Sunday 30 November 2014

Italy: Monte Sant'Angelo

Monte Sant'Angelo was pretty much the only reason we ended up going to the south. I read an article about it and a number of other places in a travel mag and I was sold - it's got a chapel where the Archangel Michael is supposed to have appeared THREE TIMES so it was bound to have some good sights.

Tutt drove up the hill to get there. I made her stop every so often so I could get pictures of the Adriatic. If you love blue, this is where you should come for every holiday -

Also these made her stop.

They were unconcerned as they clinked across the road; she was not; I pretended to be, although I did panic a bit when one of them loosened a fairly sizable boulder which rolled down the mountain and stopped a mere foot away from the car. By the time we got to the top, we were both in need of a pick me up, so we stopped at a handy bakery for coffee/coke and cakes.

I had some kind of pastry crown thing filled with nuts which was delicious. I also bought a cake to take with me but I can't remember what it was a local speciality. It's not like me to forget a cake. I expect it will come back to me.

After we'd revived, we toddled off into St Michael's Sanctuary, which was many steps down into a cave, into the crevices of which had been afixed various icons and statues important to the Catholic faith. They were very interesting to look at but it was a slightly bizarre display. I don't mean to be disrespectful, but it reminded me a bit of the caverns we went down once on holiday in America, where they'd put fake dinosaurs around the place and lit it with bright primary coloured lights. Also there were screaming children which made me feel quite awkward - I mean, there were lots of people praying.

So, afterwards we went over to the Baptistry of San Giovanni in Tumba which had this rose window, which I was quite taken with. 

I was unaware that mermaids were connected to Christianity. This was quite a fascinating little shell of a church, which has been built up over time. It had some interesting reliefs carved over the door.

After that, we headed up to the castle. I thought this had been built by the Normans but apparently they only added to it; once up there it was clear to see why that spot was picked, because you could literally see everything for miles around. It was proper spectacular.

Tutt even let me take her picture and she even attempted to look happy, in spite of being dragged to yet another historical landmark.

It would have been nice to spend a little longer there, I think; we only had about an hour and a half before things started shutting for the day. It was very windy and deliciously cool, which was welcome after the slight stuffiness down at sea level. I would have liked to have a bit more thorough inspection of the sanctuary, particularly its octagonal tower, and the town looked like it was worth a bit more exploring than we treated it to.

Just a good excuse to go back, clearly.

Saturday 29 November 2014

Book Reviews

I have struggled for the longest time to get back into reading properly. The Kindle really helped but, of late, I have not been using it so much. So, when I bought two books during my trip to London last month, I was insistent that they must be read quickly and definitely not put on the bookcase and forgotten about.

(This thought may have been inspired by the removal of my bookcase, with its five shelves two rows deep in books, from the living room to the top of the stairs, and the accompanying feeling of dismay as I found book after book I had purchased and never even opened. It is testament to my desire to shop that I actually acted on this feeling by....buying more books. I know. I am a lost cause.)

Anyway - GOOD NEWS! I have finished them both. I have been a bit more strict with myself about going to bed at a reasonable hour, thus allowing for reading time.

The first was Antonia Hodgson's The Devil in the Marshalsea. I picked it up because it is set in an 18th century debtors' prison and I thought it would have some useful background information for our GCSE course. Geek. It does, though. I mostly enjoyed this book. It is my favourite genre - a historical murder mystery. It reminded me a bit of Shardlake, but the main character is rakish and a bit vapid, so not really like Shardlake. It was quite thrilling and I wasn't able to guess the ending, which is always a plus. It painted a good picture of 18th century London,

The second was Tiffany Murray's Sugar Hall. This is a ghost story set in 1950s Gloucestershire, about a single mother and her children moving to a haunted mansion, and the subsequent spooky goings on. The back of the book wasn't very detailed but it seemed to be a Woman in Black type story, and I quite liked the Woman in Black. I also, since the BBC's "Frights at Christmas" season last year...oh, and going to see Woman in Black in Bath last December...associate this sort of story with Christmas now, so I thought it would be a good Christmas holiday read, but I couldn't resist starting it and I finished it in just a few days. It was really very good. I wasn't sure, to start with, but the author really captures a good sense of that era and I spooked myself reading it at night, which is a clear win. Also, now I have looked it up on Amazon for the link, I see it is based on actual rumours of a little ghost slave boy in the Forest of Dean. This sounds like it might make a good day trip.

The only annoying thing about this one was that someone skimped on the editing process because there are some punctuation errors in it, especially towards the end. I know there are many people who think this doesn't really matter, but it matters to me. The placement of a comma can really change the rhythm of a sentence.

