Easter pastelly bits and pieces

A very belated Happy Easter!

The Easter Tree is a family tradition here in darkest Devon.

The Easter Tree is a family tradition here in darkest Devon.

We seemed to have a bit of a pastel theme going on this Easter in the Hipoptimist household.  I have a love-hate relationship with pale pastel colours.  If I wear them, I look – well, dead, really.  I can’t wear that beautiful pale mint shade that’s in all the shops right now, in case somebody mistakes me for a corpse.

And there’s something about Easter that seems to bring out the pastel-lover in me. I love these little wooden decorations on my Easter tree:

Pastel - looks good on twigs.

Pastel – looks good on twigs.

Our two girls have discovered that these decorations (from Gisela Graham) mix rather nicely with their little Lego Friends collecting sets.  Pastel is no stranger to controversy: Lego was criticised for pandering to gender expectations by making ‘Lego for girls’.  Why can’t toys just be toys, wonders this little girl on youtube?

Lego Friends: Controversially pastel.

Lego Friends: Controversially pastel.

And if that’s the case, then this next yarny endeavour is also definitely one ‘for girls’ – check out these gorgeous colours!

Scrummy mix of pastels and brights.

Scrummy mix of pastels and brights.

This is Stylecraft special DK, which came from Mason’s Needlecraft – a beautiful bulk pack of scrumptions candy coloured yarn.  100% acrylic, so not the most special-est yarn ever, but cheap, and aren’t they yummy colours.

And what might I be hooking up?  Here’s a photo to help you guess..

A blanket?  Moi?  Surely not..

A blanket? Moi? Surely not..

I know, it’s getting ridiculous – how many blankets does one girl need?  But I can’t help it – blankets are the comfort food equivalent of all things yarn-related.  Let’s have another photo just to prove it:

*sigh*

*sigh*

The colours in this yarn pack remind me of the ones Little Woollie uses in her crochet – brights, mixed with pastels, but there are also a few heathery shades mixed in here. The pattern is the very easy granny stripe, courtesy of Attic 24.  I can see myself lying on the grass on this one, recovering from my next surgery in style.  All I need is a matching pillow – well, that and to knit another sixty or so rows of this blanket.  But it’s coming along quite fast, and I feel I might manage this a little quicker than the Mothers’ Day blanket of doom..

Mother’s Day: homemade gifts with heart

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Happy Mothers’ Day!  Did anyone else get some delightful homemade presents?

Clockwise, from right to left (in case you didn’t guess) are a ‘beauty bug’, a ‘flying chicken’, a ‘fimo ring’, a ‘ring pouch’ and a ‘mouse crochet hook holder’.  And there, on the card, is a lovely picture of me next to a love-heart.

I’m so immensely spoiled, and very lucky to have my two gorgeous stepgirls in my life.

Every mum needs a flying chicken on a piece of string.

Every stepmum needs a crochet hook holder in the shape of a mouse.

Unfortunately before I took this photo one of the offerings (a red ladybug to match the ‘beauty bug’) was destroyed by an errant Harry Cat.  Never mind, there’s still plenty to demonstrate that these two girls seem to recognise my love of making things..

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Now, how can I keep them out of reach of a predatory Bengal cat?

Crochet for Beginners

It’s time to take a short break from blanketeering. My mother’s day blanket is a work in progress, but coming along nicely (to be saved for another post). But I confess, I am getting a bit tired of all the endless blues and creams. Which is why my latest ‘short project’ is an altogether brighter affair.

Happy Colours!

Happy Colours!

This yarn is Rico cotton dk, and it comes in really juicy, happy colours. Over Christmas I discovered the fantastic Attic24, whose blog has seduced me into choosing brighter colours, and into believing that truly beautiful things can be made through crochet, as well as knitting. I’ve never attempted crochet before, but with the help of YouTube, I was managing to turn out rather scruffy looking granny squares in an afternoon or so. In particular, videos from AussieCrochetChick were helpful.

And here they are, my rainbow squares:

My first crochet.

My first crochet.

I can’t claim to be an expert, but I’m surprised at how quickly it is to knock out a couple of granny squares in front of the TV. What’s more, I have a feeling that they won’t turn into a blanket! I do have an idea in mind for these little suckers, but I’ll keep it to myself for now.

