Monthly Archives

December 2008


Double Dragon


Once upon a time, long, long ago, in November, there were two tiny buds.
My creation

And look what they became – right in time for Christmas. This is the Amaryllis Double Dragon – all red and roaring and the perfect Christmas colour.

The first stem produced four enormous blooms and the second stem is taking up where they will leave off with another four.

I’ve been trying to take decent pictures of this for ages but it seems impossible to capture the velvet sheen in the very centre of the bloom, or the shot silk effect of the furled buds.

All I can do is keep checking them daily and enjoying while they last. And I’ve still got an Apple Blossom to go.

In other Christmas vegetation (and incidentally, difficult photography subjects):

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Our Christmas tree is still standing. This is impressive. We bought a Nordman fir this year as opposed to our usual blue spruce because the spruces that were left at our favourite Christmas tree centre were a bit rubbish. Nordman firs have a few crucial difference to Blue Spruces:

1, They are not as prickly. It is possible to hold onto one without needing to be wearing a coat and the oven gloves.
2, They drop very few needles.
3, Until the branches ‘drop’ it does look rather as if you’re buying a Christmas hedge not a Christmas tree.
4, Most importantly, the trunk may be significantly thicker than that the same height tree in another variety.

We have a little metal Christmas tree stand – you pop the trunk in the hole, screw in the bolts and remember to keep watering the tree and all is well. Or so you would like to think. On the Sunday that we bought the tree it came home in the car, we pulled it halfway out of the boot and went to get the tree stand to bolt it on. Slight hitch – the trunk was bigger than the stand.

And so began one of the more entertaining hour and a halves that I have spent recently as H sawed away small slivers of tree trunk to try to make it fit. As most of the cutting involved H standing in the boot of the car and me grasping the tree to myself in a semi recumbent posture to try to stabilise it we could see how entertaining we would look to anyone that passed by, and started giggling. And, with perfect comedic timing, it was at this point that our next door neighbours and around 40 of their guests returned from a relation’s 70th birthday party. In beautiful frocks, smart suits and covered with balloons, they traipsed up the drive. Of all 40 ish, only five or so made any comment at all; it was so terribly terribly British.

The story ends well as you see as H not only managed to slim the tree trunk to fit the stand, but also created a bracing system for the stand itself (which you can just see in the bottom of the picture) which apparently stops the stand legs flaying out everywhere and makes the tree stand up. The last time I studied physics I was 15 so I just say Yes Dear.

Outstanding Christmas Knitting
-One and three quarter mittens
– The foot of a sock
– A whole sock
– Most of a sock (the toe is done)
– A pair of socks

The only thing that has to be done for Christmas day itself is the foot of a sock so if I can escape from H long enough to finish it we should be OK. I was planning to finish it on the train and at work but with inescapably brilliant timing I have gone down with the office cold in impressive style – I was fine yesterday morning and by yesterday 4pm I couldn’t really string together coherent sentences – so I’m spending the day tucked up in bed to try to get rid of it before Christmas. If you need me, I’ll be the one knitting under the duvet in between naps.


Christmas? Make it so!


The British press is currently full of articles asking ‘whether it is OK to make your Christmas gifts’ and announcing that sales of ‘thrift’ and make-it-yourself books have rocketed. It’s all rather entertaining from the perspective of a long term crafter because I find it hard to envisage a Christmas or birthday in which many of my nearest and dearest are not the happy recipients of something that took time to make.

In this last week I’ve finished up a couple of things that I think I’m safe to show here. If you think that you get cold on the train in the morning and you work in Oxford then skedaddle – come back after Christmas!

For the rest of you (and Kay in particular who served as inspiration for this project):
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I fell down a little Noro shaped rabbit hole. Oops.

I asked our friend A whether he wanted anything particularly soft and woolly for Christmas and he may have mentioned more than once that he got a little chilly on the station in the morning. He is conservative in style and muted of colour so I cast around for the plain and simple but not so plain and simple that the knitter would end up in a garter stitch induced coma on Christmas eve.
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Enter Silk Garden colours 234 and 203 and the skills of Brooklyn Tweed – the scarf follows his pattern for a Noro striped scarf and the hat is Turn a Square using 203 for the main colour and 234 for the accent.
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H, who has hereto shown no interest in a scarf, is now dropping hints so I think this must be a hit.

