Thursday, 11 December 2014

Christmas Preparations

I had last Sunday off as annual leave from work, so it was decided that we'd put up our Christmas tree and decorations on that day.  It was either last Sunday or this coming Saturday, but DD2 didn't want to wait another week, so after breakfast, we moved furniture from the usual Christmas Tree Corner, got out the stepladder and pulled down the boxes from the loft.

It always surprises me how long it takes to put up the tree (we put up and artificial tree - it's 7ft tall and fairly slimline, so fits better in our lounge).  First, the three sections of the tree and the base have to be taken out of the box.  Next comes fitting the bottom section in to the base so it doesn't wobble.  Then, the branches and twigs of the bottom section have to be fanned out.... then the middle section.... then the top section.  After that, the lights go on.  We use two sets -- I'm not sure why.  I think we had one set, decided there weren't enough and rather than buy a bigger set with more bulbs, went out and bought a second set.  After the lights comes the tinsel and strings of shiny beads and then on go the baubles.  The angel (which DD2 and I made from a kit I bought very cheaply in the supermarket) goes on last.

Once the tree had been put up and pushed into position, DD2 and I turned our attention to the other decorations.  We have four pop-up small Christmas trees which we put next to the big tree and there are two hanging tinsel trees which are pinned onto the ceiling.  There are also foil decorations that have to be carefully pulled round into position from flat and secured, before they're pinned up as well (I do the pinning - DD2 is Director of Operations and tells me where each one should go).  There's big tinsel across the dresser in the dining room, on the gate between the lounge and kitchen and on the TV stand.  Hubby had gone out while DD2 and I were decorating and we waited for him to get home before putting some lights up the stair bannister and around two walls of the lounge.

It's all very gaudy, bright and starting to look festive.  Each morning when she comes downstairs, DD2 turns on the all the lights (and then I switch them all off when we walk down to the train station with DD1 approx 40 mins later).  I don't have the lights on during the day when DD2's at school because, well, having a bit of a break from then is quite nice, truth be told.

Hanging decorations and new lights!
They're certainly bright!

Our Festive Forest!
On Monday, we did have a bit of an Embarrassing Moment though.  DD2 came home from school, dumped her shoes and coat on the hall floor and, while I was putting them away, grabbed her school bag and rushed into the lounge.  When I got in there, I noticed this:

Do you see that nice, glittery star at the top of the little tree?  I'm friends on Facebook with one of her classroom assistants, so I sent her a message with that photo and asked if she knew where the star was from and she said it looked like the one from the classroom Christmas tree!!!!  DD2 was told that she'd done the wrong thing and that it would have to go back to school in the morning (with a note of apology).  She wasn't happy, but accepted it and hasn't brought it home since.

Festive activities start tomorrow.  I'm out for lunch with my Friday morning knitting ladies at the pub where we meet.  It's our Christmas buffet lunch at Monday's knitting group (having been disappointed with Christmas lunches at a couple of venues we've been to, we decided to do it ourselves at the hall where we meet).  I need to check what I need to buy as my contribution for that (sandwiches/rolls I think).  Tuesday and Wednesday DD1 has her school's Christmas music concert, Tuesday is also the day I'm going to watch DD2's school Christmas production* and then on Friday it's the last day of term for both girls.  DD1's last day is one of no lessons - instead, the whole school goes to the cinema in the morning and then go back to school for Christmas lunch.  I'm not sure what they do in the afternoon, but I think it's spending time with classmates in their form room and exchanging their Secret Santa gifts.

*a note came home from school yesterday with costume requests.  DD2 is going to be dressing up as an angel.  She wants to be a pink angel, but that may not happen!  I'm going to sew some tinsel on a white t-shirt and she can wear it with a sparkly skirt she's got and some white leggings.  I've no idea what to do about wings though.  Cardboard and tissue paper may be involved, but I haven't got a great deal of time left to make them.

In the meantime, I'm still knitting away on my Relax sweater and will post a progress report on that soon.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Relax - Progress

I've been knitting furiously on my Relax sweater and on Monday I got to the part where I had to start the under-arm increases.