So, if you're short of things to read, I can recommend these.

Friday 28 November 2014

Fave Friday

I came across these during last weekend's clearout. I can't remember when I got them, but it was some time when I was a youngster. I had a purple ski suit when I went skiing at the age of 12 so I suppose it might have been then, but I seem to remember having them before that.

They remind me of a very specific place in the house I grew up in: the hallway, beside the banisters, where there was a big mirror with an ornate carved frame that came with the house, and the piano. There was a big cupboard under the stairs that was full o'crap that (I think) also came with the house. The front part of it housed winter outdoor clothes when they were not in season. I remember one year getting the plug in lamp and burrowing around in there, creating a den for myself and sitting in there reading, wearing these.

The irony of these ear muffs is, I never wore them outside much, that I can remember. I remember coming across them every so often and wearing them all over the place inside the house. I loved their purple fluffiness but I think they made me feel too self-conscious to go out in - the same way I used to paint my fingernails blue and then take it all off before going outside. Sometimes I think this is because blue nail varnish simply was not done in the 90s, but on reflection, it might have been my teen awkwardness.

Mr Z shuddered when he saw them and claimed them to be "full of chiggers" and, really, they must go. They are so ancient. And, having tried for at least 90 seconds to get a good selfie in them, I conclude that they really don't suit me.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Uplifting Song of the Week

I really am a sucker for a video that is full of cheesy dancing. It makes me feel able to do cheesy dancing without fear. This video has cheesy dancing in spades.

Also, I think Taylor Swift, when she's dressed as a ballet dancer, really looks like Ellen Pompeo.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Today I wish I was...


I always feel at my healthiest skiing, and I am not feeling very well today. Allergic, overtired, and something giving me stomach ache. I even had to cancel my PT session which just made me feel worse.

Wish I felt as healthy as I did when I took this picture. Woe. I'm off to bed.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Tuesday Ten

The Christmas List

1. A selfie stick. They were talking about these on Radio 4 on Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, with a rather derisory tone, but I think they are clever things - a way of taking a good selfie at a famous landmark without having to turn your expensive phone over to a stranger.

2. GHD Hairdryer. Although my hairdryer isn't quite dead yet, it is getting on for a decade old and it doesn't like being on for very long at a time. The Bliss Spa had gorgeous GHD hairdryers when I went for my facial, and the cold shot is properly cool, unlike my current one which is about 5 degrees cooler than the hottest setting.

3. Pretty wine glasses. Mr Z has attempted to veto this one, saying I have enough wine glasses; I would like a matching set, though.

4. A wine rack to go on the wall in the kitchen. We've many bottles of wine and nowhere to store them. I know, I know - I should just drink more.

5. A Dyson. We inherited an ancient Vax when we moved in here in 2002 and the damn thing just won't die. It smells and it is bulky and I never feel like it is getting things properly clean. But, it continues to plod on, and my annoying eco conscience won't allow a perfectly good, working appliance to be replaced. Of course, if someone was to buy me one...

6. A yoga mat. Now that yoga and I have made friends, I would like to have a mat that is infused with my sweat alone.

7. A subscription to Interweave/Knitscene. Mr Z sorted me out with two years of Designer Knitting last Christmas, so it only makes sense to take out a two year subscription for these others now, thus staggering the renewal.

8. A new floor for the living room. I would love some old style parquet dug out of an old school hall and covered in a squishy green rug. I am so, so sick of the horrible carpet, which is even worse since the edges were cut off for decorating three years ago.

9. Rotary slicer for the Kenwood. Like a mandolin for the lazy.

10. History notecards. I don't know what these would look like; I only know that I can't find any. I have taken to buying notecards to give to students at school who do really well, and to other people when I think they might like to see something pretty to cheer them up. It's difficult to find notecards that are suitable for teens, though. It's all flowers and landscapes. I'd like some cards that depict interesting infographics about key moments in British history.
This might be a good money spinner, come to think of it.

Monday 24 November 2014

Weekend WIP: The Andre

Andre asked for a camo hat. I think I told this story last week.

It's not very nice yarn, is it? I can't quite work it out - it doesn't even feel like fibre. I don't really get what it's meant for...blankets? If this is what all those American Ravellers think of as cheap acrylic, I can see why they are so sniffy. When I think of cheap acrylic I think of Stylecraft, but that feels OK and is at least recognisable as fibre: it just looks a bit shiny (to me...I support anybody else's decision to buy and make things for people using it).

But, it made a good pom pom.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Weekend Baking: Chocolate Yogurt Cake

I wasn't going to bake this weekend, but then I had ingredients and I accidentally bought some Rachel's Dairy Coconut Yogurt yesterday, and baking a cake with it was the only thing I could think of to avoid me cutting a hole in the bottom of the carton and literally funnelling it down my neck. Mmmmm, it's so good.

