Thursday 31 December 2015

Happy New Year!

Full disclosure: these fireworks went off six months ago.

All the best for 2016, everyone!

Holiday FOs: Telluride and Rose Pink

Yesterday I managed to finish not one but TWO garments. Two! I was inspired by writing up my resolutions to go back and pull out the rose pink cardigan, sew in the second button band lining and add the snaps.

It's still not quite there because I can only find one packet of snaps, so I haven't added them to the last two buttons yet. But it's kind of moot because I don't think it will ever be worn completely done up. It gaps at the button band in spite of the lining. Well, let's make a list of its issues:

1. It's too small. Negative ease is not so clever for cardigans, I realise now (I did start knitting this nearly 4 years ago).
2. The button bands make the front longer than the back.
3. The button band lining is longer on the button side than on the underside, so the button band sort of gapes a bit when they're all done up due to there being more fabric on that side.

However, I really adore the colour, the button band lining and the buttons so I am ignoring all of the above. I could take the lining out and sew it up. I might, if I find I'm never wearing it; but I really love that button band lining and want it to be seen. It was a remnant I bought from Get Knitted; I gave the rest to my friend Vikki in return for sewing up the button band lining on her sewing machine.

I also really like the shaping in the cardigan. It makes the colours in the semi-solid undulate.

Basically it's the cardigan of ambivalence.

Less so, the Telluride Aran. So warm and squishy! I love it. I am so pleased that it worked out how I wanted, after all the worrying about the shaping. Oh, and then I knitted one of the sleeves 4 stitches bigger than the other, because I forgot what size I was supposed to be doing. I realised this as I was decreasing for the second sleeve cap. I did not rip back. Mr Z could not spot the bigger one. I fudged the cap shaping so it would fit the sweater and it doesn't notice. I feel really stupid: I was knitting them two at a time so I must have been really distracted.

Obligatory "I'm not quite ready..." shot.

It's a little on the large side for what I'm used to: I thought I was decreasing to a negative-ease size but either my gauge is out or I am smaller than I think because it's a good fit. It might contract a little after blocking. It doesn't look too big; it's just not as tight as I am used to.

As if I hadn't knitted enough, I also managed to finish two hats tonight. I know how to have a rocking New Year's Eve.

The other one is the same, but the colours are reversed and I've done the pom pom for that one (after 90 minutes of hunting for the pom pom maker by clearing out old drawers full of crap. Like I said, I totally win NYE). Mr Z has claimed them both already.

Throwback Thursday

I've been thinking about our summer holiday this week.

Duriong our stay in Calistoga, we partook of a little wine tasting. I picked Castello di Amorosa because they offered dessert wine tasting; I wanted to get Tutt some dessert wine to say thanks for looking after the mitten.

It was kind of an unusual place. Very American. It has been built in the style of a Tuscan castle, using a million bricks that the owner had shipped over from Europe. Inside, it does look like a genuine Tuscan castle, down to the frescoes copied from Siena; only it has light switches and signs stating maximum room occupancy and the like. Slightly bizarre.

The tasting room was very busy. We had a French lady pouring our wines. She was grouchy in that way that French people are with English people. We tried several; I picked a dessert wine for Tutt. "Ahhh, La Fantasia!" she said. "I call zees, ze baby maker! Eet ees so feezzy and fun, you cannot 'elp eet!"

I did not tell Tutt that bit.

We also bought a couple of bottles of a very nice white wine to bring back with us, one of which we opened on Christmas Eve. It tastes very good: like elderflower. I was slightly surprised when I opened it up and it tasted as good as I remembered. In my experience, during a wine tasting my palate seems to adjust so things taste different to the way they do at home. Like, my taste buds are more clued in during a wine tasting.

It was a good day and a happy memory. I just wish they shipped wine overseas!

Wednesday 30 December 2015

2015 Knitting Resolutions Review

At the end of last year I made this post with my lofty ambitions for the year to come.

Shortly after making that post, I got stuck into a garment-knitting challenge on Ravelry and pledged to knit six garments in 2015. In my head, the two garments that were almost finished from previous years were within that total, which would have left me ample time for knitting other things. In reality, though, the amount of yarn I was able to use up knitting whole new garments proved to be like catnip, so basically all my resolutions fell by the wayside.

I did finish the Lopi shell.

I did knit something from the Jimmy Beans 2013 stash.

I did knit something from the Wonderwool 2014 stash....and three things from the 2015 stash. Two more jumpers and some mittens or something and I will have used up everything I bought at this year's Wonderwool.

I finished one delinquent WIP.

I knitted one additional motif for my Lion and Lamb blanket - at this rate, it should be finished by 2065, assuming I don't buy any more yarn for it. I did buy four more skeins this year - roughly 14 more motifs' worth - but Lorna's have stopped dying L&L in their limited edition colours so I think this might be it, unless they bring out any more permanent blues.

I finished one of my nearly-completed cardigans. This almost didn't happen, but then I was writing this post and became overwhelmed with shame.

I did not knit a single rose for my chair (have actually had to take the chair out of use for the moment because the cover is so worn I became afraid it would need professional attention).
I didn't knit any socks.
I didn't finish my other almost-completed cardigan: the blue one, I feel I have an excuse for, because I want to add sleeves but I want to pick up and knit down and I've never done that, so it's in the scary pile.

Yarn in and out. Well, I managed just over 8 km out. It's the best year for knitting totals since 2009. I beat last year, so I won that resolution too.
However, I brought roughly 17 and a half km of yarn IN this year. This is awkward. I need to stop buying yarn, seriously.

Actually, it's not as bad as I thought. I have had a busy year, after all.

Today I wish I was...

I know that I needed a break and I have very much appreciated being at home with little to do (today I sat in my chair for roughly 12 hours, knitting and napping and sewing things up and complaining about sewing things up). BUT. I still wish I was here.

