Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Time Out

I hope you all had a great Christmas and are looking forward to the new year as much as I am.

I'm at the beginning of a lovely long period of time off work - almost two and a half weeks. This is as a result of working almost every day over Christmas (apart from the day itself) and some sick days because I'm having a minor operation at the start of next week and will need a little recuperation time - that's time on the sofa with some knitting and a couple of books - tough!

So it's time to catch up on the blog and get back to regular posting and I thought I'd kick off with my Favourite Books of the Year.

I had a look back at last year's post of this time and I said I wanted to find a new author to savour this year and I managed that with the discovery of the wonderful James Sallis. So top of my favourite reads of the year has to be Cypress Grove, the first of his Turner series. Don't you just love when you find an author you hadn't known about previously and can delve back into his body of work and see him develop as a writer. I have his latest book Salt River on the Next to be Read shelf ready to be the first book of the new year. And I've also looking forward to his biography of Chester Himes.

I also enjoyed the second and third books in C J Sansom's Shardlake series. Dark Fire was excellent but I think Sovereign just pipped it. I'm looking forward to reading the latest book, Revelation, this year. I'm saving it till later in the year so I have something to look forward to (probably when the standard paperback comes out) and giving him the chance to get going on another.

Next up is a little gem I stumbled across by accident. I'm not normally a fan of anthropomorphism and I hate those mysteries where the cat solves the crime but this one - where a flock of sheep try to solve the mysterious death of their shepherd was just wonderful. It's Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann. It's not cute and it's not fluffy and it deals with many different topics relevant to sheep including animal rights. Unfortunately the paperback seems to be out of print in the UK.

The Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin is my next choice. A Moor, a Jew and a woman doctor who specialises in examining the dead. It's an unlikely combination in 12th Century Cambridge but that's where they are sent to solve a series of hideous child murders. I really liked this, thought the characters were intriguing and it was just that bit different from the usual run-of-the-mill historical mystery.

Finally, bringing up the rear is Flesh House by Stuart MacBride - just out in standard paperback format by the way if you haven't read it yet. It's got all the usual MacBride trademarks - it's funny and it's dark and it's gruesome. I had felt a little disappointed in the previous one in the series but this one is an absolute cracker. And it has the distinct advantage of being set in the glorious city of Aberdeen.

I've not read as many books that I would jump up and down and shout about this year as I would like. There's been some real mediocrity out there. However there have been a few others that merit a mention. Volk's Game by Brent Ghelfi is a thriller with an unusual main character. He's not a man with many scruples and it's rare that you meet that in a crime novel these days where things tend to be more black and white. Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden was recommended by dovegreyreader and proved every bit as good as she said. One of several she's alerted me to that I probably wouldn't have picked up on otherwise. That's one of the reasons I love the blogosphere so much. The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona McLean was a slow starter - it took me two attempts and a bit of prompting before I got going with it but once I got started I couldn't put it down - intrigue, espionage and witchcraft - who knew all this went on in Banff in the 17th Century.

Tomorrow we set off down the blood-stained track towards my least-favourite books of the year. Anyone who wrote a book set in Edinburgh had better beware.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas to Everyone

Well, it's here. The last celebrity biography has been bagstuffed, the sale restickering is done and booksellers everywhere can heave a giant sigh of relief and have a well-deserved glass of wine.

We're off to Oxford tomorrow for lunch with the family.

Best wishes to everyone - I hope you have a great Christmas and I'll be back shortly with my picks of the year and the traditional Mysterious Yarns Awards.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Of Colds and Aran Waistcoats and Eggs

I've been ill with a cold for the last few days. I managed to get through the week at work and finally succumbed to the cold on Saturday, the first of my last days off before Christmas.

Consequently I am glad that I had decided the Aran Waistcoat of my earlier post would be better made for my Mother-in-Law as a birthday present. I felt no desire to knit at all on Friday (by the time I got home from work my voice was almost gone), or on Saturday, most of which was spent curled up on the sofa with a book. Luckily I'd felt this coming on and so had laid in a copy of The Last Breath by Denise Mina. More about that another time.

Anyway, I'm feeling rather better now, have recovered my knitting abilities (such as they are) and have started the Aran Hat for my MIL. Hopefully, time permitting there will be Aran Mittens to accompany it. I've nearly finished Mobius too. It took a bit longer than I'd expected - vast amounts of long and dull stocking stitch on the back, coupled with a slowness of knitting, due to my mounting cold. But the major parts are all completed now, just need blocking and then I can knit the collar to the right length and stitch it all together.

Big news though - we have our first egg!

It appeared on Saturday, and we weren't sure which hen was the proud producer. It was sitting in the nestbox when Pete went to clean them out. It's only small, but it's the first one.

On Sunday we were standing on the patio discussing which chicken was the most likely layer when Betty (she's the biggest of our girls, but a bit nervous) squatted down by the herb trough and laid another one with a resounding crack onto the paving slab. Miraculously it didn't break and she scuttled off looking a bit embarassed.

We had them fried on muffins this morning and they were lovely. Probably the most expensive two eggs in history, given the cost of setting this all up, but well worth it! Here's to many more.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Crafty Update

As promised here's what I've been up to apart from reading and selling the odd book or two.

I finally finished spinning the purple fibre that was a gift from my lovely friends in Florida -

Aren't the colours wonderful? I was planning to knit some lacy fingerless gloves with this but now that it's all spun I find I have more than 500 yards of it - way too much to be just gloves so it may be a shawl. Here's a close-up.

Hopefully you can see all the variations in shade from the kettle-dyeing.

I've been carrying on with the Christmas knitting but I had a little setback and accidentally cast on Mobius from Norah Gaughan Book 2.

It is knitting very quickly though, and I'm using some yarn from the stash, so it's not like that counts, is it? I'm hoping to be finished by the weekend.

On the subject of Christmas knitting, Pete asked if I could knit something for his Mum, like a pair of aran mittens and while looking for a mitten pattern I found this -

I know she'd love it but I'm not sure if I could knit it in time. What do you think? It's patterned on the back as well as the front, but it is double knitting weight so it should knit up quite quickly. Can I do that in time for Christmas?

Finally, just to say that I watched Wallander which was on BBC1 on Sunday night and really enjoyed it. The Swedish tourist board must be chuffed to bits - all those lovely scenic shots. I haven't read any Henning Mankell in a while, but I rather recalled a grim, grey urban setting for the books I'd read. I liked Kenneth Branagh as Kurt Wallander - a tortured man finding it difficult to cope with the kind of things his job brings him into proximity with. Well worth a look at the second in the series.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Monday Book Update

Well, bless me, December already, as if the additional mayhem in the shop hadn't already alerted me that Christmas was fast approaching.

So let's just start with the apology that would normally be coming your way later. Blogging may be somewhat sporadic this month as work becomes more hectic and I lose the ability to think by the time I get home. I will try and update you as often as I can but am making no promises.

So, lets get on with the business at hand. I've been a busy girl this week and have squeezed in quite a few titles. Last time I blogged I was in a quandry about what to read next. Never fear, the fates stepped in with a timely proof of Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden, just when that most useful of bloggers, dovegreyreader, had been enthusing about it. A most enjoyable and enthralling read it was too. A fascinating account of the lives of the Cree in modern Canada and how their lives have changed with technology. This is due to be published in the UK in March and I can highly recommend it. I shall now have to seek out his previous book, which is about Cree soldiers fighting in the First World War.

