Friday, 31 December 2010

Final FOs of 2010

The week before Christmas I finished this -



Pattern: I made it up. It is based on the Santa hat Penny wears in an episode of Big Bang Theory. There were a few patterns out there but I wasn't satisfied with any of them, mainly because they were knit with worsted and I was convinced hers was bulky.
Yarn: Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Bulky for the cream, and Rice Essentials Soft Merino Aran, held double, for the red - a few yards short of 2 balls. I spent a long time dithering over which the perfect red would be and in the end this one was the winner.
Needle: 6mm

I have had lots of compliments on it, and was pleased I managed to finish it before the end of term so I got a full week of festive wear out of it. I did cheat and cut the bobbles off a scarf to stitch on so that I could save time, but oh well.
I see myself having another crack at this - I have plenty of yarn. I'd go down a needle size for the ribbing and kitchener the top properly next time, my attempt on this one looks rubbish, I think.
It may be difficult to recreate because I didn't write anything down except the number of stitches I cast on...but oh well.

This has been my holiday project -



Pattern: Evangeline (Rav link)
Yarn: Malabrigo worsted, 56g
Needle: 4.5mm
Mods: I knitted 6 pattern repeats, which isn't really a mod. I also did the thumbs using the EZ afterthought method, instead of binding off and picking up.

These are for Sib's girlfriend, who I think likes red, and who smokes, so she will like fingerless gloves, I think.

I am hoping to finish at least one sleeve of the Cherie Amour sweater before term starts again on Tuesday, but it really depends on whether I can force myself off the computer and onto some marking today...

Happy New Year, everyone!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Tuesday Ten

Ten Gifts of Christmas

1. A red and white spotty scarf, from a secret swap on a favourite forum. It may be my favourite scarf ever.

2. Kettlebells! From Mother Hand. I have to choose which weights I want.

3. A pretty handmade notebook with a cupcake on it, from Aliboo.

4. A set of colourful mini spoons from Parpy Jo. I want to call them runcible spoons, though I know it's wrong.

5. Chocolates, chocolates and more chocolates, from a variety of people.

6. A cat-shaped polka dot doorstop, from Twitter Secret Santa. I was bemused to start with, until I remembered we keep the bedroom door open for the cat with an ancient T-shirt and have done since we moved in, nearly 9 years ago. Then, the gift seemed spookily genius. It was even polka dot. I have no idea who it is from.

7. An amazing Knights of the Round Table tea towel, from Nanny Hand.

8. A box of amusing retro plasters. Perfect for my ski trip first aid kit. Bizarrely, teenagers will take a plaster with a picture of Donkey from Shrek on it when they refuse a plain one.

9. An lovely hatbox of goodies free from Lush, just for buying some moisturiser I needed anyway. Different sale this year but I still have a new box to store yarn in, and a new soap stash for making washing powder.

10. This reserved for Mr Z's gift. There hasn't been one yet. I can be smug because we never know what to get each other, but this year Groupon came up trumps with a pair of golf lessons in the nick of time.

Pics may follow tomorrow!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Resolutions Roundup

In the absence of December goals, I have been looking over the resolutions I made for 2010.

1. Lose weight. 15lbs by the end of the year
Fail. In fact, I think I am heavier now than I was this time last year. I will have to come up with a better strategy for next year. My reasons for weight loss are not (all) vanity, but health too: I'd like to be able to ski more easily; to fit into a plane seat more comfortably; to climb Ayers Rock next summer without having to take the next day off to recover...

2. Read a book every month.

Fail. I read more since the Kindle arrived, granted; but in July I started reading, for the third time, Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres. This time I made significant inroads into it but then it became obvious that tragedy was coming up so I had to put it aside for a while. I am 50 pages from the end. I think, if I finish it this week, that will be around 4 books read this year.

3. Declutter the house.
Getting there, but always going to be a work in progress. I've certainly taken an awful lot of stuff to the charity shops this year.

4. Finish a knitting project every month - at least one.

Lost my knitting mojo a bit halfway through the year and I'm struggling to rediscover it. I think I need to start some new projects, but have quite a few on the go already.

5. Halve my credit card debt.
Done! Thanks to getting the car loan, I almost cleared the debt. It's built up a little, thanks to foreign travel, but I am going to be bullish about getting it down ready for the Aus trip this summer. I am marking January modules next month and will put all of my earnings to it.

6. Make an effort with the garden on a regular basis.

Well, it wasn't regular, but it is better. I had a couple of days blitzing it and we had massive success with the vegetables, as evidenced by this photo set. Like decluttering, this is going to be a work in progress.

7. Not get sunburned.

I think I managed this. There have been a few pink occasions but in the main I have been successful.

8. Make inroads into stash. This is not just yarn; this also includes wax tarts, perfume and bath products.
Knitting yarn: no. The rest: mmmm, kind of.

9. Buy less. At least whilst decluttering.
I think I have been successful in this. When I want to buy something new to wear, I think very carefully about it and whether I would be willing to get rid of something in my wardrobe for it, and this has been a good strategy for me.

10. Take more photographs. Of everything.
I have taken lots more pictures this year. Coupled with my more organised approach to blogging, I really feel like I have a good record of 2010.
Next year I might participate in Project 365, and see if I can use Mr Z's fancy camera a little more.

I take my NY Reslns quite seriously, usually, and put a lot of thought into them. I suppose it comes from my job: planning SMART targets and success criteria and so on; but last January I bashed this little list out without thinking too hard about it, and so I find myself with more fail than win.
Meh. Win some, lose some!

Next year, however, I will be more successful.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Ten Tales from Malaysia

This is now VERY belated since I was there a month ago! But, I finally feel rested enough to finish working on this post....it only took a week of holiday.

1. Flag.



The Malaysian flag and the slogan, 1 Malaysia, is everywhere. I really like the flag and I was impressed by how proud they are of it, until somebody explained to me that there are some racial tensions in the country between the native Malay, who make up about 70% of the population, and the Indians and Chinese. Now the flag and the slogan seem like a propaganda exercise by the government to whitewash over any disunity. However, I won't tire of seeing it in a hurry.

2. Islamic Art.



Of necessity, a great deal of publicly displayed art is made up of repeating patterns and geometric shapes, since Islam does not permit portraits of the Prophet. This is right up my allet: I love patterns and shapes and find it absolutely fascinating. Even the drain covers have these kinds of intrcate curlicues and I could look at it for hours. This picture (above) is from the Islamic Museum in KL which I can definitely recommend visiting. The red pattern is simply to serve as a background to the items being displayed, but I found it more beautiful.
I was the kid who was addicted to her Spirograph, you know.

The other thing about this is that it makes me realise how much decoration is based on religion. Without saints and gargoyles and stained glass reliefs of Bible scenes, my world would look a lot different.

3. Pangkor Island.



Absolutely idyllic, and way off the beaten track. This would require an internal flight or several hours on a bus from KL, and it's not really set up for western tourists: they serve rice and curry for breakfast, for example (breakfast is usually a good example of who the hotel is aimed at, imo. They had eggs and a toaster but that was it for weaternised food. Fine with me!) But, for adventurers, this is the place. The first day we went to the beach and had a splash around by some rocks which turned out to be covered in razor sharp rocks. On the second day, we took little pink taxis to an old Dutch Fort and walked through some jungle for 20 minutes, whereupon we magically arrived at the beach above. It was deserted, and stunning.

Apparently this is where Pavarotti comes on holiday. I can see why.