The view from our chalet, last New Year, in Chamonix. I didn't ski last NYE; instead I got the bus into town and did some marking in a cafe. However, the fresh air was lovely. Let's ignore the fact that I came back with a 9-week cold.

This was the view in the other direction:

This was actually the view from the dining table. I was sitting at it when I took this.

Tom and I have an ongoing argument about whether you'd rather look at beach or mountains. It stems from the school trip to Iceland, where all the hostel rooms had views of either the beach or the mountains. I always say beach. He always tries to convince me otherwise. This sort of view helps with the convincing.

Well...I have heard it is going to be considerably colder tomorrow.

The Bikram Diaries: 8

Now that I have passed my 50th class, I thought I might compile some sort of advice to new bikramites. Mostly I compiled this during class, thus proving that it doesn't always quiet the mind.

Firstly, here is my post about how much I hated it to start with.

The heat:

Your job in the first class is just to stay in the room. Even if you have to lie on the mat for the last 85 minutes, just stay in there. You will need to get used to the heat if you want to continue.

It really does get easier after the 5th-ish class, and that tolerance does not seem to fade.

Resist the urge to wipe the sweat. I keep a flannel with me to get it if it goes into my eyes or ears, but that's it. Let the sweat do its job. If you wipe it, your body will produce more and you'll be hotter in the meantime.

Wear as little as possible. I don't think anybody is looking at anybody else's body. That's what I tell myself, anyway.

Breathe through your nose. It will help.

Some poses will be hard because your wet hand will slither limply across your clammy skin. It's OK. Your grip will improve.

Resist the urge to chug water. Over time I have managed to drink less and less water in class: I'm down to about 250ml now: a swallow after the warm up postures and then whenever my mouth starts to taste gross. This is because I drink masses for 24 hours before the class and I guzzle at least a litre immediately afterwards. I can recommend this: it was too easy to get into the habit of always drinking at certain points in the class, which is why I deliberately stopped. I don't need the water in class: it's just a distraction.

The postures:

There are pretty much two chances at each posture (except the last one, and sort of tree, though you can choose to do a second tree). You can always just watch for the first repeat.

Obviously it's going to be hard, but if you're grunting or having to heavy mouth breathe a lot, you're probably working too hard. Know your limits.

Watch the experienced (at the front of the class, probably) for tips. I like to look at other people's triangles: I think it's really easy to pick up bad form on this one.

Some you'll manage, some you won't. The attitude of pretty much everyone I have come across at bikram to this is - meh.

Don't clock watch. There's no point. The series will take 90 minutes. If I'm struggling in a class, I count down the sit ups - after the four face-down postures, there are 12.

If you need to sit out a repeat, sit, kneel or lie on your back. I have heard that child's pose is not a good way to rest in a hot room.

At the end, resist the urge to get up and run. I still love the moment when I get the first waft of cool air from somebody exiting the door so it's not too hard to stay in there, especially since the heat is off. I've started doing a slow count of the number of classes I have attended and then leaving. Very restful.

Good luck! It's definitely not for everybody, but I think it's worth persevering with. I come out of every class feeling like Sally the champion of the world.

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Tuesday Ten

Carole invites us to think of...

Ten things I did in 2015 that made me feel proud

1. I wrote a book. I didn't think I could do it in the timeframe they gave me, but I did. It is 52,000 words. Here's a portion of it from a screenshot.

It's 108 pages, so I can't squeeze them all into one screenshot. Of course, it's not FINISHED finished because the edits are still coming back (chapter 3 edits are not pretty), but I made my deadline. Honestly, I'm so proud of this it could fill slots 2-10 as well.

2. I contributed to an article for the professional journal for my job. I have been published in it before, but only in the section that is all reader contributions. I think it's notoriously difficult to get an article published here so I was also very proud to see that (although it's not quite out yet).

3. I took over as a website manager for one of the work organisations I'm involved with and became an adviser for them.

4. I ran an external conference about preparing to teach the new GCSE which attracted 21 delegates and got all positive feedback. Probably the most terrifying event of my career to date.

5. I was made head of department at school permanently.

6. I passed the exam and all the assignments for the course I have been working on for over a year, so now I'm a member of a chartered institute. This was a genuine surprise. I really thought I'd tanked the exam.

7. Let's have something non-work - I finished (let's think positive because that Telluride WILL be finished) six sweaters this year.

(Thinking of non-work achievements is really hard. 2015 has been The Year Of Work).

8. I went to blood donors for the first time since I was 18. It's so difficult to get an appointment; but in June I bit the bullet and made one for the end of August. Now I realise that once you've done one, they make your next appointment for you and you get first dibs. Good stuff.

9. I reached a top skiing speed of 59km an hour when we went to Bormio at Easter. Not too shabby.

10. I got used to bikram. I even started to enjoy it. Whoever thought that would happen?

Monday 28 December 2015

Weekend WIP: Telluride sleeves

I finished the back and three-needle bound off the shoulders last Wednesday, so the sleeves were cast on and accompanied me to Sib's. I am doing them two at a time in the round on one long circular. I am determined to finish them before the end of 2015: so much so, in fact, that I stayed up past midnight last night, watching Sex and the City repeats until the decreases were complete (and thus missed blogging about it on the actual weekend). I'm about two inches off shaping the sleeve caps.

No picture because you know what sleeves look like. I am determined to have a FO post by the end of the year, anyway.

I broke into skein four to finish the second front and used it up on one sleeve. I'm currently knitting both sleeves from the fifth skein. I think I might pick up and knit the neckline before finishing the sleeves, just so I can be certain I have enough wool. I would hate to be short for the neckline.

The Bikram Diaries: 7

I have only been a sporadic attender of bikram since September. I managed around a dozen classes in September and October, but have only been a few times since then - twice, actually. Poor show. However, I am hoping to manage to attend a class every day this is the rest of Bristol, if today was anything to go by. The studio was rammed.