Those were finished yesterday afternoon (24 rounds increasing from 302 sts per round to 350) so I then put the front half of the stitches on waste yarn and started knitting back and forth for the back yoke.  Because the yarn is self-striping, I made the decision to use three balls of yarn, changing ball each row so I -- hopefully -- don't get blobs of colour at either side of the back and front.  This does mean that the striping sequence won't match the body of the sweater, but you can't have it all!

Now, for the size I'm knitting (small, because I want an easy-fitting sweater, but not an overly baggy one), the pattern tells me to knit the back until it's 13cm tall.  I got out my tape measure and put it around my arm at the point where I think the sleeves are going to be joined to the rest of the sweater and 13cm is going to be much too small.  I need 16-17cm, so that's how long I'm going to knit the back and front.  I haven't read ahead in the pattern yet, but I'm assuming the sleeves are knitted by picking up stitches around the armholes and then knitting them down to the cuff (that seems sensible to me, anyway), which is going to involve more pattern-fiddling because I'm knitting at a different tension/gauge to the pattern.

Does that sound complicated?  I suppose it does, but it's not really.  It's a case of doing some maths scribbles on a scrap of paper and there's always Ravelry if I need to ask a question.  Someone on there has usually done something similar and is ready to lend a helping hand.

I finished Jamaica Inn a couple of days ago, so I'm now deciding which book to read next.  I'm not sure what I'm in the mood to read though.  I found Jamaica Inn good, but rather bleak, so maybe something much more light-hearted,  Or I might start reading Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's (aka The Yarn Harlot) latest book which is a series of essays (not necessarily knitting-related ones).

\I also received the e-book copy of Yokes by Kate Davies.  So far, I've resisted doing anything more than having a quick glance, but I know which design I'm going to make first.  Just got to decide if I want to knit another skinny-yarn sweater after I've finished Relax, or something in a heavier yarn!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

A Relaxing Knit

Some time ago, probably at least two years, Kemps wool shop were selling various Regia sock yarns very, very cheap (I think it was when Coats moved their production and distribution from the UK to Germany -- or something like that).  I, of course, took advantage of this sale and bought eight balls of Regia Kaffe Fassett Design Line in one colour, as well as a couple of balls in another (those two were made into stripy socks for my mother).

I've looked at those eight balls from time to time, wondering what I could make them into, knowing that eight balls would be enough to make a sweater or cardigan, but not finding a pattern that grabbed me.

A month or so ago, I read a blog post by Kay Gardiner of Mason-Dixon knitting where she showed off (and quite rightly so, because it looks lovely on her) the version of the Relax sweater that she'd made.  'Ah-ha' I thought; 'I like this and I could make one from that stripy Regia yarn'.  So, I bought the pattern and read it through and decided how I could make the yarn and pattern work together.

I didn't want my version to be as loose-fitting as the original, so did some scribbling on paper and some maths and even swatched before deciding on size Small, with 3.25mm needles, which should give me some positive ease, but not too much.  And then I cast on, did the ribbing (which is folding back on itself, which I hope can be sorted out when it's blocked - but I'll worry about that when I've finished the knitting) and for the last week have been knit. knit, knitting, round and round and round.

I must be a glutton for punishment because this is what I did for my Puffin sweater.  Lots and lots of stocking stitch.  I joined the third of the 50g balls yesterday evening and think I've got about 40 rounds to do before I start the increases for the dolman-style sleeves.  Mind you, each round is 302 stitches, so that's still a fair bit of knitting to go!

The pattern is written to knit flat, back and forth, but I decided to knit it in the round as far as I can to avoid seaming as I don't think it'll affect the way the sweater hangs (those words could, however, come back to haunt me!) and because the yarn's stripy, I've omitted the eyelet holes that run up the sides of the sweater as I think they'll be lost in the striping.

