Sunday, 26 June 2016

A Week on the Water

Last week we swapped our urban cottage for a few days in a narrowboat on the Llangollen Canal. A little chill out time was just what we needed and the pace of life as we pottered along at 3 miles an hour got right to the heart of that.

The Llangollen was a lovely canal to spend our time on. Travelling almost exclusively through countryside rather than towns and cities, the highlight of the journey for us was the day we spent reaching the source of the canal. As the Vale of Llangollen started to open up around us, we passed over the longest and highest aqueduct in Great Britain - the Pontcysyllte. Not for the faint hearted as there is a shear drop from the edge of the boat. Definitely stayed seated during that one.

From there the canal got narrower and narrower, winding it's way along the valley edge towards the town of Llangollen and a final unnavigable section where we had to switch to foot. Finally we reached the horseshoe falls; a perfect semi-circle of waterfall that separates the water for the canal from the river Dee.

We were with my brother, parents, and my parents 18 month old labrador - Monty. It was great to spend some time with family, both working our way through the series of locks and swing bridges, and settling down at the end of the day to a glass of wine and a game of cards. Monty also seemed to enjoy his week, providing us with much amusement as he checked up on everything that was happening, hared up and down the towpath and did laps of each lock - though also providing us with a few heart-stopping moments as he ran over the lock gates or leapt from the boat in pursuit of someone who'd dared to get off the boat without him.

A really good week.

Read More

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Oiling the Floor

One of the biggest projects we undertook while we were "off-air", was a transformation of our living room. I might have mentioned before that when we moved in we painted almost every wall in the place - but did little else, and now we're slowly working our way back through each room giving it a little more time, care and attention.

The living room for us is a place we spend much of our free time. It's somewhere for sitting with a laptop and planning our latest project, making music, doing crafty things and whipping up a blog post, and when all that's done it's also the place to relax and pop on the TV. The design of the house also means that this is the main thoroughfare - the only way of getting from the front door to the kitchen, conservatory and upstairs.

And it was a struggle. The furniture we'd brought with us from our previous house just didn't fit. Well, it fitted physically - but that was about it. The room isn't tiny (though by no means large), yet it felt cramped, crowded and messy. You had to zigzag your way around it all to get through the room, and more than a couple of extra people was a squish. After much debate we decided to go all out in getting this room sorted and that meant a couple of new bits of furniture.

(As we weren't thinking of blogging this we failed to take any "before" shots and as it turns out we've taken hardly any photos in this room over the years. To give you a small idea of what it was like here's the best of the bunch; a christmas photo of our decorated tree sitting in front of the piano, and a shot of us playing a card game on the floor with all the furniture pushed to the edges. Sorry if that's not much help!)

Changing our large three seater for a corner sofa, along with passing on our acoustic piano for a much more compact digital version allowed us to rethink how the room works with startling results. There's now a clear path from one side of the room to the other, space to pack in a few extra friends, and even some clear floor space for laying out that tangle of yarn that needs unpicking. The new piano is a marked improvement on the old one, inspiring much more regular playing even if we do still both have a definite fondness for the mechanics of a traditional instrument. More than anything, the room feels like it has doubled in size despite having almost as much stuff in it and that's all down to the change in layout.

Much much smaller piano, plus a clear path from the front door on the right to the kitchen on the left.
The understairs cupboard is more accessable and a new chair that can be both tucked
into a corner and pulled out into the main seating space.

But all of the above is a complete tangent - I was going to tell you about the floor!

There was one major flaw with the living room when we moved in (in our opinion anyway), and that was the cream carpet. I'm not adverse to using pale coloured carpets in the right place - but the highest traffic room of the house is definitely not that place. It constantly needed hoovering, and even then was never quite clean.  We were also starting to have problems with the chipboard underfloor having rather a lot of bounce to it. It either needed replacing or reinforcing before we found ourselves with a hole in the floor.

Our solution was to install an engineered oak floor, something solid that would wear well over many years as well as taking the pressure off the ageing chipboard. However, as we were fitting the planks into place we noticed that the finish on them was very uneven. There had been foam strips between the planks to stop them being damaged in transit and where the foam had been was much paler than the edges of the planks. After a few months of back and forward with the flooring company they agreed to send us enough of the hard wax oil they had used so that we could refinish the floor.

Uneven colouration can be seen around the edges of the central plank.

And so we found ourselves, just a short while after finishing the decoration of the room, emptying all of the furniture out again so that we could put a fresh layer of oil down. Fortunately, it has been completely worth the effort. The finish is much more even and the wood has a much warmer feel to it.

Transformation complete.

Read More

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Regina Marie

A little over a year ago now I received a gift of what has to be the softest skein of yarn I've ever had the delight to knit with; Manos del Uruguay Lace. 70% alpaca, 25% silk, 5% cashmere. Beautiful.

I've been looking forward to working with this yarn ever since; giving it a quick squeeze every time I've had an excuse to go into that box. I wanted to make something that would be worn against the skin and have debated many scarf and shawl patterns, but it was only when I saw Araignee's Regina Marie project taking shape that I thought I might be onto a winner.

It had to be a "one skein" project - because that's what I had. I also wanted something that was generally long and thin in shape so that it could be worn more as a scarf than as a wrap, and Regina Marie met both of those criteria. I also liked the way the lace work weaved in and out of itself along the edge. Araignee's assurance that this was a lovely pattern to knit sealed the deal.

And she was right. It's coming together really nicely. I have a little more yarn than the pattern calls for so I'm thinking about following the instructions to make it longer - but I'll see how if feels once I've done the required number of repeats... but now I need to go and knit just a little more!

Read More

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Veggies, or a lack of...

Do you know what the most successful thing to come out of our veg plot was last year? Raspberries... yes, not even a vegetable! We had courgette plants eaten by slugs, sweetcorn that got to about half height then turned black, and leeks that looked more like spring onions. We also had a very poor germination rate for peas and beans both attempting to start them inside and then planted straight out. Generally not our finest year.

All of that caused us to take a step back and think about what we're working with. When we converted this area of the garden the soil was in a very poor state. We dug in a lot of compost initially and have done so a little more each year, but the reality is that the ground is probably in need of some T.L.C. 

So this year we're planting no vegetables at all. We're leaving the area fallow, though instead of leaving a nice empty space to fill with weeds we've planted green manure. A couple of cycles of that followed by a healthy dose of compost or manure and fingers crossed we'll have a better success rate with whatever we decide to grow next.

While that ticks over we'll be enjoying a regular box of fresh, seasonal vegetables from a local farmer instead, and looking forward to a good harvest of fruit from our various trees. 
Read More