Gratuitous extra picture of me from the Dutch Fort. One of our student mentors took it from the side without me knowing while I was posing for my own camera and I loooove it.

4. Monkeys.



When I went to Malaysia in the summer we visited Batu Caves, a Hindu holy place on the outskirts of KL, where there were lots of (very cheeky) monkeys who were delighting the tourists by drinking out of their water bottles and trying to steal their handbags and so on. This trip, we didn't see any until the last day, when we heard some rustling from the rubbish which had been unceremoniously dumped in a clearing behind the Fort. It turned out a family of monkeys were having a good rummage. They were very shy and it made me think of the foxes that come and forage round our garden, only far more exotic.

5. The Petronas Towers/KLCC



It wasn't until I saw some Formula 1 Mr Z was watching that I realised Petronas is a petrol company and suddenly it didn't sound as exotic anymore, but the Petronas Towers are still a sight to behold and a great place to go shopping, even if it can only be of the window variety. Most of the shops are Western designer types but there's a good Japanese department store there, and the food court is amazing. They also have dancing fountains outside.

This picture of them is part of a mosaic at the HSBC building, where we went for some leadership training.

To really appreciate the towers, you have to see them lit up at night. This isn't hard if you happened to be there early evening since Malaysia doesn't experience a long drawn out dusk, being so close to the equator; last year we went in and it was sunny, and came out an hour later to pitch dark. This meant I managed to get this video of them on the coach back:

video

6. The heat.



This picture doesn't really convey it, I know, but it is pretty - dawn from my room.
My room was the hottest of all the rooms, since the air conditioner didn't work. After a day or two I went and told someone, who came and partially fixed it, but even then it only worked for about 10 minutes; and it was trying to cool an apartment of four bedrooms so neither it nor I stood a chance. I got used to showering several times a day. The student accommodation we were in was clean but very basic and the showers only offered cold water, which was not such a problem due to the heat.
The humidity was unbearable at times, and even though we didn't have any rain for most of the week I found myself wishing for it just to clear the air a little.
We did see a couple of vivid thunder storms during the week over the hills.

7. Tea.



The Cameron Highlands are the main growing area for tea in Malaysia and the Boh Tea Plantation is the biggest. I made a whole post about how lovely it is up there so I won't go on about it too much, except to say that I brought loose leaf tea back with me, and I intend to drink it sitting at my little table in the back garden when it gets warm enough to breakfast outside, which will be perfect.

8. Impressive commitment.
This is my second visit to the College who hosted us, and I was again impressed with the tenacity and motivation shown by the college students. They work ridiculously hard and their aim is to do the best they possibly can. It's not like school here, where being bad at something is cool. This is mostly because the students we're working with are sponsored by companies through their A-levels and then onto British or American universities, and have to work hard to earn this sponsorship; but it is still refreshing to see it and I like that it rubs off on our pupils too. They really see education as their ticket to a better future.

I also find them to be extraordinarily respectful, though one of the teachers explained to me that Malaysia is not a meritocracy and instead older means better (I cannot, for the life of me, find the -ocracy for that). So, by dint of my advanced age, I automatically earned the respect of the students. Bonus! This didn't stop two of the college students mistaking me for a fellow sixth form student during my stay though - double bonus.

9. Diwali.



This year, Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, was on November 5th; the college had a tragedy in November though, and postponed their celebrations to the final week of term, which was great for us because it meant that we got to take part.

There was a LOT of dancing, in pairs and groups, culminating in a mass dance on the stage where my pupils rushed to join in, which was really pleasing - some of the girls surprised us by borrowing traditional outfits from their hosts and dressing the part. There were traditional Indian snacks and a drink that tasted of Turkish delight, and there were henna booths at the back so I had some beautiful hennaing done on my hand.



Some of the boys got hold of the henna after that and drew fake Mum tattoos on their arms, and they went a bit made with it, which was a kind of cultural clash! The girl who drew one of the boy's names in a heart on her arm seemed to regret it a little the next day when we visited HSBC and she was wearing short sleeves, though, I think.

10. Some positive to Empire, after all.
As a History teacher, and a Brit, I have a fairly low opinion of empire, and the British Empire in particular. I think there are a huge number of stories that can be told that cast the BE in a negative light and there are a great many places where our interference has led to decades of upheaval, unrest and strife. I know there are compelling pro-empire arguments and if it hadn't been us it would have been another country, but still: generally, I consider it to be A Bad Thing.

This is why going to Malaysia has been such a good experience for me. Though there are undoubtedly cases to make for both sides, from my experience the impact seems to have been largely positive. Little bits of English have slipped into their language: the Malay for taxi is "teksi" which, if you say it out loud, sounds a lot like a posh British lady saying the word taxi - "You! Man! Fetch me a taxi, and take my bag!" - the Malay for bag is beg.

So, visiting there makes me feel a little prouder of my country. We didn't mess everywhere up!

The rest of my pictures are here.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Weekword

I picked this week's word, MIDWINTER.

Midwinter in the northern hemisphere was on December 21st. I used to get a little disappointed afterwards, knowing that the nights would get shorter and shorter and then the clocks would change; it marks more of a new year for me than actual New Year, in some ways. Now I'm a little older, though, I find that I love all the season changes to some degree and this one is no different.

Midwinter makes me think of the carol, of a perfume that smells like chilly white flowers, of frosted plums, of The Darkling Thrush by Hardy, and of a still, frozen and silent night.

Being a fan of Terry Pratchett, I have both read and seen the Hogfather, in which the midwinter festivals of Discworld are revealed. The legend says that if the Hogfather isn't hunted to his death on midwinter's eve, the sun won't rise the next day. Being Pratchett, this legend is undoubtedly based on some ancient Pagan belief and I find it quite fascinating. I wonder if our ancestors busied themselves at their stone circles on the shortest day of the year with sacrifices and rituals aimed at ensuring the sun would return to the sky for the crops the following year. They must have been grateful to survive to the halfway point of winter, knowing that they only had to hold out a bit longer before things started to come back to life.

Here's what I did on midwinter this year:



Christmas dinner for my ski trip UNSC buddies. I was going to take some ethereal snowy pictures but it's become compacted and unpleasant out there now so you just get pictures of me, instead. Merry Christmas!

Here are the other participants this week:
Peggy (with a great reindeer ornament)
Joye and Joyeful Art (with a very beautiful wintery picture)
Christine at Silver Linings 4 Me (who is very busy baking, yum!)
Domestic Scribbles (with a delicious-sounding soup recipe)

Merry Christmas, everyone! I'm tagging Christine to pick the next Weekword, so keep an eye out for her post next week some time.



Champagne Afternoon Tea FTW.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Weekword: Midwinter

Allie picked me to pick this week's word, yay! So, since the obvious big event of the week has been covered with cheerful photographs everywhere, I thought I would pick another event from this week: midwinter, which, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, is December 21st. From then on in the nights are going to get shorter and the mornings brighter.

Leave a comment below if you want to take part, and make a post on your blog - shall I say, by Friday this week? - since Friday is Christmas Eve and you might all be busy.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

November Goals Round Up

Yes yes, it is very late...but I had already started it so thought I should finish.

Be on top of all marking before going on the Malaysia trip
I managed all my marking from year 9 upwards, so not too bad. I am quite proud of myself for knowing when to quit, tbh.

Not get sunburn in Malaysia
Woop woop! I even had enough sun cream to lend out to other people.