I'll also have to make other modifications because of my tension/gauge.  Fortunately, the pattern has a very good schematic which gives lots of measurements, which makes working out the changes I'll need to make much more easy to do.  Because I'm not a skinny-armed person, I already know that I'll have to knit the back and front yoke part longer than the pattern says because a sleeve circumference of 26cm where the body joins the sleeves will be too tight for me.  That will lead to me having to work out how many stitches to pick up for the sleeves themselves, but that, again, can wait until I get to that point.

Here's a progress pic:

The colours are actually a bit darker/richer in real life, but you should get the idea.  I've even been good and made sure I join each new ball at the same point that the previous one finished (go me!).

Despite the modifications, this is a very easy knit and I've been sitting down with my current book (Jamaica Inn) on my Nook, propped up on its deckchair and just knitting away without having to look at the knitting too much.

If I carry on at this rate, I'll have another new sweater by Christmas :)

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

New Socks for me

Last week, having shown off my Puffin Sweater, my thoughts turned to what I'd concentrate on knitting next.

I did one repeat of my lacy scarf, but that's not really grabbing me at the moment.  My stripy scarf is upstairs -- somewhere -- as I took it up there in a fit of pre-family-visiting-for-dinner tidying up.

My options were:

1. Go and find the stripy scarf.
2. Drum up the enthusiasm for the lace scarf.
3. Cast on something new.
4. Finish knitting my autum-hued socks.

1 was discounted as I seemed to have been trotting up and down the stairs all day.  2 was discounted because whilst I can knit the lacy scarf when I'm on my own during the day, it's not child-friendly knitting, nor TV-watching knitting.  3. was tempting but I restrained myself (well, for a day or so, but that's for another post), so I was left with Option 4.

I knitted and knitted and knitted and cast them off on Friday.

The yarn is Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock (one of my favourite sock yarns) and the colour is Maple Grove.  I was interested to see that these patterned differently on the foot than the leg.  I've no idea why as there were the same number of stitches, but it happened on both socks.  The LL Shepherd Sock is very smooth to knit with and comes in a lovely range of colours and I've got another three skeins of it in my sock yarn stash.

Next time, I'll show what I did for Option 3 when I was nearing the end of the socks.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Puffin Sweater - Finished!

'Tis done.

All ends have been sewn in, it's been soaked, rolled in a towel to take out excess moisture and then patted out on my blocking mats with a couple of strategically-placed pins and left to dry.

I'm really pleased with this sweater.  It fits really well - not too baggy, but with just, perhaps, a smidgeon of negative ease.

A pretty good representation of the colours

Sunny again today (but a bit breezy)

A full-sweater shot!

I wore it to knitting group yesterday morning and it was admired by the lovely ladies there.  But then it go too warm inside the hall where we meet as the sun was shining through the floor-to-ceiling windows and I had to take it off.

I'm now back to knitting socks and a scarf and debating what I'm going to knit as my next sweater.  I have a couple of thoughts, which I'll come back to.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Nearly done Puffining

The knitting is finished on my Puffin sweater.

Well, the 'live' stitches at the underarms need to be grafted and I don't like grafting - not just the actual stitch, but I find it stretches a bit as well - so I'll attach them together with a three-needle cast- (bind-) off instead as I find it gives a neat finish as well as adding stability.

I know there are a couple of my blog-readers who aren't knitters, so a quick note about the sweater's construction.  This is a sweater that's knitted in one piece (no seaming - hurrah!) from the bottom up to the neck, so the body and sleeves are each knitted up to the armpit and then the stitches are put on a piece of yarn until all three elements are at the same point.  Then, the stitches are picked up onto one circular needle, with a certain number of stitches put on waste yarn so they can be grafted together once the sweater's finished.  These stitches form the underarm 'seam' where the sleeves join the body,  If they weren't there, the sweater wouldn't fit very well and would be uncomfortable to wear.

Can you see the two pieces of cream-coloured yarn by the hole?  They're the two bits of waste yarn that are holding the underarm stitches.  It sounds more complicated than it actually is.

Before I knit the two sets of stitches together though, I'm going to sew in the ends of the yoke, plus the other ends from knitting the body and sleeves.  I'm estimating that there are 55-60 ends to be sewn in.

