Half Term Travels

Monday, 24 October 2016

I know I probably start quite a few posts by saying how time has gone by so quickly, but somehow October seems to have flown by even quicker than any other month this year!

Today was the last day of the half term holidays. We didn't have any plans for our holiday week until last month when my husband took a couple of the boys to the Camanachd Cup final in Fort William. They stayed overnight with my husband's cousin and his family, and while they were there his cousin invited us all up for a few days in the October holidays.

So we headed north last Monday, stopping off first of all at the great little Toy Museum in Callendar and then having our picnic by the river there. In the car. Because although it was very pretty, it wasn't eating outside weather!

The journey through Glencoe was as beautiful and majestic as it always is. It doesn't matter what the weather is like when you go through there, it is always amazing to look at.

The older boys spent the first evening, and every other evening, chatting into the wee small hours with their second cousins, who are roughly ages with our oldest three boys. Meanwhile their dads were chatting just as much downstairs in the kitchen! 

Tuesday was the highlight of our trip for the boys, especially Calum and Fraser the two big train fans. We had bought tickets to take the return journey from Fort William to Mallaig on the Jacobite Steam Train.

Dad and James didn't come with us, in order to keep the costs down! They were the two who were least likely to mind missing out on the trip and they spent the day at the climbing centre instead.

Since I had Fraser sitting on my knee, the only photos I managed to take were hastily snapped through the window, but Calum took some amazing ones with his camera and I'll share them further down the post.

The scenery on the route is amazing and I can see now why it is one of the most famous railway journeys in the world!

When we reached Mallaig the boys were able to jump in with the driver before the engine was uncoupled and taken down to the opposite side of the train.

We had an hour and a half to wait in Mallaig until the return journey. There isn't an awful lot to do there, especially when it is raining! We found the Lifeboat Shop, which delighted Ally, and spent a little while in there, before joining the long queue in the Chippie and finally getting some absolutely delicious chips for lunch.

Now, onto Calum's photos of the day, which are far better than mine are.

The Glenfinnan viaduct is now the most famous part of the journey thanks to the Harry Potter movies. Calum knew that he wanted to get some good photos of it. These are on the outward journey.

And these were from the return journey.

I especially love this one. I think it's my favourite photo from the journey.

Fort William sits in the shadow of Ben Nevis and Calum took this photo of the mountain as the sun rose and the mist lifted.

My husband's cousin and family live near the line the steam train runs on and so a couple of mornings Calum headed out with his camera to get a shot of the Jacobite as it chuffed past.

Ally went along with him on the second morning.

We were only in Fort William for three nights. On our second full day the boys spent the afternoon at the climbing centre.

By Thursday it was time to say farewell to our lovely, generous hosts and head off back through Glencoe 

Once home it was time to get ready for the next birthday in birthday season, but more of that in the next post!

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Birthday Season

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Birthday season kicked off in our house last weekend, with the first of three birthdays in six weeks.

The first of those birthdays is Calum's, who turned 14. 

Thankfully, despite being a teenager, he doesn't mind his littlest brother helping him to open his presents!

When Auntie Anna came round to drop off his present, her dog Shadow got involved in the celebrations too. I think this is such a funny photo as Shadow looks very clearly to be saying how embarrassed he is by the whole thing!

'Please, make it stop.'

Have I mentioned before that Calum and Shadow are going to Crufts next year? Calum does dog agility with his Aunt's dog and a team they competed with have qualified for the Junior Team Agility event. Auntie Anna and Shadow have won numerous rosettes and trophies together in the grown-up agility competitions but she hasn't ever made it to Crufts before. So she's rather excited to be able to accompany Calum when he goes.

Anyway, back to the birthday. And it's OK, we took the hat off Shadow as soon as the photo was taken!

Calum's great interests are still photography, animals and trains.

His brief for a birthday cake was that he wanted a train themed cake.

I searched for ideas and inspiration on Pinterest and used a few of them to come up with this...

For his birthday dinner he asked for Slow Cooked Brisket with roast potatoes, yorkshires and plenty of gravy.

When I asked James (16) if he would help prepare the carrots he got a little distracted. I suppose that's what happens when you ask an artist to do something for you!

For making perfect roasties, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, I've found that you are best using King Edward potatoes.

He's an old fashioned kind of guy is our Calum, which is quite evident in his choice of birthday dinner.

The yorkshire puddings above are my 'normal' ones and the ones below are the wheat and dairy free ones. I finally seem to have cracked getting them to rise well, although they still never rise as well as the non free from ones. The secret to helping the free from yorkies rise seems to be to use half oat milk and half sparkling water as the liquid. 

