Monday, 26 August 2013

Bank holiday weekend

It's a three day bank holiday weekend here in the UK, and the cool rainy weather is encouraging the feeling that summer is drawing to a close.  The fact that I have to go back to work at the beginning of September is really reminding me of the end of school summer holidays in my youth.

Yesterday DH and I took advantage of a special train fare to have a day trip to Bournemouth, a large seaside resort in Dorset.  It was cold and raining when we set out, and I was really wondering if it were all going to be a disaster.  But by the time we got to Bournemouth and were walking along an almost deserted beach, it was warm enough to paddle (although I still had my fingerless mitts and fleece jacket on).  By the afternoon, after we had enjoyed a great sushi lunch and visited a historic museum/art gallery, the sun was out and thousands of people had popped out of the woodwork to crowd the beaches.  We paddled our way back along the edge of the waves and then walked up through the attractive Lower Gardens, before making our way back to the train station to come home.  It felt like a mini holiday, very relaxing.

The museum was the fantastic Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum and I've posted a few pictures on my Willowcrest blog here.

It's been a fairly quiet week.  The buyers had their survey on our house: a taciturn gimlet-eyed professional spent an hour poking into every nook and cranny, opening every single window and door and kitchen cupboard, and making me put the heating on to prove that it worked.  Hopefully the results will be satisfactory and nothing to make the buyers concerned.

I'm still going on the treadmill almost every morning.  I haven't lost any weight but I've got one of those scales that tells you what percentage of your body is fat.  According to that, my percentage of fat has dropped by 10% so hopefully that's a real result and not just the scale glitching out.  I've also been feeling more energetic.  I'm still playing Skyrim, muddling my way through the various quests and somehow managing to stay sufficiently alive.

On the crafts front this week, I got my Hawaiian applique quilt back out of the closet and did a bunch more stitching on it.  I was feeling like I'd done a lot, and spread it out upside down to see where I had stitched.  Sadly it's not even halfway yet.  Probably more like a fat third of the way.  I'm enjoying it though, I do like needleturn applique as a process, it's the faffing about getting the applique ready which I find tedious and that step is already all done.

I've had to pause on the King Cole Opium cardigan because I am definitely going to run out of yarn.  I've finished the second ball out of three and I'm only partway up the first front.  I've ordered some more balls which hopefully are going to be a sufficient colour match with the stuff I bought in Turkey to be usable.

On the long train ride to Bournemouth, I managed to sort out my Featherduster shawl and reinstate all the stitch markers after ripping out the bind off and putting it back on the needles earlier.  I started knitting another repeat to make it a bit longer.  I've done a bit of knitting on my second lacy sock, knit a few more inches on the yoke of my Harvest Moon cardigan, and got the charts set up on my iPad for the next square I am knitting for the Great American Aran Afghan.

M-i-l was here for a visit on the weekend.  I was knitting on the Opium cardigan, got bored and swapped to knitting on my Shaelyn shawl.  M-i-l observed this with wide eyes and asked with surprise if I were knitting on more than one project?  It's hard to know what to say to that, I just joked that I must have about eight projects on the go and then changed the subject quickly, guiltily aware of the big bag of knitting projects hidden behind where I was sitting on the sofa.  In my own defense, I do finish almost all of them eventually (let's not talk about the pink cabled disaster shoved in the bottom which is so old that I can't remember the name of the pattern...)

On the dollshouse front, my enabler in France, Anita, sent me a link to an online dollshouse fair (can't insert the link as the fair has now closed).  I succumbed to a few of the roundtable kits at great prices, some laser cut coffee table kits, and some printie accessorised shelf kits.  Let's hope they all get here ok without being stopped for Customs.

Hope you've all had a nice summer and are ready for it to be September.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

My son is going to Oxford!!!!

We took DS to school on Thursday morning to collect his A-level results (national exams that determine if you get into university).  I felt pretty confident that he would do well, but he outdid even my expectations with three A*s and a D3 (A equivalent).  So he has more than met the requirements of his Oxford offer and he is now Oxford bound.  He's very pleased and the family are thrilled - m-i-l burst into tears on the telephone and welled up again when she came to visit today.  We are all very proud of him.

