Monday, 17 September 2018

Blue Monday

Guys, I might be in trouble. There are not enough days left in 2018 to get to 127 posts for the year; but I really don't want to miss it this year, because it would be 10 years of 127 posts a year and then that would be a thing. There might be some double post days coming up. I didn't really anticipate how busy I was going to be. I thought that the exam board work might pay enough for me to give up teaching, and I was right, but it never occurred to me that that was because it's basically a second full time job, even if it is only for part of the year. I think I managed 10 days clear of it over the summer, but I was away and couldn't blog.

But anyway, enough of that whinging, as the post it on my monitor reminds me daily - I wanted the job. In short, hopefully you will find me chatty over the next few months but hopefully not too chatty.

Here's a fruit of my summer holiday. Zoe and I went to Montpellier and visited Nimes. It has a sky the colour of jeans, which was fitting, because the city claims denim as its invention (de Nimes...). I loved this statue.

She actually had what looked like the Parthenon on her head, which, it turned out, is a representation of the Roman ruins of the town, since the figure is an allegory of Nimes. Pretty cool.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Recipe: Grilled Salsa

One of the aforementioned Camp America friends that I am still in touch with on Facebook shared this way of making salsa a whole year ago, and I only remembered I was going to copy it when she reshared it from her memories this week. I did it the same day. No time to waste on forgetting it again.

It's ridiculously easy. You select your vegetables. This is five tomatoes, two chillis, one yellow pepper, one red onion and four cloves of garlic. Cut up the toughies but leave the garlic in its skin.

Put them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with olive oil and I added salt here but I probably wouldn't bother next time. Put the whole lot under the grill for about 10 minutes. Turn the peppers and onions once. Don't bother with the tomatoes.

I was in such haste I almost forgot to take a picture of the grilled results.

Once everything is softened and grilled, slip the skins off the tomatoes and pop the garlic out of its skin. Bung the whole lot into a food processor with a big handful of chopped coriander (I used stalks as it was all we had).

Pulse briefly. I gave this five short pulses in my Kenwood and it was done. You'll know how chunky you like it, obvs. I did read one comment from someone who said they keep blending and eat it as a soup. I think that would work nicely.

I left the seeds in the chillis on this one and it has a nice kick to it, but not too strong. You can vary your veggies according to your taste. We made this to go with fajitas but then also ate it with lamb kebabs and in turkey wraps. So good. I recommend.

Throwback Thursday

Having the floor replaced has forced the Z household to do some significant clearing out of stuff. This is all very liberating. The poor charity shop won't know what's hit it, and today I have listed things on ebay for the first time in probably a decade. Excited to see that there are already eight bids on 15 items that have been gathering dust on my dressing table for years.

Anyway, with that spring-cleaning head on, I have photographed some things ahead of getting rid of them, so I will memorialise them in my blog, so they can live forever in memory.

Camp America was one of the best things I've done. I went to a Girl Scout camp, Camp Black Hawk, in Wisconsin for the summer of 1998. I learned a lot, particularly about how black attracts mosquitoes, how to dive a lake looking for a body (thankfully this was only ever a drill), how to use a campfire pie oven, how to make people feel happy and good, and how to hide a bottle of tequila and a pack of cigarettes just off-camp so that it wouldn't get wet or spoil. I swam with a giant turtle. I saw the Northern Lights. I learned all kinds of watercraft. I saw the Spice Girls in concert (Ginger had just left, devo'd). I went skinny dipping for the first time in my life (no kids on camp at the time, I hasten to add). I managed cut off from the world for two months, sleeping in a tent, with only actual paper letters and the very occasional email, when I could convince the senior to let me use the computer on site. I made friends for life. It was amazing.

When I signed up to Camp America and they sent me the welcome pack, this label was included. I didn't use it because it looked flimsy, but I have, nevertheless, kept it all this time. In fact, it might not have made it into the bin yet. How often can one thing so small bring back such a range of memories?

Yellow never was, and never will be, my colour.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Weekend WIP

I finished the first sleeve for this a couple of weeks ago, amid much lamenting and whinging and complaining, as is my wont. Nobody wants to be knitting angora in the biggest heatwave the country has seen since 1976. I promised myself a new linen cast on after the first sleeve was done.

Well, then we went and had the floor done in the living room, which accounts for roughly three quarters of the square footage of the ground floor of our house. The contents of said room are still stuffed into the spare room. Behind it is all my yarn. So, it was either cast on the second sleeve or not knit at all.