Granny Squares - definitely not just for grannies.

Granny Squares – definitely not just for grannies.

They may not be perfect – but I think they look so cute and colourful. The perfect antidote to all the snow and slush that’s blanketing our isolated village right now. The only accompaniments I need are a log-burner and a cup of tea. DVD box set optional…

Back in the saddle…

Hooray!  Just don't make any sudden movements

Hooray! Just don’t make any sudden movements

Well, it’s been 4.5 months since my PAO, and I seem to have let the blog go a little bit. I am sorry – but unsurprisingly, the drop in posts coincided with my return to work – and something had to give! I found going back to work quite tough at first, but I’m properly back in the swing now. Luckily, my employers have been tremendously supportive and during my first few weeks, I worked reduced hours until I’d got my energy back.

Since my last PAO post, my recovery has been pretty smooth and steady. I no longer have to attend hyrotherapy but have kept up with the physiotherapy, attending a series of gym classes at my local hospital for people with lower limb problems. This has really helped with my strength and as a result, I can now:

Walk without a limp for a lot longer (but I still need a crutch or a stick because of my other hip)

Do several wobbly lunges (this does hurt), dips, squats, and bridges

Do about 20 minutes on a stationary bike and 3 or so minutes on a rower.

I’ve been cleared by Mr Witt to do some low impact weight-bearing exercises now, but of course, there’ll always be a limit to my mobility until I get my left hip done. Most of the time, though, it’s the left (unoperated) hip, that is giving me more trouble now. I am amazed and delighted with the difference to how my right hip feels. I don’t feel so unsteady on my right hand side, although there are times when I still feel real, acute pain low down in my butt and in my groin from the pelvic breaks, and that makes me really wince.

One of the best milestones in my recovery was my first riding lesson – check out my smile in the photo above! I spent 15 minutes walking and trotting around in circles on a very safe, lovely pony, and my instructor was amazed at the difference in position and strength of my operated leg. When I ride these days, I’m a bit lop-sided because my left leg (which previously was always the stronger one) is now holding me back. Woop (although I do feel sorry for the poor pony)!

Trot on! Riding again at last.

Trot on! Riding again at last.

For the past year or so (pre-op), riding was a life-saver for me. I missed my mobility, I missed running around the hills of Devon, and discovering a riding stables where the instructors were willing to let me have a go was such a blessing. I adore borrowing my ‘spare legs’ and I’ve turned out to be quite good at it (with limits – getting on and off is always a challenge). Doing so much core stability in my physio seems to have been a big help. I also seem to be ‘liked’ by horses, and the instructors say ‘oh look, they recognise that you are lame’. Sure enough, the first time I returned to the stables, the horses and ponies took a massive interest in my operated leg, sniffing it, nickering at me, trying to ‘groom’ my hip through my clothes.

I’m not the only horsey addict in the family – the two girls are also having lessons, which has led to lots of imaginative play. And Irish and I are rather happy about that – riding is an expensive hobby, but preferable to an interest in boys at this age!

Playing horses - a lot cheaper than boys (potentially)

Playing horses – a lot cheaper than boys (potentially)

Irish has promised (rashly, I believe) we can look into loaning a horse/pony once all my PAOs are out of the way. Hmmm – I wonder..?

A woolly hug from my friends..PAO recovery week 4

I don’t know whether it’s the furious bouts of video game action, the increased confidence I have in my crutches, or the occasional sunny day that we’ve had recently, but week 4 sees a big improvement in my mobility and pain levels. It’s easier to get up and down the stairs, and I can sit, stand, and move about for longer. I am far less reliant on painkillers, although paracetamol still features rather heavily in my life! I celebrated my progress with a tentative glass of wine – and enjoyed it.

Highlight of the week was a visit from my my rudest and funniest friends from the local knit and knitter group, and we had a wonderful cup of tea and a gossip. It felt GREAT to be back hearing all the village gossip, and for the first time I could envisage myself knitting again.

And look! My friends brought with them a beautiful, hand-crocheted present! All my friends clubbed together and made squares for this beautiful blanket.

A woolly hug – definitely the best medicine!

I love how the use of red contrasts with the pastel tones – I would never have thought of doing this, but it really works. In fact the colours remind me of my favourite flowers, which are currently all over the house. I like to put little posies of them in vintage bottles. They brighten up dark corners of bookshelves and look gorgeous clustered with a little pile of books.

