposes but it does seem pretty robust and the hook seems well anchored and embedded in the handle.

Just for fun, I did try some stitching with the navy yarn in the dark and yes it is entirely possible to do it, why? remains the bigger issue! If you were trying not to disturb your partner in bed while they were trying to get to sleep or at the cinema  I can only imagine the flashing movements with a small super bright LED torch might still be very annoying.

The real value of this hook, in my opinion, is with dark yarns or when sitting cosily in the evening without the need for a spotlight or increasing the general lighting when working with mid to darker yarns. It would possibly be nice to be able to purchase multiple hooks if they were interchangeable with the handle but that might lead to them feeling loose rather than the robust single unit. I don't have an idea how long the batteries will last as I'm hoping that will be some way off yet.

I bought mine in a 4mm size, as that is probably the one I use most, from Wool Warehouse and they are available from 2.5-6.5mm. There is a little video on the page and apparently, they have been featured in Simply Crochet but it doesn't say which issue. Mine cost £5.99 which I thought reasonable enough to try though when I think about it, all my aluminium and bamboo hooks together probably cost about £6 in total from ebay. However, when I 'saw the light', I had to have it!

In summary - a gadget which works, makes dark crochet much easier, the cost is reasonable if you are only purchasing one or two. I am really pleased with the quality and what this tool adds to my crochet.

I'd love to hear if anyone else has used this or if I've not answered a burning question just let me know.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Taking Crochet to the Dark Side

I read some posts recently about Zpaghetti t-shirt yarn and quite fancied making some crochet bowls out of this unusual yarn. It is made out of recycled t-shirts from the fashion industry and is used for chunky projects. I did think it rather pricey but it does come in a humungous centre pull ball.
I'm not sure how it will crochet up but I was very disappointed to see one of the joins was tenuous to put it mildly. It is not worth returning, it as I'll just sew it, but not what you expect.
While I was looking for the best price for the yarn and a 12mm crochet hook I came across an absolute 'I want' toy/gadget/gizmo crochet hook which LIGHTS UP! My excuse is that I only bought it to try it out AND I needed a non- metal 4mm hook AND to make up the order to the minimum cost for free delivery BUT I suspect we all know that none of these excuses tell the whole story.
This is a seriously bright LED which lights up the smooth snag-free clear acrylic crochet hook. It says you can crochet in the dark with it but the point of this is lost on me. Why would anyone in their right mind crochet in the dark?!?!? However, I can definitely see me using it with dark yarns in the living room as a more comfortable alternative to having the spot light on which is very hot and uncomfortably bright with prolonged use. Time will tell whether this was a wise investment or purely a gimmick but I can tell you my new yarn and light sabre crochet hook have really cheered my day up.
The light from it really pin points from the end. 
In other woolly news, I have made my first shell pattern cushion cover thanks to Annette at My Rose Valley. I found her tutorial really lovely to follow as she includes hints and the kind of things a friend would say if helping you in the brackets. 
 My other new stitch is the ripple stitch which I've learnt courtesy of the lovely Lucy at Attic24 which was another hand hold, 'sitting next to a friend' tutorial.
Both were intended to be made into cushion covers for the dining room chairs. Each one was meant to showcase a different stitch or pattern. I went a little awry with the shell one as although I kept measuring it I've somehow made it too small. It's the whole cushion measuring saga all over again! Not to worry as I now think instead of doing them in all different colours it might be better to keep them in the same colour as this will be more uniform and also showcase the different stitches better.
Still it's no loss what a friend gets, and Magic is definitely not complaining about using it as a blankie until I make it into a beanbag cushion. The colours are actually as the non cat picture earlier.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Great British Sewing Bee Review

Oh, I rather enjoyed this. I'd watched a few previous episodes but not with huge enthusiasm or engagement probably because I didn't actually 'get' proper sewing. Now that I am the proud owner of my very own sewing machine, and took the Sew Confident course with the wonderful Jenny, I actually felt very drawn into this first episode. I am clear that my abilities do not match my standards and I'm unlikely to ever wear anything I've made but I do enjoy making small things.

The contestants look like a really mixed bunch that you could warm to and the judges were a nice mix of critical but supportive. I think that is where GB Bake-Off is beginning to fail to keep my attention as Paul Hollywood seems to be so full of himself and I felt his rather biased damning of some contestants and favouring of others to be toe curling. I'm sure some of it was perhaps due to the editing but on the Sewing Bee even the criticisms were simply pointing out flaws but balancing that with praise for what had been well done. I like it when people are nice and hate to watch reality talent programmes which are based on humiliating or bear-baiting members of the public for entertainment. I much prefer seeing the pure joy of achievement in someone's eyes as that is something special.