This recipe left me a few spoonfuls in the bottom of the carton. I'm afraid it doesn't taste very coconutty from the trimmings, but we'll see tomorrow when it's had time to cool and rest.

4oz butter
1 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp bicarb
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup cocoa
1.5 cups yogurt

125g chocolate
50g butter
1 tbsp golden syrup

(Can you tell I am pinching from a couple of different recipes here? Apologies for the mixture of measurements)

Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla; beat until smooth. Mix the dry ingredients together and then add them in three batches, alternating with the yogurt. The batter will be thi-i-i-ick. I might add a bit of milk next time.

Prepare a bundt tin and pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees. Prepare that bundt tin well with both melted butter and flour, or that cake-release spray - it stuck in mine, on one side...I had to use glaze to weld it back together. Bake for about 40 minutes or until well-risen and clean to the skewer. I puffs up quite a long way so don't worry if it looks a bit mean when you put it in the oven.

Prepare the glaze by melting all the ingredients together in the microwave and beating until smooth. I had some lemon Green and Blacks I'd bought to try so I used that with a bit of regular chocolate. When the cake is ready, turn it out and cool it for about 20 minutes before spooning the glaze over it.

Almost FO: The Jade

Jade's hat really does look like a strawberry! To the point where it needs to have a flat picture as well as an in-situ one, so you can see just how much of a strawb it is.

I have high hopes for this hat one day being famous, as Jade has made it her mission to compete in the Olympics. She could do it too. She is an exceptionally talented sportswoman and just about the most driven student I've ever come across.

So, this is bound off, but missing its seeds. I am daunted. I can't think of any way of doing it that doesn't involve lots of effort: duplicate stitching, or beads. I could always use fabric paint and dot them on but it feels very short-cut and therefore not very Jade.

As Tutt pointed out to me last night, though, I still have four weeks to go; and only four more hats.

This was made with Rico Aran Merino; most of one ball of red and some of one ball of sage green. I cast on 100 and used an edging from Stitchionary 6 for the brim, and then worked in the round to a point at which it felt long enough; then decreased evenly around by 10 stitches every 4 rows until I had 20 stitches left. Then pulled through to form a point. Et voila - one strawberry hat.

Saturday 22 November 2014

Song of the Week

Next week's school uplifting song is going to be this -

You just can't beat a bit of uplifting 80s cheese and this has the added benefit of being from the film Mannequin, which I've never seen all the way through, but which stars that guy from Pretty in Pink, plus Lieutenant Provenza from The Closer/Major Crimes and, of course, Samantha from Sex and the City before she became so sexually confident.

Nearly missed posting today - Tutt's been round so we could practise the carol we're singing with the staff choir at the Christmas concert. I have finally dug out the piano! I finally feel like we might be making some headway with the waves of Stuff.

Friday 21 November 2014

Fave Friday

We're having a clear out here at Bunny Towers. I think we've both got to a stage where we can't stand the amount of crap that fills the house. I think I have had hording schooled into me by my parents, while Mr Z has had his hording urge suppressed by Mother Z ("I threw your shorts away because they were going to get a hole in them," she apparently once remarked) and is therefore rebelling. Either way, every time I go to people's houses I look around and think, Wow, nice house, it's really clean, but where's all your stuff? This is a sure sign we have too much.

Getting rid of stuff is hard, though. Even if I manage to work against the urge to recycle, or to keep things because they might be useful one day, there's a whole load of sentimental stuff that I don't want to bin. So, I am going back to that idea I had where I photograph it, blog it, and then bin it. It will live on forever on the internet, so it's not collecting dust and making me ill in my home.

This gorgeous, pristine piece of clothing is first.

In the summer of 1998 I was extremely fortunate to be picked to go to Camp Black Hawk in Wisconsin as part of Camp America. I didn't feel lucky at the time, having been almost guaranteed log cabins, to find myself under canvas with approximately 17,000 ravenous mosquitoes; I still remember the abject horror at what I had done when I was sitting in Chicago O'Hare waiting to be collected. But, it was one of the best experiences of my life. I learned an enormous amount about myself during those 10 weeks, and I met some amazing people, many of whom are still in my life to some extent (God bless Facebook). I would go back one summer and work for free if they didn't start in May; I reckon I'd only have a couple of weeks of their season left by the time school kicked out for the year, 

I bought many camp shirts from the camp shop over the summer, having a paucity of suitable clothes (when I was at uni I didn't really ever shop for clothes), so I had lots of logo'd wear, but this was the official shirt of the summer. I didn't make it into the staff picture because a few of us went to see the Spice Girls in Milwaukee and were late back, but this is what everyone is wearing in it. And it was so comfy! Good length, great with the buttons, perfect made a good painting shirt too because it covers a lot.