Who doesn’t love sweet peas?

Best of all though, my blanket has a secret message in one corner:

I did not cry at all when I read this, oh no.

‘Made with love from all your friends at Knit and Natter’. Oh, I wanted to sob! I’m so, so lucky to have such loving, and clever friends. If ever I needed some motivation to get moving and get back to my rather raucous and sweary evenings with the Hatherleigh Hookers, this was it. And with my first physiotherapy and rehabilitation appointment coming up next week, I think this motivation is going to come in rather handy…

A house full of flowers…

My last few – rather infrequent – posts have focused on my major pelvic surgery and the rehabilitation process, which has taken up most of my energy for the last month.  A side effect of this is that my poor garden has also had to take some pain.  I took this photograph just before I left for the hospital – the sun was out, the flowers were in bloom, the weeds were under control (sort of), and I really felt that the garden was starting to fulfil its potential.

Home sweet home…

Unfortunately, in the four weeks since my operation, I really have neglected things.  I’m tired, I’m sore, and when it rains (and we have had our fair share of rain this summer), I worry about my crutches slipping.  But the biggest inhibitor is the fact that on crutches, I have NO carrying ability – something I never considered before surgery.  Fancy a cup of tea?  You’ll have to drink it leaning against the kitchen worktop next to the kettle, because you won’t be able to carry it into the sitting room.  And drink it quickly – before your standing ability runs out entirely!  Meh.

For the first couple of weeks, I was too tired even to sit in the garden.  I missed my flowers, I missed my daily walk around the garden checking for the new buds that are developing, brutally removing anything slug like, or identifying the latest tendrils of honeysuckle.  So we decided to bring the garden indoors!

Sweet Williams in posy vases – chicken optional

..and again…

Flowers were banned in the hospital ward that where I’d spent the past 6 days.  It was necessarily a clinical, sterile, grit-free place. It was so good to see green and growing things again, and even better to surround myself with them – a symbol of new beginnings and blossomings. We knew that the sweet Williams would be over by the time I could get out to enjoy them, so we cut them all down and filled the house with them.  It looked pretty, but it smelled even better.  Putting the flowers on high places meant they weren’t in the way of my crutches.

We carried the theme on with alliums in the dining room…and hydrangeas in the kitchen.  And I discovered a weird thing about hydrangeas – they can look a bit seventies suburbia in the garden, but look stunning indoors.

Allium Christophii

Blousy hydrangeas in the kitchen

Hopefully, it won’t be too long before I’m back up to no good in the garden again.  Until then, my house full of flowers is reminding me to keep up my rehabilitation and physiotherapy – the garden needs me and I can’t wait to get back to my favourite hobby!

The Rogues’ Gallery

Less than 36 hours to the PAO!  I have packed, I have seen my friends, I have been treated to insane amounts of delicious smelling lotions and potions from my family, and I have had all my last minute hip queries answered by the collective wisdom of the Hip Women Yahoo Group.  I can do this.  It will be fine.

One of the best things I have done in preparation is collect all my favourite family-and-friends photos onto my iPad to take into hospital.  Not the staid, boring ‘graduation’ style photos, but the photos of  us being dysfunctional, or doing happy, funny things.  The ones where we are cross-eyed, or have wardrobe disasters, or are muddy even by Devon standards.

When we moved into our house we had an idea that we could take all the photos that gave us the best memories and crowd them all together on the wall in our kitchen.  The frames don’t match, and they aren’t in neat rows.  But then nothing in our kitchen is neat!

The Rogues’ Gallery.

On this wall, a drawing from my 1 year old god-daughter shares some space with an incriminating picture of my best friends at a hen night, a photograph of Irish and the two girlies and me on the log flume at a theme park, my parents with cocktails in hand on a summer holiday, Irish making faces at the camera with his flying buddies, and of course a close-up of the shoes I wore to ‘go away’ on my honeymoon.

The shoes! Look at the shoes!

The breakfast room bit of our kitchen (that actually sounds a bit posh – it really isn’t) wasn’t really used before we added the Rogues’ Gallery.  Eating there felt a bit empty somehow.  Now, though, it’s the place where visitors gravitate, and the part of the kitchen I ‘hover’ in when I’m waiting for the kettle to boil or for the toast to be ready.  Now, the kitchen is the happiest part of the house – although that could also be down to the fact that a) Irish does a mean Thai Green curry, and b) it’s where we keep the gin.