Next up, at the end of a tiring week, some action and adventure with a strong plot was needed. Who else would fit the bill but Bernard Cornwell. Sword Song is the fourth in the Alfred the Great series, which follows the life of Uhtred, born Saxon, raised by Danes, sworn to Alfred but eager to escape his oath and fight for his own destiny in the North. Now, while I enjoyed this book for the storytelling, which is always one of Cornwell's strong points, I did feel that it didn't move the story arc of the series along very much. It seemed a bit of an interlude to the main body of the plot, so while enjoyable in itself, was a bit lacking in substance. Of course, this could be the masterful Mr Cornwell toying with me, and it's possible that with hindsight, this book could be the hinge that the whole series hangs from. There were one or two hints at things to come that may prove very interesting. Guess I'll just have to wait for the next book.

Finally I came back to The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona MacLean. I started this ages ago, before I went on holiday, but I misplaced it and only found it again last week during the big book sort. This time I managed to get a bit further and have now got well into the action (it did take a little while to get going). Set in Banff in the 17th century, this is about the murder of a young man. The tale is told through the eyes of the Alexander Seaton of the title and it's beautifully written with a fantastic sense of time and place. The language really makes you feel you're in the town. It's very atmospheric. But, and I think the publishers have missed a trick here, I wanted maps. The plot concerns some maps, and I really wanted there to be a map of Banff at that time to help me navigate myself around. Maybe that's just me (I love maps). I don't know much about cartography but apparently it was a fairly new science in the 17th century and much suspicion and ignorance seemed to surround it. Anyway the book is proving to be one of those that you can't put down once you've got into the meat of the plot.

Crafting update tomorrow - hey, two days off in a row. Can't be bad.

Monday, November 24, 2008

I Never Thought I'd Say This...

But I think I have too much wool.

The sorting of the stash/bookcases continues and we spent a lot of time on Sunday sorting thought the books and getting some of them shelved by author. This is so I can see what I've got and can then fill the gaps.

The stash has been sorted into plastic crates, the problem being that we bought 10 and so far I have filled 15 of them and I haven't started on the shelving in the dining room yet. That's where most of the spinning / weaving / quilting stuff lives and I've barely scratched the surface with that. Blimey! I'm going to try over the next six months or so to not buy any more wool and to knit from the stash whenever I can.

I broke out of the Christmas knitting frenzy to knit a Moebius scarf yesterday. It was knitted with some yarn from the stash so I feel almost virtuous. It's blocking right now and there would be a picture here but the computer has decided that the cardreader thing doesn't exist so it won't upload the pictures. The printer's not very well either but that's another story.

Any way you'll have to imagine the scarf for now - it's knitted in Wendy Fusion in colourway Juniper Berries - lots of lovely purples and lilacs and pinks. I might make some mittens too. It was lovely to knit and the colours are great. I can't decide if I want to keep the scarf or to make it a belated birthday gift for a colleague.

I found a great online tutorial from Cat Bordhi for the Moebius cast-on here.

I'm loving the BBC's new drama Survivors. It's a remake of the original 1970s programme and I was a bit worried that they might have made an arse of it. I needn't have worried. From the evidence so far (first episode last night but I guess it will be on Iplayer) it's looking pretty good - updated of course but not unrecognisable from the original version by the sadly late, but very great Terry Nation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday Book Update

I'm still on the Christmas knitting schedule, still busy sorting the stash, still discovering lots of things I want to knit right now, all at once.

But I've been reading. I finished City of Dark Hearts by James Conan, which I quite liked. It was interesting and unusual but a little bit wordy for my taste. I'd try another one of their's though. Then for a bit of a break from crime I read Annie Proulx's Fine Just the Way It Is. A collection of her Wyoming Stories. As with all short story collections there were some that worked better than others and I always find by the end that a bit too much of the writer comes through if you read them all back to back. For that reason I try not to read two books by the same author one after another. Short stories have the same problem but of course intensified in that way that stories are. Anyway you (or at least I) don't read Proulx for plot or for landscape but for her wonderful characters and this collection is absolutely littered with them. She has such a knack of making her people come alive off the page. I wish I could do that.

I'm now reading The Wine of Angels by Phil Rickman. I've not read any of his before but this one is for my crime reading group (topic - eclesiastic crime) so I thought I'd give him a go. I have to say I was a bit dubious - religion is not really my thing and the main character is a vicar (actually she's a priest-in-charge, but no-one listens to that). However I'm loving it, can't put it down. In fact I've been snuggled up all afternoon (on my day off) with it on the sofa. What better way to spent a grim, wet rainy afternoon than with a cup of hot chocolate and a great crime novel. Next book for reading group is The Name of the Rose, so a bit of a change in style there methinks.

I need to bring you all up to date with Bubba's progress. He's totally recovered from his op now and we have to thank the lovely Gayle from K9 Hydro in Aston for his speedy rehabilitation. We can't recommend her services enough - she really knows what she's doing and she so obviously loves dogs. Bubba took a real shine to Gayle - she's the only person outside the family that he will shout at and he took great delight every session in running into the building and shouting as loudly as he could. Gayle says Bubba was the best swimmer she'd ever had - but I bet she says that to all the dogs! Anyway, thanks Gayle for all your help and support and for giving us back our beautiful, bouncy retriever.

Monday, November 10, 2008

One Hell of a Task.

I've started today to try and sort out my stash.

This is part of an ongoing project to reclaim the house. It is groaning under the strain of an awful lot of stuff. There are boxes and boxes of books left over from when we selling them on eBay. Somehow, despite all our best intentions we've never quite managed to get rid of them all even though it's at least 18 months since we stopped doing all that.

Then there are our own books. I've got a collection of my favourite crime authors and some much favoured and well-battered classics. There's a growing number of craft books - knitting, crochet, spinning, weaving, quilting, felting etc etc.

Pete has a lot of books too. Graphic novels and books about comics mostly, plus a huge collection of comics.

Then there are books we have in common - antiques and collectables, film and TV books, some science fiction, books on dogs and on chicken keeping, cookery and gardening books.

We're making a concerted effort this week to sort the wheat from the chaff and get all the odd and unwanted books into boxes in the garage, from where we hope they will go to charity.

The first aim is to reclaim the spare bedroom, long used as a stockroom and general glory hole. It's also where most of my stash resides. My problem is that while I started off with just one little stash, now I seem to have stash for all the many different crafts I've been trying. Knitting has the largest stash of course, because it holds all the little gems bought over time, some lovely sock wool, some other irresistible bargains acquired gradually, plus lots of odd cones and balls bought at car boot sales. Then there's quite a lot of hand-spun, made by me but not used for any project yet. These are mostly biding their time waiting for inspiration to strike. Spinning requires a different sort of stash - I've not the sort of spinner who buys what they need for a specific project and spins it then buys more. I buy bits and pieces of all sorts of different fibres, different colours, different textures. I just can't resist pretty colours. (I bet you're not at all surprised by that are you?)

Weaving again requires a different sort of stash. Of course there are lots of knitting yarns (and hand-spun) that you can weave with, but quite often there's not enough of a particular yarn for what I want to do, or I need a warp yarn (which needs to be strong) in a particular colour, or I see a project in a magazine I can't resist. There's also something very irresistible about those little project packs of fancy yarns from Texere. I feel I need one in every colour (though I'm trying really hard not to). I'm just hopeless.

This summer I have been accumulating fabrics as well in readiness to make a quilt over the winter. Don't ask me when I think I'm going to have the time to do this.