Finish reading a book on my new Kindle...and get a newspaper subscription to try
I finished reading Little Women and I got a subcription to the Telegraph, which was great. I would have kept it, except that I knew I wouldn't have enough time to read it in real life.

Knit a pair of gloves/handwarmers
No. But I did knit a beard.

Complete a considerable portion of the chunky knit jumper I am working on
I finished all the body and started a sleeve. I put it down before Malaysia, though, and haven't picked it up again yet.

Successfully present at a TeachMeet
I did this, which was also one of my three action points from the Google thing.

Lose 10lbs - I am noticing a huge difference in fitness since I started with my PT; now I want to see a difference in WEIGHT, too. This may mean less cake....
I got half way there. Not bad.

Update my blog every day!
...and my work blog at least three times
I managed this blog 29 out of 30 times, but didn't touch my work blog. Fail. However, I have updated it three times this month.

Be proactive about doing little writing jobs.
My pieces were featured in a special insert in the Wiltshire Times about the work we do for gifted kids as a Federation, and I have successfully pursued a paid writing job on roughly the same thing for an educational periodical. Now I just have to find time to write it!


No December goals, too busy, but I need to review my NY reslns for 2010 at some point which is almost the same!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Weekword

Allie picked this week's weekword, the apt CHRISTMAS.

I have just finished work for Christmas and don't go back until the 4th. This event was marked with the annual Christmas party, which is one of my favourite school social events. For once, I took my camera and actually used it, so I have lots of good picture memories -



Unfortunately I also have a hole in a favourite dress. Boo. I am hoping the mender lady can help me out with it.

I have been baking Christmas cupcakes today. Last year I blogged in passing about a cupcake I was experimenting with, and this year I think I might have perfected it. Cardamom, especially with orange, has a very strong association with the season for me; I don't know why! It cuts through the sweetness of the chocolate perfectly.

Orange Cupcakes with Cardamom Ganache
4oz butter
4oz sugar
Grated zest of 2 large oranges
2 eggs
6oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
10 fl oz double cream
6 cardamom pods
Dark chocolate (see recipe for amounts)

Beat the butter with an electric whisk (or your hand if you have the energy) until smooth. Beat in the sugar and orange zest, and then the eggs. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and fold in; add some juice from the oranges if you need to, until you have a smooth batter; I would call it "soft drop" consistency. Spoon into cupcake cases and then bake at 180 degrees C for 20 minutes or so, until golden brown.
Meanwhile, put the cream in a small saucepan. Crush the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar and add to the cream. Bring to a bare simmer and leave on a very low heat for 15 minutes or so; the best way to test is by tasting - you should get a cardamom flavour from the cream, but not too strong. Strain into a measuring jug: 10 fl oz cream goes with 9oz of dark chocolate, so measure out you chocolate accordingly, chop it roughly and put in a small bowl. Pour the hot cream over and stir to melt the chocolate (I sometimes have to zap the mixture in the microwave for a few seconds to fully melt the chocolate). Leave to cool.
Put the ganache in a piping bag and pipe over the cakes. Then enjoy!


If you'd like to participate in Weekword, check out Allie's blog to see who she picks for next week.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Weekword

I have been on a blogging hiatus, and missed all my regular blogging slots, and haven't even finished the post I am making about Malaysia (which was supposed to be this week's Tuesday Ten). I must beg your indulgence for a few days longer, since the last week of term is upon me and I am out every night at either a lovely party or a miserable work meeting, and I have to write Christmas cards and put together the gifts for my tutor group, and finish knitting my Santa hat. And today, when I'd normally catch up on things I prefer to do, such as blogging and knitting, I have to run off to Portsmouth with a very ill and grouchy Mr Z for Mother Hand's 60th birthday party.

Which brings me, in a very roundabout way, to my weekword post. This week's word, SYNESTHESIA, was chosen by Joye and I must say, I found it a very hard one. I don't have synesthesia and to my knowledge I've never met anybody with it (thought undoubtedly some pupils at school over the years must have had it, the odds would tell me) so I have been stumperoonied about what to write.

Then, this morning, I went and fetched Mother Hand's birthday cake from the bakery. This is a bad phone shot of it in the boot of my filthy car, where it will stay until I deliver it to the venue in a few hours, but when I saw it, I felt it was an instant reminder of the 60s.



My sense association is far stronger with scent: one whiff can transport me instantly to a memory and sometimes it's such a strong association it can make me tearful, or laughing. I used a different face cream this morning, for example, which I always use on the ski trip because it's heavier and more nourishing: and I flushed with excitement, at the thought of flying down the slopes and having an espresso with my ski trip buddies.

That said, certain colours will always suggest certain things to me, and these colours just make me think of the 60s. I was so pleased, because I stumbled into this bakery in October and spent an hour describing what I wanted to the lady, and she totally got my vision, in spite of me having no pictures to help her, and created this marvellous thing which she plucked directly from my imagination.

So there we go: it's not quite synesthesia, but it's sort of in the ballpark. Thank you Joye, for getting me to use my brain! And for the beautiful pictures on your blog - they are very uplifting.

Next week's weekword is going to be picked by Allie so head on over on Monday to comment if you want to take part.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Service interrupted

Disaster! Our modem broke, so blogging from phone. Normal service will be resumed (with Malaysia tales) in 3 to 5 working days....

Can't believe I missed yesterday too, but I was in no fit state by the time I finally made it home. Still, I'll take 29 out of 30 as a very respectable InterBloPoMo score for this year.

I can't believe it's snowing here, and I've got a miserable cold. I almost miss the Malaysian heat, but not quite!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

under the wire

Well. It is technically Monday in my time zone, and I'm in KL airport with a cinnamon bun and a java chip iced coffee, making use of Starbucks free WiFi. It's my first blogging opportunity since Friday - we spent a weekend at the paradise that is Pangkor island where the sun shined but the wireless wouldn't play.

The journey home is tough because I woke at 5am for the coach and will arrive in the UK at 4pm due to the time shift. So, after missing last Sunday, I have an extra long Monday instead. This does not seem a fair swap.

So much to share! It must wait until I'm home, though. This is just by way of a Sunday post, since it is still Sunday night at home. Hey, I make the rules for InternaBloPoMo!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Weeknote, 27/11

Knitting:
A beard. I knitted a Merlin beard for the students to use at the cultural performance on Friday night.



I also started my first ever pair of socks. Admittedly, I actually started knitting my first socks roughly this time last year, but since I never finished them, I don't think they count. I thought that pattern was far too dull for this beautiful sock yarn.

Going to:
Malaysia! And many places herein. See individual blog posts for more.
I'm not sure what will happen with this trip next year. If I agree to run it again, I am tied to my job for another year. Also there will be a new principal here and he will need to invite us, which he might not want to. But I'm worried that if I don't run it, it will not be as good. It's that "If I don't do it, no-one will" syndrome.

Eating:
Mostly rice, and chicken, and vegetables. Also lots of coconut. Malaysians like coconut. And cake. And Milo.

Learning:
About Berlusconi and the impact his premiership has had on women's rights in Italy. Some truly disturbing statistics in there.

Obsessed with:
Scheduling blog posts! Without 3G or reliable wireless, I have found it difficult to fit in blogging this week, which has led to a lot of scheduling (I am secretly writing this on Wednesday, though doubtless bits of it will change before you read the whole thing). I think I may have to skip Sunday, but I expect to be able to achieve my InternaBloPoMo goal to a greater degree than I did in 2009.