Oxford was very quick off the mark and the very next day we got a fat packet of paperwork that took us about 2.5 hours to fill out.  DH and I are both a bit jealous reading about the many events planned during Freshers' week, and all the dinners and balls to come.  We have to buy him a Black Tie (!) outfit to wear to those, plus visit Oxford and buy him the gown, tie and mortarboard outfit that they have to wear for formal events.

It's particularly special for me when I think that I grew up on the west coast of Canada, never dreaming that I would ever even live in another country, and now my son is going to attend one of the world's oldest and most prestigious universities. Judging by my brother's children, it is now much more usual for Canadian youth to travel abroad, but when I was growing up it was quite a big deal just to telephone long distance to the United States and I don't think I even knew anyone who had been to Europe - apart from my father who had been dragged there by his parents as a teenager and hated it.

This is going to sound like a pushy mother which I don't think I am, but I also feel a bit vindicated. I knew from before DS was five that he had the potential to go far.  We championed the benefits of school choices we made,  and subject choices that DS made, defending those against family criticism and scepticism for years, and daring to utter the word 'Oxbridge' from very early on.  Many of DH's family never went to college at all, so it wasn't seen as normal behaviour for a nine year old to be studying Latin and preferring to read a book quietly in a corner rather than play football outside. But it's all paid off now and DS will have the best possible start to his adult life.

Meanwhile I have continued to lose large chunks of my life to playing Skyrim: the Elder Scrolls.  I've made it to Level 17 now and have explored much more of the map.  It is just an amazing game, although it feels more like exploring a strange land rather than playing a game.  Apart from the fact that you regularly get attacked by bandits, wolves or even dragons as you journey along.

I did finish the Carol Adams square of the GAA Afghan.  It was a pretty easy knit.  The black thread is stitched on to remind me which is the right side as the right/wrong sides are nearly identical.  I've knit six squares now - 14 to go.

I've even done a bit of dollshousing:  cutting out and assembling some printies that came in a magazine.

I found these really fiddly.  I'm not too bad at the square boxes and folios, but I can't cut a smooth circle for the hat boxes to save my life. There should have been more hatboxes, I had to discard three failed attempts. Also, my prescription seems to have changed again and I found even looking through the 'reading' portion of my bifocals, it was still a bit fuzzy trying to see exactly where the fold lines were.

I've started another new cardigan, it's a short sleeve drapey cardigan from a King Cole patter 3751, in their 'Opium' yarn which is a thick and thin slubby yarn.  I'm just hoping I have enough yarn.  I have three balls which is what the pattern specifies but I'm into my second ball already and I've only just reached the armholes on the back.

Not much happening on the house front, apart from the #?!x@ estate agent telephoning me at 2pm on Wednesday to say "Oh, I forgot to tell you but your buyers want to come round today at 4pm to measure up".  It turned out they had called him on Monday but he never told me.  Very luckily I had already hoovered that morning and started to tidy up, after feeling guilty that the house was heading downhill.  I ran around like a purposeful maniac for two hours and DS helped, so by the time they arrived it all looked pretty ok.  Just as well as they stayed for over an hour, and brought family members with them to look at the house.  But they still seem really happy with it so fingers crossed that the chain holds together.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Where to start?

Lots happened this week, so difficult to know where to start.

The big news is that late Friday afternoon, our agent phoned out of the blue to say that we had an offer on our house.  It's from a couple that saw it a few weeks ago and they have now had an offer on their house from a first time buyer so it's a short chain.  The offer is a bit lower than we were hoping for but not bad, so given their strong position we decided to accept it.

We're busy next weekend so I hastily arranged a viewing on a big period house in Northamptonshire that we've had our eye on for the next day (Saturday).  The owner was only seeing potential buyers who were under offer which is why we couldn't look at it before.  Since we were driving up there, I was also able to arrange at short notice on Saturday morning, a second viewing on a house we looked at back in June.  The latter house is the one with the fantastic views near Wellingborough that DH thinks is too isolated.