It had a third life as a doorstop for several years when we moved in here, as our bedroom door is hung in such a way that it closes itself, meaning we needed to have a wedge to allow the cat access, but then it was retired to the side of the wardrobe when a new doorstop turned up in the post from the Twitter teacher secret Santa. And now, I suppose it's off for ragging. Perhaps I will cut the logo off, though. It really was a very important piece of clothing to me.

Thursday 20 November 2014

Today I wish I was...

Stretched out in the sunshine on the grass in the courtyard at the V&A, in the sunshine, admiring these flowers and finishing my book. It has turned decidedly nippy this week and I am so very tired; I spent two days in Sheffield doing a first aid course so it sort of feels like I had an extra weekend, but it was a full on weekend, and I drank a lot of wine.

This was a glorious day - my first at the V&A; I went to the Grace Kelly exhibit. It was July 2010 and I was in London for the Google thing. That does not feel like four and a half years ago.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Italy: Sea swimming, Gargano Peninsula

As I clomped down the 200 steps to the water's edge by our hotel, passing four poster day beds populated by middle aged sun worshipping Europeans, trying not to slip in the puddles after the rain shower that had just finished, I was slightly concerned that Libero might not be there. The desk clerk had assured me that, to rent a canoe, all I had to do was see Libero on the jetty; it was a long way down, though. And sure enough, as if I had some sort of sixth sense, the dock was deserted. The canoes were there, and the paddles, and an empty Peroni bottle; but no Libero. I couldn't blame him: it had been raining quite hard and there was no shelter.

I sat on the wet ground for a while and tried to decide what to do. The dock was wet and required me to pull it by its rope until it was level with the gangplank and then jump down onto it; I had visions of it dipping sharply as I leapt, tipping me backwards into the water. There might have been a head cracking incident, and anyway, the canoes were half full of rainwater and I didn't trust myself to empty one without capsizing it.

That left me with two options: walk back up, or swim. There was a swimming pool step set attached to the cliff, leading into deep water; the cove I want to visit didn't look THAT far. I shuddered at the memory of Dr Who, an episode of which has given me a lifelong creeping dread about deep water when I can't see the bottom. The water was crystalline and turquoise but it's not a rational fear.

I waited, watching the clouds pass and hoping Libero might appear and save me the choice. After a while I realised the clouds were at an end, and it was just about to be sunny for an extended period. It was now or never: overcome the creeping dread or walk back up the steps past all those couples in the humid, steaming sunshine, slippery with all my sun protection and shamefully dry.

I stripped down to my bikini - another fear to overcome - and, trying not to think about it, slid into the water. Not as cold as I'd feared, and even though I was wearing prescription sunglasses I could still see quite well. I struck out for the shore. I started to think about how stupid I was being: what if I got into trouble? What if I got there and could get back? What if there were dangerous currents or giant squid? Luckily I was overlooked by some of the four posters so I figured they could raise the alarm if I disappeared. I got into a rhythm with the breast stroke and concentrated on the gloriousness of it all. The limestone cliffs and their interesting weathering patterns. The cool water. The hot sun on my back (am I burning? Too late now!) I marked my progress by the hotel and started to enjoy it, until I got relatively close to the shore and the colour of the water under me changed...I assume it was just a massive boulder, and actually I think if I had put my foot down it would have touched the bottom, but the splash pattern I was making also changed - presumably because it was that much shallower - and I panicked that something was swimming up behind me, which made the last 25m or so a breathless rush.

But I made it and it was amazing. I walked along an utterly deserted stretch of shore. It was totally private, impossible to reach without a boat or a swim. I examined the interesting limestone cliffs with their thin diagonal lines of brown flint. I left footprints in virgin sand. I climbed up onto a low piece of cliff and basked on it like a lizard. Someone else swam over after me and we shared a moment of cheerfulness at our surroundings before she swam back, leaving me alone in my private paradise. The experience of a lifetime and only a few hours from home! I must bring everyone I know here, I thought.