Anyway, we went off to Ikea this morning and got lots of those stackable plastic crates and I've started to organise the stash(s). This may take sometime.

Oh, and there's just one small problem. I keep finding all this yarn that I'd got and forgotten about. As I'm pulling it out of the wardrobe (where it currently lives) and sorting into the crates - lots of new and wonderful ideas are forming. When am I ever going to find the time to knit them all (and I haven't really started on the fibre and weaving stuff yet!)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

We Thank You

We thank you all for making the right decision.

I sat up until after 4am, until it was official, until they had called California for Obama before toddling off to bed for a while. A great day in American history.

Now the hard work starts. Can this man turn round the world's low opinion of America? Can he rescue America's ailing economy? Can he reunite a nation hideously divided by the most negative campaign I've ever seen? We hope he can.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Over To You......

A message for America.

So, here we are at last on the final day of the campaign. Many of you will have voted already, many will be voting tomorrow. I hope you all take advantage of the opportunity. Democracy is not a thing to be taken for granted or to be treated lightly. Make sure you exercise your right to vote and remember as you do so all those people in years gone by who were denied this chance, and all those in other parts of the world who are denied it still.

It's all down to you now. The eyes of the world are watching you. We're trusting you to make the right decision for all of us.

Go vote.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sunday Update

As promised a little update on the week's reading and crafting activities. These have been somewhat curtailed by having to work Monday to Friday this week - terrible! But at least it means a few days off in a row now.

Yesterday was a quiet day, with a trip into Lichfield to do a little shopping in the morning, mooch around the charity shops and a cup of coffee. Very civilised. The afternoon was filled with football scores, knitting and reading the papers. Oh, and cleaning the chicken coop. A bit messy but it doesn't take long. Usually it's a Sunday task but the forecast was for rain on Sunday. I'm not sure it would be so quick and easy in the rain. The chickens are becoming more and more friendly. Hillary in particular shows no fear and will let me pick her up without even any corn as a bribe. The others are a bit more reticent but we're getting there. Currently they are squabbling over a bowl of mash with apple sauce and mealworms added - apparently it's chook heaven!

I'm still in the throes of Christmas knitting so progress on my own knitting has been slow - I did a few rows on the Hypnosis sock and got to the heel. However the pattern has a few errors in it and that and the problem of reading the charts back to front and from the middle to the edge and back (the chart being written for knitting in the round and the heel being worked back and forth) was making my head spin.

I have however been weaving on my Knitter's Loom.

This is a Christmas scarf for my Mother in Law (don't worry she doesn't read the blog). It worked up very quickly. I warped the loom on Sunday afternoon and finished the scarf on Thursday evening. I'm very pleased with it and and am resolved to do more weaving.

I've been reading too, though not a lot. I started and finished Cold in the Earth by Aline Templeton. It's set in Galloway during the foot and mouth outbreak and as well as being a pretty good crime novel it's a fascinating picture of how a community is torn apart by an outbreak of the disease. I would certainly read another of these.

In a quest to find something as good as C J Sansom, which I can happily recommend to customers for Christmas gift buying, I am now reading Blood on the Strand by Susannah Gregory. I probably should have started with the first in the series but this is the one which was at hand. It's fairly good so far, but I shall have to see how the character of Thomas Chaloner develops. It's a bit later than the Sansom books, about a hundred and twenty years or so, but it's still an interesting period and not one I am familiar with (plenty of those to choose from given my knowledge of English history).

The other book I'm reading at the moment is City of Dark Hearts by James Conan. James Conan is the pseudonym of William Horwood (of Duncton Chronicles) and Helen Rappaport. It was previously published (in hardback I presume) under the title Dark Hearts of Chicago. I've not sure why the slight chance in name, doesn't really seem to make much difference. Anyway it's set in Chicago during the World's Fair in 1893 and it started well enough, but I'm around halfway, about 250 pages in, and the pace has slowed rather. Hopefully it will pick up again soon.

Friday, October 31, 2008

It Was Good While It Lasted!

Sadly the Rays didn't win the World Series. They got beaten in the fifth game when it resumed on Wednesday night, so they lost 4 games to one. Ah well, they did really well to get that far and hopefully they can carry the momentum over into next season.

It's Friday evening and I'm starting a long weekend off - no work till Tuesday. WhooHoo! I'm making the most of it and will be off to spinning group in a bit. No plans yet for the rest of the weekend but here's hoping Lewis Hamilton does well on Sunday in the Brazilian Grand Prix - if he does then he'll be the youngest driver ever to win the World Championship.

There will be a book, chicken and craft update over the weekend sometime, I promise.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Don't Know What You Did....

...but the game was suspended in the sixth innings (there are nine in total, for the uninitiated) due to poor weather.

It seems it will continue tonight.

In the meantime, whatever it was you all did to influence the weather - could you stop now. We've had an inch of snow here and it's not even Halloween yet. Those of you from the St Petersburg Fiber Fanatics can stop smirking or I'll order a cold snap for your barbeque on Sunday.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Chicken Update

I know you've all been asking how the chooks are doing.

They've settled in well and are enjoying roaming the garden when we're able to let them roam free. There are a number of foxes round here so if we're not around then they are confined to their coop and run.

At the weekend and on my days off however they get to roam around the rest of the garden - much to the detriment of my rosemary bushes.

They're a lively bunch - still settling the pecking order but they're becoming more used to us and most of them will eat from your hand and if you're patient will let you pick them up. No eggs as yet and we may not get any now until the spring but we live in hope.

This is Hillary (after Hillary Rodham Clinton) on the left, and the one that was originally called CJ but seems to have become Seven of Nine (because she has a problem with one eye and isn't opening it properly - we're watching her carefully to make sure it isn't getting worse - it doesn't seem to bother her at all)

This one is nameless so far but she's really sweet. In the photo she's in their favourite place - under the bushes where there are lots of leaves to scratch around in. I love when they suddenly decide they are a bit exposed or too far from the safety of the bushes, then they all run, wings flapping back to safety. Daft birds.

Finally can you all please send positive thoughts to the Rays tonight. It's crunch time. They're 3-1 down in a best of 7 series. If they don't win tonight then the Phillies will snatch the World Series. Any positive thoughts you can send them tonight would be much appreciated. Jill, if you're reading this, I may just excuse you if you feel your allegiances lie elsewhere.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fibre Update

Lest you think I've been lazing around just watching baseball (chance would be a fine thing!) and failing to finish books, I thought I'd better show you what I've been spinning.

Here is the first bobbin of the hand-dyed purple roving that was a gift from the lovely Natalie and Cheryl of the St Petersburg Fiber Fanatics.

It's destined to be some lacey fingerless gloves I think. I love the subtle variations in colour - they don't really show up in the photo, but should be more apparent when it's plied and washed.

Before I started to spin the lovely purple stuff I finished some alpaca that I had lying about in the stash.

I think there's probably enough of this for a short shawl or a scarf. Very snuggly.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I Wish I Could Have Been There

Oh how I wish I could have been in Florida last night at the Tropicana Field to watch the Rays beat the Red Sox and win the ALCS.

The Rays are in the World Series.

I'm going to say that again because I'm not sure I ever really believed it could happen.

The Rays are in the World Series!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

In Which I Admit Defeat....

Every now and again I have another attempt to defeat my old adversary Scandinavian Crime Fiction.