I'd best get to it, hadn't I!

I'm hoping to have this sweater soaked and laid out to block by the end of the day.

Apologies for the quality of the photos.  It's horribly dreary weather-wise today.  Windy and rainy - my least favourite kind of weather.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

In which colour appears


I got to the yoke part of my Puffin sweater late last week.

The next stage in knitting this sweater meant that I needed to get all of the 'live' stitches from the body and sleeves onto a circular needle, also placing stitches for the underarms onto waste yarn to be dealt with at a later date.  This was easier said than done.  The 2.75mm circular needle I've used for this sweater is 80cm in length.  The number of stitches to be put onto it?  437.  Yes, that's right.  437 stitches.  I got to a point where I wondered if they'd all fit, but thankfully they did (I do have another, longer, 2.75mm circular, but that's a different brand and I'm using it to knit my stripey scarf).

I then started knitting the yoke.  First off, there was a section of garter stitch in black (about six rounds - something like that) and then came the first zig-zaggy round.  There are 23 zig-zag pattern repeats, each one separated by a stitch marker to make life easier.  Or, they should make life easier if you're not interrupted by your husband when you're doing the set-up round to place the markers, get distracted and mis-count.  I had to painstakingly un-knit 300-odd stitches because, as is often the way, the mistake I made was fairly early in the round and it was only when I was at the end that I realised I'd gone wrong.  For the second attempt, I ignored hubby and all was well.

I have to say that each round of 437 stitches takes quite a long time, even every other round which is just purling the stitches.  The zig-zag effect is created by two increases and one double-decrease in each section.

There were 16 rounds of 437 stitches before the first decrease round and then a second decrease round occurs four rounds after that.  I did the second decrease round earlier this morning and the purl round after that and that's where I'm up to, so I now have 'only' 345 stitches on the needle, which makes moving them around the circular much easier.  I've got another ten rounds before the next decrease, but stitch-wise I'm now over halfway through the yoke, so all is progressing.

The yoke's looking quite bright.  I haven't gone with the colours in the original design as they're not me, but have gone with more jewel-like tones instead.  As the sun's shining this morning, I draped the sweater over the fence between my house and next door and snapped an in-progress shot which will hopefully give a good representation of the colours:

While I had my camera out, I snapped this picture of the area in the front of our house.  Look how blue the sky is today.  It's hard to believe it's November and will be Guy Fawke's night tomorrow.  The leaves have turned yellowy orange on that tree and are beginning to fall, but we've been very lucky in our weather so far this autumn.

It's also Jess's birthday.  My 'puppy' is five today.

I'm hoping I'll have my Puffin sweater finished within the next week, so I'm going to start thinking about what to cast on next (even though I've got two scarves and a pair of socks on the needles as well).

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Harwich - Out and About

A few weeks ago I got the girls off to school, took Jess for her walk and then told hubby (who was on holiday from work that week, I think) that I was off to Harwich to play with my new camera.

Harwich is a town about 12 miles from where I live and is where I went to school for four years.  It's a town with a lot of history (I've put in a Wikipedia link rather than type it all out) but which has become a bit neglected in the last 30 or so years, especially Dovercourt, which is the town that adjoins Harwich.

I had a reason for going to Harwich early.  I wanted to park in the car park near the beach and watch the Stena Britannica ferry setting out on her daily trip to Holland.  It was a bit of a hazy morning (I got to Harwich around 9am) but I enjoyed myself for 30-40 minutes playing with my camera:

Sailing past Felixstowe Docks

Heading out to sea

Turning towards the open sea

Off she goes
After I'd watched the Stena Britannica set out on her journey (it takes about 30 mins from when she leaves Harwich International port to turn at Landguard Point in Felixstowe) I had a bit of a wander around Harwich.

Low Lighthouse (now a museum)

High Lighthouse

Muddy beach

A bit quirky and I've no idea why it's there!