Naturally I am not as competent at the postures as I was a few months ago, in the main; but I was gratified to discover that I still have a good tolerance for the heat, so obviously that doesn't just disappear. Not counting the first attempt in 2010 and the disastrous Christmas Eve class of 2013 (taught by an instructor who was in my class today, I believe), today marked class number 50. Not bad, considering I have only been going since the end of February. Clearly my body is quite acclimated now.

I have tried a couple of other bikram studios. Firstly, I went to Sohot Yoga near the BT tower. It's in a basement. The floor was made of some kind of scrunchy plastic stuff - very soft and comfortable but it definitely retained a lot of the heat from the room. Normally I take a little pleasure from getting the chill out of the floor.
It was a candlelit class, which meant bunny fairy lights. I liked being in the dark: I don't regularly use the mirrors anyway so it didn't matter much to me. Unfortunately there was a very loud man next to me, grunting and moaning and the like. I found him so distracting that I took to breathing out with a loud "Sssshhhhh!" sound, though it didn't make any difference. I wonder if he knew he was doing it.

The other one I tried was the Hot Spot, in Parson's Green, near where Sib lives. This was also a candlelit class. The studio is on the ground floor with a big frosted window at the back - must be lovely in the day time. I was in a mess that day: Sib and I had split nearly two bottles of wine at dinner the night before; I'd had a disturbed might's sleep due to incredibly painful muscles from my workout two days earlier (like, I bent my leg and the pain woke me up); I'd presented a terrifying course that day and thus already sweated myself dry once. So, I took the spot near the door in case I had to leave.
Well. Firstly, there was a huge gap at the bottom of the door which was not blocked with a yoga mat, so I was in a draft. Secondly, the instructor opened the door a LOT. I was kind of pleased about this because I was feeling pretty awful, but it made it even more difficult to practise. If I'd been in the zone I would have been annoyed. it's a good tip for next time though - I won't go anywhere near the door.
Then, there was a newbie - on her second class - right in the front row, all crooked. I did not like that. Bad bikramite at the back is judging you. And somebody got up to leave in the first posture and didn't come back! First time that's ever happened. I did really like the instructor though. She wandered among people and gave them one-to-one tips. At one point she got all embarrassed - I think she'd gotten carried away assisting in tree pose and realised she was holding the man's bum cheeks in both hands. Very funny.

Vive la difference. It's nice to try new studios. The fact that the dialogue and postures are always exactly the same are incredibly comforting to me, but it is nice to see how other people practice once in a while.

Blue Monday

Going back nearly 7 years today: this was taken in King's Canyon National Park in 2009.

Happy last Monday for 2015!

Sunday 27 December 2015

Sales win

I haven't been sales shopping post Christmas for a few years. I sort of disagree with opening shops on Boxing Day. However, yesterday I was staying with Sib and he's gone off to Edinburgh today with his Peruvian girlfriend, who had to go out seeking a pair of warm boots and a thermal. So, we wandered down to Putney shops to see what was open. I was comforted to see, not much.

However, Office was open and they had begun their sale, so I managed to pick up a new pair of trainers. I was so pleased: look at the colours! It's not too common to find these together, I think.

Saturday 26 December 2015

Scenes from the Classroom #20

J: Miss, would you go out with Simon Cowell?
Me: Er, no.
J: But he's loaded!
Me: Still no.
J: I asked my mum that question and she said no too. I don't get it. Why not? He's loaded!
Me: Well, money isn't everything. And also, I'm married.
H: Ah yes, Miss, but people have affairs.
Me: I'm not going to have an affair with Simon Cowell.
H: You can't say that Miss. These things do happen.
Me: H, as one of the people involved in the alleged affair, I can categorically promise that I will never have an affair with Simon Cowell.
H: But he is very rich, Miss.
Me: He only dates models. I'm not a model. I'm far too busy with my job, he'd get tired of never being able to see me.
R: Yeah but, Miss, if you were dating Simon Cowell you could just give up your job, because he's really rich.

Oh dear. Can, open. Worms, everywhere.

Scenes from the Classroom #19

I was encouraging students to think of historical things they might know from 1750-1900 a couple of weeks ago. I reminded them of Charles Dickens to try to encourage them to think of hungry street urchins and workhouses.

I noticed this whilst wandering the classroom correcting spellings, but I couldn't trust myself to go in an correct it, so puerile was my humour at the time.

Also, this is probably the best student in the class. Her spider diagram was awesome. Why rain on that parade?

Friday 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

This is our tree, Bernard. You get the added festive bonus of Mr Z's golf clubs in the foreground - well, it is Christmas.

Have a lovely day, everyone!

Thursday 24 December 2015

More Christmas Baking

I tried to go easy on the baking this year, because of being away on Christmas Day. Mother Hand and I are jointly in charge of desserts. She is bringing three desserts. There are five of us and we're there for two days and Mr Z doesn't eat dessert.

Therefore, I am bringing cheese.

I made these mincemeat Chelsea buns for work in the last week of term; I took them to a department meeting.

Here's the result of the Christmas cake I stirred up at the end of November - a fave with Sib (so I'm sure we can squeeze some in, even with all the desserts).

Naturally, I made a Tunis cake again. This will probably stay here and wait for our return. This year I have decorated it with chocolate-dipped candied orange peel that I bought from a patisserie on Piccadilly Circus. It is delicious.

Finally, I tried my hand at these:

Cantucci biscuits. I have a growing stockpile of dessert wine so these are coming to Sib's with me, and a bottle of Vin Santo, and a bottle of Tokaj (Hungarian dessert wine purchased at Waitrose on a day when I wasn't watching the pennies).

These are meant to be made with almonds but I think Mother Hand does not eat almonds, so these are half almond and half Brazil nut. There's a lovely orange, vanilla flavour to them. Yum.

200g almonds
200g Brazil nuts
500g flour
2 tsps baking powder
250g vanilla sugar (or use caster sugar and throw in some vanilla extract)
4 eggs
Finely grated rind of one orange
A little a milk

Toast the nuts in the oven for five minutes. Chop roughly (but keep separate).