Once more I must confess I have failed. I have struggled with The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo and I've got as far as page 116. Nothing has happened yet. There has been no murder (that I am aware of). There has been no tension, apart from a short bit on pages 12 to 13. It's just page after page of not very interesting people talking and even less interesting people going about their seriously uninteresting lives. I thought I must be missing something. After all, lovely people who's opinions I trust and respect, like Karen and Maxine, like these books. I thought I'd try and read another hundred pages just in case. You know what? I cannot bring myself to even pick the book up, never mind read another 100 pages. I would rather stick pins in my eyes.

I give up. Next time I mention that I'm reading anything set slightly to the west of Russia please shoot me.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Here Come the Girls.....

We've had a very busy weekend what with one thing and another. It was the first weekend since we got back from holiday that I've been off on both the Saturday and Sunday so we had a lot to do.

Firstly, yesterday we went to Atherstone, not too far away , in Warwickshire, which purports to be a book town. Nothing on the scale of Hay but allegedly a book town nonetheless. We were rather disappointed. One bookstore was closed, though it was well after 10am when it should have opened (long time readers may know how much this winds me up!). The St Giles Hospice bookshop was very small and nowhere near as good as our local one in Mere Green. The trip wasn't a total wash out however as Throckmorton's Books, much to my surprise had a little run of James Sallis books. I can't believe I spent all that time rummaging in every used bookstore in Florida (well, nearly), and I could have got the very ones I was looking for just a few miles from home. Anyway they had one I hadn't managed to get yet, Death Will Have Your Eyes. It's a stand-alone thriller about spies, so it may not be my cup of tea, but we shall see.

We moved on to Nuneaton, not a place I'd ever been before and I got some lovely vintage pattern cutting books in a charity shop - and there's a Starbucks in Nuneaton so as you can imagine we had a cup of coffee.

Then we were ready for the main business of the day. Pete had won some graphic novels on eBay and the main purpose of our trip to North Warwickshire was to meet the seller at Corley services to pick up said books. What a fantastic collection it was - even better than we hoped - an almost full run of the Marvel Essentials books (114 of them) and a full run of Ultimate books - all in pristine condition too. Pete's already cleared a bookshelf for them (no mean feat in this house!)

How's that for a collection - and there are more!

We also called into Lichfield on the way back where the remainder bookshop had just had a fresh delivery of craft and comic related books. I got a couple of quilting books and a copy of Yarnplay. Pete got a fantastic Spiderman book, a Marvel Vault and a copy of the Steel Claw, plus a Superman graphic novel. It was obviously our lucky day.

Today to top it all off we finally got our chickens. We all went over to Merrydale Poultry near Leicester, we were served by Karen who was very helpful. They had some great birds to choose from and all the stuff we needed to get started. I can heartily recommend them. This is what we got -

The back two are a Blue (on the left) and a Copper Black, the front one is a Cuckoo, the white one with the grey feathers at her neck is a Sussex and the one on the right is a Sweetie. The Sweetie is the only one to have a name so far. She was chosen by the Evilpixie and is named, with great originality "Sweetie". Names for the others will follow as they settle in and display their personailities. We are really chuffed.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

National Poetry Day

Today in honour of National Poetry Day, here's a little poem I'm rather fond of. I'm not sure quite what it is about this that I like so much, I think it's the language and the sound. I first heard it read aloud and have loved it ever since.

I will make you brooches and toys for your delight
Of bird-song at morning and star-shine at night.
I will make a palace fit for you and me
Of green days in forests and blue days at sea.

I will make my kitchen, and you shall keep your room,
Where white flows the river and bright blows the broom,
And you shall wash your linen and keep your body white
In rainfall at morning and dewfall at night.

And this shall be for music when no one else is near,
The fine song for singing, the rare song to hear!
That only I remember, that only you admire,
Of the broad road that stretches and the roadside fire.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Varyingly called either "Romance" or "I Will Make You Brooches."

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Go Rays!!!

I've been a fan of baseball for quite a while - since we first started to go to Florida on holiday - so I guess that's about 10 years, about the time that the Tampa Bay Rays came into existence. (They used to be called the Devil Rays but some people thought kids could get corrupted by that!)

Anyway for pretty much all of their time in Major League Baseball the Rays have languished at the bottom of their league. This year however they have been on an incredible run. The only time they lost while we were in Florida was the day we went to see them play the Red Sox, when they got trounced. They went on to win their league and this week they won the Divisional Series, meaning they now play in the Championship Series - and who are they playing but the Boston Red Sox. We can so take them! Just one series (best of seven games) away from the World Series!

Go Rays!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Super Thursday

It's been a hell of a week.

In the run up to Christmas there's the usual jostling among publishers to have the best-selling book of the year. Apparently the first Thursday in October is the optimum time to publish your little gem and get maximum exposure / selling time in the run up to Christmas. This year all that meant some 800 books were published on Thursday of this week.

So please spare a thought for booksellers all over the country who've been struggling with a hideous amount of work that all needs to be done at once. Customers expect (and quite rightly) that if a book is published on Thursday then it will be on the shelf on Thursday. Could publishers therefore do us a favour next year and not publish everything all at once? Would it really make that much difference if you publish it a couple of weeks early? Or later? Surely then your book would stand less chance of being lost among the other 799, in the blaze of publicity as various celebrities swarm over every talk show and news programme promoting their latest biography.

I was so exhausted this week that I forgot to go to my Crime Reading Group on Wednesday. By the time I got to Saturday I was a jibbering wreck.

Hence there has been very little in the way of reading or knitting. I did finish the second James Sallis book, Cripple Creek. It was really good and I'm now eagerly awaiting the publication of the third book in the series, Salt River, (sensibly published by No Exit Press on October 23rd).

And I've been knitting the totally wonderful Hypnosis socks (Ravelry link) from The Eclectic Sole by Janel Laidman. It's not available in the UK yet but it's a great book and there are easily 5 or 6 sock patterns that I wanted to knit right away and there's only maybe one that doesn't appeal, though it's still technically interesting. I'm knitting them in Noro Kureyon Sock Yarn which I bought in Florida and I love the colours, though like Ambermoggie, I'm having a little problem with the yarn being almost threadlike in places.

I'm not sure this photo does the colours justice. The bluey/green at the cuff is fairly accurate but then it blends though a grey colour to a delightful purple and now it's turning green. Anyway the sock has been put on hold for a little while as I've been busy knitting baby bootees for a colleague and then I need to start the secret Christmas knitting this week before the general mayhem of Christmas shopping really starts to hit at work.

Last night we watched Recount which has won numerous awards, and stars Kevin Spacey amongst many other wonderful actors. It's about the dreadful electoral shambles in Florida in 2000 that lost Al Gore the presidential election and landed us with the last 8 years of Bush. I couldn't help but think all the way through how different the world would be now if things had turned out differently. Anyway it's top class TV drama and I highly recommend it. Heroes is back on BBC2 - more great drama. And just in case you hadn't seen the adverts - Fringe starts tonight on Sky One - don't miss it - from the first couple of episodes it looks like it could be really good.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Little Holiday Reading

I know I said I would do this yesterday but the jetlag got the better of me and I fell asleep.