I put it off for two weeks, but the second sleeve is now on the go, as you see on the right of the picture. I wouldn't have time to finish a new linen for this summer anyway, although was I was wearing this yesterday and thinking how much I'd like another one.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Sunday selfie

When I started marking public exams and people told me I was crazy, I'd always shrug and say, 'Yeah,'s horrible for three weeks, but it's only three weeks, it's not part of the summer holidays and then you can spend the money.'

This week marks the start of the seventh week of this year's exam season. I have a post it note on my computer monitor that says, 'You wanted this job'. My resolve never to react to pressured situation by getting stressed has been tested to its absolute limit. Here was my reaction to a work friend sending pictures of him and our colleagues on a speed boat in Capri last week.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Wonderwool 2018

At the risk of sounding very old, this year is absolutely flying by. I shouldn't be surprised; I have been very busy, which is scientifically proven to make time pass more quickly, but....still! Wonderwool was already over a month ago! Phew.

We stayed in a different place this time, since our usual bunkhouse had been snapped up. It was an outward bound centre aimed at schools so it was slightly less comfortable but in slightly more spectacular surroundings, being on the edge of Brecon forest, and with the added benefit of being on the Bristol side of Builth.

A picturesque nearby tree. It's the sort of place that would have been good for a walk is I was disposed to such things. There was a single track road in and out, populated by Houdini sheep and a small herd of goats fronted by an angry ram. There were many sofas and a good wood burner. I'm already looking forward to going back.

I was quite restrained on the yarn front. I was going to attempt to not buy anything, but only in a half-hearted way. Here are the goodies:

  • Five skeins of Triskelion Hama DK, a BFL/silk/cashmere blend, in Navigator. It was on their sale rack. Sally saw me coming, as usual. 
  • Two skeins of Riverknits BFL 4-ply in Starry Night. THE COLOUR! It looked so good knitted up in a little shawlette with twinkly beads. 
  • More Riverknits - a last minute impulse buy of a rainbow gradient kit. I don't think I will ever find anything good enough to knit with it. There are 960m, though. It's basically a jumper. 
  • Some buttons from Brimstone. Of course. 
I also bought a couple of patterns - a book of small bird patterns from Sue Strafford (still need to knit up the giant blue tit from the kit I bought x years ago) and the sweater pattern for this -

I was thinking the Hama would be a good base for this but heaven knows what I'd pair it with. 

There was also a needle felting workshop with Jenny Barnett again. April and I went to make woodland creature badges. I didn't stab myself, which I consider to be a win. 

And my Wonderwoman jumper garnered a few compliments, which are always nice to hear. And the weather was lovely!

Not so good for everybody in attendance, though....


Sunday, 13 May 2018

Weekend WIP

With Wonderwool looming and no time to cast on for something new, I went back to something old, with positive results. I finished the other side last weekend, what with the bank holiday and all, and made a start on the sleeve today.

My intention had been to complete the neckline first, as I mentioned back in November, but then I realised that the top of the sleeve forms part of the neckline, so I'm just getting on with it. I'm only doing one at a time, in a break from the norm, but starting two off together when there is short row shaping to create a curved hem was just too much. I am hoping that this will fly past since it's just st-st in the round. Of course, now it's too warm to wear it again, but oh well. I am trying to be strong and not cast on a new linen top for the summer until one sleeve is done, at least. The second sleeve would make good travel knitting.

Weekend FO: Ooo Wonderwoman

It SHOULD have been a weekend FO post three weeks ago, but then I washed it for blocking so I didn't have any pictures, and then, yknow, busy.

Wonderwoman cares nothing about multiple chins!

Pattern: A heavily adapted Julissa (Scoop neck version)
Yarn: John Arbon Knit by Numbers, all half price faulty skeins (except the white which I had to buy full price). I weighed it at the end and it's 425g, so surprisingly economical on the yarn.
Needles: 4mm and 3.75mm
Mods: Well, where to start? Obviously the colourwork is all to my own charts, but even then I didn't exactly follow my own charts and there were various mistakes made that I just fudged my way through.
I modified the design of the sweater with a longer body and a shorter rib; I increased to a larger size after the waist shaping, in what has become my usual pear-shaped practice with top-down sweaters; I basically ignored the sleeve instructions and cast on more stitches than I was meant to, to ensure the drag from the intarsia didn't pinch; I knitted twice as many rows for the neckline as I was meant to, because I wanted to ensure there was no off-the-shoulder slippage.