The period house was amazing, absolutely huge, central town location, and not in bad shape really but there was easily £30,000 of work needed: rewiring, new boiler, rotting sash windows, leaking roof etc.  DH was in love with all the period features but I was just feeling stressed by all the work and future maintenance requirements.  It sure would have had enough space and then some for all our hobbies, there was even a cellar for storage.  But I would be worried about security and the constant need to repair things.

We ran a bit late on that viewing so had to hustle over to the other place without time for lunch.  As we pulled into the drive I was dreading it a bit - it still looks very unattractive and plain from the outside (it's a 60s house) and I was expecting that the inside wouldn't be nearly as nice and spacious as I remembered.

However, to my relief, the inside was actually better than I remembered and the view over rolling fields from the garden is just stupendous.  The garden is almost not overlooked at all, as one neighbour is behind a high hedge, and the view just goes on for miles.  I felt an instant feeling of calm and peace when I walked out into the garden, and I sat on their deck and could have happily just have them hand me the keys and walk out the door forever and leave me to it.  Inside the house is 2800 square feet, more than twice as big as our current 1245 square feet.  There's a huge conservatory (sun room) making the most of the views, which opens onto a nice lounge with folding doors so you can be open plan.  A spacious hall with a nice staircase leads up to four bedrooms.  Two big ones at the back looking out at the view, and another good sized one at the front looking at the road which will likely be DS's room.  The fourth bedroom is smaller.  There's a fitted solid wood fancy kitchen, a big utility room, a small integral garage, and a front room which would make a nice study.  It's all done to a good standard inside, the current owners are pretty well off and haven't stinted themselves on comfort.

After an hour wandering around there and asking every question I could think of, we went away to think for a while.  We looked at a few antique and book stores while we digested, and then ended up walking around some random village while we talked it out.  I didn't want to wait until next week as another couple were hoping to offer on the house as soon as they got an offer on theirs.  DH is still concerned that the property is a bit isolated:  it's 3.6 miles from a station so awkward for me as I don't have a car, it's on the very edge of a small and not incredibly attractive village and he is just not used to walking out his front drive and seeing a country road with few houses on it [I am because that's how I grew up in Canada], and the nearest shop is at least a 20 minute walk away, perhaps 30 minutes.  Also, there are not tailor-made hobby spaces in the house, we would have to think about how we are going to use the rooms and possibly convert the garage and possibly install a garden room for my sewing room.

However, the potential is there to do that in the house because there is room, it's on at a very reasonable price (cheaper than ours) so we wouldn't need a mortgage unless we want to make improvements, we both really like the inside, and he recognises the immense value of a calm, happy and peaceful wife who likes the house very much.  I promise I did not talk him into it, I played Devil's Advocate while we worked through the pros and cons.  But in the end, we recognised that having now physically visited over a dozen houses, while I've look at probably thousands online, there is no single house in our price bracket that meets all of our criteria.There is no right decision, but we both felt really comfortable and like we were at home inside of this house, and we haven't felt that way in any of the other houses we've visited.

So we've gone for it and made an offer at the asking price and will wait to see what the owners come back with next week.  Today (Sunday) we are both feeling very nervous about having landed on one property out of all the potential properties, and we are second guessing our decision.  But I just keep thinking back to how I felt in that garden, and how nice it would be to feel like that every time I came home.

Of course, I am trying not to get too emotionally invested because of the ludicrous house buying process over here which results in one in three sales falling through.  We are determined to sell ours and get out of here, even if it means we have to rent before we are able to move into the new house.  So fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong with our chain.  In theory, if everyone involved pulls their weight and solicitors don't dawdle, we could be moving out as early as late September.  In practice, the whole process more typically takes 8-10 weeks so it could be late October.