I started my holiday reading with a proof of the new Jim Kelly - Death Wore White. It's not due for release until February 2009. It's a departure for him - a new series, not featuring Philip Dryden, instead it's about two police detectives: DI Shaw and DS Valentine. They're not a willing partnership. Valentine used to be Shaw's late father's partner and Shaw reckons he's past it, too old school to be of any use. Valentine on the other hand thinks his ex-partner's son is a college graduate who's out of his depth and has too high an opinion of himself. Anyway they're out checking on a body swept up on the shore when they get alerted to a queue of stranded cars in a snow drift near the beach where they're looking. But the driver of the first car is going nowhere - someone's put a chisel through his eye. It's a classic mystery setting - finite number of suspects, all or none of whom could have a motive, and the crime scene is rapidly metling away. It's sharply plotted and moves along well, but the best bit about this book is the relationship between the two detectives as they are forced to work together. I reckon this could turn into a great series - I can even see it on TV.

Next I moved on to something a bit different - Cypress Grove by James Sallis. I was alerted to this series by a review in the bookseller a couple of weeks before I went on holiday. The third book in the series (Salt River) is due for publication in the UK in October. The review compared Sallis to James Lee Burke, so I was a little surprised that I'd never even heard of him. Never mind I thought when I go the the US I'll pick up the first couple and see what all the fuss is about. Easier said than done. None of his books are carried by Borders or Barnes & Noble. The bloke in Borders even told me there was no such writer. As you can imagine this just spurred me on even more to find his books. Eventually in a Brant's Books in Sarasota, there it was - the first one in the series. And what a treat it turned out to be. Set in rural Tennessee, with an ex-policeman as the protagonist. Turner is an ex-cop with a history - he's been in prison, he's been a psychotherapist, and now he's retired for a little of the quiet life in the backwoods halfway between Memphis and forever. Of course, events conspire to change all that and before he knows it Turner is helping local Sheriff Lonnie Bates with a brutal murder case. The narrative voice that Sallis uses in this book is wonderful. It's a rich Southern drawl that just oozes across the page. I think I'd like to listen to an audiobook of this - it reads like syrup. Now I need to track down the second in the series. I did manage to pick up several of his other books - he's also written a series about a black part-time detective part-time writer called Lew Griffin. They're set in New Orleans. More about them later as I did manage to read one. He also wrote a biography of Chester Himes - I need to look out for that one I think.

A change of pace was called for so I picked up The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R King. I think I mentioned that this is out of print in the UK, but I'd never read it so I was pleased to find a secondhand copy. I'd avoided this series, as I think I've said in the past, because how can a Californian write about Sherlock Holmes? I admit that I was wrong. It's a lovely series, and now that I've read the first one and know how it all began, I can go on and read the rest of the series guilt-free. (I hate to read things out of order!).

As I was on Laurie R King, my next read was The Art of Detection. This is a Kate Martinelli book, but it has links to Sherlock Holmes, as she's investigating the death of a renowned Sherlockian. I think I was hoping that she'd make more of the link between this and her Mary Russell books. There was the odd hint here and there but this book stuck by and large to the facts and skipped over the fictional stuff I was hoping might be there. It was enjoyable enough as it stood but I was hoping for more.

What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn was the next book on my pile. I really wanted to like this, after all it's by a local lass, has won a couple of awards, was highly recommended to me..etc..etc. And all I could think was - is this it? Is that what all the fuss was about? It didn't really go anywhere - it was desperately in search of a plot and the ending was very weak. It's one redeeming part was the description of the Mystery Shopper - which should be read by all retail staff.

1974 by David Peace was another book I'd been meaning to read for a while, and Karen stepped forward at the right moment with a review copy. Now this of course is part of a quartet of books and I think it would be a little unfair to judge it entirely by itself but as a beginning I liked it. It's rough and in places it's a tad cliched. It's certainly not an easy read, brutal and unflinching in parts. I'm interested enough to want to read more and that's always a good sign.

The final volume I managed to squeeze in was Moth by James Sallis. This is the second in his Lew Griffin series as mentioned above. I liked it. I liked the protagonist - he's a writer and lecturer and he does a bit of detecting (mostly finding people, on the evidence of this book), he's been an alcoholic and he's had a few ruined relationships. He's a black guy in Louisiana, a State that's still very racist and he has a wonderful turn of phrase. I've managed to pick up a couple of the others in this series and I'm looking forward to working through them. They seem to be out of print in the UK, don't seem to be easily available in the US either, but tracking down these books has always been part of the fun for me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Back Home

We're back home, safe and sound, and the house is in one piece. It seems that the Evilpixie has taken her responsibilities very seriously in our absence and has taken good care of both Bubba and the house. We are relieved and very pleased.

I have a major book update to do as I've not mentioned any of the books I read while on holiday so that will follow later today hopefully.

Meantime I am suffering with jetlag which always affects me more when I come home so it will be a quiet day today, though I must get some shopping in - the cupboards look like a horde of locusts swept through while we were away. Luckily I'm not back at work until Wednesday so there is a chance that my brain will be back in service by then - currently it is a bit on the woolly side.

In politics we find ourselves plunged straight from the razzamatazz and excitement of the US Elections into the unremitting beige-ness of the Labour Party Conference. Yawn.

Back later with my book update

Friday, September 19, 2008

Last Day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So, we've come, sadly, to our last day here in the Sunshine State.

I'm sorry to be going home, though I've missed the Evilpixie and Bubba and shall be glad to see them.

We've had a great time exploring some parts of Florida we'd not seen before and re-visiting some old favourites.

My top bits of the holiday were (in no particular order) - the baseball (even if the Rays got trounced that night), the bookstores, catching my first fish, the yarn crawl, and all the great knitting friends I made. I've eaten a lot of great seafood too.

Our apartment has been wonderful - most of the time there's been almost no-one in the complex apart from us and apart from the last few days we've had the pool entirely to ourselves. The beach here is beautiful as always, especially early in the morning when it's practically deserted. We've watched dolphins swimming and seen rays in the shallows. Yesterday at Fort de Soto we saw huge (2 foot) fish swimming just inches from our toes!

I'm still puzzling over the reason why anyone would vote for John McCain and his running mate - a woman so far to the right she makes Margaret Thatcher look like Karl Marx. I've seen McCain reverse his position at least twice this week on two different topics. Not to mention the downright lies. If you're reading this and can shed light please let me know.

As it's our last day I have the final results in my highly-unscientific and totally random Lawn Flag Poll. Every day as we've been out and about I've counted the Obama and McCain lawn flags we've seen. I've done this honestly and fairly and have not tried to skew the result in any way, merely recorded the flags we've seen. We've been through all kinds of neighbourhoods on our travels - the affluent and the not so well off, touristy areas and those well off the beaten track.

Here are the results of my poll -

Obama - 57%

McCain - 31%

Ron Paul - 12% (bonus points if you even knew he was running!)

If the results of the election go the same way as my poll the world will be a better place.

I have to say that the lawn flag poll was harder than you'd think - it was sometimes difficult to spot the Presidential election flags among the many, many more signs advertising houses for sale (often foreclosure sales), and the absolute blizzard of signs supporting candidates for other offices from Sheriff to school board, from state legislator to property appraiser. Dudes - do you think maybe you're taking this democracy thing a bit too far?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wednesday Update

A quieter day yesterday, starting with a stroll through Gulfport. We'd never visited Gulfport before, despite all the many times we've been to St Pete. The main reason for going was to visit Small Adventures Bookstore, which was a little delight with a very friendly, helpful owner. However, words cannot describe how much I loved Gulfport - this is where I want to live when we finally get our act together and move here. Quiet little streets, lined with quaint little houses, a great beach along the front (with a fishing pier) and a real feeling of community. I can't believe we'd never been there before. The only minus point - the little coffee shop is closed on Wednesdays - driving us to Starbucks yet again (their profits are going to plummet when we leave!)

