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 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:

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


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


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


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.