I am overwhelmingly thrilled with the result. A sweater so long-planned, and it came out as well as I had hoped. There are bits I'd change - maybe I should have tried to intarsia a star on the underside of the sleeves, across the seam; I made a couple of mistakes with the cuffs that I was too lazy to rip back. However, I wore it to Wonderwool and had lots of positive comments, as well as from the lovely cheerleaders at knitting group. So, I think I can chalk it up as a resounding success.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Weeknote: 7/4

I have been putting off the second sleeve but today I finally broke the back of it. I am to the point where the yellow cuff point begins. If I can encourage myself to knit in the evenings this week, it might be a FO post next weekend.

Going to:
I've been all over the place this past week.

I started in Italy, on the last day of the ski trip, packing and leaving, travelling through France, taking the ferry out of Dunkirk after a long and boring wait, entertained by Carl and Reece, our bickering drivers who left us at Cobham, and finally home. This marks ski trip number 10 that I have organised. I am now a total pro at sleeping on coaches.

On Monday I went to work out with Jenny and we did arms for the first time in months.

On Tuesday, I took the National Express to London. I stayed in an AirBnB near Covent Garden and followed the tourist trail for three days. Highlights:

The Charles I exhibition at the Royal Academy. Included portraits of him and art collected by him and his wife, Henrietta Maria. This included some miniatures of the Tudor court that have become ubiquitous, at least for students of the Tudors, which I quite enjoyed looking at.

The Tower of London. Traitors' Gate and the spot where Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and the Earl of Essex were executed. The Crown Jewels - a long queue, but worth seeing.

Rather creepily, that woodwork at the top was installed for Anne Boleyn's coronation, and then 4 years later she was rowed through this gate to her execution. 

St Dunstans-in-the-East, a derelict church with a lovely garden near the Tower of London. I happened to walk past it. Founded in Saxon times. Destroyed by the Great Fire, its own rebuilding and the Blitz. I think it has earned its peaceful existence.

The Mithraeum. A hidden treasure. An ancient Roman temple revealed by WW2 bombing and restored underneath a large city office block. It's free and a quick visit, but stunningly presented: we entered in the dark; the room was then flooded with light smoke and strong downlights created an echo of how the walls would have formed the space.

A wander through Postman's Park, full of plaques commemorating heroic deeds - mostly small children flinging themselves into big waters to save friends and family.

On was the way there I came across part of the original Roman city wall. It astonishes me that I lived in London for four years, studied history in it, yet remained oblivious to these sites.

Charterhouse, near the Barbican. Site of the demise of the Carthusians during Henry VIII's reign - a particularly brutal episode immortalised in a set of woodcuts that often pop up, without adequate provenance, to demonstrate medieval torture and execution. It has a plague skeleton and a very nice cafe.

I attempted to go to Westminster Abbey on Thursday, but the queue was an hour long and there was a sign saying no large backpacks, so I just hung around in the sunshine, had some lunch and got the bus home.

I also squeezed in dinner with university friend Burhan and school friend Sarah. Burhan reminded me we've known each other nearly half our lives, which made me feel old, but Sarah and I concluded that we could have said the same at the age of 10 (having met when we were 5) so it's clearly not an indication of age.

I spent Friday at school, Doing All The Things, and went knitting today. I am almost ready to go back to work. Almost.

Some more about the Tudors, of course, with all the touring. They get everywhere.

Of the new Penguin monarch biographies. There was an epic display of them in the Piccadilly Waterstones. I tweeted about it and acclaimed historian Helen Castor tweeted back, followed me and we had a conversation. Amazing.

Some good London haunts: I had breakfast at Balthazar on Covent Garden, which is undoubtedly a tourist trap but served lovely eggs and seemed to be crawling with business people. Sarah and I ate at Champagne Charlie's which has an excellent wine list. I had tawny port for the first time. It was very tasty.

I also went to Fortnum and Mason for the first time and spent far too much in their chocolate department. Had to chuckle at their plastic bag sign. "We don't charge for our plastic bags as their composition means they are not considered disposable." They feel pretty plastic to me. Pretty sure that's just code for, "We're the Queen's grocer so you can do one."

On Friday night I made turkey tetrazzini for dinner, from this recipe. Considering how ordinary the ingredients are, it was surprisingly tasty. I didn't have any parmesan or cream cheese, so I substituted with iberico and le roule, thus using up almost the last of the Christmas cheese. Go me.

Entertained by:
I've been trying to read Fire and Fury which I picked up on the way to skiing, but it's not very well written and I can't get into it. I've also been trying to read Talking to my Daughter about the Economy, by Yanis Varoufakis, which was supposed to be my book club Easter read (I picked book club as my wellbeing activity for inset day because they cancelled Airhop), but it might be a bit simplistic because I can't get into that either.

The book winner of the week is Why I'm not longer talking to white people about race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Here's an extract. It's very readable and is giving me a better understanding of the struggles my students face. It is also making me think about privilege in all its forms.