Soon the sun slipped behind the cliff and I had to start back. I remembered the swim across the lake and back at summer camp and how my friend Tina always made a lot of it being "one quarter mile". It couldn't be any further than that, could it? And indeed, once during a private twilight version of that swim I was interrupted by a huge freshwater turtle, the Mama Zeus, and I didn't panic and drown. These things all comforted me on the way back, as did the man who got into the water and swam directly out to sea, and the family who came to inspect the canoes. Still no sign of the mythic Libero but at least they might notice if I didn't make it back. The return seemed swifter and I emerged triumphant and even took some bikini selfies to mark my achievement. The whole thing felt like the embodiment of feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Tuesday Ten

Ten things I waste far too much time on

1. Facebook. I really should delete my account but it is a good extended address book.

2. Pinterest. Not often, but once I get on there, hours will pass without me noticing.

3. The Closer. Even though I have seen every episode at least twice, I still enjoy re-watching them. I have almost every episode saved on my TiVo.

4. Gloating over my stash on Ravelry, a la Smaug and his treasure pile, and thinking about all the things I will make with it (but never actually using that time to make them).

5. Reading fitness magazines. Put down the fitness magazine Sally, and go and exercise.

6. Looking at my old holiday pictures. I can browse through my photo drive for longer than it would take me to mark that set of books I brought home.

7. In fact, AVOIDING MARKING. That could really cover all of the above.

8. Twitter. I love reading Twitter and clicking on people's links, and reading back through conversations. This is usually a good thing because I learn lots and get some good ideas from it, but it is probably still too much time for the pay off.

9. Getting things to line up in Word. Sometimes, trying to do something in new Word has made me literally cry with frustration. If only I could give out a worksheet with paragraphs or tasks that don't line up. To make matters worse, my strange OCD tendencies get worse when I'm tired and stressed, which is some kind of sick joke.

10. Thinking up interesting blog posts. I know, I know, you'd never guess.

Monday 17 November 2014

Weekend WIP: The Jade

Jade requested a strawberry hat. I had some fun thinking about how to do it; everybody else's strawberry hats seemed to have the green fronds on the top but, you know, if you were going to wear a strawberry as a hat you'd surely have it green fronds down, because that's the widest part of the fruit, right?

So, mine is green fronds down. The edging is from Vogue Stitchionary 6 - I love its deco feel (must remember to use it in something for me at some point) and it has created a good strawberry-leaf feel. I'm very nearly finished with it: less than 10 rows I think; and then the seeds. I want to duplicate stitch these on in yellow but I am afraid I might end up dotting fabric paint on the hat. We'll see how much time I can find to devote to it.

I might be suffering a little with hat fatigue. I keep browsing my stash and looking wistfully at sweater patterns. Only four more to go after this one.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Stash Enrichment

When Andre asked for a camo hat I instantly knew I would use Lorna's Laces in Envy, that I knitted the green beret with, a few years ago. Slowly, however, it dawned on me that the remaining 39g of yarn might not be enough for a whole hat, and anyway, all I know is that it is in The Stash "somewhere". I might still be looking for it by the time my next tutor group leave.

It turns out Red Heart do an actual camo yarn, though, so I managed to get some out of somebody's Ravelry stash.

This is my first encounter with Red Heart. It doesn't feel very nice to the touch, but the colours are absolutely spot on. This will definitely become hat number 19, as soon as I finish 18....only a few rows to go.

Midweek FO: The Cassie

I finished this one towards the end of the week, but it was a busy week, so blogging had to wait (as did weaving in ends, which the eagle-eyed among you will spot). Cassie is an intense young lady who is very into horses, so I am not sure that this pastel extravaganza is going to look so pristine for very long, but she did ask for pink and blue.

I knitted it the same as the other striped hats, with Sirdar Big Softie.

It was non-uniform day at school on Friday and so of course lots of my students were wearing hats. Wool hats with big pom poms. Unfortunately they were wearing them right back on their heads so they were very slouchy at the back. The problem with knitting a top-down beanie is that you get a much rounder top so I am not sure they are going to slouch as much as the students might like. But, meh. I guess that won't always be the fashion. One of my old tutees, who left in 2009, being a recipient of a hat in her final year, came in to see me recently and told me that her mum still wears it, so I guess they have staying power somewhere.

I wore a Mr Z-created cape to non-uniform day. I was History Girl. I discovered that wearing a cape has a positive impact on my mood. Perhaps I should wear a cape all the time.

Saturday 15 November 2014

Italy: The Gargano Peninsula

Our Italian adventure moved on from Bari, north to the Gargano peninsula, with breathtaking views of the Adriatic, like the one above. It is impossible to pick a favourite bit of the holiday, but this is the place I think back to the most when I am reminiscing and trying to calm my mind during a busy work week.

It was a drive of a few hours and Tutt had a new SatNav with European maps, so it should have been quite straightforward. We didn't bother with the scenic route, going up the motorway and stopping only for drinks. We went into one of the sparsest petrol stations I've ever seen, where I bought a large bottle of water and ... oh yes, a delicious Italian coffee, perfectly made in the enormous, state-of-the-art coffee contraption behind the till. Bizarre.