Beach huts

An old but now disused school
The Electric Palace cinema*

In-shore Lifeboat

A fisherman (lobsters or crabs, I think) preparing for a day's work

It was nice to get out and about in the fresh air, snapping at things that caught my eye.

*The Electric Palace (Wikipedia link) was one of the first purpose-built cinemas in Britain.

It's a nice sunny day here, so I'm going to chance putting some washing on the line.  As it's the half-term school holidays, I suspect I shall have some help in the form of DD2.  First though, we need to take Jess for a walk and later we'll be going shopping.  There may be a Hallowe'en costume being bought if Tesco have one in DD2's size.  She's going to a birthday party tomorrow afternoon and some of the children are apparently going to be dressing up in Hallowe'en costumes so I'll ask her if she wants to as well.  I'm also hoping to do some more black knit, knit, knitting.  I'm about two-thirds of the way up the second sleeve of my Puffin sweater.  I'm hoping to have it finished by tomorrow evening and then I'll swatch the yoke part as some people on Ravelry have commented that they went down a needle size to get a better fit.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Puff, Puff, Puffin' Away

I haven't been idle in the last few weeks, I promise.  No, not at all.  It's just that there hasn't been much worth showing off as it's been black, black, black stocking stitch all the way.

In fact, round and round, knit stitch after knit stitch, with the occasional increase.

At last though, I finished the body part of my Puffin sweater.

Then, the weekend before the one just gone, I cast on for the cuff of the first sleeve and did the first round or so of ribbing.

Then I decided it wasn't looking very neat, so I ripped it out and started again.  I had visions of this happening more than once as I really, really, dislike joining cast-on stitches to knit them in the round (that and the fact I also dislike Kitchener stitch/grafting is why I make my socks toe-up).  Second time lucky though, on this sleeve.

Last Monday I took it to knitting group and carried on knitting round and round, doing the increases every fourth round, as instructed.  I looked at it and thought it was getting wider quite quickly, but though (as you do) "oh, it'll be ok".  I carried on knitting and knitting and got up to round 80-something by Wednesday evening.  Hubby went to bed early-ish on Weds night as he had to be up and out to work early on Thursday morning.  I looked at the sleeve again and tried it on.  Oh.  Too wide, too soon.  A reality check ensued, then a deep breath and out came the needles and I ripped it right back to the end of the ribbing (I wasn't going to cast on again unless I absolutely had to).  I started the knit, knit, knitting again - this time increasing every fifth round - and ended up going to bed a bit later than I'd intended, but with about 20 rounds under my belt.  Thursday I plonked myself down on the sofa with a cup of tea and my Kindle propped up on its deckchair (an easy-read chick-lit novel on it) and spent the morning knit, knit, knitting.  By yesterday morning, I'd finished the increases and was just knitting round and round until it was the length I needed.  I checked with the knitting group ladies towards the end of our session and we agreed that it needed to be a little bit longer, but not much.  I haven't picked it up since (I've been making something else today), but I've only got another three or four rounds to go before I put the stitches on waste yarn (WooHoo!).

This means that I feel justified in thinking about the colours I'm going to use for the zig-zaggy, stripy yoke.  I bought ten colours:

I need five colours, plus black if I'm going to follow the pattern (which I am).  It's just a case of deciding which five colours and in which order.  These are my possibilities:

I'm drawn to the second to last one at the moment (any opinions will be gratefully received).  I might put them into a Word document and convert them to black & white to see how they look colour-value-wise (there was a good post on the Brooklyn Tweed blog a while back about doing that which was very interesting and instructive).

Right - off to drink tea and do a quick bit of tidying before DD2 gets home from school.  I think DD1 is late home tonight - I forgot to double-check with her that her after-school music activity is on today so must make sure I've got my phone close by in case she calls or texts.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Hello Kitty

On Monday, I went to the supermarket after knitting group, which is my usual routine.  I don't often buy crafting magazines, but thought I'd have a browse and see what Tesco had on their shelves.

Simply Crochet's September edition (issue twenty-three) had a red and white bower bird kit from Lucy at Attic24 as a giveaway and so I thought I'd buy the magazine as it looked quite sweet.