Throw everything except the milk and nuts in the mixer and mix until a dough forms. Add a little milk if necessary - you just want to bring everything together (don't add too much like me, or it will become very sticky very quickly).

Divide the mixture in half. Mix the almonds into one half and the Brazil nuts into the other half. Shape into long dough sausages - about 2 inches wide by 1 inch high - and bake at 180 degrees for about 25 minutes, until golden.

Leave to cool a little so you can pick them up without risking burns. Slice into 1-inch pieces and place the slices back on the baking sheet. Return to the oven for about five minutes, until golden and mostly dried out. Mine could maybe have done with a couple more minutes but I was worried about getting to tooth-breaking stage.

Dip into dessert wine and feel like you're on holiday.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Tuesday Ten

Ten things I'd like for Christmas

1. A Fitbit Charge HR. Or maybe a Surge, even. You know, for all the running I do.

2. New earphones. I keep destroying the pairs I have by putting them into my handbag and forgetting they're there.

3. Ski mittens. I have fancy gloves but I miss my mittens, they're so warm.

4. A new phone with a good camera on it. I am coveting the Wiley Fox Storm.

5. A Mercedes SLK. Because they're very cute.

6. Tristram Hunt's 10 Cities That Made an Empire. I keep picking it up to look at and then putting it back.

7. Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Concentrate. Smells like a field of lavender, and I am having a Kiehl's love-in recently. They're so generous with their samples; I bought some more of the day serum on Sunday and I got three free samples and a big Kiehl's washbag. Those samples are getting me hooked on new products. I'm a marketing person's dream.

8. A coffee maker for the history office at work. One with pods; I was originally against such nonsense but they're quick and not messy.

9. New socks. Everybody always needs new socks, especially at Christmas, don't they?

10. A new tortoise. Our tortoise, Norris, absconded while we were on holiday (I can't remember if I mentioned it at the time). He was a wanderer: that is how we got him in the first place, when he turned up in my friend's parents' garden - they live in a hamlet five miles from the nearest dwelling. I miss him. He was a cantankerous character, as all of our pets seem to be.

(Note to the confused: yes, backdating this, because I wrote most of it and then forgot to finish and post it...)

Monday 21 December 2015

Christmas baking: Candy Cane Cupcakes

My year 10s are hardcore. We had a discussion in which I gave them the option of stretching out their final piece of coursework over two lessons or doing it all on the last day of term, and they opted for the latter. So, I baked them something I hoped would be amazing. And they lived up to it, too: they worked in silence for an hour on the essays. I hope they're decent.

Makes about 28 decorated cupcakes, because that's how many I needed for my class. It actually made 42 cakes but the icing only stretched to 28.

36 candy canes
200g white chocolate
A bit of peppermint extract
100g cornflour
6 tbsp cocoa
200g soft brown sugar
450ml cold water
300g unsalted butter, cubed
250g dark chocolate, broken small
1 tbsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
250g caster sugar
250g plain flour
5 tsp baking powder
250g unsalted butter
500g icing sugar
A bit of milk
Peppermint extract
Red food colouring

First, the bark (night before, ideally).
Snap about 3 inches of stem off each candy cane - leave behind a short candy cane which will decorate a cake (see picture). Crush the cane stems (I also added some of the canes themselves to this since I only needed 28 toppers). Melt the white chocolate carefully in a microwave. Stir in a few drops of peppermint - you don't (imo) want an overwhelmingly minty flavour. Add the crushed candy cane, stir and turn onto a lined baking sheet - I poured mine into my silicone brownie pan. Leave to set.

Make the cakes. This is almost Dan Lepard's chocolate custard muffin recipe (a fave), scaled up. Put the cornflour, cocoa, brown sugar and water into a saucepan and whisk together over a medium heat until boiling, very thick and smooth. Remove from the heat, beat in the butter and chocolate until melted and absorbed.

Transfer the chocolate mixture to your and beat until smooth. Whisk the eggs with the vanilla and, with the beater running, pour into the chocolate custard, followed by the sugar.

Measure the flour and baking powder into a bowl, stir together, then add to the custard and beat through until combined. Spoon into paper muffin cases; bake at 180C for 25 minutes.

Make the buttercream - whisk the butter until fluffy, then add the icing sugar a bit at a time. Add some milk if it gets too thick. Add red food colouring as desired: I had it in mind to make brilliant white mint icing for these but Mr Z brought me home golden icing sugar (which actually had a delicious depth of flavour) and I didn't have any green colouring in, so I dyed mine red. It's worth noting that the red hue continued to develop for some time after the cakes were iced, so less is more.

Pipe the buttercream onto the cooled cakes, then top with a candy cane and a piece of bark.

Next time I might try royal icing. I think something crisp and white is a great indicator of mint. I know the Americans think mint is red but it should really be green or white, shouldn't it?

Weekend WIP

I have finished the front of the Telluride Aran, hurrah!

I had to pause with it this week because I realised that my cunning plan to go down three sizes through waist shaping had not taken into account the fact that on the larger size, the central honeycomb cable is a 40 stitch panel, while on the smaller size it is 32 stitches. This meant the armhole decreases were going to cut into the cable pattern, which would not have been a good look.

It took me several days and some cheerleading and advice from knitting group to come up with a plan. In the end I decreased eight stitches from across the cables - four in the purl stitches bordering each seed stitch column, and four in the staghorn cables, which I began completing as a three-over-two cable instead of three-over-three. I don't think it really notices.

I had to join a fourth skein for the last two rows of the left front. It's been good on the yarn so far, considering how heavy with cables it is.

Blue Monday

A storm rolling in over Lake Tahoe from last summer.

We sat on the beach and watched it roll in for about half an hour. made it back to the car just in time for it to break, then got stuck in traffic looking for an ice cream parlour. Good times.

Saturday 19 December 2015

Weeknote, 19/12

Bit of a catch-up, this one, so let's call it "month to date".