A lovely point in the Sewing Bee was when Lynda, the lady who is deaf, 'christened' Patrick with his own sign name. I also realised afterwards she is the Mum of the Crafts from the Cwtch blogger and she'd been the originator of the nickname! A year or so ago I took a sign language course at work which I thoroughly enjoyed. Though much of what I learnt has now been forgotten I remain very attached to my sign name which is the sign for Sparkly. This was to represent my jewellery making and a corruption of part of my name which a work colleague misheard and is sometimes used as my nickname. I'm quite sure I have other nicknames at work which I don't know about (!) but at least I'll happily answer to Sparkly. It is an improvement on my last job where I was called Ducky after a place and because I am rather challenged in the height department so my bottom is much nearer the ground than it should be.

I am looking forward to the next episode of the Sewing Bee and was sorry to see Cliff exit himself from the competition. I suspect he fell before he was pushed as he didn't do well in the first two challenges but he seemed like a nice chap. There are a few who seemed to stand out for their abilities in this episode but time will tell whether they last the course as no-one scored consistently in the different challenges.

Monday, 17 February 2014

New Week

Firstly, sorry for the lack of updates and daftness from me over the last week. I haven't had a bad week as such just a not so good one and I've been reading more blogs than contributing. However I will begin to rectify this now.

Thank you to all of my new followers, readers and commenters. I have loved being part of Grow Your Blog and finding wonderful new blogs and am delighted to welcome new followers here.

The gammy knee saga continues to present problems, pain and uncertainty. The limitations and difficulties related to how little I can walk and the lack of independence, control and a fixed end point is really driving me bonkers. This week will be mainly taken up with multiple health appointments which will hopefully not be cancelled on short notice like last week, or involve significant delays like this morning. I find it very hard as I am not getting answers and the conflicting advice of weight bear, don't weight bear, push the exercises, don't push or you'll inflame the joint has left me demented.

Yesterday the boiler broke down so no heating or hot water and multiple calls to the insurer. No one could be arranged for yesterday but they offered a hotel which would have been more hassle than it was worth so we snuggled up and squabbled over shares of the hot water bottle and fleecy blankies.
 Magic claimed the James C Brett Flutterby crochet mat which is intended to become another attempt at a bean bag cushion. Although this is a synthetic yarn it feels gorgeous and hopefully I'll manage to make something that doesn't feel like a rock!
Paw over the nose is always a good heat saving position
Today the chap repaired the boiler but within 10mins it had lost pressure again and fainted. Another round of calls resulted in a part being ordered (?how long for this) but at least the insurers authorised heaters to be purchased. This was after six pm so heaters were ordered from Argos and a new service called Shutl is offered that will bring the items within 2hrs. The cost was reasonable and the hassle minimal (can you see where this is going?) so we ordered it and waited. Then 30mins before the store closed Shutl rang to say 'ever so sorry, been an error, can we deliver it tomorrow'....! Utterly useless and leaving me with minutes to arrange a taxi to go and pick the heaters up myself - hardly hassle free. Luckily the taxi driver drove like a race driver but I ended up having to pay a second time for the heaters and wait for refunds.

I know this sounds like a Victor Meldrew kind of post but it really isn't, as some nice things have also happened. I am fortunate to have wonderfully supportive people around me who make me laugh and keep me afloat and a home that is warming up nicely with the new heaters so really I have much to be grateful for. I received some lovely flowers from friends and colleagues and they have been really brightening me up.
 I should have snapped the middle bouquet much earlier as the blooms are on the way out now but I forgot at the time. 
I read a blog review that lead to me ordering a delicious sugared violet lip balm-a small treat but a favourite flavour. I have a shameful secret in that my all time favourite chocolates are Rose and Violet Creams beloved of Little Old Ladies who carry monogrammed lavender scented lace hankies.

My neighbour popped by for coffee and brought some homemade marmalade which I said I'd have for breakfast. I cracked early and had the nicest midnight snack of toast and the scrummiest marmalade I've tasted in years. That jar is so not going to last long! A benefit of blogging is that I had never even been aware this is marmalade making season. Working full time, many years doing shift work and often being a student on top of working and latterly being a carer as well living in an upstairs flat makes me ashamed to say that the subtle rhythm of seasonal changes have entirely passed me by. Reading my favourite blogs has given me a greater appreciation of seasonal aspects of life and gardening of which I was unaware or oblivious so this is something else to be grateful for.