Entertained by:
Funny students. The D'Vali celebrations here at the College, which took place on Wednesday night. The outstanding cultural performance at the college feast on Friday night. And Inception, the film I picked for the plane.

Feeling:
Hot, but quite chilled out, in spite of this being quite a stressful experience. Actually, the students have made it a pleasure, and the ease of holding it in a remote college from which they cannot "escape" takes a lot more of the headache out of it.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Weekword

This week, Carmen picked the word LACUNA.

It is a good word for this week, meaning (at a very basic level) a gap, since this week has been a gap in my usual teaching schedule. There has been a Sally-shaped lacuna at school this week, and I have been in Malaysia, working hard with a bunch of bright and keen students to understand the culture and lifestyle of a population on the other side of the world.

For some of these students it's the first time they've ever been out of the UK, and so they find they also have a lacuna: in their understanding of other people's way of life, and particularly their religious beliefs. They might be the brightest and best of the school district I work in, but that district is still predominantly white European and most of them have no Muslim friends, let alone any understanding of what it is to live in a world where this religion is valued and respected by the majority. One, a student at a Catholic college, expressed her sadness that she felt unable to discuss religion with the Malaysian students because, if she were to discuss her own religious beliefs with other teenagers in the UK, she risked being teased and taunted for them. It is a sad state of affairs when we forget that people are entitled to choose their own beliefs, and to be proud of them.

On Tuesday, we were late back to college and one of the Malaysian students requested that we make a stop for the students to pray, even though we had only 15 minutes left of the journey. We duly pulled over at a motorway rest stop, which had a prayer room for both men and women, and the associated washing facilities, alongside the cafes and the swag shops we are used to seeing in the UK. My students were interested and fascinated by the ritual attached to prayer time, but nervous and keen not to be rude by asking too many questions or breaking protocol. In the end, they hovered outside the prayer room and peeked inside at what was going on before leaving to ensure they weren't getting in the way or being disrespectful.

I was pleased on many levels by this entire episode. Firstly, that there are places in the world where you can speak openly about your faith and make a request for others to honour your right to honour it without feeling that this is going to cause problems. Secondly, that my students were so keen to get a good understanding of what was going on. And finally, that, being the sort of clever and confident leaders we are trying so hard to foster, they will take their knowledge back and perhaps start to tackle the lacunae that exists in British understanding of other faiths, especially where they live. Islam is not best represented by what is reported in the news, in spite of this being the only representation many people will have of it, and I hope that none of these students will ever forget that.

If you want to play Weekword next week, head on over to Cathy's blog on Monday and leave a comment.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Some pictures from the Cameron Highlands


Tuesday was our trip day into the Cameron Highlands. It's a slightly cooler region of Malaysia, high up in the mountains, and we travelled there (by a very long road, which took hours longer than it should have done) to visit the Boh tea plantation and do a jungle walk, although in the end we only had time for the Plantation.



It was a joy to return to Boh. Last year we walked up on an overcast day, but on Tuesday the sun was shining brightly and that made the perpetual breeze at the top even more welcome. I sat in the cafe and enjoyed a cup of Palas Supreme, which brews to a bright orange colour.



I am not a tea drinker, I'll admit: I like white tea, fruit tea and the occasional green tea, but I almost never drink it as a preference. It's a bit different up there, though. The tea is as fresh as you can get and it tastes even better for drinking it surrounded by miles and miles of tea bushes on hills so steep it is difficult to imagine how they harvest them.



C commented, when I said I did drink tea, that neither did he, but that the feeling of the British Raj was so strong that he felt he ought to kick back with a cuppa while some peasants worked in the fields below and he waited for his elephant to come and transport him back down to the town. He actually said this in a far wittier and more humourous way than I can remember, but that was the gist of it. So we sat with our teapot (and I with a big slab of serious chocolate cake) and enjoyed the fragrant greeness of the place until it was time to wander down to Brinchang and shop for strawberry swag. I managed to get strawberry shaped key rings for my entire tutor group for under £4, but decided on this occasion to forego the strawberry slippers, doormats and ear muffs, amongst other things.



Another great thing about the Plantation is the flowers. They seem to go hand in hand with the tea; perhaps they are planted on purpose to encourage bees. From tall yellow irises to these beautiful hibiscus, painted across the fields in every conceivable colour, they added a bright splash to the sea of verdant green we were surrounded by.

It's been sunny here all week. Here are a couple of pictures from the college to finish up. I've taken a lot less pictures so far this year, but I'll put the whole lot up on Flickr when I get back.



Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Gadget of the Week: Kindle part 2

Last week, I reviewed my Kindle in a Gadget of the Week post. This week I'm away and so wanted to make a short post in further praise of the Kindle, and particularly how useful it was whilst travelling.

C, the other teacher, clocked it early on in the flight and came out with the usual stock comments about how it's nice to have a real book and something you can hold in your hands etc etc - but even he has to admit that the daily newspaper subscription is worthwhile. Yesterday's issue of the Daily Telegraph kept me amused for the 5 hour bus journey into the Cameron Highlands (don't ask...) and I read bits to him, which he appreciated. I was also able to point out that it was on a free trial, so not only is it downloading automatically every day, I don't even have to pay for it yet. When I explained it would usually cost £9.99 a month, he started to suggest it would be cheaper to buy the paper, until his brain caught up with the maths.

I have also been able to peruse all the books C talks about with the college principal and his wife, who are both English teachers by background. It makes me feel a little stupid, as somebody who can never seem to find the time for lots of reading (although I am getting better), until I remember that I am educated in other ways.

Finally, there have been a few articles which might prove useful for work, which I have "clipped" to my clippings folder and can now find easily, even when the papers are archived. Excellent stuff. Now I just need to figure out how to delete things from my clippings, something I could presumably accomplish if I bothered to read the instructions properly ;)

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Tuesday Ten

Ten thoughts I've had over the past few days

1. Yey for the Pope! Finally, there is a sensible and responsible attitude towards this issue.
2. Berlusconi looks an awful lot like the devil.
3. These Malaysian students are so motivated and keen.
4. How can I make my students this motivated and keen?
5. Wow, Inception is a really confusing film. (1 hour later) Oh, and it's really short too! (2 minutes later as the loop starts again) Ohhhh.....OK. Stupid plane entertainment system.
6. I wish they sold Milo in the UK. By which I mean - I wish Milo tasted as good in the UK as it does here. I like to at breakfast, where it is served hot and then cooled down to your choice of temperature with ice cubes. It sounds ridiculous, but it isn't. I also like the way the cafe serves it - in a plastic bagful of ice, with a straw.
7. I am really enjoying reading Scott Adams's blog. I should find more blogs to read.
8. I'm so glad I visited Jo Malone at Heathrow Airport. My credit card is not so glad.
9. How can I set up a meaningful idea exchange between A-level Physics students here and at my own school?
10. I think it should be the law that everywhere has free wireless so I can blog and Facebook and Tweet from my phone and not have to fret about passwords and the like. Wishful thinking, I fear.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Malaysia: Day 1

Here I am, finally arrived at Malaysia and having done a whole day's work already, even though my body still thinks it's only 8am. I joked with my headteacher C, the other accompanying staff member, that, having completed my duties for the conference, I could have arranged for my classes to hang out in the teleconferencing suite at school and taught them from over here. His laugh didn't convince me he thought I was joking.