The best bit though? I got to knit the scarf on my wonderful Peace Fleece ladybird needles – bought in Paris on our first wedding anniversary. I’m going to have to knit more of these scarves just to use the needles!
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Christmas Crafty Ideas

A little bit of magic


It is a sad truth that when in Florida I have at some point, needed a little pick me up expedition. Holly Golightly may have thought that nothing very bad could happen to you at Tiffany’s but in Orlando, nothing sad can happen to you at Disney.

My favourite part is the Boardwalk – it’s usually a lot quieter than Downtown Disney as it has fewer shops and instead it’s a wonderful promenade around the lake in a very New England style. If I ever go back I’m determined that we should stay at the Boardwalk, and not just for the hot tub in a pirate ship wreck!

This is the view from the far side all lit up for the evening:
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And we watched the fireworks from Epcot from the bridge and the pedaling piano played wonderful jazz.
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The boardwalk also plays host to a couple of sideshow magicians who, because this is Disney, are fantastic. It’s not just the way that they do the tricks, it’s the banter and showmanship that go with it. We turned up to one just as a ten year old had volunteered to help out with a multiplying bunny rabbit trick, but the star of the show was her little sister – all blond curls and blue eyes, aged maybe 3 or 4.

She sat with the other children on the deck in front of us and as the showman started his patter a little voice broke in:

“That’s my sister!” and a little while later, “I’ve got a monkey. Look at my monkey, I’m going to give it to my Dad!” and she got up to show it to the magician. Without pausing he looked at her, admired the monkey and delivered the immortal line:

“You just haven’t had enough sugar today have you sweetheart!”

All was calm until the next trick where our magician explained that the new volunteer would have to jump from the fourth story window and be caught by another eight year old. He explained how if it went wrong his hapless assistant’s insides would be outside, her arms and legs would be broken, the full blood and guts patter. And with a truly horrified expression our little blond friend hurriedly stood up and scuttled away from the point at which he was indicating, exclaiming:

“Well, I don’t wanna see that!”

You couldn’t make it up.

My second favourite Disney place is the golf course – not the big proper golf courses, but that classic staple of an Englishman’s holiday – mini golf.
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We seem to have a habit of playing mini golf at night so I have very few photos of the courses themselves but this holiday we played WinterSummerland (the summer side):

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Fantasia – which has wonderful music and a spooky cavern; and where both H and Beth lost their golf balls in the water features on more than one occasion!

And the winter side of WinterSummerland on our last afternoon. And it was here that my finest hour occurred. For a brief moment (Saturday 6 December 2008), I was on the leader board:

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Ousting Tim of Wisconsin who had entered his score of 38 only moments before. Sorry Tim.

My memorial trophy was chosen and awarded by H:

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Apparently he was struck by the resemblance to me on a real golf course!

In Christmas news, I have finished my advent calendar:

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What do you mean “But Carie, it’s December 16th” (or at least it was the day I finished it). Finished is finished and H has had great fun catching up on the days. We will gloss over the fact that I bought this panel in March (or possibly February) and concentrate instead on the need for the perfect backing fabric:

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I got this in Walmart in Florida and I love it unreservedly. I mean, what’s not to like:

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The panel itself came with cut out pockets to sew on, with box pleats between the pockets in the lines running across the tree. To finish it I cut batting and the backing fabric to roughly the same shape and put them in a sandwich of front and back facing each other and batting on the back. Once I had sewed around the edges (all bar a little turning space) using my walking foot, I cropped the edges and the corners and turned the whole thing the right way out and slip stitched the turning closed.

It has very minimal quilting, just around the outer border and the two trees for stability in a wonderful red-green variegated thread so that you can see the Christmas tree shape on the back.

The hanging loops were not part of the pattern and were simply two tubes of stash fabric with a vaguely Christmassy theme folded in half lengthways and pinned into the top edge before sewing. The only tricky thing is remembering to get the loops on the inside of the seam so that the end up on the outside of the calendar.