The Telluride Aran. It goes really quickly when I have time to work on it, but there hasn't been much time. I also had to pause for a couple of days when I realised I had made a mistake with my clever fudging of the pattern to get it bigger on the bottom than the top; it took me a while (and the advice of the knitting group) to get past it. I'm nearly finished with the front. Still hopeful it will be done before the end of the year. 

Going to:
  • London, the first weekend in December. I stayed in the Thistle Barbican, which was a nice change but a long way from Putney, where I had dinner with Sib and Mother Hand. We haven't had a family dinner like that for years so it was really fab to catch up. The next day I attended my course, then spent far too long in Waterstone's looking at history books. 
  • Bristol Cathedral Choir Christmas concert - third year in a row, and it is always excellent.
  • Our Christmas concert - the staff choir did O Holy Night. I only joined the tenors by accident once.
  • Tutt's, for Strictly and Chinese, last weekend.
  • Bath Christmas market. I bought a star-shaped wreath from the seller who makes dried-fruit-festooned creations. Love it.
  • Out in Bath for the end of term. This was a long and fun session, though with slightly fewer people than usual. I think everybody is just exhausted. 
Fewer salads and more bread. As the end of term approached, it was all I could do to get my breakfast made for the morning; I'm still rocking the overnight oats because I've learned that anything less healthy than that will pretty much ruin my morning.

I finished the final part of my senior examiner course at the exam board (hence the trip to London). It was all about how to run a training course and it wasn't that useful, but it is done now. I need to complete the online modules in the next couple of weeks but then I can tick that off and add it to my CV.

Obsessed with:
My deadlines.
Marking I needed to do but couldn't find time or brain space for.
Sleep - I just couldn't get up to 6 hours during the week. I was surprised by how well I managed on it.
Stalking people I don't like on Twitter and disparaging them.

Entertained by:
I have really enjoyed the Last Kingdom. I was most disappointed to discover it was only eight episodes instead of 10. If I was enjoying my current Bernard Cornwell read (Redcoat) then I would plunge into that series as well.
It's also been a month of Strictly, and the return of Grey's Anatomy and Luther. And I have started watching the Man in the High Tower which seems good.
All TV this month. There was the Christmas concert, as above; but there hasn't been much time to go out to be entertained. I am hoping to see Spectre next week.

For the first half of the month, seriously under the cosh. One chapter was left to go, but I did manage to plug away it it regularly so that it came in gradually, rather than in one big rush at the end (a la chapter 3 - which has just been returned to me with some serious edits required, naturally).
Once that was in, euphoric, and a little lost. What did I do with my evenings before? Shouldn't I be upstairs working?
As of today - just very proud of myself. It was as horrible as I had feared, but I was able to do it. Go me.

Monday 14 December 2015

Blue Monday

A little bit of snow and sky from my mini-trip to Les Diablerets nearly three years ago.

Why does the sky seem even bluer when it's cold? I bet there's a science reason.

Sunday 13 December 2015

Scenes from the Classroom #18

B: I'm standing in here Miss, because it's warmer.
Me: OK, I will allow it, because it's Friday and I'm feeling nice.
O: Miss! You're 100% nicer
(Awkward pause)
Me: There is no way to finish that sentence.
I: You couldn't be any nicer Miss, because you're 100% nice all the time!

I was quite taken aback by this. They're year 7. I have not, to my knowledge, been nice to year 7 yet.

I: And I've got a Christmas card for you too!

Bless them.

Thursday 10 December 2015

Throwback Thursday

I'm into the last gasp of the book (it will be finished in first draft tonight, yipeeeeee!) but I saw this in my Timehop this morning - attaching it with the accompanying comment from when I posted it on Facebook.

It's probably not a good sign that my line manager then commented that he thinks I've started burning the candle from the middle now, as well.

Also, what on earth was I doing in 2008?! I only had about two jobs then! I didn't even know I was born!

Nearly Christmas!

Sunday 6 December 2015

Sunday baking: Almond Christmas cookies

I had all good intentions to continue blogging but, as you see, it hasn't happened. The book is nearing completion so it's been getting all of my words. So close!

I did make time to bake this weekend, though. I found a new baking blog, Sally's Baking Addiction, and she is doing something called a cookiepalooza at the moment. I'm not normally a cookie baker (this is really because I am too lazy to line the trays) but I decided I needed to clear out my baking supplies and this recipe suited my needs.

Almond snowballs

250g softened butter
250g icing sugar, divided
2 tsps almond extract
300g plain flour
200g packet of flaked almonds that are almost out of date (this last bit optional)

Toast the almonds in the oven for 5 minutes until golden brown. Meanwhile, beat the butter until it's soft and smooth, around 2 minutes. Add 100g icing sugar and beat until combined. Then add the almond extract and beat. Add the flour and doubt this will ever work. Be surprised when it comes together nicely. Challenge your stand mixer one last time by mixing in the flaked almonds and the sprinkles. These are optional, but festive. I used about a tube and a half.

Chill the dough for about half an hour - if you forget, let it soften a bit when you get it out of the fridge as this makes it easier to roll. Roll tablespoonsful into balls and bake on lined baking sheets for about 15 minutes at 180 degrees, until golden brown. Allow them to cool slightly while you place the rest of the icing sugar in a lidded bowl or box (ice cream tub is ideal). Add the cookies in batches, put the lid on and shake gently until coated. Use tongs to put them on a wire rack. When completely cold, roll in the icing sugar once more. Gift to someone whose teeth you don't care about (a quote from Mr Z).

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Tuesday Ten

This week, Carole invites us to look back and recall...

The ten best things about November

1. I began it in the company of my uni best friend in Sheffield, eating pulled pork out of a skeleton. Jen had planned that Hallowe'en party to the nth degree so it was only fair we stayed up into the small hours to appreciate all of it.