One evening during the week as I sat down to get my crochet out I managed to knock a cup of coffee with cream all over the living room rug. This meant I had to get the carpet cleaner and steam vacuum out and start trying to get the spill out of the rug which was not easy. However, when I was cleaning and washing out both machines I realised I am lucky to have these tools and solutions at hand and when I looked down there on the floor was a tiny heart shaped water splash which made me smile.

At the end of the month my friend who lives abroad is coming home so that is something to look forward to and when I was out today I picked up a copy of Homemaker to have a read of tonight. I would have read it today but I was not sticking my arms out of the warm blanket for any reason!

So, for a bit of light relief for hanging in this long, I will leave you with a snap I'm also posting on my cat blog as well. This made me laugh for a good half a day before it was pointed out that it didn't say what I thought it did.
Apparently it says Baldi-MAUS and not Hairs!

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Scottish Question

This morning I am asking a Scottish Question of national importance and significance. Obviously, later this year there will be a referendum to determine whether Scotland remains as part of the United Kingdom or becomes a separate nation.

However, another centuries old Scottish Question quite possibly stirs even greater levels of nationalism and reaction on a visceral level and the answer has even been known to split families due to fundamental differences.

What then could be that important. Well, the critical question is 'Sugar or Salt on your Porridge'? You may well laugh, but my family was one of those with irreconcilable differences!
I took a notion to have porridge this week. For me this means the jumbo oats from Sainsburys, double cooked in a ratio of 1 part porridge to 2.5 parts of half milk and half water, served with a tiny sprinkle of caster sugar, some milk and a splash of cream.
 Quite a decadent breakfast but so, so tasty and it has really hit the spot.
Only in adulthood have I become a porridge lover. As a child ours was a salty porridge home and I can still recall how revolting it was. My Mother, and her's before her, used Scott's porage oats, water only and a giant whoosh of table salt squeezed into the pot. It was served loaded with sugar, in an effort to offset the salt, and some milk. I absolutely refused to eat it and my Mother could not even countenance considering omitting or reducing the salt. Later on when she tasted my version minus the cream she became a real fan of it but by then she was on anti-hypertensives and not allowed salt, funnily enough! However, it remains a bone of contention as to this day as she still insists mine is 'too rich', cooked with all cream (!) and that her salted version is both better AND the proper way! See, opinion actually runs that deep.

You'll note I've used two different spellings as this is another hotly contested issue of the 'proper' spelling and even manufacturers can't agree. Most nations have this food in their repertoire or a variant so for anyone who has an opinion and wishes to share their views I actually have two questions:

1. How should 'proper' porridge be made?

2. How should the word be spelt?

Red sat at the end of the sofa tasting the air and wondering if any of it might head his way.

Thursday, 6 February 2014


Well, we've done it again! Yes, the Bissell pet hair vacuum has sucked its last, its motor burnt out by......two fluffy cats and the long haired human being the main culprits. The irony of hair and fluff being its undoing is not lost on me. I took great care of that vacuum, obsessively washing out the filters etc but to no avail. I'm particularly annoyed as the belt also snapped and I bought replacements not realising the whole thing was totally gubbed.

In 2011 I wrote an insanely long and demented diatribe on my history of vacuumicide and the search for the perfect vacuum. The Roomba is still around but its charging station remains missing-in-inaction post house move and the Polti steam vac came back from the dead after I managed to flood the motor with soapy water. Actually, I'd forgotten I'd done this and brought it back into service last week so I could well have ended up with an explosive perm!

This latest search for the holy grail of housekeeping began included an additional need to find something that will not aggravate my damaged knee. I decided I wanted a vacuum and not a sweeper, I wanted cordless this time, bagless, definitely light and with the option of doing more than just flat flooring and with reliable customer service. I was going to add in world peace but I'm not the greedy type!

I read rave reviews about the Gtech Air Ram and their phenomenal customer service. I decided it would be my next cordless vacuum especially as they have now addressed the significant limitation of the Air Ram by bringing out the Multi with the necessary additional tools. It is a considered purchase i.e. expensive, but I was prepared to raid the kitty and buy both with the decider being the persuasive extras of a spare battery for the Air Ram and an extension tool for the Multi if you bought from them direct. However, when I phoned I was told bluntly if you buy them as a pair you don't get the spare battery. I emailed nicely to ask why this was the case and received an auto email to say I'd get a response in 8hrs and nothing else. I tried again, auto reply and....nothing, third time lucky I thought and same deal. So I tried calling again and finally I got an email reply that totally ignored my question. I really didn't get a feel that this was a company who were interested in my business, and their email non responses and lack of interest didn't reassure me that if either broke down I'd get a decent service.