The flight over was pleasant, in that I managed to sleep for most of it, although C was sitting in front of me and titled his chair right back which made movie viewing difficult. I wasn't aware anybody actually did that anymore; perhaps I'm just always fortunate about who is seated in front of me.

It is sunny today, which makes a nice change from last year, when it rained torrentially every day. We're in student accommodation which is going to take some getting used to, and something in the night has bitten or stung me, as my left forearm is swollen and red, though there are no visible bites. I slept very fitfully thanks to the jet lag, and at one point dreamt that my whole forearm was a mess of stings and bites that I couldn't stop scratching, so it was quite a relief to wake up and find it wasn't as bad as I'd thought.

There is no wireless access at college at present, and since tomorrow is a day trip up to the tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, I'm not convinced I will be able to blog every day. I might have to do some sneaky post-scheduling. I am hopeful that I'll be able to share some pictures on Wednesday, though; and my Kindle is faithfully delivering my newspaper every day. Hurrah!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

My Rock Collection

Following on from Weekword....



The whole collection. There's no good light these days!

As I went through them, I realised there are lots in there that I can't remember picking up. To start with I was kind of sad that all these rocks had lost their memories but I know I only put them in the jar if they've come from somewhere special so that comforted me. There are also shells, marbles and a piece of coral, and Mr Z tells me there is a rock with a hole in it in there that he's had for 33 years. So, it's kind of a combined collection now. Here are some individual pictures....



This is a desert rose we got on holiday in Tunisia when I was 6. Sib and I both had one.



I picked this rock up in Death Valley, when I visited with both parents in 2001. That was a special time for me, because I had both parents together for a few days for the first time in over 10 years and I really enjoyed the luxury of it.
The rock is sort of disappointing to me, because I wanted the crystals to be actual rock; however, I realised quite quickly that they were crumbling off and were just salt. So, I treat it gently and it sits on top!



Last year when we went to Malaysia, I had just started my Geology course and I was so excited about it and insistent on finding a good rock to take back with me. C, the other teacher on the trip, picked this one up for me at the Boh tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands. It has metallic flecks in it which I like a lot.



This is the black spherical stone that I picked up on the beach in Hythe, Kent. My grandmother lived there and I went to stay with her every summer holiday. We'd spend lots of time on the beach.



Here's the big green crystal Father Hand dug out of a cave wall in New Mexico.



Finally - I can't remember where I picked this up, but it's very pretty!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Weeknote 20/11

Knitting:
Not a lot. Busy, busy, busy. I am going to cast on for these socks today, though. I've got the pattern on my Kindle, all ready to go!

Going to:
Dinner with Parpy Jo, the now married lady. We went to Grounded, which is our usual Sunday morning brunch haunt. I now know they also make awesome pizza. Duly noted!

Eating:
I made oxtail soup this week. Unfortunately, I managed to break the ceramic bowl of my slow cooker last weekend by dropping a jar into it (jar remained intact, typically) - an event that led to a few tears because that slow cooker was a gift from a company I temped for 10 years ago and I had fond memories of them, which were always triggered when I used it.

I manned up eventually though, and made it in a saucepan over a low heat for a long time. It looked unpleasant and the taste was very mild, but my goodness, I have never had a soup as filling as this! I made toast to go with it on Monday, and by the time I got to the end of the meal I was very, very full.

I also ate a whole pineapple on Thursday, and suffered the sore mouth consequences. Doh.

Learning:
Not much this week. There hasn't been much learning time. Boo.

Obsessed with:
Who is going to be my new head of year from Christmas, since mine is leaving then (yey!). I tried to weight it a little by sending the Head's powerpoint presentation on leadership to my favourite candidate, but unfortunately he didn't get it. I am pleased in a way because I don't think they job is going to be a very nice one, but it would have been pleasant to have him presiding over tutor meetings and assemblies and the like.

Entertained by:
Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows.
It was absolutely beautifully shot: quite dark and dim, so it is good to see it in the cinema, as intended. There is also a point at which Hermione reads the story of 3 brothers, where the story is animated in an extremely creepy Tim Burton style. It was very elegant and fitted the story well, but - as I said - quite creepy.
It's been so long since I read the Deathly Hallows I had forgotten most of the story. Bring tissues. Luckily Kath, my HP buddy, brought enough for me too.

I don't know whether I'm imagining it, but I sort of feel like the main characters are able to bring more emotion to their parts because it's the end of a decade of their lives, so they're saying goodbye to characters they've grown up being, as well as each other. The story is quite sad and bleak anyway, so it fits well.

Feeling:
Relieved this week is over! I had a terrible incident with a kid on Wednesday that I really had better not go into here, but suffice to say he won't be back in my class and maybe not even school, so you get the idea. It left me feeling a bit shaken and sad, so when I woke up this morning and realised it was Saturday and the week was done, I was so happy!
Excited about flying to Malaysia this evening. Looking forward to some good movies on the plane and plenty of knitting and Kindle time.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Weekword

Simply Cool Stuff picked this week's weekword, and what a word it is! She picked ROCK which is one of my favourite things.


Some rocks I sneakily photographed in the museum at the top of Wenceslas Square in Prague. They have an absolutely dazzling selection which I could quite happily spend many hours examining.

Father Hand is a bit of a rockhound, and I attribute my obsession to him. As he has moved further west in the US, I have been treated to more and more drives punctuated with exclamations of, "Look at that mesa!" or "I think we've got time to go and see this disused mine...." and I have a number of rocks that he has unearthed, or that I have unearthed with him.

My rock collection is kept in a fishbowl downstairs. The winter darkness does not allow for good night time pictures but I will aim to take some tomorrow. It includes a salt crusted rock I picked up at Death Valley; a big green crystal Father Hand dug out of a cave wall in New Mexico (the same day I saw a centipede the length of my foot and screamed so loud he thought I'd been attacked by a bear); a perfectly spherical black stone I found on the beach in Hythe, whilst visiting my gran one summer; and a number of other memories. I have taken to fetching a rock home from every trip.



Unfortunately, sometimes the ones I want are too big to carry.

My interest in rocks has combined, this past year and a bit, with my love of learning, which is why I've been taking a Geology class after school on Fridays. It's great to be studying again and I find the history in it dizzying, due to the sheer scale of it. I now know the difference between andesitic and basaltic volcanoes; what an uncomformity is; how U and V shaped valleys were formed; and the different ways that metamorphic rocks are formed. I've also learnt quite a bit about fossils. Oh, and I get to go to Iceland in February.

Geology rocks. And that joke never gets old.

Pop on over to the Simply Cool Stuff blog to read the other weekworders this week, and look out for the new word on Carmen's blog from Monday.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Yarn Review: Araucania Azapa

I still remember the day Araucania Azapa arrived at Get Knitted, because I was instantly and powerlessly smitten with it and had to buy some immediately, though I had no purpose for it. It was an unusual purchase for me because, for once, I liked colours other than the blue more.

I liked the blue a lot too, but I could see the cream being more versatile. Plus, it feels a lot softer.



I heard this described as a thick and thin yarn, but it is not. I found it to be evenly spun, although it shed a LOT while I was knitting with it. I was working with it on the plane home from Malaysia last year and remember the other teacher getting up to leave the plane, seemingly unaware that his left leg (which had been nearest me) was covered in a fuzzy halo.

It is very soft, being made up of merino with a healthy slug of alpaca and silk in there. It knits to bulky weight and runs to 140 yards/100g, in spite of what the label might say.