After a while the Gargano peninsula became obvious on the horizon. It forms the spur of the boot of Italy, but on a map you would never know that the whole thing appears, at least as you're driving towards it from the south, to be like a huge ridge of land, sticking up as well as out. It literally drops off at land end in what must be a hillside too steep to allow for a road. This is why there are so few beaches: the land drops right to the sea, in most cases.

We finally found the hotel mid-afternoon, after the directions, the hotel address and the SatNav had all delivered us to the middle of Mattinatta, when the hotel is actually some way around the coast from there. We spent two nights at the Villa Scapone, a very charming hotel that is nestled into the cliff. It was the one I had been looking forward to the most, I think: poring over the website and its Facebook pictures, most of which show that gorgeous Adriatic scenery.

Nestled very closely, as you can see - this is the restaurant. It afforded us this view with breakfast -

Glorious! The staff were very polite and helpful, particularly the maitre d', who joked that we had brought the English weather, since it rained when we arrived. We thought the hotel would be heaving but it was quite quiet - then, it was right at the end of July so maybe just before they got busy. It was a slightly battered luxury that looked like it had been given a hard time by the rain and seawater; a nice pool, a fitness suite which we looked at but didn't use, and 200 steps down to a dock with canoes for rent, to visit the nearby beaches. I am still sorry I didn't manage to get in a canoe to explore the coastline but when I went there was nobody there and Tutt wasn't into it, anyway. 

Our room had a double bed in it, again, and a massive bathroom, but the best bit about it was the verandah -

I think there was as much outdoor space as there was indoor space, and the views were perfect for fans of the colour blue. Thus, this was the hotel of relaxation. We lay on the sun loungers in the shade and read all our trashy magazines cover to cover. We napped. We visited the restaurant for dinner and finally got cracking on the Prosecco. I took selfies (Tutt disadins this sort of behaviour, though she just about manages to put up with it), and sometimes even helps. 

Honestly, it was just glorious. I could have stayed there for a week. There wasn't a great deal to do: we visited nearby Monte San Angelo and I went for a swim to the nearby beach (more on these to follow); there is the tantalisingly-named Umbra Forest nearby and the guidebooks recommend a boat trip to the Tremiti Islands from nearby Vieste. But, really, this is a place for a beach holiday when you're not really into the beach. It was all very steep - I was nervous about parking the car in its steeply-inclined parking space and getting to the dock was a good bum workout. But that pays back in gorgeous views, I think. The restaurant food was also delicious - I ate a lot of fish, much to Tutt's disgust -

This was the fish antipasti. Octopus carpaccio, yum. 

I would definitely come back here. I felt very relaxed by the time we left and ready to get on with the sight-seeing. 

Friday 14 November 2014

Fave Friday

Fresh flowers! Since Parpy Jo and I stopped having our weekly brunch at Grounded and going over the road to the racist florist for blooms in the sale, I haven't had as many fresh flowers in the house, which is a shame, because they do really cheer the place up.

This lot were a gift from the schools governors. I've been a school governor for eight years (it still slightly horrifies me that I can say I've done anything for eight years, tbh) and as my second term came to an end, I decided it was time to step aside and let someone else have a turn. I did say I would be re-recruited if nobody would take it but now I'm afraid nobody will.

Anyway, gorgeous fleurs! Enough to fill two vases, and the big vaseful lasted until the start of this week when I finally threw them out - so, nearly three weeks. Impressive.

Thursday 13 November 2014

Today I wish I was...


Lassen. It's a bit chilly overnight there at the moment, according to the weather forecast (love the internet for things like this), but I bet it looks gorgeous. Also, in Lassen there aren't
* quality assurances
* lesson observations
* enormous piles of marking
* parents evenings/12-hours-in-work days

There might be
* bears
* angry moose, or elk, or similar
* poison oak

But, I think I'd rather take my chances with those things, on balance.

Roll on tomorrow night....

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Uplifting Song of the Week

I've got a little static whiteboard in my classroom and it is full of "... of the week" - Word, Question, Name for xxxx (a naughty student who lied about his name to a senior staff member even though he is in Y12 and should know better, and is therefore currently being mocked by me - this week it's Stephanie) and Uplifting Song. This week one of the students made me write S Club 7 "Reach for the Stars" which, yes, is uplifting, but I had been going down the route of 80s throwback/90s nostalgia.

This morning, though, this song was on the radio on the way to work and it was playing in my head all day long, all through my lesson observation with my two least favourite members of SLT (they're not that bad, just my least favourite) and all the way home. It takes me back to my youth, when I frequented nightclubs and danced a lot, when this was totally my kind of music and when Jen and I went to Ibiza. And the video really made me giggle! It reminds me of that advert for Southern Comfort, although of course they manage to wedge in some hotties doing something over-sexualised, one of which happens to be the still for the video. Of course.