2. I put a good 15 inches onto the sweater I have wanted to knit for years.

3. I posted every day for NaBloPoMo and I beat my total post count from last November.

4. I completed a book chapter and am halfway through the LAST ONE. Oh, so excited to get my life back!

5. I spent two weekends in a row at home. First time since September! I'm away this weekend, though. My next goal: three weekends in a row at home. This may be possible end of January/start of February.

6. I went shopping in Devizes. Have been there so many times but almost always with students. It was delightful to browse at will.

7. I presented at an inset day and received positive feedback from my peers. Presenting to people you know is always infinitely more scary than presenting to people you don't know.

8. I paid off my credit cards, like a sensible grown up. There was not a great deal on them but I think that's always worse - it doesn't feel like it's worth paying off.

9. I made a Christmas cake.

10. I'm still not in tights. Every year I try to make it further and further into winter before I don any legwear under my skirts. I think this might be a new record for me. I know it has been an exceptionally mild November, but still.

I'm a bit jealous of Carole because she's been to Vegas, and Vegas is so lovely in November.

Monday 30 November 2015

Blue Monday

Who could fail to love the Adriatic? Surely this must be the most calming picture I have yet posted for Blue Monday.

I was trying to be all arty with this shot, thinking I would have it enlarged and hang it on my wall. Maybe one day I actually will.

It's the end of November, and by the way, not that I like to toot my own horn*, but I have managed 45 posts in spite of it being such a busy time. Go me! Only 25 posts left for the year, then. Eminently doable.

* A lie. I love showing off.

Sunday 29 November 2015

Random Panorama

I have put a couple more inches on the Telluride but I am tired of photographing it in poor light so I am not going to do a weekend WIP post about it today.

Instead, I thought I would share this marvellous panorama that I took from the roof of one of the publishers I'm working with, back at the end of September. The offices are at Blackfriars so there is an awesome view of the river in both directions.

You can see Tower Bridge to the left and the London Eye to the right; although it is not distinct in this picture, the House of Parliament are also here but appear behind the London Eye, even though they're on the opposite side of the river. I always forget that the Thames undulates so much.

Bonus selfie, too. It was a good day, although it was another one of those meetings that really probably could have been an email.

Saturday 28 November 2015

Weeknote 28/11

This week I have been mostly...

The wondrous Telluride. I'm in love. Can't wait for it to be finished, although I keep looking longingly at the Schachenmayr I bought in the summer and coveting a glowing hat. Maybe tomorrow, if I can squeeze an hour out of my day for knitting.

Going to:
Bath Christmas markets. I bought a Christmas pudding, drank too much mulled wine and managed to leave my handbag in the restaurant. Good times. (I did remember before we'd got too far away, luckily).
Coffee with Tutt on Friday night. She is working even harder than me. We're both reaching the end of the tether.
I went to Tart today with my friend Sian for lunch and a catch up. Tart is pretty quiet these days; I fear it's had its day, though I think it is still as fabulous as it always was. I had pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting. It was a win.
I also managed to get back to yoga today, though only for the hour's rejuvenating class. Still, better than nothing.

Whatever I can cobble together out of the fridge. If it were left up to me I'd be eating overnight oats three meals a day at the moment with some avocado on toast thrown in (and I was eating it before Nigella put it on TV before you say anything). Luckily Mr Z likes to cook and is kind enough to do my lunch jars.

I've done some work on enquiry this week, to present at the inset day we had yesterday. I presented with a local primary colleague I met on Twitter, who I love working with: she is very steady and sensible. Our workshop went down a treat and I got a bottle of Cava to say thank you: just what I needed considering I was feeling really very tired after all of Thursday night's drinking.

I have stashed it under the stairs.

I've also been reading and learning about the structure of DNA. It's in the book. For over a decade I have parroted that the structure of DNA was a vitally important medical discovery without really understanding why it was important; I think I finally get it now, though.

Obsessed with:
Not much, really. This week has flown by, thanks to there being only three teaching days in it. I'm trying to read here and there for the book but it's difficult to find a bit of brain energy at the end of the working day.

I am a bit obsessed with why my blog is telling me I only have 1 post tagged "Tuesday Ten", though. I have well over 100. I don't understand. But I'm not obsessed enough to investigate further.

Entertained by:
The Help. I have seen it before but it is an excellent film. I really must read the book.

Determined. The end is in sight. My deadline is in three weeks; then I can set about fixing the mess that three months of semi-neglect has created in my classroom.

Friday 27 November 2015

Fave Friday

I'm currently trying to put into words why the discovery of the structure of DNA was such an important medical discovery, so time is short.

But here is something that is a brand new fave: I discovered today that Amazon now do same day delivery, and it's free as a Prime customer. Ordered a book at 10am and it just arrived. Evening delivery so I don't have to get it sent to work, I just have to be home by 6pm.

Awesome. How long til we get the delivery drones?

Thursday 26 November 2015

Throwback Thursday

I'm just back from a lovely evening in Bath. For the second year in the row I spent tonight wandering the Christmas market on opening night (never particularly busy, if you're wondering), drinking mulled wine and then having dinner with friends. Tomorrow is inset day, so no work needs to be done (although I am leading one of the sessions so I should really go to bed shortly).

Last year we combined the wander and dinner with a wine tasting party for a friend's leaving do.

Even more fun than tonight. Tom had to present to the whole staff on assessment the next day, but I didn't really have to do anything but listen, so that made it marginally better.

Hopefully this will become an annual event. It is very kind of school to time the inset day so cleverly.

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Today I wish I was...


This is the view from our local Tahoe beach this summer. Look at the slopes! I got very excited. Mr Z muttered about it all looking very steep but you can see there are plenty of gentle trail runs there. I have been doing ski trip stuff this week which made me think of it. Based on where we were on the lake, I surmise that this is part of Heavenly. Here's a picture I found on Flickr of the view the other way.

This photo was taken by Rob and remains his copyright, naturally. I hope Rob was on skis when he took this picture, otherwise it would be a tragedy.