This was an issue last year, which still has not been resolved. Some of my labels said 190 yards; some 140. I started a Rav thread about it and some kindly soul measured her skeins to see, finding it to be the shorter yardage. Get Knitted were excellent when I pointed it out: they contacted their suppliers, relabelled all their skeins and, when they put the price down to reflect the lower yardage, refunded me the difference for the skeins I'd already bought. Then I sort of forgot about it; but I just went back to look on Ravelry and someone has commented, a month ago, that this still has issues with labelling and some LYSs still don't know the skeins are much shorter than they claim.

This is a bit pants, you know. I mean, if I knew about it a year ago, wtf are the suppliers still doing? I know the whole universe does not use Ravelry but if I were a yarn supplier I would be stalking the pages for my brands and doing everything I could to get positive comments on there, because it is the largest online knit/crochet community going.

Anyway, rant over. Cheeky lying about yardage aside, this is a truly delicious yarn. I have, to date, made a hat from it, and a Versatility, and I have 3 skeins of the cream left (I think), and Rosee from knitting group gave me a skein of blue she didn't want so I have many more Azapa projects ahead of me.

But if you're going to use it - buy more skeins than you think you'll need.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Gadget of the Week

This week....my Kindle!



I've now had it for about a month and I love, love, love it. I can't believe I actually had to think twice about buying it. I have been so interested in reading from it that I haven't even finished Birds Without Wings, which I have been reading since August and was just in a can't-put-it-down phase with.



This is what the print looks like. It's a bit blurry because I took the picture without a flash to try and make it more true-to-life. It actually doesn't look like a real screen, it is so close to text. I don't really understand how it works, but it is really easy to read and the lack of backlight makes it comfortable on the eye as well. And, if I'm ever in a dark place where I need a backlit screen in order to be able to read, I can pick up where I left off on my phone, having installed Kindle for Android. AND IT KNOWS WHERE I STOPPED READING. Amazing.

The display is so clear that when Mr Z unpacked it from the box, he thought there was a printed sticker on the front. The picture of Mark Twain you see in the first shot is one of the screen-savers that cycle round when it is turned off. It doesn't actually turn off properly, and unless I manually disconnect it from wireless/3G, it will download in the background anytime. I bought that Obama biography before it was delivered, and it was waiting for me on the Kindle when it arrived.

The other thing I like about it is that I can buy a subcription to a newspaper on it. Now, I get most of my news online or via Jon Snow on C4, but when I am abroad - like in Malaysia next week, for example - news sources are thin on the ground and I don't like not knowing what's happening. Thanks to the 3G on Kindle, though, I can have a British newspaper delivered to me everyday while I am abroad (as long as their 3G coverage is as extensive as they claim).

Other positives - it is light enough to hold in one hand for lying-down reading, and it has a great battery life on it. I've only needed to charge it once so far. I haven't even figured out how to add notes to it yet, but I have just bought a new History text book on it so will be learning that on the plane, I should think.



Kindle hanging out with my HTC. I bought this new cover for it so it matches the one Mr Z bought for my Kindle. It also (not by accident) matches my Hobbs dress, which is part of my "I'm very professional" outfit.

I have used it to access Google Reader but it doesn't like it very much because of the pictures; however, I don't see how I can complain when the 3G is free. It's worth noting, though, that once a wireless connection is set up, it will automatically connect to that instead of the 3G unless you're out of range.

But, I have no complaints. This may do what sheer force of will has failed to achieve: it may actually get me reading again. And for that alone, it was worth buying.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Tuesday Ten

I have been scrabbling around trying to find a Tuesday ten topic that won't involve me sitting here for an hour, waxing lyrical about grand plans. I even scrabbled in Google Reader for inspiration and remembered that Sally SowandSew now does Tuesday Ten too, and her topic this week (which I am totally stealing, sorry Bella!) is...

Ten things I would rather be doing than working

1. Sleeping late and getting early nights
2. Learning to write Android Apps - I have many ideas but need time to get my head round the App Inventor software
3. Finishing Cherie Amour (I can't get myself started on the sleeves! And they'll be so quick!) and the blue seabreeze shawl
4. Watching True Blood season 3, which Father Hand sent me almost a month ago and has lain, untouched, by the TV ever since
5. ....and The Wire, seasons 4 and 5, which are similarly neglected
6. Contacting friends on a more regular basis. I think I'm becoming one of those people you always have to call/email if you want to speak to me
7. Making serious inroads into the stash of ebooks I have been accumulating on my Kindle
8. Going to Zumba every single week (I haven't had a free Tuesday night for this since, ooo, September)
9. Various housey projects, like redecorating downstairs and sorting out the garage roof
10. Writing long and interesting blog posts, full of pictures and fascinating things you look forward to reading...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Twix: the great debate



The debate has been raging on a forum I frequent this week.
The humble Twix. Is it a chocolate bar, or a biscuit?

I have to admit, when I first heard this, I thought, "How on earth could anybody ever consider it a biscuit?!" but it seems there are a lot of people out there who do, in spite of it being sold on confectionary stands and being totally unsuitable for dunking (I speak from experience).

Admittedly it has content that is more biscuit than chocolate, but then I would argue than many chocolate bars share this: Mars, Crunchie, Boost etc.
I also submit that this is simply an inferior version of millionaire's shortbread, which is most definitely not a biscuit and actually more akin to a cake in my book.

It's fraught, I tell you. Do you have an opinion? Please share!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Cherie Amour progress



I promised some Cherie Amour pics and I joined the shoulders and back today so here they are. You'll have the excuse the bear print PJ bottoms and the indoor light - it was one of those grey, wet days when outside feels darker than inside, all day, so it was this or nothing.

It's actually very flattering....



...and extraordinarily warm. I am still wearing it, having just been photographed, and when it's got the sleeves on it's going to be a toasty treat. I think it will look better when it's blocked and the lacey fronts have opened out a little, but I love the shape and the colours, and the speed this has been worked up. If I'd been disposed to start the sleeves today, I think I would be almost done with it. My wrists ache a bit today, though.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Weeknote, 13/11

Knitting:
Cherie Amour. She fairly flies off the needles. I am 4 rows off completing the body and then will just need to do the sleeves. Chunky on a 7mm needle is definitely the way to go - and I'm not even concerned it will be too warm because it's lace, and therefore very open. Pictures tomorrow when it's daylight, promise.

I am also quite impressed with the yarn. It's James C. Brett Marble Chunky, and I knitted the body up to the end of the left front before I finished the first ball. So that leaves the right front, the back and the sleeves. I was cautiously estimating two and a bit balls, but I now think I may not even have to start a third. It is a bit annoying that it has had a few knots in it and the second ball is wound backwards, but it's not really bright enough colours to be noticable.

Going to:
Teachmeet. This was very exciting, because it was part of my Google thingy action plan to present at one. I set this one up at Mr Z's school. There were about 15 of us there, and another 18 people joined online. There were some really inspirational presentations from teachers as geeky as me and we actually went over our allotted time of 3 hours, which I didn't think we'd fill. Mr Z amused himself by making us work with the MAC OS which was almost more than some people could cope with; indeed, the representative from Microsoft insisted on plugging his own laptop into the whiteboard, much to the glee of his colleague, who kept me amused with his Twitter commentary. I quite like the whole back channel thing.

It was just what I needed to refresh my teaching font as the days darken and it's difficult to find enthusiasm.

