Monthly Archives: October 2011

Spinning Around

Spinning Around

Shot of the bobbin of an Ashford Joy spinning wheel with a two-ply green yarn filling the bobbinThe wheel is an Ashford Joy and the yarn was spun from a Shetland Top, colourway ‘Earth’ from Wheeldale Woolcrafts.

This weekend I went to an event hosted by the Lavernham Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. It was a brilliant day out: the hall was suitable and accessible, everyone was friendly and the cake was top-notch.

As if that wasn’t enough, the guild had invited a shop to bring their wares, so half the hall was full of fibre and yarn. And we were allowed to play with it.

Wingham Wool Work are based in Rotherham, Yorkshire, and offer something rather amazing: if you visit on a weekday, you can try out their wheels, felting kit and different kinds of fibre for free. And then you can take what you made away, for free.

They brought the whole lot down to Cambridgeshire for a weekend. It must have been a hell of a lot of work and I hope it was as good for them as it was for us.

As a new spinner it was a brilliant opportunity to find out if I like different and unusual fibres. Most of the fluff in my stash is wool. Most of the spinning fibre in the world is probably wool or a wool-blend.

This weekend I got to try linen, cotton, bamboo (yum), yak, alpaca (love it) and several other things I had never heard of before. My mini-skein of thick-and-thin yarn spun from a dozen different fibres is one of my newest treasures.

Unsurprisingly, my fibre stash has grown – might need a bigger box in fact – and I’ve got all sorts of plans for things I want to make. And plans for a detour to Rotherham next time we drive up north!

Vinegar: Good on Chips, Great on Limescale

Vinegar: Good on Chips, Great on Limescale

A clear perspex shower screen covered with white calcium deposits (limescale)A clear shower screen without limescale

Before and after shots. The shower screen in our bathroom is a limescale magnet, particularly now that it’s too cold to leave the window open to let it dry properly.

The warnings on household cleaners scare me and I do try to be eco-friendly, so I was pleased to find a tip for dealing with limescale which didn’t involve a chemical soup and which actually works.

Vinegar removes limescale without scrubbing
The instructions are super simple:

  1. Thoroughly wet a cloth with vinegar.
  2. Lay it on the limescaled area (I used a light cloth which stuck to the screen).
  3. Leave for a while (I meant to leave it for about 20 minutes, but it was probably longer).
  4. Remove cloth and rinse area with water.

Ta da! Clean shower screen. And a slight smell of chip shop.

I’m really impressed with this trick, and it works a lot better than the commercial limescale removers I’ve tried.

Another vinegar tip: window cleaner
I’ve been using a mix of  1 part vinegar, 8 parts water and a squeeze of washing-up liquid as a window cleaner for a while, but it wasn’t concentrated enough to tackle the limescale. Definitely recommend it though.

Vegetarian food in the USA

Vegetarian food in the USA

A vegetarian Philly cheesestake on white paper. It is a bread roll stuffed with brown pieces (saitan, mushrooms and onions mixed in cheese)

This large sandwich is just half of a vegetarian Philly cheesesteak, bought at Reading Market in Philadelphia. It was delicious.

One of the downsides to being vegetarian is that I sometimes miss out on trying the local specialities (like pulled pork) and often have quite a limited choice when we eat out, both in the UK and abroad. Here are brief reviews of some of the places we ate at in the USA.

IHOP – cheap and tasty, try it!
Should really be called ‘pancakes with everything’ as they seem to serve you two meals (one of which is pancakes, on a separate plate) no matter what you order. This is great for a veggie (as long as you like pancakes) as you can split one meal and both eat well for about $10, total. They also have a number of options, including a cooked breakfast, omlettes and soup, and seem happy to remove or alter items.

Cracker Barrel – avoid
Southern cooking seems to mean ‘bacon with everything’ so even a side of vegetables isn’t safe. The restaurant was fun to visit, but the menu options were very limited: pancakes, maybe the soup of the day.

Five Guys Burgers – avoid
If you order a vegetarian sandwich with no cheese and no extras, you will be given an empty bun. And they’ll charge you $3+ for the privilege. Despite what it says on the sign, there is no vegetarian option unless you want an expensive grilled cheese or tomato sandwich.

Taco Bell – cheap and convenient
If you’re on a budget or on the highway, this is a  good place to stop as wraps start at less than $1. The Tex-Mex menu isn’t broad, but does include vegetarian options.

Moe’s Southwest Grill – tasty
A food court standard, Moe’s lets you choose the base for your Mexican-themed meal (meat or veggie) then add plenty of extras (like rice, sauces, cheese). Honestly, you could eat a good meal just off the extras, and it’s pretty tasty.