I might show it to my tutor group next week, when this is song of the week, and make them all come up with a cheesy dance move. Everyone needs a favourite cheesy dance move to cheer themselves up with. There are a few examples here - knock yourself out.

The Magician - Sunlight feat. Years & Years

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Tuesday Ten

So busy this week! So going back to an old favourite - Ten Things I Am Looking Forward To

1. This weekend. We're being "quality assured" in my department this week so I just want that to be over.

2. Seeing Jen next week when I go up north to do a first aid course (as long as Ofsted don't come in, fingers crossed!)

3. Wine tasting with Tutt and the gang from school the following week.

4. Going to see Nanny Hand and grilling her for family history stories.

5. Giving out the hats to my tutor group. I hope they love them as much as I hope they will.

6. Nanny Hand's 90th birthday party. Almost my entire family will be there (not Sib who's escaping to South America later this week for several months, and not Father Hand, sadly) so it will be really nice to catch up.

7. Christmas. Very excited about Christmas. I can't wait to decorate the house. I am thinking of buying a very unnecessary advent calendar, but I really should save my money (see 8 and 9).

8. Taking a trip on the Eurostar to Chamonix to go...

9. SKIING!! A week on the slopes over New Year.

10. It's ages away yet, but I am really looking forward to Wonderwool in April. It is always such a fun weekend.

Monday 10 November 2014

Weekend FOs: the Charlotte, the Chloe St

As I mentioned on Tuesday I just couldn't resist casting on the Charlotte when her yarn arrived (well, she did pikc one of my favourite colours for her hat) and, having figured out how to do a top-down hat with jogless stripes, there was no stopping me, so I finished her hat on Saturday and then cast on and bound off Chloe St's as well.

 This is a smidge too big. When I finished it, it was miles too big so I ripped back the ribbing and a couple of stripes and finished it off with two rows of seed stitch to combat the curl. I would say - it has no negative ease. There is no need to stretch it to fit my head. Mr Z thinks it will therefore be too big; I may, given time, knit a second hat like this for her and keep this one for me (this would make that the second hat I've said that about...); or just rip it back and knit it smaller.

I improvised the pattern.
CO 8, join in the round on 4 DPNs, work 1 row.
Work a lifted increase at either end of the DPN for the next row - 16 sts.
Change to contrast colour.
K 1 row, then work lifted increases either side of the 2 centre stitches in the DPN.
Repeat this process, changing colour before each knit row, until there are 64 stitches on the needles.
Transfer to a circular needle; knit every row, changing colour every other row and working k2tog on the second row of the next colour change - 60 sts.
Knit until a total of 18 stripes have been worked.
Change to 5.5mm needles; knit one row, then work 2 rows in seed stitch. Bind off loosely.

I used the jogless stripes tutorial on Knitty to remind myself how to do this. It is a bit obvious when worked in such chunky yarn, but, meh.

I worked the Chloe St exactly the same way, only I increased to 56 and didn't do any decreasing. She's a skater girl, hence the black and pink. I am slightly regretting the baby pink now, as it looks kind of grubby next to the black, but maybe that's just me.

Her's is all Sirdar Softie; Charlotte's is pale blue Softie and peacock Cascade Pacific Chunky. I love the contrast between matte and shiny on the latter.

And, just because I am vain, here is a better (natural light) picture of the Cerys, which I blogged about a couple of weeks ago.

Sunday 9 November 2014

Italy: Bari

The first stop on the epic Italian adventure was Bari, a port town on the northern/eastern coast of Puglia. I was excited to see it because I was reading a book about the First Crusade over the summer and some of the Crusaders set off from this port, and were generally from around this area; southern Italy was conquered by the Normans around about the same time they conquered England, in case you didn't know. They built a castle here.

Interesting hotel - the window looked out onto a covered, internal courtyard, but it did have this -

They ignored our request for twin beds, which wasn't unusual as it turned out; we both tried to stay as far to the edge as possible, which is probably why Tutt fell out of bed in the night. There was also a roof top bar which promised wine tasting, but when we went there, around 10pm, it was completely deserted. Disappointing - it meant there was no wine consumed on night one of the holiday. Wrong!

After we'd walked to the hotel through what felt like quite a threatening part of town, around the train station, we went out for a walk along the sea front and then through the windy alleys of the old town. It is a proper maze there. Apparently they built it like that on purpose to protect the residents from (a) the strong winds off the sea and (b) marauding troops, who would supposedly get completely lost/hopelessly separated. 