A few diversions and wild goose chases later we found Wilson's Book World. A wonderful shop, crammed with great books on all subjects, and a whole room at the back filled with comics. We spent a considerable amount of time there, and may go back before we leave. Another place discovered that we'd not known about before.

Wednesday night is knitting night of course so I went to my final meeting with the St Petersburg Fiber Fanatics. The lovely Natalie and Cheryl had got me a present too! Some lovely fibre that they had hand-dyed. What a bunch of sweeties they are. I had a really great time meeting them all and will definitely be back sometime.

Interestingly they could not answer my burning question of the week - Why would anyone vote for John McCain? I'm still working on this one. Results of the Lawn Flag Survey on Friday when all the flags have been counted and verified.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fishing, Home Runs and Fish Fry Tuesday

We've had a busy couple of days.

Yesterday we went fishing, from the pier at Fort de Soto. I actually caught my first fish.

Yes, that's me and no, it wasn't the biggest fish in the world. Pete, who knows a whole lot more about fishing than me caught about 5 or 6. Mostly about the same size - but it wasn't about how big the fish were, it was just for fun.
Fort de Soto is one of my favourite places in the whole world. It has 2 fishing piers, a dog beach and the most beautiful, unspoilt beach with the clearest water. This is the view from the carpark towards the fishing pier where we were yesterday.

What's not to love?

Also yesterday we went to the Tropicana Stadium to see the Tampa Bay Rays play the Boston Red Sox. That's baseball, for the uninitiated. The Rays got trounced. It was 13-5. Not good.

Today we've been up north into the sticks. We ventured up to Pasco County, to Hudson and New Port Richey in search of comics and books and other stuff. It was like another world. Everywhere we've been so far in Florida the people have been lovely and helpful, delighted to meet folks from England and eager to help. Today we met another side of Florida, where the people with a few exceptions, were unhelpful, ignorant and insular. Now I know that a lot of Brits visit New Port Richey as part of a two-part villa package after staying in Kissimmee. I wonder how many Brits think all of Florida is like either Kissimmee or New Port Richey? Maybe we were just unlucky with the people we met today, or maybe the number of ignorant people correlates directly with the number of pawn shops, gun shops and McCain lawn flags we passed.

More later on my totally unscientific survey of Obama v McCain lawn flags and predicting the outcome of the US Election.

Tonight, being Tuesday was dinner at the Wharf for Fish Fry Tuesday. Awesome seafood in a great, totally unpretentious location, right on the water.

Next up the second episode of the new TV programme Fringe, not a sit-com set during the Edinburgh Festival but a kind of cross between CSI and the X-Files. Not available in the UK yet, if at all, but so far it's really cool.

And finally the view from our balcony just after sunset tonight.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Yarn Crawl!!!!!!!

What a fantastic day out we had yesterday. The lovely St Petersburg Fiber Fanatics had arranged a great yarn store crawl AND a visit to an Alpaca farm.

First off we met at Needles and Knobs a fine yarn store, just up the road from our apartment. This shop is owned by Audrey who was very welcoming and didn't seem to mind us invading her shop all at once. I bought the new issue of Interweave Felts and a book I'd been looking for, The Eclectic Sole by Janel Laidman.

Then, before the day got too hot we went to the alpaca farm. Shi'loh' Alpacas, run by Jamie and Bob. It really is, as she says, "an oasis in a concrete jungle." I couldn't imagine where about in crowded Pinellas County there was room to keep alpacas. We turned off a main street, lined with car dealerships and strip malls and the usual stuff, down a twisty little road, though a lovely quiet little neighbourhood until we came to their little sign, out front of their lovely house. And I'm still thinking, but surely the alpacas don't live here. Oh yes they do. Just out the back in the yard (it's a big yard, meant for horses, with a barn at one end), were her eight alpaca males. Beautiful animals. We spent a good couple of hours with Jamie and Bob and learned all about alpacas and how they look after then, and a good deal about the economics of alpaca breeding which was fascinating.

The sweet little black guy is called Darth Vader and the grey one at the back is Lancet.

This little guy is Topher and he was a real sweetie, the baby of the group. We had a great time. Unfortunately, froma spinner's point of view they didn't have any fiber for sale, this years shearing was off being processed and not due back for a few weeks yet.

Next up was Knits and Krafts on SEminole Blvd, where I'd been earlier in the week, just a quick stop as it was on our way.

Off we went for lunch after that to the Lucky Dill Deli in Palm Harbor - a little slice of New York in the Florida sunshine. It's a real NY Deli serving the most fantastic sandwiches, lunches and desserts - the cheesecake is legendary!

Hunger sated we carried on to Uncommon Threads where they sell yarn and fibre for spinning. I was in my element here and bought some great fibres.
They are, from left to right, Hapy Hippie hand-dyed soysilk in colorway "Age of Aquarius" from Conjoined Creations, handpainted bamboo in Regal Blue from Fiberlady.com and finally some merino silk blend in lovely shades of purples and lilacs and blues.

The last place we went to was Fiber Arts (I'm sure they have a website but I can't find it right now) in Tampa. What a lovely shop! Thay have a whole room full of Noro, and another with a whole wall dedicated to sockyarn. It's one of those shops that just seems to go on for ever with little rooms stuffed full of the most delightful (and expensive) yarns. This was a shop, we decided, for "ladies who knit". Beautiful stuff, but mostly not for your everyday knitter. They did, however have the first 2 volumes of the Norah Gaughan patterns I had been searching for so I was very pleased. I didn't buy any yarn there - mostly because I thought if I started to buy things I might not be able to stop. I don't think Mr Visa would have been very pleased with me - or Pete for that matter. No, we can't pay the mortgage, but look.... I have cashmere/silk/alpaca yarn.

That concluded our tour of yarn stores of the area and I had a great time as, I think, did the others. It was a really great day out.

Today we're off (Pete and I today, no knitters) to the fleamarket in Oldsmar and then in quest of a comic shop that's over that way somewhere.

More later.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Friday Update

We spent Thursday rummaging around St Petersburg and Largo, visiting comic shops and the odd yarn store and a book store or two, including the wonderful Haslam's - a legend of a bookstore.

Then we went to the IMAX to see The Dark Knight which we both really enjoyed. Heath Ledger was superb as the Joker.

Today we've been down to Bradenton where we visited A Yarn Outlet and I met the lovely Jim, DH of the owner, who was very helpful and obliging, and discussed politics with me. We meandered through Bradenton and ended up on Anna Maria Island at the pier.

At the beginning of the week, when we first got here the sea off the beach here was clear and blue and sparkly but gradually through the week it changed to a dark olive green colour and the surf got higher and the waves got rougher. There's been some flooding in the streets round here as the tide has been 2-3 feet higher than normal. This is the influence of Hurricane Ike, even though he's about 300 miles away, about to make the lives of the good people of Texas very unpleasant. Meanwhile, here in St Pete the surfers are very happy and are out in their droves.

I'm thinking about the people of Galveston and Houston tonight. Let's hope they get through this OK.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Knitters Galore

Just a quick post to say thank you to the St Petersburg Fiber Fanatics for welcoming me to their meeting last night, and for being lovely people. Well, they are knitters, so you'd expect then to be nice, but they were all really friendly.

They've organised a fantastic yarn crawl for Saturday including a visit to an alpaca farm. Who even knew they farmed alpacas in Florida?