I had a quick flick through the magazine in the afternoon and put it on the coffee table when DD2 got home from school.  What I hadn't taking into consideration was that this edition includes a pattern to make an amigurumi Hello Kitty toy and there was a picture of it on the front cover.

DD2 did spot it, however.

I'm sure you know what's coming next, don't you!

"Mummy to make Hello Kitty doll" I was instructed.  There followed some badgering of the "Mummy to get wool for Hello Kitty doll" kind.

I caved in on Tuesday and by bedtime I'd got the head, body, legs and one arm done.  Yesterday morning I made the second arm, ears, bow and tail.  Then it came to sewing on the facial features, which meant trying to find embroidery silk in brown, yellow and pink (fortunately, one of the charity shops in our little town sells a small selection and had the colours I needed).

The pattern says to use 4ply yarn and a 2.5mm hook, but I used DK yarn from stash and a 3mm hook.  By request (or should that be demand?), the skirt and top were made in dark and light pink rather than the blue and yellow in the pattern and the bow was made in the same pink yarn as the 'skirt'.

I think it'll be a one-off as I found it extremely fiddly to make (she's about 11 or 12 cm tall to the tips of her ears).

She's a cutie and I'm pleased with how she turned out.

I realised after I'd taken the photo that I'd forgotten that the 'skirt' is supposed to look like a pinafore and have shoulder straps embroidered on afterwards, but, hey-ho, ours is wearing a skirt!

Kitty went up to bed with DD2 yesterday and has been taken to school today as well, so I've obviously scored some Good Mummy points!

Oh, there's also a nice blanket in the magazine:

It's made with an organic, hand-dyed cotton yarn that's only available in Zimbabwe though.  Drops Paris is suggested as an alternative, but if I was to make it, I think I'd use trusty Stylecraft Special DK for a. washability and b. weight.  I think a full-size blanket in cotton would be very heavy.

I'm still plodding away on other craft projects, but slowly.  Truth be told, I'm still trying to get back into a routine now that the new school year has started.  I think hubby having a week off work last week threw me a bit.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Where do the Geese Spend Their Day?

We live in a rural area, up one side of a valley at the bottom of which runs a tidal river (further up-stream, past the sluice gates it's not so tidal after that and becomes freshwater - I've never worked out how that works, I'll be honest).  To the south-east, around ten miles away, is the sea between Harwich/Dovercourt and Walton-on-the-Naze.  Between those two seaside towns is an area of marshland.

Each year, at some point in August, we find ourselves being woken up or disturbed by a familiar noise.  It's the honking of geese as they fly overhead from the marshes to the river.

This year, there seem to be more geese than usual and they come across in the morning towards the river and they're a fantastic sight.  They come over in waves, as though they're aeroplanes on a bombing mission.

I've tried in the past to take photos of them using my little Nikon, but by the time I've got them in frame and depressed the shutter, they've gone, or they're blurry.

No more though.  My new Canon camera has a sport mode where I just press the shutter button and it takes shot after shot after shot until I take my finger off.

These two photos were taken one evening just as dusk was starting to fall and the geese were flying back from their day's activities towards the marshes, where we assume they settle overnight.

Greylag Geese, according to my husband but I think some of them are Canada Geese

One 'Battalion'
I've often wondered where they go during the day.  Is it up-river to Dedham, or further afield?

As it turns out, it's neither.

The week before last I took my camera with me when I popped down to our town so I could have a wander and click what took my fancy.  There's a bank with a path that runs behind the Co-Op supermarket, giving views over the centre of our little town, across to Suffolk and down-river to Harwich and Felixstowe (unless it's overcast we can see the cranes of Felixstowe dock).  I walked along, watching some swans gracefully swimming by and then I saw them.

Waddling out of the water onto the mud bank
When I looked to my left, this was the sight:

I think I mentioned there have been a lot of them this year!

So, that's answered my question of where they go during the day.  Just down the road, onto the river, with the trains going past behind them.