I have a feeling that before too long, an X-ray of my PAO’d hip will join the scan of Irish’s head injury on the wall, alongside all the cats and dogs we have ever owned and the most-loved photos of family members with a mouthful of chips / sticking their tongues out / falling over / hugging one another.  It’s a memory bank of the happiest, the funniest, the best of times.

Ever done anything embarrassing? It’s probably documented here.

Which brings me to this:  however much I write about knitting, or baking, or shopping helping to take my mind off the pain, it’s really the people that make me smile and give me reason to be optimistic – and isn’t that the whole point of this blog?  And on Tuesday when I count to ten and drift off, and when I wake up with a shiny new hip socket, it won’t be my latest blanket that I remember, or my latest handbag purchase.  It will be the photos on the wall, and the people, all my family and friends, who have been holding my hand.

Colour Scheme? What Colour Scheme?

I am a bit of a gardening whore.  That is, I find it hard to resist temptation and buy plants without thinking about where they will go in my garden, and whether they will ‘fit’.  Which means that when it comes to colour schemes, my garden is a little bit ‘eccentric’.

A good example is this red rose next to this pinky-lilac poppy – especially clash-ful against the pale yellow walls of our house.  I don’t think I’d win any Chelsea medals for this combo!

Pink, red and yellow. I’m not sure it works, either..

The pink-red-yellow-athon continues in this bed with pink sweet williams and orangey-red poppies, alongside purple monkshood.

Mmm, ‘blended colours’. Maybe not..

When it comes to outdoor colour choices, I have a rather chequered history.  When we moved in 2 years ago our lovely Devon house was painted white.  There are a lot of other white thatched cottages in our village, and we decided we would like something a little sunnier.  So we chose a gorgeous pale yell0w and were rather shocked when it seemed rather more, erm ‘luminous’ than the powdery lemon we had envisaged.  Eek. We toned it down with this grey on the woodwork, which we were really pleased with.

Luckily, the house has mellowed over time and the creamy yellow now looks gorgeous in the sunshine, and has met with the approval of other villagers (if you live in a village, you will know exactly how important this is).  Even more importantly, it always looks like a happy house, even in the rain – and we have had rather a lot of rain recently!

So the colour choices are not always intended – but I’m fine with that.  After all, the colours in wildflower meadows aren’t exactly planned by anyone.  What matters most, I think, is that the plants are happy growing in the place they’re in. That and the rigorous removal of slugs.

These beds contain the full spectrum of reds and pinks. What brings it all together, I think, is the inclusion of purple in the foxgloves and allium christophii.   More about purple flowers in an upcoming post.

Foxgloves, roses, clematis and allium – just don’t wear them all at once.

To me, cottage gardens are about masses of native species.  I love coming home after work, getting out of my car, and seeing it bloom all around me.  I don’t care if it matches!  The colour doesn’t matter.  It’s the pleasure of growing that counts.

Cake Fail. Meh.

Oh bugger it.  This one hasn’t worked out like I planned – at all!  This (see exhibit A) was my attempt at adapting a red velvet cake from the Hummingbird Bakery.  In fact, in this photo the worst bits have already been cut away (for which at least the chickens were very grateful)

Exhibit A. Red Velvet? Where?

It all started because I saw these delicious raspberries peeking out from under the leaves in our garden:

Raspberry Delight? Sadly, not.

Poor things, I should have left them alone.

We planted 70 canes in March, and I was delighted that they have fruited so quickly.  And they keep coming!  So I thought this recipe would be the perfect one to adapt.  If you haven’t seen a red velvet cake before, it’s supposed to look like this (from Alpine Berry – of course she gets it right, grrr):

Red Velvet Cake – Alpine Berry does it right

The bright red colour comes from a generous splash of red food colouring, mixed with cocoa powder.  And the texture comes from the buttermilk in the mix that gives it a slightly tacky, muffiny feel.  BUT.  No sign of red velvet in my cake.  Irish pointed out that ‘brown with reddish smears’ is not the most appetising cake colour.  However once I’d cut the burned bits off, and tidied it up with some cream cheese icing, it actually looked passable:

Phew! Raspberries make everything better..a bit..