All in all I consider this a most successful make, even if we haven’t quite worked out where or how to hang it up!


The Carol of the Bells


But first some statistical housekeeping. This is a sock on a plane.

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It is making sure that the wings are still there.

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They were. If anyone is collecting information about knitting needles and aeroplanes I’ll add this to the mix. In the last month I flew Birmingham to Edinburgh with BMI Baby with a sock in progress on 2.5mm bamboo DPNs and a few spare DPNs loose in my handbag with the spare pens and the needle gauge. No problems with security at either end. I didn’t knit on the plane because we were a little bit too like sardines for that to be strictly comfortable.

The same kit and caboodle flew from Gatwick to Orlando and back, again no problems with security. I knit the sock you can see on the way out (and the stewards correctly identified it as a sock) and I slept on the way home. Bamboo DPNs at least do not seem to be a problem for airlines – hurray!

Now then, how about a little sunshine to brighten up those winter days? Well sadly the Sunshine State could produce nothing more than an English squib of a summer’s day the first few days we were there (cue much searching for jumpers in suitcases). Although we were staying near Orlando we weren’t much for the Disney and our first proper trip out was to a really unusual place – Bok Sanctuary, based on Iron Mountain which is the tallest ‘mountain’ in Florida.
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I say ‘mountain’ loosely because, to be honest, I hadn’t realised that we’d gone up one until I read the sign telling me. It is I believe the highest point in Florida. Florida is kind of flat. And largely below sea level if the diagrams are to be believed. Having flown in over the Kennedy Space Centre and its surrounding ponds, I believe it.

The flowers however, were beautiful and the whole garden had a very serene atmosphere.

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There were enormous grapefruit trees with a wonderful citrus scent,

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Stripy butterflies (on the bottom of the pink flower), that make you stop to wonder how on earth something chocolate and lime stripes ever hides. And then you see it on a palm tree. It works.

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We found a red nose tree.

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And the most enormous lily pads – the sort that you’re always half tempted to sit on, just to see if they could take your weight.

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The biggest attraction of all though (literally) was this:

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This is a Carillon, or rather, within this tower is a Carillon; a series of bells played by a keyboard, not unlike an organ console. Rather than using the English system of swinging the bell, with the clapper ‘loose’ within it to sound the note, the Carilloneur presses the pedals for a little clapper to hit the bell, sounding the note.

It produces beautiful, haunting melodies because the Carilloneurs play chords and tunes, rather than the peculiarly English trait of using bells to make mathematical patterns, and when we were there the lunchtime concert was all Christmas carols – it sounded like the tower was singing.

The architecture was also impressive, H was rather taken with this balcony as his college emblem is a Pelican.

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The traceries at the top, rather than simply being carved stone as they would be in England, are ceramic tile mosaics, something that could never endure the English winter, but which seems perfectly at home here. Colourful too.

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So if you feel in need of a little Christmas peace, close your eyes, smell a grapefruit, imagine you are in a garden on a soft breezy day, and listen to the bells. They have a sample here (scroll down)

The irony? The bells for this Carillon were cast by John Taylor of Loughborough, about 50 miles from where I live. In England.

Oh say can you see?


Hello. Is there anyone still out there? I’ve been away a little bit longer than intended, first a week’s holiday and then another week to adjust to being in the real, cold, wet, windy world again. Our trip to Florida had highlights and some not so high lights and I’ll try to share some of the really good things soon.

However, today could not pass without mention. Today is my Father-in-law’s birthday, and, more importantly, the day on which he received his inaugural pair of hand knitted socks (by request). After holding out for many months he finally cracked and indicated wistful glances towards H’s numerous pairs (H has given up on non-handknitted socks apart from sport).

So, what yarn should you choose for the man who has everything? A man still on holiday in Florida as we speak?
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It can only be the star spangled banner. We called at lunchtime our time today and they are officially a hit. He was planning to wear them on the golf course this afternoon.

If anyone else fancies being, well not quite patriotic, but certainly quirky, the yarn is Scholler & Stahl Socka Color in 1776 (I can’t believe that joke’s only just hit me) and it came from Web of Wool.