Eating:
I made pumpkin cheesecake from this recipe this week. It was an odd consistency: almost mousse like. I wasn't convinced it was cooked when I took it out, it was so wobbly. People at work were complimentary but unconvinced. I'm vain about my baking and require effusive praise for my efforts so I don't know that I'll make it again, to that recipe anyway.

I did, however, perfect the banoffee flapjack for Teachmeet on Wednesday. I cooked the caramel longer and spread chopped banana across the based instead of mixing it in. I also packed the flapjack tighter in the tin, so I had thinner, harder layers. Win!

Learning:
  • About Livestream, Songsmith, Photosynth and this very cool technology where you overlay pictures and you can do extreme zoom. Yey for Teachmeet!
  • That I look under 25 - at least according to the checkout woman who ID'd me in Sainsbury's today. Hilarious. Not even on a good day!
  • About US Foreign Policy in the 1920s. As the sole teacher of the A-level coursework this year, and it being my second time teaching the course, I have been doing a lot more reading around and am finding it really interesting. Let me geek out by saying that, although widely considered to be an isolationist period in US FP, I have yet to find a single historian who thinks this. So where does the belief come from? Tis a mystery. OK, you can wake up now.
Obsessed with:
Malaysia. Packing for it, planning the activities, fielding parent queries, making arrangements with the college, organising a team-building meeting, trying to organise the Head who's coming with me....it's going to be a looooooong week until we go. Made worse by the fact that, after tomorrow, I don't have a day off work for 26 days. I think that might be against some kind of law. I pointed out to work folks that I do at least have a long plane flight for two of those days, and that, whilst in charge, I could hardly be expected to do much if anything went wrong. I also have the afternoon of Sunday 5th December off. SCORE.

Entertained by:
The return of Misfits! I was quite distressed by the ending of the first series and worried they might not make a second and I'd be wondering forever what happened to Nathan, so I was relieved to see it back on C4 this week.

Feeling:
Cautiously - that I am getting back on top of things. It has been a better week this week.
And excited about the new Harry Potter, and the trip.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Weekword

This week's weekword was picked by Carola, who has some absolutely beautiful pictures to go with her word: November.

Being of a certain age, the word instantly made me think of this song -



I think I remember this video being played hourly on The Box, which was included in our cable subscription when I was a kid and was such a revolutionary idea - a music video juke box! It was like taping music off the radio: I'd hover prone over the VCR waiting for my favourites to come on.

I gather a lot of men this month are participating in Movember, a charity event in which men grow moustaches to raise money for prostate cancer research. I think that's a great idea! And a fun way to pass a November, too. I feel a bit sorry for it (not as sorry as I feel for January, it must be said) because it's the month when the cold and dismal kicks in and, although there are fireworks, these are always at the start of the month which leaves nought but the countdown to Christmas. Christmas is still a long way away.

I like to blog every day in November, because it's too easy to crawl under the spare duvet in my comfy chair and hibernate; at least blogging keeps me sharp. I feel like I have to work hard to stay sharp; it's not just the weather, but work is always tough this time of year. So, on my commutes this week I have enjoyed reminiscing about my past Novembers.

2009 I was in Malaysia for the middle 10 days (as I will be for the last 10 days this year!)
2008 I went to Prague at the start, and tried to deal with crashed-car fall out for the rest
2007 was when I joined Ravelry, and my knitting obsession began to rage.
2006 was when I took the 4 day ski course at Calshot which was loads of fun.
2005 was when Mr Z proposed!
2004 was when I started hanging out regularly with my now closest Bristolian friends, Aliboo, Parpy Jo and Kath. Such wonderful ladies, I don't know what I did before I met them.
2003 was when Jen was living in our spare room, haing finally left London.
2002 was my first month as a legal driver.
2001 ... well, I was living in Mother Hand's flat, temping for Leonard Cheshire and spending every weekend with Mr Z in a long-distance style. And my stuff moved to Bristol from London.
2000 I was living in Vegas, so got to celebrate Thanksgiving properly for the first time; my grandparents came to stay; Mr Z and I realised (after 5 years) that our attraction was mutual. That was a big November!
1999 I went on holiday to CUBA! I paid for it with my student grant for that term, which I was extremely proud of at the time; I don't know why. And that was the first month of my blog.

Before that it's difficult to remember anything particular. I guess I ran out of commuting time reminiscing about the last 11 Novembers! Really, November has been a good month for me over the years. It has involved a few holidays and lots of parties and other fun things. Here's to many happy Novembers in the future.

Look out for next week's weekword; I don't know where it will be posted yet! I'll edit when I do.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Yarn Review: Artyarns Beaded Mohair & Silk

This yarn is a bonafide luxury. I picked up a skein last summer at Jimmy Beans when I visited the shop. I planned my trip so that I could go and browse, and then go back a couple of days later when I'd had a chance to think about it - but I couldn't leave without the Artyarns. I would have been heartbroken if it hadn't been there when I went back.

In spite of being so beautiful, it languished for nearly a year before I had some Jimmy Beans Bucks to spend and treated myself to skein number 2. This made a sizable hat, with enough left over for a little pair of wristlets or maybe a small, lacy neckwarmer.



(I know: I still haven't blogged about this hat as a FO. The light is so bad these days, though - I can't get a decent picture.)

It's 80% silk and 20% mohair and Ravelry list it as a worsted, but I think it's more of a DK. The yarn is spun with sequins and beads in one of the plies and it is extremely sparkly when knitted up: much sparklier than I anticipated, or could see in the skein. I picked silver but there are lots of colourways available with gold. These don't make it awkward to knit with. I was worried the sequins would dig into my hands but it really doesn't; the only issue is when there happens to be a sequin when you're pulling through a stitch but I got used to it really quickly.

I had to frog this hat twice and the yarn coped well with frogging. I had to take it very slowly, but no freezing was required and it didn't look too bedraggled at the end of it. The mohair takes away some of the heavy drape of the silk and gives it a pretty halo. My colourway was artfully dyed so that the brighter turquoise and green bits spiralled and then doubled back on itself. Bearing in mind the skeins were bought a year apart, the colour matching was very close and I couldn't see any difference in colour.

That's just as well because it's very dear! I don't know that I could bring myself to buy it in bulk. It was used for a pattern in Vogue Knitting this spring - a lacey, drapey cardigan, for which I would have needed 6 or 7 skeins. HOW MUCH?!

I won't deny I'm tempted, though. It would be absolutely stunning in a garment. Perhaps I should start saving....then I'd have to pick a colour though, and that would be almost as impossible as saving in the first place.

Anyway - I can heartily recommend it!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Gadget of the Week

I totally forgot, in my lovin' it list from yesterday, that we have another new gadget in the house these days.

Mr Z bought a Wattson last week. I think I saw this on Click, the BBC News tech report, when they reviewed energy monitors and I loved the look of it. It is a cute little white box with a nice soft display and colour phasing lights to show how much energy is being used. The changing display means it goes really well with our 4-letter word generator, which was a wedding gift from Father Hand.

The thing that really sold it to me was that I can plug it into my PC and download our energy usage over time to it, which I think is really nifty. I haven't done this yet, but it seems we run at roughly £360/year when we're both out/sleeping. This must be all the standby things, the fridge, my alarm clock ... oh, and the 3+ computers we never switch off ;)

It was so easy to set up that when Mr Z gave it to me, he went outside to burn things (one of his most favourite pastimes) and by the time he came back in I had it all done*. Then came the obligatory running around the house, switching things on and off. The hall lights suck in quite a lot and so I am happier now about keeping them off most of the time. And I have turned my computer off overnight at least once since it arrived. I should be better at doing this, especially now I have the new PC and it boots up in less time than it takes me to go to the loo.