In other news, the treadmill I ordered three weeks ago finally turned up on Friday.  This is a major investment in my own health.  Not only have I become very fat while idling away at home, but a bone density re-scan revealed  that my spine is sliding towards osteoporosis.  I need to do more weight bearing exercise, starting with regular walking.  I got this set up in the living room on Friday and have been walking a mile and a half every day.  I start slow and build up to a brisk walk that gets me breathless and hot, then slow down and cool down at the end.  I'm hoping if I do that every day I will begin to see some results. At the moment it is facing the television so I can watch TV while I'm walking.  I can also read magazines but I haven't tested whether I can knit while walking yet.  I don't see why not.  The treadmill was on sale at Argos and so far it seems really good.  DS was even using it while he played video games.

A whole new world of time suck

On the subject of video games, I have discovered a whole new world of time suck.  I've never been a gamer, apart from getting addicted to Zelda Minish Cap on my son's Gameboy back in the day.  I had picked up his console just to have a look and see what all the fuss was about, and ended up spending hundreds of hours completing quests and puzzles.  In a similar vein, DS has recently started playing Skyrim: Elder Scrolls on his neglected Xbox.  Coincidentally, I had clicked past a gaming channel on TV where they were playing the "first hour of Skyrim" and had ended up watching that programme, intrigued by the graphics.  So since DS had Skyrim all set up, one day earlier this week I thought I would turn it on and see what it was like.

OMG, since then I have lost entire mornings to the world of Skyrim.  Whereas before I would spend a few hours watching 'Homes under the Hammer' while working on my latchhook rug or my knitting, now I am spending three hour sessions exploring caves and fighting dragons.  It is a completely immersive experience and while I was completely cr*p to begin with, and am still so bad that DS is entertaining himself by sitting with me to watch me bumble around while he mocks me, I am getting better and achieving more and more.

Meanwhile my crafts have sat largely neglected.  I feel like such a hypocrite as I have wasted much time and energy over the years criticising DS for spending hours on his computer games, and now I've got hungry family members plaintively asking when dinner is going to be as I try to pick off the last bandits in the fort and claim all their gold for myself.  I don't know how far I will go in the game as you could spend weeks progressing through it (especially when you are as bad as I am) but I'm enjoying it for now - apart from when the ??@#! monsters kill my character off again, and again, and again, and again....


I have done a few things.  I finished the Morioka square for my Great American Aran Afghan.

And I've started my sixth square which is the Carol Adams square.

I've started a new cardigan from my hoarded project yarn kept out of storage.  This is the Harvest Moon cardigan by Heidi Kirrmaier which I am knitting in Debbie Bliss Rialto Aran in a light burgundy.  You knit the yoke sideways so I cast on for that in the car while we were driving up the house viewings yesterday.

I finished my Yukimi hat.  I knit the seed stitch band in doubled yarn, so it's nice and cosy over my ears.

Because of the way this yarn is dyed, I knit it in two row stripes for a blended effect.

This week is the big week, with DS getting his exam results on Thursday which will determine whether or not he is going to Oxford university.  So far he doesn't seem too nervous, so fingers crossed that it all goes ok.

And that's about it.  So excuse me, I'm off to play some more Skyrim before DS wakes up and wants to play it himself.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

If it's good news then why I am so nervous

I had my interview on Tuesday, a day which was blessedly rainy and relatively cool.  I did get rather wet on the way up to London but I'd rather be wet than suffering heatstroke.  It went fine, they asked fairly standard questions and while some of my answers could have been better, on the whole I didn't feel I'd really put my foot into anything.  I treated myself to sushi and a Krispy Kreme donut in Victoria station afterwards as a reward.

I didn't hear anything until Thursday, when they rang to offer me the job! However, the 'competitive' but unspecified salary turned out to be anything but  - it was even lower than what I was being paid when I worked in the charity sector.  So after doing a bunch of sums for what my train fare was going to cost, I wrote a very polite email turning it down, explaining why, and saying what I thought my minimum salary would have to be for it to be financially viable.

They called back Friday afternoon and agreed to match my minimum figure, so I pretty much had to say 'yes'.  On the one hand it's really good news, I need a job, and the very best thing about this is that it is three days a week so I will have a four day weekend for crafting and real life.  The commute from our current home is fairly easy, and the company and job title will look good on my CV. On the other hand, by the time I start in September I will have been out of work six months and I just hope I can justify my higher salary in their eyes.  I feel quite nervous about the whole idea and having to get on with new people and learn the ways of a new company.  At least it's not for a month so I get the rest of the summer off still.  I expect I will get used to the idea.