I’ve only included chain restaurants here, and my comments are based on my personal preference and what was available in the venue we visited at the time so your experience may vary.

I found there was usually a better selection for vegetarians at little, local restaurants than the chains, and was surprised and pleased by the range of vegetarian foods (meat substitutes and the like, not just veg!) in the supermarkets we shopped at. And, of course, there was plenty of new candy to try!

As I was going to St Ives…

As I was going to St Ives…

A green field in Cambridgeshire with sheep grazing on it. The land is s flat that there's nothing to see in the distance and the picture is mostly blue sky

Proof that the sun does shine in this rainy country! There’s so much sky when the countryside is as flat as it is round here.

Went out to St Ives on the Guided Bus last weekend and the ride is gorgeous. The track runs along an old railway line, through some absolutely stunning countryside. As the busway is quite narrow, it’s easy to look out at the sheep in the fields and the birds on the lakes.

A return ticket only costs £4 (although return tickets are only valid on certain buses as there are two companies operating the same route) and there’s a cycle path, too, which we might have to try when the weather warms up again.

Wearing my handknits: Summer Flies shawl

Wearing my handknits: Summer Flies shawl

Me, a 6-foot tall, size 20 UK white chick standing in the sunshine rocking a look which is hopefully fully described in the post.

K took this photo this weekend. My sunglasses and bare legs are proof that it’s not always rainy and horrible in England in October.

It might seem contradictory, but while I was perfectly happy to travel round the USA for a month wearing the same three dresses over and over, I really like clothes.

I hate shopping. I’m 180cm tall and a UK size 20 and female. There aren’t very many people with those parameters out there, so it’s hard to find clothes which don’t bulge or gape or dig in. Shopping makes me despair.

Despite that, I like getting dressed. I like clothes that make me smile. I like clothes that are comfortable and suitable for the weather, keeping me warm or cool.

Combine that with my passion for knitting, and you’ve got a recipe for some fun outfits. I thought it might be fun to show off some of the knits I’ve made and how I wear them, so here’s the first in an occasional series.

As I’m new to this, I don’t have much to say about the outfit itself, apart from that it made me happy and kept me warm enough on a lovely autumn day.

Handknits: Summer Flies shawl knit in bamboo for drape; Chevvy socks in Laughing Yaffle in Autumn Leaves

Clothes: white dress with flamingo print (Ruby Rocks at Evans); brown corderoy jacket (Bon Marche); white cropped leggings (M&S, I think); brown Mary Jane style shoes (Evans); brown handbag (bought abroad); prescription sunglasses (Boots)

Carry on travelling

Carry on travelling

I'm a white woman, mid-twenties with brown hair blowing all over the place, knitting a yellow sock with the Statue of Liberty in the background

This post would make more sense if I had taken a photo of our luggage at some point but I didn’t so you get this picture of me working on a sock on the Ellis Island Ferry instead.

So, did it work? The whole travelling for a month with one carry-on bag? Yes.

Of course, what you saw laid out on the bed wasn’t the whole story: I was also travelling with K and if we’d managed to fit enough stuff for both of us for a month in one bag, I would be calling the Vatican and announcing a miracle.

In the end, we took 3 bags: a 65 litre backpack (hold luggage) with K’s stuff and the gifts we were taking, my 35L backpack (and yes, all that stuff fit in that one bag) and a daypack for K to take on the plane (about 15L, I think). Here are a few things I learned.

Save space for your souvenirs. We didn’t bring much back, but new shoes, a t-shirt and a couple of dresses take up space. And – of course – there was yarn buying.

Folding luggage is brilliant. We took a 35L MoutainWarehouse Packasack Holdall * which collapses down to the size of a folded t-shirt. It was really handy – we used it as a laundry bag, to carry groceries, to corral stuff for particular trips (like our train trip) and then as larger carry-on luggage on the way back.

Schedule laundry in. I thought I’d just do it when we needed to, but there were more interesting things to do, so I didn’t until the day I realised I had no clean undies left at all. This could have been better.

Question the essentials. I hardly used my sun hat  or my rain cape as we were mostly in places where shelter was easy to come by. So maybe next time I won’t take them. Or a toothbrush, as I was given a perfectly decent one on the plane.

Plan to shop. If you like to shop, that is. K does, so next time I think we’ll plan for that by leaving out a couple things he won’t need immediately, like a sweater or extra t-shirt.

Take needle and thread. Both the bras I took on this trip broke, one on the plane on the way out and one in the airport on the way back. And, as a knitter, I had ends to weave in, too.

Interchangeable needles are brilliant. I took about three pairs of tips in my favourite sizes and was able to cast on with yarn I bought straight away.