It should be a great day out.

More to follow, probably tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stormy Weather

Yesterday was a quieter day - not so much rushing around.

A walk along the beach in the first light to see all the local wildlife. The beach was almost deserted and there were rays feeding in the shallows and thousands of birds of all varieties - terns and gulls and wading birds of many different kinds.

Then back to the apartment for a leisurely morning until contractors working somewhere else in the building drove us out. One of the problems with Florida during off-season - it's when everyone renovates their condos.

Up the coast a bit to Madeira Beach for a visit to Books to the Ceiling, another of our must see used book stores. Then off to John's Pass, a bit of a tourist trap - a boardwalk along the water with restaurants and shops selling tshirts and souvenirs. Our main purpose for being there was lunch at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. When we were out on Sunday we saw a huge advert saying We Love Bubba. How could we not go and check it out. They're a chain of restaurants themed around the film Forrest Gump and it's as cheesy as anything. But the food was excellent if a tad on the pricy side - well, someone has to pay for all the memorabilia on the walls! We had a selection of different seafood and shared a Mudpie for dessert - it was the biggest mudpie you ever saw in your life - it could have fed 10 people!

Groaning from too much fried shrimp and chocolate icecream we made our way back to the apartment and lay by the pool for a bit until the wind got up and the rain started. This was the northestern edge of Hurricane Ike as he crossed far to the south of us on his was towards Texas. The storm lasted about twenty minutes before the skies cleared again.

This morning it is windy again and the sea is quite rough. The wind woke me and I could hear the waves crashing onto the beach. Once it's light I'll go out and see what's going on.

We're off to Tampa today, again trawling the book and comic stores, plus there are a couple of quilting shops and at least one yarn store. I'll report back later.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sunshine State

Well, we got here with remarkably little disturbance from storms or hurricanes and spent the first day mostly just chilling out. Got up early (it's the time difference - always gets me) and mooched around the fleamarkets for a few hours, came back and swam in the pool for a bit then went out to The Wharf and ate lots of lovely seafood.

Here is the view from our balcony

That morning there were dolphins swimming just off the beach.

Yesterday we felt all rested, so after a hearty breakfast at Beverly's we went to Sarasota on a book hunt. Unfortunately we were disappointed in our first destination. The totally wonderful Main Books is no more it seems. Apparently they had a sprinkler accident and then a fire - neither of these are things that you want in a bookshop. I was especially sad as if I was ever to own a second-hand bookshop I'd want it to be like Main Books - four floors covering every subject you could think of and a few you'd never have thought of in a million years. Polished wooden floors, friendly staff and a cat that slept on the counter. Great atmosphere - I'm sorry it's gone.

A quick trip to Helen's comics just down the road lead to a copy of Feathered Star Quilts.

We pressed on, visiting Alma Mae's Quilt Shop, which was lovely, with lovely fabrics, but I didn't buy anything, via a few paperback exchanges and a Borders, where I scored a hardback copy of Laurie R King's The Art of Detection from the bargain table (cheaper than the paperback!), to Brant's Books.

Brant's is housed in an old army barracks and is possibly the most dilapidated bookstore you ever saw in your life. The floor sags and moans when you walk on it, making browsing an interesting experience.

They were having a closing down sale though - and don't seem to have any new premises as yet. I hope they find them soon - bookstores like this are getting fewer and fewer as rent increases and redevelopments force them out.

Brant's win my store of the day award though for having the book I had been searching for it in all the bookstores and fleamarket bookstalls I've been in since I got here - trust me , there have been a few.

Cypress Grove by James Sallis. This is the first in a trilogy, the last part being published later this year in the UK I think. There was a review in the Bookseller and I thought it looked interesting. Apparently he's a bit like James Lee Burke - lyrical and clever. We shall see. I had thought he would be easy to find here but it seems not. The bloke in Borders told me there was no such writer! Anyway I was lucky enough to find a copy at Brant's and for a very reasonable price (even in the sale).

Then we hit a very good branch of Barnes and Noble where I didn't buy anything but was sorely tempted by their vast range of crafty books.

No time to waste, we sallied on to Books a Million which was great - I got a copy of The Beekeeper's Apprentice (sadly out of print in the UK and I'd never read it), the Yarn Harlot's 2009 page a day calender and Knitting Vintage Socks by Nancy Bush.

Lastly, and I was beginning to flag by this point, I visited The Spinning Wheel, good local yarn store of Sarasota. They had the Norah Gaughan Vol 3 book, but sadly not the first two volumes. I was a bit overwhelmed by the multitude of strange and new yarns and didn't buy any. Still, there are several other yarn stores on my list - still plenty of chances to buy some yarn.

A very good day indeed, rounded off with dinner at PJ's Seafood Restaurant, just around the corner from the apartment. Heaven.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Almost there...

As you can see from the countdown to the right it is almost time to leave for our well-earned holiday. This is the first holiday we've had in four years, and the first "grown-up" holiday (ie without the Evilpixie) since our honeymoon to New York sixteen years ago.

Of course this new, grown-up holiday can only by accomplished by leaving the house in the hands of the Evilpixie and a couple of her friends who will house and dog sit while we are away. Number one rule - no Facebook parties. Number two rule - no parties of any kind.

I am resolved not to worry about what might be happening while I'm not there - if anyone lives near me though - how about doing a quick drive-by every now and then, just to check!

We're flying from Manchester, straight into the path of tropical storm Hanna who will be washing up the east coast of the US as we are flying down. Must remember to take the travel sickness tablets - it might be a bumpy ride.

I'm all set, with my books chosen - Redemption Falls by Joseph O'Connor, set just after the American Civil War and featuring the descendents of the people who travelled on the ill-fated Star of the Sea; a proof of the new Jim Kelly - Death Wore White - a departure from his usual Philip Dryden series, this one being about two policemen; What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn, winner of several awards and a local lass too; and finally the first in David Peace's Red Riding Quartet, 1974, something I'd been meaning to get to for a while. That should keep me going until I hit a branch of Barnes & Noble, or one of the several great second-hand bookstores we'll be visiting.

I've got a brand new pair of socks ready to be started with my bamboo dpn's and the first 50g of sock wool in my hand baggage. So long as I get them through security OK I shall be knitting all the way across the Atlantic. All that uninterrupted kntting time - wonderful.

I'm hoping to hook up with the St Pete Fiber Fanatics while I'm there - someone mentioned a yarn store crawl. You can imagine I am up for that.

I'm hoping to be able to blog while we're away. Wi-fi, or netcafe willing I will be reporting on all the yarn and fibre stores, the bookstore and fleamarket finds plus tell you all what we've been up to. Hopefully with photographs.

Speak to you all soon, from the other side of the pond.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hurricane Watch

Less than a week before our holiday and we're on Hurricane Watch.

Hurricane Gustav is barrelling across the Gulf of Mexico as we speak, heading straight for New Orleans.

(pic courtesy of weather.com)

I hope it doesn't hit the city, or it weakens significantly before it gets there. Not that we will be anywhere near New Orleans on Monday when it's expected to hit, but I think the people of Louisiana and the other Gulf states have had enough to deal with.

Hurricane Hanna is east of the Bahamas, heading for Florida. This one is the one we are currently a little concerned about - it doesn't look like it will impact the Gulf Coast region where we're headed, but will probably skip up the east coast of the States - giving us a bumpy ride as we fly in, and if we're very unlucky, could strand us in Atlanta where we change planes.