I know it's really a good thing that last year's ski buddies didn't sort out a New Year's holiday this year because I'm knackered and really need to stay at home and rest and knit and stuff, but I am a little sad that I have to wait until Easter to ski. And a little sad that the ski company changed our resort from Spain to Austria. But at least it's still skiing!

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Tuesday Ten

Carole invites me to consider...

Ten things for which I am thankful

1. That cold didn't turn into an 8 week monster (so far, is nearly gone. I am almost back up to full bellow)

2. I have a warm, comfy house to go home to every night with a warm, comfy husband who makes my lunch every day.

3. I have more work offers than I know what to do with. Sometimes hard to be thankful for this one but I do realise I am very fortunate.

4. The book is ALMOST FINISHED (in spite of number 3).

5. I have good relations with my family members.

6. I have a spare bedroom crammed with gorgeous, gorgeous yarn and sometimes even enough time to pursue the hooby.

7. There is only one more teaching day left this week.

8. I've learned the value of saying little.

9. I'm going on three foreign visits with the school next year.

10. I have a £10 Boden voucher burning a hole in my pocket and it's pay day tomorrow! Woohoo!

Monday 23 November 2015

More weekend achievements

I forgot to mention that I baked the Christmas cake yesterday. The whole house smelled amazing. I am a bit worried because my hand slipped when adding the powdered cloves, but since I can't very well cut myself a piece to test it I guess we will just wait and see.

I also finally got some lemon gin going. I love how it has turned this Bombay Sapphire bottle green due to its yellowness.

The creator of the recipe recommends labelling the bottle so that a good vintage can be recreated, but I just followed her recipe since this is the first time I've tried it - the rind of three lemons and 200g caster sugar. I did deviate a little by weighing the sugar and then peeling the lemons directly onto it; there's a lot of zing comes out when you peel a lemon and I wanted to capture as much of that as possible by allowing it to fall onto the sugar. I'm not sure if it worked but it made a fabulous smell and quite a mess.

I was left with a far bit of leftover gin. I'm not even sure I would manage a gin and tonic that large.

Next year when I make it I may add a lime rind along with the lemons. Mix it up a bit.

Blue Monday

Browsing through the Italy photos I came across this, which I took in Florence.

What a joyful bunch of mopeds!

Sunday 22 November 2015

Weekend WIP

I came across a bit of a problem with this yesterday.

Basically, I cast on for the 47", intending to decrease to the 42.5" through the body of the sweater because I am bottom heavy. I duly worked out that instead of decreasing 2 stitches every 10 rows 4 times, I would decrease 2 stitches every 5 rows 9 times and then not increase as much (I think...still need to work out how many stitches I currently have. This was going to sort out the back perfectly.

However, I did not consider the front. In the original pieced pattern, there is no waist shaping on the front portion and it did not occur to me that I would need to decrease 16 stitches somewhere on the front.

Claire at knitting group encouraged me to drop back and add a decrease, as I contemplated ripping yesterday. I did that; it looks a little loose but I think it will block out and Claire is even more convinced so I am borrowing her confidence. So, in the end, I decreased 4 stitches every 6 rows 4 times - one at either "side" and one at either edge of the cable panel. This will achieve the desired effect and hopefully will not look too bizarre, or it will necessitate ripping back and redoing. I'm surprised to find that, for possibly the first time ever, I'd be willing to rip. It's so lovely that it deserves to be as close to perfect as I can get it.

I should have started increases at 9" and I'm close to 10" so I might end up with it a little longer in the body, which is no bad thing. Another 5ish inches and I will try it on before dividing for the armholes.

Sunday baking: Banana Blondies

I made these once in the week but have repeated them today, as I have a surfeit of brown bananas. This was good, as it allowed me to tweak the original recipe a little. While they really did come out with no hint of cakiness about them, I was actually a bit sorry about this, so I have added some raising agents to try to combat this. I also used brown sugar instead of white to up the fudge factor, in direct competition with the raising agents.

150g white chocolate
125g butter
1 large egg
125g light brown soft sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large ripe bananas, mashed
225g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
Half tsp baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste

65g butter, browned
150g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
Milk, to desired consistency

Zap the white chocolate and butter in the microwave for 1 minute. Stir until combined, then heat again in short bursts until all the chocolate has melted. Leave to cool a little.

Beat the egg and sugar until the mixture has gone pale in colour and increased in volume a bit. With the mixer running, pour in the chocolate mixture and vanilla and beat until smooth; then beat in the bananas. Sift the dry ingredients over the mixture and fold in gently - don't overmix. Turn into a square brownie pan (which you should grease and line unless you're using lazy silicone, like me) and bake at 180 degrees for about half an hour, until springy to the touch.

Meanwhile, make the glaze. Brown the butter - this involves heating the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat until it goes brown. Mine frothed right up so this was difficult to see so I was (unusually) cautious - you don't want it to go TOO brown. Place in a mixer with the icing sugar and vanilla and beat slowly until combined. Add milk slowly until you get the right consistency - this is a glaze, so you're looking for pour rather than spread.

Pour the glaze over the bars and resist the temptation to cut them up until the glaze as set - go on, I dare you.

Many thanks to Averie Cooks for this recipe.

Saturday 21 November 2015

Weeknote 21/11

This week I have been mostly...

Continuing with the Telluride. I did not manage to get to row 40 before the end of last weekend, but I am done with the decreases now and hanging out around 10 inches. I think I need to get to 15 before I do the sleeve decreases so that is not too far away. Maybe I'll be there by next weekend. Knitting the cable repeats is addictive.

Going to:
I went to Wagamama with Parpy Jo on Wednesday. It's a new menue since I last went so that was enjoyable.
Earlier today Mr Z and I went to Lacock to look at jewellery for Christmas. Something almost came home with us but it's being adjusted to be a better fit. EXCITED.