It's been a relaxing week off and I feel rested, but I can't help but feel a sense of foreboding about the next few months. Big, big work to do, and lots of it. I tried to cheer myself up by booking a summer holiday with Mr Z, but it just creates a deadline where there was not previously one.

Ah well. Let's get the hatches battened. Onwards.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Weekend WIP

This is a progress update from last weekend, really. I have finished a sleeve and woven in 7000 ends - just one more sleeve to go.

Now I see it on, I wonder if I needed a slightly thicker blue rib at the bottom of the body...but it is at the longest it could be, really. The sleeve is also slightly longer than I intended, but actually, the red star hits the perfect spot as it is.

Now just the second sleeve to go. Unfortunately I didn't really keep any notes from the first sleeve, so it's going to be interesting.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Weeknote: 24/3

This week I have been mostly...

No. I haven't done any knitting. I have been busy prepping for the ski trip, for which I leave later today.

I did knock up a Wonderwoman outfit for skiing, though. I managed to find some craft foam and a reddish top enormous enough to go over my ski jacket. And I've got my new backpack to finish it off.

Going to: 
I started the week in London, at another exam board meeting. It was one of those slightly painful meetings where we didn't really solve any of our problems, but just came to a realisation about what problems needed solving. I'm trying not to be worried about the summer series but...

I went to see Matthew Bourne's Cinderella with Parpy Jo, Paul and Paul's housemate on Wednesday. We had front row upper balcony seats, so a very good view.

On Thursday, I had dinner with my old university housemate, Emilia. We haven't seen each other since 2012 and she now has a 5 year old son. She's extremely academic and I usually end up having to look things up after we've had dinner, which is sort of nice.

Entertained by:
The ballet was really very good. It was Cinderella, set in the Blitz. The costumes were all in monochrome, so it had this soft-focus, wartime romance film feel to it. In fact, there were lots of little flourishes in that vein - Ginger Rogersesque flicks of the hands, a nod to the beach scene in From Here To Eternity (I thought). The stepmother was particularly good.

The bird feeder has had a lot of visitors this week. Today there was a group of goldfinches dominating the seed feeder. Not a great picture, but at one point there were three together.

I've been re-reading Annie Proulx's short stories, Fine Just The Way It Is, and enjoying rediscovering those.

Soooooo excited about skiing! Leaving in two hours!

Monday, 5 March 2018

Weekend WIP

Sorry for being absent for all of February but all my words were being poured into Word files for my new book, which is finally finished (in first draft). Three things:

1. Writing a book about your own practice is flipping hard. I was regularly paralysed by imagined scenes of people sneering, 'I can't believe she wrote that, how vapid/obvious/stupid/damaging/wrong!' I had to keep telling myself, in the style of JK Rowling, that as long as they'd bought it and I had their money, it didn't matter what they said. And as my friend ('friend') Lizzy said on the phone yesterday, I've already got a job I love...subtext, it doesn't matter if I ruin my professional reputation. Cheers then.
(She didn't mean it like that. She's lovely really.)

2. I knew I would leave it until the last minute and even with that knowledge, and working hard to mitigate against it, I did. I had 21,000 words by half term. 31,000 words by the end of half term. 43,000 words by yesterday. So, between contracting and deadline, it took me seven and a half months to write the first half, and three weeks to write the second. I am coming to the conclusion that I'm never going to be able to change this about myself.

3. Thank heavens for snow days. What I mess I would have been in without them.

Anyway. Onto the point of the blog. I have been working on my (Ooo) Wonderwoman jumper when my schedule permits. I managed to finish the body and the neckline during the Olympics, so just the sleeves to go.

Please ignore my utterly foul carpet. I know what new flooring I want, I just need to get round to buying it and finding someone to fit it. No I'm not doing it myself.

I'm really quite pleased with my work. I had to make the neckline about double the recommended width and it is still quite low, but I think it works for the style.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018


I've had one of those stupid 10 day events that occurs every so often in my working life. A four day marking meeting in London, followed immediately by a three day training event in Birmingham, followed immediately by a two day tour of the Battlefields with 38 teenagers. Around the middle of this sequence I came down with a horrible cough and so found myself huddled, napping on the coach as the students toured the site of Ypres in the capable hands of my colleagues. I was grateful to get home on Saturday night, but knew something was wrong, thanks to Mr Z's odd silence.

Very sadly, he had to take the mitten to be put down on Friday night. She had a saddle embolism which had cut the blood supply to her back legs. By the time he got home from his 4 day London meeting, 20 minutes after Sib Z had been in for the evening feeding, she was crouched between the radiator and the sofa, unable to move, and had wet herself. He took her to the emergency vets where a very tearful young woman gave him the bad news.