Having walked around these windy streets a lot, I can completely understand how this tactic would work. The thing that amazed me about it was that we'd walk through some teeny narrow street, with old folks sitting outside their front doors on chairs playing backgammon or cards (yes, actually saw this), and barely enough room to swing a cat, and then we'd come across a car parked by the side of the road. A car! I would have felt the necessity to breathe in if I'd been driving a moped down some of those streets. 

After our walk around we went for dinner at L'Osteria del Borgo Antico which had tables free out in the main square and a reasonable looking menu. I was keen to tuck right into the antipasti and their cheese platter really did not disappoint -

One of these was a delicious type of (I think) mozzarella they seem to serve everywhere in the south - soft in the centre so it just oozes across the plate when it is cut into. The cheese souffle on the left of the platter was also very good. Mmmm, cheese.

As if this wasn't enough dairy for one night, we toddled off to the bright ice cream parlour at the edge of the square, which had been dead two hours earlier but was now bursting at the seams. Took us a moment to work out how to order: pay the clerk for what you want, order the flavours with the ladies and your receipt. I tried caramelised fig which was delicious. Tutt had chocolate but it gave her some problems -

 We sat and ate these on a low wall on the adjoining main square. By this point it was about 10pm and La Passegiatta was in full swing - Italians strolling everywhere, strutting up and down eating slices of pizza or ice cream, walking dogs, showing off to their friends and so on. It was a warm evening with a light breeze and excellent people watching (whilst also laughing with Tutt about her ice cream pouring all over her hand, top, bag, purse, feet....) - all in all, a fine way to get the holiday off to a great start. 

The next morning we set out early from out hotel, after a breakfast involving cake (what breakfast should be without it?), and walked around the town wall in the opposite direction. It's clustered with quaint little houses, again, usually with lots of people sitting outside them watching things happen. 

It was gloriously sunny. We walked until we found the church of St Nicholas - or the tomb of Santa Claus, as it is also known. It was a really fascinating place. 

Of course it is a Catholic church, being in Italy; but St Nicholas is also an extremely important person to the orthodox Church, so there were any number of Orthodox people filing into the crypt below the church to pray, decked out in head scarves. Literally, coachloads of them turned up. At first we thought there was some kind of ceremony going on and so didn't venture down, but eventually curiosity got the better of me -

(There were other people taking pictures; I wasn't breaking any rules, I don't think). More about St Nicholas and Bari here - we didn't see any Juice of Santa Claus for sale but had read about it in the guidebook.

Upstairs there was a wedding just about to begin so we sat in the pews for a while until the bride walked down the aisle, soaking up the atmosphere. Then, a short walk back to the hotel via the Norman castle for inspection, then a tramp in the midday sun to find the hire car place (staffed by the rudest man in the history of the world) ... and then off to the Gargano peninsula for the next adventure. 

I can really recommend Bari. We were there for just under 24 hours and I can't imagine spending a whole week in the place, but it would definitely have borne further investigation. I think it would be a nice place to hang out in pavement cafes, people watching; of course there's no shortage of places like this, but exploring the tiny alleys would be fun for at least half a day. There was also some kind of opera venue that looked interesting, and I'm sorry I didn't get a closer look at the castle. 

Saturday 8 November 2014

Italy: The Trip

I know you'll remember I went to Italy for three weeks in the summer; if you know me in person you're probably sick of hearing about it by now. It's taken me a while to get my head around blogging about it, because it was just epic and we saw so many things. Over the next weeks and months I will fill you in on all the details - the scenery, the art, the food, the ice cream, all the important stuff.

To start off with, here's a Google Map of all the places we went to. I have marked all the transport and accommodation places and I'm working on adding the places we ate the places where we ate (as many as I can remember, anyway - 20 days is a lot of meals out). As a fatty I always find talking about food ever so slightly awkward but, really, it was Italy, so there will be a lot of food pictures and chatter. I think food might be ruined for me forever now.

To the left - replacing limoncello as my new favourite Italian drink: an Aperol spritz, served to me at a pavement cafe in Milan, where we whiled away an hour watching the well-heeled and the tourist trip by. An Aperol spritz is made from equal parts Aperol (like a less potent version of Campari), Prosecco and soda water, and seems to be the Italian version of Pimms. Since I love Campari and also Prosecco, this was a complete win for me. I've now got a bottle of Aperol on the shelf downstairs for when I feel like reminiscing.

The Italians gather in pavement cafes to drink this, always from big rounded wine glasses, in the early evening but, truthfully, the earliest I saw them being drunk was around 11am. Love it. It really never is too early for Prosecco.