I finished my Topdown Icelandic Sweater early in the week, and was actually able to wear it out Tuesday morning in the rain, very unexpected when it had been in the 30s over the weekend. Due to being unhappy with the original pattern’s baggy fit, I had to do a fair bit of work with this sweater to adapt it to my desired fit. I’m fairly satisfied with the end result. It’s very comfortable. I can see from the photos that there is likely a little too much negative ease across the bust, and perhaps I should have put in another increase for the hips as it is creasing a bit across the back. The armholes from the back look a bit tight although I think they look fine from the front. The yarn worked fairly well with the design although I can see in the photos that it is already creasing a bit in the elbow as I suppose it doesn’t have as much memory as a pure wool. I’m not that thrilled with the loop closure, it means there is some gaping and I think I might have liked it better with normal bands. The one thing I really wished I had changed was that the original cast on for the neck seemed really tight, and the end result is indeed a neckline that I feel is too high and constraining. I thought it might be alright as the neckline sits open above the top loop, but I still feel like it is poking into me. The edge is fairly stiff due to the tight crochet and the additional bulk of the grosgrain ribbon, so it is a relatively stiff corner poking into my neck. But all in all, I’m fairly pleased with this jumper and I think it will be one that I will wear.

After I finished the Icelandic cardigan, I had a ball of white Drops Nepal left over and almost two full balls of turquoise.  I felt like using it up right away, so I dug around in my pattern stash to find "Organic Cotton Booties" by Bernat, "Cabled Baby Hats" by Julie Hentz, and "Simple Hat with eyelets" by Katherine Vaughan, all of which were in my Knitting Pattern a Day calendars in past years.  The booties are adorable.  I omitted the eyelets on the simple hat and threw in a few rows of contrast garter stitch.  On the Cabled Baby Hat it all got very confusing until I eventually worked out that I was reading the chart for the version which alternated cables with plain columns while looking at the picture of the version which cabled both columns.  So I've ended up with a weird hybrid but I expect the eventual baby owner won't care.

I felt like doing some sewing this week.  I started small, digging out a kit for a coin purse that I bought at Skipnorth from Lixie.  The kit has everything you need to make the purse:  frame, glue, felt interlining, inner and outer fabric, and a pattern and instructions.  I substituted my own fabric as the supplied fabric isn't really my taste, but otherwise I followed the directions.  The felt gives the purse a nice body.  I had a bit of trouble gluing the fabric into the frame neatly but overall I'm pleased with the result. (Tip: the glue wipes off the metal easily with a nail polish remover pad).  It was a fairly quick project and quite pleasing.  These would be good to make for a craft fair table, you can get purse frames fairly cheaply on eBay I think.

As we have once again had a week with no viewings, yesterday I got a bit more ambitious and brought in the folding card tables from the shed and set up to work a bit on my Stack and Whack Sarah's Stars quilt.  It's not the most ergonomic set up in the world, but at least I am sewing.

I finished the nine main hexagons, and now I am working on the mini hexagon triangles that fill the spaces in between. I love the amazing patterns you get with Stack and Whack when you've started with the right kind of fabric print.

And that's about it this week.  I have added a few increments to other projects:  the petit-point bell pull has seven acanthus leaves now (out of ten), the latchhook rug is just over halfway, I'm just finishing my fourth repeat (of five) for my Morioka square for my GAAA afghan, and I'm knitting the seed stitch band for my Yukimi hat.

On the house front, after two weeks with no viewings at all, I have now given notice to our estate agent to terminate their sole agency contract.  In another two weeks, we are bringing on a second agent who are a larger, more aggressive operation.  So hopefully having two agents will stir things up a bit and get some more viewings in.  There is one couple who have said they want to buy ours, but they haven't sold theirs yet  The longer we go without viewings, the harder it is to keep the house looking good.  But at least the rain we've been having lately has kept the new turf alive and it's starting to look fairly good now.

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