Just to keep us on our toes, there' s a tropical depression forming out in the Azores which looks a bit dodgy and which, if it becomes a tropical storm / hurricane, will be called Ike.

That'll teach us to go to Florida in the Hurricane Season.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Doctor Who Memorial Chicken Coop

Presenting the Dr Who Memorial Chicken Coop -

so named as it was paid for with the sale of some Dr Who memorabilia on eBay.
Just about big enough for 6 chooks, but we'll only have 4 (to start with). They'll get out of the run when we're around and have free range of the garden. We won't actually get the chickens until we get home from Florida though. We can't wait.

Friday, August 22, 2008


Here's the thing...it may be two weeks until we go on holiday but the realisation has just hit me that I actually only have 2 more days off before we go (not counting Sundays which seem to disappear in a flurry of family stuff).

Now, I am an uber-organised sort of person when it comes to holidays (this is through necessity, not a natural leaning) and I like to have everything ready well in advance. I'm the sort of person who has a list of the lists I've made. So today has been a major rush to get some stuff completed that's been lurking around the workbasket for a while.

I finally sewed the hem on the blue fishy skirt, so that's finished now. I sewed the seams and the waistband of another skirt in some gorgeous Amy Butler fabric called Coriander. This had been cut out but was waiting for me to get the sewing machine out and start sewing. Just got to thread the elastic into the casing, make a cord for the waistband and stitch the hem.

For most of the week I have been frantically knitting this top in Sirdar Luxury Soft Cotton. I've only had the yarn for few days after giving up waiting for Angel Yarns to deliver it, cancelling my order and buying it from Get Knitted instead. I can't imagine what I was thinking when I didn't use them in the first place - it was delivered within 2 days with none of the excuses and delays that were forthcoming from Angel Yarns. The Amy Butler fabric came from Get Knitted too. It's quite a slow knit as it's 4ply - just yards and yards of plain stocking stitch and the yarn is very splitty so you have to watch what you're doing. I'm almost finished the back so I should be finished the front in good time and then there's just a little edging to the neck. I'm not panicking about this yet. Yet.

Chicken News!

We finally bought our chicken coop and will be collecting it on Sunday, so we can get it all set up and sorted ready for the chickens which we'll get when we come back from Florida.

I have been reading as well. I finished The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It is a wonderful book, beautifully written and very thought provoking. I'm not at all surprised that it won a Pulitzer. I progressed to a proof of the new Ian Rankin, called Doors Open, which is published on September 16th. It's set in Edinburgh (of course) and is about an art heist perpetrated by some amateurs. It was an enjoyable read with an interesting plot and good characters but it felt a bit lightweight. I think I was expecting something a bit meatier, something with a bit more profundity for Rankin's first Post-Rebus novel. Worth a read, but don't expect a great deal of depth.

Now I'm on Volk's Shadow by Brent Ghelfi, another proof. This is the second in the Volk series, and I did enjoy the first one. This one is, so far, proving to be just as good. It's really so not the type of book I would normally pick up - a tad on the violent side and rather too many guns, but like Lee Child, this series is turning into a guilty pleasure. Think Jack Reacher without the scruples and you've pretty much got Alexei Volkovoy. This one's not published here until November, though it's out in HB in the US now.

Lastly I am having a dilemma (as usual) about my holiday reading. How many books to take? Which books to take? What if I run out of books? What if every bookstore in Florida suddenly spontaneously combusts and I have nothing to read? More on this next time!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ferry Cross the Mersey....

I had a great day out yesterday with my spinning group.

We headed for Liverpool to the National Exhibition of the Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. The quality of the exhibits was just amazing. Some of the craft work was just incredible. Unfortunately I have no photos to show you, so you'll have to take my word for it. However I recommend that if you are at all local then you go and have a look. My one irritation with the exhibition was that while there was a handout telling you who's work each piece was and what Guild they belonged to, there was nothing with the work to indicate how it was made, or what materials were used. If you wanted to know that - and of course we did - then you had to go and look it up in a folder by the reception. Wouldn't it have been more helpful and informative to put a little card by each piece with that information, or to have that info in the handout?

Also, a little note here to the people of Liverpool, or at least the people organising the Capital of Culture thingy - how about a few signs to the venues? Trying to find the Cornerstone Gallery at Hope University was a tad challenging to say the least. I have to ask exactly how people can find a gallery if the only sign is above the door, which is concealed round a corner, behind a closed gate?

Anyway the exhibition is full of wonderful and inspiring work - weaving, handspun, knitting, embroidery, quilting - you name it, it was there. I feel very inspired and wish I had half of the talent these people have.

From there we moved on and spent an hour or so mooching around the Albert Dock. I was rather disappointed in this. When I was last there (must be more than 20 years ago!), it was full of lots of arty crafty little shops selling lovely jewellery etc. Now it seems to be just a tourist trap. But we wandered through the Museum of Slavery which was interesting, and had a cup of coffee and watched the people.

Then we moved on to what for me was the highlight of the day. We went to Crosby to Anthony Gormley's amazing art installation, Another Place. That's the one with the 100 iron men standing on the beach looking out to sea. It is totally wonderful. I really, really wished I had taken my camera. I took a couple of shots with my cellphone but I have no idea how to download them onto the computer so I have pinched a photo from Sefton Council's website. I'm sure they won't mind.

I really want to go back when there's no-one else around. I love big deserted beaches anyway, and this is a great beach, but I'd love to see the figures all disappearing off into the distance, all staring seaward, without the many, many people, children and dogs that were there on a sunny, but terribly windy Sunday afternoon.

It's well worth the trip.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Oooh, pretty colours

Last Saturday the lovely ladies from my spinning group got together for a dyeing day.

It started off with the intention that we would do natural dyeing, and to begin with we did do a little of that.

Th orangey ones are all done with a solution of dahlia flowers.

But soon the lure of all the pretty colours from the synthetic dyes proved too much and we went wild.

It was great fun experimenting with all the different colours and some different fibres - that bright pink is some beautiful silk. We couldn't have picked a better day as the sun shone and it was really hot - if anything it was a bit too hot to be standing over a pan of steaming wool!

I don't believe I updated you on Bubba's progress after his visit to the vet. He's doing well, the vet is pleased with him. There's some loss to the muscle tone on that leg but that's only to be expected and we've stepped up the intensity of the hydrotherapy to build that back up for him. Fingers crossed there should be no need for him to go back to the vet.

This week I've been reading The Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor. It's a historical novel set during the potato famine in Ireland and is about the journey of a boat across the Atlantic with a cargo of people heading for a new life. The intertwining stories of the various people are fascinating and it's well-written. I actually picked it up beacuse I have a copy of Redemption Falls, O'Connor's latest book and I thought I'd better read the other one first. I'm not sure there's such a great degree of link that you would need to read both, but I'm sad and obsessive about these things! I like to read books in the right order. Redemption Falls is set at the end of the American Civil War and I shall probably save it to take on holiday with me.

It's been a little light relief (if death and disease can be light relief) from The Road by Cormac McCarthy which although beautifully written is not an easy read. I'm enjoying it immensely but every now and then I need to get away from the unremitting despair of it and read something more cheerful (you know, something with serial killers and psychopaths).

Most importantly I've got hold of a proof of the new Ian Rankin novel (due in September). Called Doors Open, this is his first book since he pensioned off Rebus and I'm keen to see what he'll do. The premise sounds good - an art heist from the National Gallery of Scotland. I'll let you know what I make of it when I'm finished.