After looking around I found a cordless 2.4kg 2-in-1 stick vacuum which converts to a handheld and, this is the thrilling bit, it has a feature that automatically dehairs the roller and brush. If this works it will  be worth the cost for that alone! I ordered it from Lakeland as, in addition to a good price and obsessive product testing, they have a fabulous no nonsense customer service and a guarantee that says if you are not happy at any time you get a refund. When my first Roomba didn't charge they sorted it quick-smart so I know this to be true. I also love that they monitor product reviews and if someone is unhappy they leave a note saying 'we're really sorry to hear this, we'll be in touch' so I reckoned they were a much safer bet for my money.

It is arriving tomorrow morning and I cant wait, how sad is that? I REALLY need to get out more!

Note: This blog contains my thoughts and experiences alone and no remuneration or incentives are received or sought.

A Year in Books: Various Pets Alive and Dead - Marina Lewyka

I was really looking forward to reading this as I've heard good reviews of it and it has been sitting in my 'to be read' pile for a while. The premise is about a hippy couple who bring their children up in a commune but they tehn grow up to reject this and live polar opposite lifestyles. The parents decide to marry much to their children's surprise and disinterest after all this time.

The dead pet refers to a squished school hamster which the sister blames the brother for. This is not a big spoiler as it happens very early on in the book.

So far, I'm not really finding that it is 'fizzing' along, or that each chapter has a 'laugh out loud' moment as promised. I'm actually finding it rather pedestrian and the characters bland if I am truthful. I started reading it a couple of weeks ago but my audiobook has been more engaging at bedtime. It's not a bad book so far and I maybe just need to get into it a bit more. Time will tell.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Saturday Silliness and some thoughts

Just some stuff that captured my attention this week.

I saw these two in a little place called The Shop of Interest which had loads of quirky handcrafted loveliness. I cannot bear to see real animals used as trophies but this pair are just so cute and no animals were harmed in the process. I've not seen 'woolidermy' done before and there would certainly be no shame in having this pair hanging on your wall.
 On the website the white one is apparently called Cordelia!
The pic below is for Ragdoll Mommy as I thought of her and her Apple addiction when I saw this shop a few doors along from the gift shop with the crochet animals. I'm a committedly Apple product free zone which offends her terribly but I thought she'd like this rather witty sign for a repair shop.
It is interesting what you see when you are not driving around and I was even the grateful recipient of the most amazing hot chocolate in CafĂ© Wander. The staff were trying out new flavour combinations and made a totally over the top hot chocolate flavoured with strawberry and topped with cream and marshmallows. Once it was made and photographed they asked if I'd like to try it. Not only did I try it but I polished it off and only good manners and a tongue that wouldn't reach to the bottom stopped me trying to lick out the mug. It was heavenly and really cheered me up as my day hadn't gone very well till then as I had quite a bit to think about and I was feeling a bit bogged down.
I can't wait until my knee allows me to get behind the wheel again as the loss of independence and flexibility is frustrating beyond belief. However, I'm resolved to find the positives as wandering slowly and looking around rarely to never happens and I'd not have spotted Cordelia and her pal or developed a longing for another of those brilliant strawberry hot chocolates. My default lifestyle setting is haring round like a demented contestant on one of those game shows where you scramble over obstacles while trying to beat the clock. So perhaps some of this period right now is a life lesson in accepting a slower pace, to stop and take stock or as a very wise person keeps telling me I need to be a 'patient patient'.
I'm grateful to those who commented on my last post about the pricing in charity shops. Clearly I am very out of touch and a revolution has occurred as they now view themselves as vendors of vintage items with prices to match this vision. This is quite a revelation to me and something that might alter how I donate to, or support. charities.
It concerns me when I hear of charities creaming off 'profits' to pay chief executives and fund expensive advertising campaigns or when donations don't actually make it to the recipients in other countries or 'rules' prevent the needy accessing the benefits. It is good if charities can command high prices as the more money that comes in will benefit more people/animals but I do still think high prices across the board must be counterproductive in keeping the stock flowing.

Magic's little shocked face when I told her about the high prices in the charity shops.