I think the reason it went wrong was because I tried to make it with two deep layers instead of three shallow ones.  I used the leftover cake mix to make some cupcakes, which actually turned out quite well, although they too looked pretty appalling when they first came out of the oven.

Cupcakes to the rescue..

Luckily, both cake and cupcakes tasted a lot better than they looked.  The moistness of the cake works really well with the raspberries added on top, and given Irish’s alarm at its rather , erm, stained appearance, he did manage to eat half of that giant cake in just under 24 hours.

So I offer you the recipe and challenge you to tell me where I went wrong!

For the cake mixture will need:

  • 250g butter, softened
  • 600g caster sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons red food colouring
  • 3 tablespoons best quality cocoa powder
  • 375g plain flour
  • 250ml buttermilk.  If you don’t have buttermilk, put a tablespoon of distilled white vinegar into a measuring jug and top up with milk until the mixture reaches 250ml. Leave to stand, and after about 5 minutes you will magically have buttermilk!  I don’t know how it works (not really strong on science) but it does.  Trust me (despite the burnt cake).
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
For the Icing you will need
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 600g icing powder
  • 100g butter, softened
  • a handful of fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 170° and line three cake tins (I used two, and made cupcakes with the rest of the mixture).

Use a hand held mixer to cream the butter and sugar together.  Then add the eggs, one at a time, continuing to beat well.  Mix the cocoa and food colouring together and beat into the mix.  After that, you can add some flour, beat it into the mixture, and then add some buttermilk.  Repeat this until all the flour and buttermilk has been combined into the cake mix.

Mix the vinegar and bicarb together, and then add this gently to the cake mix – be careful not to beat it too much.

Put the mix into your cake tins, put them in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.  NB: Mine were still absolutely uncooked in this stage according to the skewer test – this could have been because I used only 2, deeper, cake tins.  It took about 40 minutes until mine were burned – ahem, I mean cooked.  When they’re ready, take the cakesout of the oven and leave them to cool in their tins before you tip them onto a wire rack.

For the icing, mix the icing sugar with the butter until combined, and then add in the cream cheese and mix together.  Don’t over mix or the icing will go runny!  Use the icing to sandwich the cake together (and if you’re me, to hide the scars where I had to hack off the burned bits), and to decorate the top of the cake.  Then decorate with raspberries.

So – I burned a cake, and I liked it!  I think there’s a moral in this story, but I can’t quite work out what it is..

Yummy – but best eaten with eyes closed.

Guess who’s coming to live with us?

Some happy and exciting news today to take my mind off the pre-operative assessment for my Peri-Acetabular Osteotomy (PAO) this week.  We are getting a gorgeous Italian Greyhound puppy!

This is Juno – she is currently 4 weeks old and living with her mum and breeder in Yorkshire.  She will be arriving with us in mid-August after both vaccinations have kicked in and we are all very excited.

We have been debating getting a pup for a while  – good company for Irish (people with head injuries often have ‘support’ or ‘companion’ dogs), but also for our Bengal cat who by far prefers dogs to cats.

We chose an Italian greyhound because we wanted a ‘velcro dog’ which would stick to Irish like glue and give him companionship when he’s suffering with his head injury.  Italian Greyhounds are speedy, but gentle and loving dogs, so perfect for us! We have plenty of enclosed space to exercise her and are looking forward to giving her lots of cuddles and to having her as part of our family.

Lots of people with head injuries find that dogs are tremendous companions and support – some dogs can even provided as ‘assistance’ dogs in the same vein as guide dogs for the blind.  You can find more out about this via Canine Partners or Dogs for the Disabled.

The breeder is giving us weekly updates on Juno’s progress, and she seems to be turning into a happy, sociable and very loving dog who has How cute?!already learned to give kisses! To give you an idea of size, here she is fast asleep on her breeder’s wrist. She really is tiny!

When Juno arrives in August, I’ll be a few weeks past my operation but still on crutches – so house training will be interesting! We have tried to tell (or perhaps warn) Harry, our cat, but the wood burner is still the focus of all his attention.  Here he is worshipping at the altar of lovely woody burny goodness.  I must confess that with all this awful wet weather, I can’t really blame him!

Life’s hard when you’re a Bengal cat..

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