Mainly soup. I have had the lurgy and have not felt like eating much at all, so there's been tomato soup, pea and ham soup and chicken and sweetcorn soup. And then fish and chips on Friday night to erase any benefits of a soup diet.
Luckily Mr Z loves making soup.

About DNA, and the battles of Lexington and Concord. It hasn't been a very learn-y week, but I've been keeping my hand in where I can.

Obsessed with:
My own health. For a change.

Entertained by:
The Last Kingdom. I have been saving it up but tried an episode on Friday night - here's the trailer. Oh, it's very good. Pretty brutal and seems to be fairly accurate, based on what I know. Probably my favourite line from the first episode: "I feel like killing somebody. I choose him."

Ill, at the start of the week. I was off sick for two days. I dragged myself to Jenny for training on Wednesday and she said it sounded like a kidney infection, which seems to be the case; but combined with damaged sinuses from sneezing too much thanks to sleeping in an old, dusty sleeping bag; and a cough which I am fairly certain I picked up last Sunday in the supermarket. Little girl behind me at the check out was coughing her face off while her parents just stood there with sympathetic expressions on their faces, fussing her. Hey parents! There are two of you here: one of you stay at home with your infectious child. Or at least, remind her to cover her mouth when coughing.

This is why I usually shop online.

So, yes, it has been a sickly week, but I am thankfully seeming to be on the mend. I spent the latter part of the week worrying that it was going to be the 8 week cough of the start of 2015, but I think not. It just wasn't helped by having a shedload of schoolwork to do - the neglect I have offered it for the past couple of months is finally coming home to roost - and a parents' evening, during which one parent seemed to be asking me for a guarantee that there would be no terrorist attack during our impending (February) school trip to Berlin. There are obviously excellent reasons for her nerves; they were all in Paris last weekend. But unfortunately no such guarantee exists.

Italy: Aida

On our first night in Verona we got dressed up and went to the opera.

We felt very cultured. We rented cushions (the stone was pretty hard) and bought wine from the friendly wine-seller who came through between each of the four acts. We studiously ignored the young men who encouraged us to move closer and closer together so that more people could squeeze in.

As it started to get dark, the show began. We'd all been given candles in little cardboard holders on the way in and we lit them as dusk passed, so the whole theatre was full of twinkly lights. Very picturesque; of course, impossible to catch on camera.

 It was a very good show. We didn't know much of the background so I'd read a quick Aida synopsis before we left. The show was four hours long, mostly thanks to the massive breaks in between acts - in the last one I would have had time to go back to the apartment to get something to eat and something warmer to wear if I'd been so inclined. But then, the apartment was very close by.

This was a real experience, very entertaining and very moving, especially in this setting. I love being in historical places where you can feel the echo of thousands of previous visitors around you, so this was right up my street.

Friday 20 November 2015

Fave Friday

Today, in honour of Starbucks baristas who really, really love their jobs.

I think I have mentioned before that my usual autumnal order from Starbucks is a pumpkin soy misto. I'm not really a lover of fancy coffees, but normal milk makes me feel a bit sick (possibly just a psychosomatic hangover from a traumatic experience at Guide camp), a latte involves too much soy milk and they won't serve me black coffee with pumpkin in it. So I often have to explain - half filter coffee, half forthed soy milk, add pumpkin.

I was walking to my exam board course last month and stopped at Starbucks on Southampton Row to attempt to order this drink. The poor barista was non-plussed. I explained it but he still did not seem to follow and struggled with it on the till - it's not on the menu but it is in the till, somewhere. Luckily a Scottish barista swooped in to save him.

"It's this," he said, and then to me, as I apologised profusely for ordering something difficult, "it's not difficult. It's fine. Have you ever had a red eye? Ooooh have you ever had a BLACK EYE?!"

I had not.

"A red eye is half filter coffee, half frothed milk with a shot of espresso. A black eye is the same, only two shots of espresso."

I expressed a preference for the latter, with pumpkin. The barista became very excited and swung into action. The original barista was still trying to follow the first order but was swept aside in the coffee maelstrom. I tried to explain.

"I'm having basically what I originally ordered," I said, "but we're replacing some of the milk with..."

"With coffee!" cackled the coffee wizard of Bloomsbury. "Put it in the till as this, we're nice."

It was a little cup of heaven. The extra coffee meant that it wasn't overly sweet, even with five pumps of pumpkin in it. And he even wrote it on a label for me, so I could order it again - which I have. Nobody really gets it. "Some weird...thing?" they call, when my order is ready. It's never as good. And I never know what it's going to cost.

I called it the Bloomsbury Bruiser, inspired by the name black eye, but I think it should really be the Bloomsbury Bright Eyes. Large cup, half filter coffee, a double shot, 5 pumps of pumpkin, top up with soy milk, whipped cream on top (because I love a paradox).

Well done, coffee wizard of Bloomsbury. You are doing an excellent job.

Italy: Tuscany to Verona

Into the last few days of the trip, we drove back to Florence to drop off the hire car and pick up the train to Verona. On the way back to the car rental place, we stopped on that famous hill with the famous views for some pictures:

I don't know who this couple were but I couldn't resist taking a picture of them. It looked as though they had met at the top of the steps and were so happy to be back in one another's company.

Then we fought with Florence's one way system to get back to the rental car shop. I nearly got run off the road by an angry bus. Good times.

We were not unhappy to leave Florence.

The train journey to Verona was largely uneventful. No first class this time, and a change at Padua was required, but it was all quite straightforward. We decided to walk to our apartment, which didn't seem too far on the map. It was a bit further than anticipated, and it was very hot. But there was something good at the end.

We'd rented a two-bedroom apartment through AirBnB and it was a real gem. Very central - less than 5 minutes from the amphitheatre, with a coffee shop and beautiful fountains right outside.

Idyllic, quiet, and relatively cheap. And our first accommodation with separate bedrooms. Basically, we got there and both went into our rooms and shut the door. Tutt and I both appreciate our alone time.