Last Wednesday I dropped DD1 off at the train station so she could get the 7.02am train (she has a music activity before school on a Weds) and then drove to the shop so I could pick up something I needed for DD2's lunch and as I walked back to my car I heard some geese in the distance.  I stopped and looked up and then watched as they flew across the car park, very low.  So low in fact that I could hear the sound their wings made as they flapped.

It's a very special sight to behold and I must remember to appreciate that the area where I live gives me the opportunity to see them on a regular basis.

(PS.  I tried to make the photos bigger, but they made the layout skewiff, so if you click on a photo, they'll come up much bigger).

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Being spoilt

It was my birthday the Sunday before last (7th September).  I'd actually booked the weekend off work as annual leave, which I don't often do.  Unlike my husband and children, whose birthdays fall during school holidays, I grew up being used to spending my big day with class- or work-mates if it fell on a weekday, but not this year.  This year, my birthday felt a bit different.  Turning 30 was fine (in fact, that was a bit of a bonkers day because a major assignment came in at work that day which meant my evening plans were scuppered).  Turning 40 was fine.  This year, however, it dawned on me that this was the last birthday that would start with a 4.  Yes, next year is the Big 5-0 and to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure how I feel about that.  I've been able to kid myself so far that I'm not middle-aged and whilst I know everyone says "you're only as old as you feel", that's like a verbal pat on the head.  The fact is that I am middle-aged and next year my age will reflect that and, as I've said, I'm not sure about it.

Anyway, despite all that, because Monday 8th was a school day for the girls and a work day for hubby, it was decided that my birthday would be celebrated on Saturday 6th - from mid-late afternoon!  My parents and in-laws were invited to come round for a celebration dinner and hubby made a dinner of roast rib of beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and vegetables and my mother-in-law brought pudding in the form of a Cadbury's chocolate cake sandwiched with fresh cream and a lemon meringue pie, plus some extra thick double cream.  Hubby also went all-out and bought a magnum of Moet & Chandon champagne.  When my Dad saw the champagne, he immediately decided that Mum was driving home!

While we were drinking the champagne, hubby brought out my presents and, well, oh my gosh.  He does tend to get carried away and this year he did spoil me somewhat.  He decided that whilst I've been perfectly happy with my little red Nikon camera, he'd buy me a new one.  Which one?  A Canon EOS 700D, which is super-duper and which I can't really use yet (I'm thinking of buying the "Dummies' Guide" for it as it has good reviews on Amazon).

My first 'Selfie'!
He also bought me a funky, extra-zoomy lens:

That wasn't all though.  He also bought me a Kindle Paperwhite (which means I now have four e-readers) and a gift pack of Crabtree & Evelyn Wisteria fragrance shower gel and body lotion, which smells divine.  I'm a big fan of C&E toiletries and although they're quite expensive, they do go a long way.  I only need about a teaspoon of the shower gel for my whole body!

There were also some Thorntons chocolates in a small heart-shaped box and some other little presents including a small tin of lip balm (because he knows I like to have one in my work jacket).

My mother-in-law had been primed as well and my gift from her and my father-in-law was a camera bag to fit the camera and both lenses.

I've been out and about a few times getting to grips with the camera.  It's going to take me a while to fathom it and at present I'm using it on auto-focus and am pleased with the results.  Here are a few pictures I've taken:

Dedham Lock

Swan and Cygnets on Dedham Mill Pond

River Stour at Dedham (using zoom)

Dedham Valley

Dedham Mill Pond - ducks on a tree branch

Those were taken last Friday.  I've got more photos to show - the difference between this Canon and my Nikon 'point and press' is noticeable - but I think that's enough for now!  Once I've got to grips with what the various buttons on my camera do, I'm going to see if I can find a photography workshop to go on that fits into the hours the girls are at school.

As you can see from those photos, we're still enjoying fabulous weather.  The gauge in my car was registering an outside temperature of 25C at 1pm today :o

Not surprisingly, crafting has taken a bit of a back seat over the last week and a half, but I have been doing some!