Anyway, I can definitely recommend it! Time will tell if it's effective in the long term, but I am hopeful that we'll see a small reduction in our energy bills.


* He doesn't know that I couldn't find a mini screwdriver and thus just sellotaped the battery cover back on over the batteries. Well, he does now.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tuesday Ten

Ten things I am loving (at this time)

1. My new Kindle cover. Mr Z bought it for me and it arrived today. I LOVE it, especially the silky pink lining.
2. Banoffee flapjacks, perfected. I made a second batch tonight and totally solved the sloppy caramel problem. Win.
3. The fact that just about all the leaves have gone from the trees in two days, thanks to the very blustery weather.
4. The rain. I know, mental - but it's good proper weather and I appreciate that.
5. James C. Brett Marble Chunky yarn. My Cherie Amour is half finished already and I haven't even started the second ball.
6. This nail polish from Nubar. I am not very good at putting nail varnish on, but when I saw it reviewed on Georgie's blog I had to have it. It helps that the brand lacks all the nasties that put me off nail polish usually. I hope my love for it continues after it has arrived.
7. Pumpkin and sweetcorn soup. So easy, so filling.
8. My clever phone. At work yesterday the network went down, so I used my phone as a wifi hotspot, connected my laptop to it and did my register. It is DIZZYING how far technology has come in the past few years.
9. Planning my outfits for the trip. At the weekend, I felt fairly overcome by the weight of the work to do for Malaysia so I did the only sensible thing - I printed out the schedule and made outfits for each day, and then laid them all out in the spare room ready for packing. We don't leave until the 20th, but I found it very calming. I stopped short of photographing my outfits but that might be a task for this weekend.
10. Chocolate Weetabix. Especially with banana. Yum.

Now...back to work!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Brain teaser

Can you spot 9 people in this picture?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Tales from the Animal Kingdom

...in which we learn how to stop a bear from climbing whatever you are stood in.



"Hey look! It's like a tree, only easier!"

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Weeknote, 6/11

Knitting:
I have been working hard on Cherie Amour. I have finished the peplum and am into the ribbing. I have ignored the red waistcoat, until today at knitting group, when April made me feel bad for neglecting it, so I have put a couple of rows on it.

Temptation was great today at Get Knitted, and I bought a quantity of Lorna's Laces sock weight, along with some chunky wool for a pair of felted slippers (pattern on the ball band, awesome) and some Noro Silk garden in sock weight. I might actually knit some socks out of two skeins of the Lorna's, but the rest is earmarked for shawls.

Going to:
Calshot, for a ski bindings course. It is frustrating to have to make a 4 hour round trip for a 45 mintue refresher (I think I may already have said how frustrating it is...) especially since this conversation always happens...
Trainer: Hi! Sally! From M... School
Me: Yes
Trainer: Where is M... School?
Me: It's in Wiltshire
Trainer: Wow! You've come a long way....
Me: (if looks could kill, you'd be dead on the floor)

I wouldn't bother if they would just give us a tech for our dry slope sessions, but they say they can't. However, one of the other women on the course said they once turned up without a qualified tech and the centre provided one. Good to know ;)

Eating:
Pumpkin Cake with chocolate glaze (adaptation by me)
4 large eggs
1 cup groundnut oil (or other flavorless oil)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups pure pumpkin (pumpkin puree)
3 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Chocolate Glaze
6 oz dark chocolate
2 oz butter
1 tbsp golden syrup

Pumpkin Cake: Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Butter (or spray with a non stick vegetable spray) a 10 inch (25 cm) bundt pan. Beat the eggs, oil, vanilla extract, and sugar until well combined (about 2 - 3 minutes). Add the pumpkin puree and beat until incorporated. Sift in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices and beat just until incorporated. Stir in the nuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for approximately 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes and then invert and remove the cake from the pan. Cool completely before frosting.
Chocolate Glaze: Melt the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a stainless steel bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water. Remove from heat, stir in the brandy, and let cool to room temperature. Pour the glaze over the top of the cooled bundt cake, letting the glaze flow down the sides.



This cake was such a triumph! It rose so big, I had to destroy the top to get it out of the oven - but luckily that was, of course, the bottom once the cake was turned out. It was very easy and tasted amazing.

It's important to add the salt though - I forgot and it really noticed, in my opinion. Also my pumpkin was not so much pureed as it was squished heartily by hand, since my blender goblet decided to give up part way through the pureeing. It didn't notice.

I also made an ate a quantity of pumpkin soup; I generally cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, sling it in the oven for an hour or two, peel off the skin, blend, add sweetborn and stock, et voila. It was a bit too chunky with unblended pumpkin, but very filling and tasty nonetheless.

Learning:
  • That the way ski binding DIN settings are worked out has changed only a minimal amount since the last time I did the course, two years ago.
  • That I have too much work to do.
  • That bears can be scared away just by asking them what they're doing.
  • About Archeaopteryx - the first known feathered bird. I studied it for my Geology homework and found it very interesting. I like the historical bits of Geology because it's so different to the history I am used to - it's so old!
Obsessed with:
Trying to get through my to do list, and how scary the speedy passage of time is. This term will go mega quickly because I have the Malaysia trip and then the KS4 residential; next term will be superquick because I'm marking for the January modules, and going on a residential; then the 4th term will be quick because of the KS3 residential and skiing....you get the picture. This school year is going to be over before I know it.

Entertained by:
The Big Bang Theory, returned. I love it even more now that Blossom is Sheldon's girlfriend.
Little Women. I've never read the full version before and I think this will be my first book completed on the Kindle.

Feeling:
Just very, very tire - disturbingly so, for only one week back.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Weekword

This week....Abundance, from Silver Linings 4 Me

Magenta: I ask for nothing!....Master.
Frank-n-Furter: and you shall receive it. IN ABUNDANCE.

Tonight, there has been an abundance of fireworks.
Today, there has been an abundance of rain.
(NB: It's not been a great day to be a cat....just ask the Mitten, who is currently cowering under our bed)
This week, there has been an abundance of work, and other demands on my time.
I personally have an abundance of eye make up, knitting yarn, perfume and head hair, which likes to worm its way into food, down plugholes and everywhere else.

There has also been, of late, an abundance of beautiful autumn foliage. I am always tempted to pull over and take photographs when I see a particularly lovely tree, but they never look as spectacular as the real thing, to me; so enjoying the autumn foliage is a pleasure peculiar to this month. I had to drive to Southampton yesterday - a 4 hour round trip - and the beautiful golden and orange trees were the only saving grace about the entire affair. It's particularly nice when it's windy, and sunny, so that the leaves fly off the trees and get caught in shafts of sunlight. This also happens when the kids at work pick up enormous bundles of leaves and throw them at each other.

Another few days of bad weather and the whole thing will be over for another year; but for now I am enjoying it.

Head on over to Christine's blog to find out who'll be picking next week's word!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

LOL

I don't often look at my blog stats, but it is sometimes interesting to peek at what search quesries led some of my visitors here.

Today, I discovered that if you search in Google for is there blood coming out of my ears, my blog is the the top hit! Win.