Don’t take complicated knitting. Turns out I have no interest in trying to knit lace when I’m tired or jet lagged or on a train or watching a baby or, in fact, doing any of the things I did this trip. But I did knit two pairs of plain socks.

All in all, it was great a success: we had everything we needed for comfort and everything we took got used at least once. I also didn’t get any back pain from carrying luggage and we were able to hop on and off public transport easily, which saved us a lot of money – the one taxi we took cost $45 for a 15 minute trip.

* This is the only product of this type I’ve seen, and we paid less than £10 for ours, which is a good price. However, the fabric already has a small hole so I don’t know if I’d use it as check-in luggage.

Bath, PA

Bath, PA

Red sign lettering says 'Bath, Pa.' and is mounted on a red-brick wall. There's a glimpse of grey sky at the top left.

I was rather pleased to find a large red sign on the side of a supermarket saying ‘Bath, PA’ as despite that being the name of the town, no civic body seemed to have it posted somewhere photogenic.

A lot of places in the USA seem to take their names from European towns and cities and I like comparing them. It’s fun to see a tiny one-traffic-light Paris or a teeming downtown (New) York.

Driving around Pennsylvania, we had to detour to go to Bath, PA to see how it compares to our former Georgian residence. On a rain-soaked Friday in September, it was pretty quiet but we did note the following:

  • No bath stone
  • Very little beige at all
  • No mention of Jane Austen…
  • …or the Romans
  • No abbey

On the other hand, it did have pretty houses with wood-sidings, lots of Halloween decorations and people actually sitting out on their porches, chatting to their neighbours. You wouldn’t see that in Bath (original flavour) for at least three reasons – lack of porches, lack of sociability and fear of frostbite.

We’ve often driven through Pennsylvania, South Gloucestershire as it’s on the way to the motorway from Bath. Sadly, it turns out, it’s not in the BA postcode. That would have been a nice coincidence.

Yes, I’m still talking about our trip to the USA. I’ll keep going until (a) I run out of photos I find amusing, (b) something more interesting happens here which I can usefully comment about (so not the latest Murdoch scandal) or (c) two people leave comments asking for a change.

Of monumental importance

Of monumental importance

The Korean War Veterans Memorial includes larger than life statues of service men. Some of these 7 foot tall steel soldiers are shown here,  apparently moving forward stealthily through dense undergrowth.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial includes 7 foot tall steel servicemen. The clothes are detailed but there’s something a bit odd about their faces.

If you can tell what a city thinks is important by the monuments it displays, then Washington DC considers war a top priority. Just on the National Mall, between the Lincoln Memorial (president during their Civil War) and the Capitol building, there are memorials to the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

But off to one side, there’s Einstein. He’s important, too.

The Einstein Memorial off the National Mall in DC is a large bronze statue of the man himself, looking relaxed wearing rumpled casual clothes and holding an open book on one knee.

This statue of Einstein makes him look very casual, relaxed and approachable. I suspect that wasn’t always the case.

And of course, the Mall is also home to the Smithsonian Museums, many of which contain whole galleries of exhibits which aren’t about war.

We visited the Air and Space Museum and I was shocked by this original V2 rocket. I’d read about them – they feature in many Blitz-era stories where, unlike in the history books, the damage they do and the people they kill always furthers the plot.

I just hadn’t ever imagined they would be so big.

The V2 rocket is 14 meters long. The one in the Smithsonian is stood on end as though ready to launch and is painted in a sort of black and white check pattern.

Seeing this in real life makes the ‘glorious memory’ of the war memorials ring hollow. Fortunately for onlookers, it’s well secured – the Smithsonian is obviously worried by the damage it could cause just by falling over.

Home again

Home again

Two sunken and two floating punts nestle together in the sunshine on the brakish green waters of the River Cam.

The photo of punts in the sunshine on the River Cam is entirely gratuitous and I certainly didn’t take it today. That would mean leaving the house during daylight hours and being dressed and all kinds of other complications. 

Normal blog service will resume on Monday when – hopefully – I’ll take you on a tour of the East Coast*, from DC to NYC.

In the meantime, I’m going to concentrate on being awake during the day and sleeping at night. My parents have been insisting that these are important skills my whole life, so I figure it’s worth a shot. Unfortunately, jet lag is kicking my arse this time and I feel as eerily off-kilter as the riverbank in that photo. We had well and truly acclimatised to EST and coming back on a red eye (left at 21:00, arrived at 09:00 and only took five hours) meant we didn’t get much sleep. Two days later, I’m still not sure what time it is and am likely to wake up at four in the morning bright-eyed and with nothing to do but watch TV. Again.

Good thing we’ve got BBC iPlayer, that’s all I can say.

* This East Coast tour does not include any actual coast although there might be some photos of New York harbour.