Her most recent favourite sleep spot.

I am really very sad. She was a present from someone in my first year 11 class and she's been with us for nearly 14 years. On Thursday night, when I did her eye drops, I petted her under the chin until she was sitting almost nose to nose with me, purring on my face, and I thought, 'You're not long for this world' because she would never normally let me have moments like that.

Well, she knew what she was about. She was almost 14, almost blind and had been off her food for a few weeks, so perhaps she really did know. I'm quite grateful it wasn't drawn out longer, but I am so sorry she is gone. Rest in peace, mitten. I hope there are endless bad-at-flying baby robins wherever you are now. 

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Weeknote: 7/1


I managed to put a lot of rows onto (Ooo) Wonderwoman earlier in the week...indeed, it was all I could do to drag myself away from the project to do some much-needed work. You've seen the update in the previous post, so I won't say any more about it. I was very tempted to cast on a massive snuggly jumper in my leftover Lopi, after reading a KAL thread on Ravelry, but managed to resist the temptation.

Going to:

It was back to work on Wednesday, but (whisper it quietly) it's always something of a relief to get back to the routine after the Christmas holidays. I find them really chaotic.

I went and got my nails done in a new-to-me place. I couldn't manage the timing of an appointment at my usual salon. Well, they did a neat job of the manicure but I can't say the experience was wholly enjoyable. It smelled very strongly of nail chemicals and didn't seem to be very clean. The man (first time it's ever been a man) was working on me and another client at the same time, and was quite scruffy. And didn't talk - at least not to me. Made me realise how spoilt I've been with my usual salon.

On Friday I got the train the Sheffield to see Jen and celebrate her 40th birthday. We drank a LOT of Prosecco cocktails and danced around the kitchen to the greatest hits of our youth. It was a lot of fun.

I think we'd worked through 11 bottles of Prosecco between 6 of us by the end of the night. Strong work. The best cocktail included ginger wine and lime juice.

Entertained by:

I've been listening to a few more Joe Rogan podcasts. They're very long but really interesting. This weekend I listened to a Russell Brand one and a Megan Phelps Roper one - she's the granddaughter of the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, who left the church 4 years ago. Really interesting.

Over the end of the holidays I managed to finished watching the second season of Victoria - really enjoy this, although it is a bit revisionist in places, I fear. I'm not convinced the Queen's dresser would have manumitted 20 slaves instead of selling them and retiring, due to having a social conscience; but it may be true.

The other thing we watched last week was Mindhunter on Netflix. Creepy and quite disturbing, but compelling. Looking forward to the next series of that.


Keyed up. January has a crazy busy 10 days in the middle of it, during which I have to set 6 days of cover back to back. It's been about 7 years since I last had to do that. I'm looking forward to all the bits of the crazy 10 days, but I find myself slightly on edge about getting everything organised in time; this is made even worse by the looming book deadline. I'm making myself write 500 words a day, which seems to be working so far. If I can keep it up, I should be done on time.

Weekend WIP

Oooo! Wonderwoman. She continues apace.

I doggedly knit the colourwork on this all the way to Sheffield on the train and then most of Saturday afternoon while I hung out at Jen's, waiting for her 40th birthday party to start (like, how are we so old now?)

On the train home I knit the extra red rows on the back so I could join in the round, and here we are. It's all red from here, possibly with a blue ribbing band at the bottom. I've toyed with the idea of adding yellow around the waist, in the style of a belt, but I worry that the red would look a bit odd continued underneath, and I've got to stop being so literal about it. This is not her outfit. It is in the style of her outfit.

I am really thrilled with it so far. Some of my stars might need fixing with some Swiss darning but it's turning out better than I expected. I think I have been putting it off for so long in part because I didn't think it would look as good as I'd hoped, so it is a relief that the fear was unfounded. So far, at least.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Blue Monday

I took this out of the car window on the way back to LA from Vegas in October (hence the weird reflection thing). It's near the state line and we've driven past it a few times and always wondered what it was.

This time I had internet access, so I looked it up. It's essentially a sun farm. The panels on the ground are mirrors, all reflecting the sun to the central tower, causing it to heat up to a dizzying temperature and drive steam turbines, which generate electricity. Pretty cool, huh? It's called Ivanpah, and I think it might be the biggest of its kind in the world, though I can't remember where I read that.

We've only driven past it in the evening, previously, which is why I was so confused about what the towers were for. There's not mistaking what they're for in the daylight. You can't even look directly at them.