The train cake was a hit and of course Fraser (2) had to help blow out the candles too.

It's just as well that Fraser got some present opening and candle blowing practise as next up in birthday season will be him!

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Makings - Crochet Willow Square Blanket

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Back in June I shared that I had put aside the Crochet Along blanket that I was working on in order to work on another secret project using these colours.

Clockwise from top left (All Stylecraft Special DK): 
Storm Blue, Duck Egg, Silver, Sherbet, Cloud Blue
(After looking at the colours for a while I decided not to include Cloud Blue, the bottom left colour.)

Well, now that the secret project has been gifted I can finally reveal what it was, and I have so been looking forward to sharing it as it is one of my most favourite makes ever. In fact, had it not been for such a special occasion and for such a special couple then I would have been so sorely tempted to keep it for myself and just find another gift instead!

In August my mum and dad celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary and so I wanted to be able to give them something special for it. 

I soon decided on making them a blanket, and in shades of blue so that it would fit in with their bedroom colour scheme. I knew what square I wanted to make as I had always wanted to make something with the Willow Square, which is from the book 200 Crochet Blocks. It's such a pretty square that I knew it would look amazing in a blanket.

At first I thought I would make the blanket using just the one colour, Stylecraft Special DK in Sherbet, and with each square edged in either Cream or Parchment. Since I couldn't decide which of the two colours to use I asked my Instagram friends for their advice and found that they couldn't decide for me either! Opinion was split almost exactly half and half in favour of each colour.

So I put off the border colour choice until joining time came.

Then when I went to the little yarn shop near the boys' school to buy more yarn in the colour I had chosen for the main square colour, I started playing about with adding some other colours in and that's how I ended up with the combination in the first photo. I had a photo of the wallpaper in my mum and dad's bedroom with me, sneakily sent by my youngest brother, and that inspired me to add in the other colours. I'm so glad that I went with that idea now!

The Willow Square is a lovely square to work on. Each round is different and so it never gets boring to make. Because each round is different, it took me about 10 squares to memorise the pattern. Once I had really got the hang of the pattern I decided to time myself and found that it took 20 minutes to do one square.

I started working on the blanket properly in June, and I had worked out that to make the blanket big enough for a double bed I would need 120 squares - 10 across and 12 down. I gave myself the target of 10 squares a week, which would see me finishing off the squares around August time. I also had to leave plenty time for joining and edging the blanket. 

 The wedding anniversary was in August, but my mum and dad were due to spend a few days down here in September when they returned from their anniversary cruise, so that was the deadline I gave myself to finish off the blanket.

Amazingly, I did actually finish off the squares by the end of August as planned, and the next decision was how to organise the squares.

I've never been very good at random patterns, my brain is a little too OCD and in need of order to be able to just put colours in a random pattern. This was why I had initially thought of making the blanket in one colour. But a quick google search found my perfect solution here -  a random granny square generator! It was just what I needed. I made up three different random combinations of the colours and then chose which of these I liked the best.

Once I had laid out my squares in the order suggested, I decided that I loved the colours so much together that I didn't want to border them in cream/parchment after all. My artist boy, James (16), who has an amazing eye for colour, agreed with me so that confirmed it for me!

Next, I bundled up each row and labelled them, ready for joining. 

I told you my brain was a little too organised and OCD! I'm not quite sure how it survives living in a houseful of boys!

Don't those colours look gorgeous all mixed up?

To join the squares I just double crocheted (US Single Crochet) them together, right sides together. First of all I joined all the squares horizontally and then I did the vertical joins.

For a border I chose border no 93 from the book Around the Corner, as I had seen it used on other blankets and thought it was the perfect pattern to go with the Willow Squares. I didn't do the final round of the pattern for the border though, as I thought it looked a little too spiky and I preferred the curved look of the second last round.

Finally I just had to sew in all the ends, and then the blanket was done, a couple of days before my mum and dad returned from their cruise!

Now, if you've stuck with me this far then you are probably keen to see the finished result, so without any further chat, here it is. From quite a few angles!

I laid it out on our bed, which is Kingsize so it doesn't quite reach the edges of ours.

I did have a little assistant with me while taking the photos...

The back of the blanket has a raised cream seam between the squares, which I think also looks quite nice, although I prefer the smoothness of the front.

Have you seen enough of it yet? 

I haven't, so here's a couple more!

One day I really must make one for ourselves.

 Although for a Kingsized bed it will take even more than 120 squares and 4 months to make!

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