Making Chocolate

As if I needed yet another hobby, we decided to try our hands at making chocolate. From scratch.

After complaining that I eat too much chocolate and he’s worried about all the sugar in it, Ric announced that he was going to try and make me some “healthier chocolate”. He thought mixing cocoa powder with cocoa butter and using an alternative sugar like fruit syrup might work. He tried it. It didn’t. It was really horrible. So he went searching for a proper way to make chocolate. Read more

A Busy Year

2017 has been a busy year for me. It has brought a lot of changes, some proud moments and some big challenges, but it’s been a great year.

The year started with my first exams since leaving school in 1999. It was really nerve wracking, but I did well and was really pleased with my results. I also had interviews at universities in January, and was delighted to be offered a place at my first choice, the University of Huddersfield, to study architecture.

In February, we celebrated my 34th birthday and QWeb’s 4th birthday. Our company is still doing well and we’ve been busier than ever this year.

I spent most of March and April doing coursework and sat my final exams in May. I did really well and earnt distinctions in all my modules, passing the Access to Higher Education course and meeting the conditions of my university offer.

My brother visited from Canada in June, and my parents came up from London as well so we had a house full!

In July I started my tarot website, cartomantic.com and gave a presentation about tarot history at my local pagan moot.

We got some new pet rats in August, and spent most of the school holidays at home playing with them. My place at the University of Huddersfield was officially confirmed, and my eldest two daughters got their exam results for AS level and GCSEs, which they were pleased with.

September was a really busy month, we moved offices, I started university and my parents visited again.

October was all about getting settled into university life and learning loads of new skills. I discovered that I can actually draw if I put my mind to it, which is great as I’ll be doing a lot of drawing for the foreseeable future.

After all the good news this year, November brought some bad news. My dad was taken into hospital, so I spent a few days in London visiting him and making sure my mum was OK. Thankfully he’s made a full recovery, and my brother and sister visited too from Canada, so we were all together for the first time in years.

I had my first project review at school in December, where I had to present my design to the tutors, answer their questions and get feedback. It went really well and the feedback was mostly positive. Now I have to finish some drawings and get ready for our first submission in January.

It’s mostly been a good year, full of educational milestones and family visits. If 2018 continues in a similar manner, I shall be pretty happy 🙂

Back to School

It’s been a busy few months for me. I went back to school in September. I’m currently studying an access course in engineering and applying to study architecture at university. Exciting!

It’s been difficult adjusting to studying again after so many years away from formal education, but I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s good to be doing something interesting and challenging, and it turns out I actually like having a proper routine.

I’ve got my first round of exams next week which is a bit nerve wracking, but I think I know my stuff, so hopefully it’ll all go well. I’ve also got a couple of interviews with universities lined up which is even more nerve wracking. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. Wish me luck!

More Runes

The runes I made a while ago were getting a bit crumbly and weird looking. I made them from a stick I found on a walk, and the wood wasn’t really very good. It’s a shame, because I really liked the runes, but they needed replacing.

I decided to make myself a new set, but rather than pick another odd stick that might not last, I picked up some Wooden discs from Hobbycraft. They’re very round and smooth and seem unlikely to crumble. There are twenty-two in a pack so I had to get two packs. I also bought a small Wooden box from The Works, which turned out to be the perfect size to stack in 24 of the disks.

I fired up the pyrography tool and set to work. I burnt the runes onto the discs and around the bottom of the box, and I burnt the word “runes” onto the lid in a rune-ish style. Here are the results, I’m rather pleased 🙂

 

Becoming a Driver

I posted about my first driving lesson back in May, and since then I have passed my driving test and I’ve been driving on my own for a while now. I was super proud to have passed first time 🙂

Feeling like a driver took me a lot longer than passing my test. Throughout my last few lessons I still felt like a learner, like I needed my instructor’s guidance, even though he wasn’t really helping me very much by that point. I was driving independently, he was just in the car with me and occasionally giving me tips and advice about driving in general rather than talking me through how to handle situations as they happened.

I was really nervous about my driving test, because I didn’t feel confident that I could drive without my instructor. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to do it, it was that I didn’t feel like a driver, I felt like a learner. I was quite surprised that I had passed, it was like the universe saying, “See, you can totally do it by yourself.” I still wasn’t convinced.

The day after I passed my test, we went to the Honda showroom to test drive a shiny new car, and I still didn’t feel like a driver. I was very glad the salesman came with me, and I drove very slowly around the business park and left it at that. It was a pretty strange experience to be buying myself a car less than 8 weeks after my first ever driving lesson.

I picked my new car up a couple of weeks later when my new license finally arrived in the mail. I drove it home on unfamiliar roads with my other half making unhelpful comments as I stalled at every opportunity. I felt like I was starting to learn all over again. The car was different to the one I learnt in, and it took me a while to adapt and get used to it. I was still really nervous, and even more so because I was driving a brand new car.

After a bit more practise, I worked up the nerve to drive without another driver sitting in the car with me. I took my children for moral support, and was pleased with myself for being brave enough to go out “unsupervised” so to speak. We went on short trips to familiar places, sticking to roads I knew well, and my confidence grew.

The first time I drove completely on my own without any passengers was pretty unnerving. I didn’t go very far, but I had to deal with a big roundabout and a 50mph zone, so it wasn’t the easiest journey I could have picked. I was slightly surprised to find that I could manage perfectly well on my own, and that was when I began to feel like a competent driver rather than a learner.

I’ve been driving for a couple of months now, and I feel a lot more comfortable in my car. I’m still a new driver, but I feel like a driver rather than a learner 🙂

Armoured Gloves

I started a new knitting project a few days ago, and I’ve been knitting to destress after my driving lessons, so I’ve whizzed through the project and finished it already. It was a really fun thing to knit, using basic garter stitch and looping metal scales into every second row to create a scale maille effect.

I was looking for a pattern on ravelry a few weeks ago and thought it would be good to try a new technique, and this jumped right out at me.

I ordered four packs of small anodised aluminium scales from The Ring Lord in black, bronze, gold and champagne. The gold and champagne scales look quite similar to each other in some light conditions and quite different in others. I’d have preferred a more distinct colour difference between them, but other than that, I like how the colours go together.

I decided against doing a particular pattern and go for a random mix of colours. I wanted to avoid putting the same colours next to each other, to make sure there was a relatively even distribution and no big clumps of any one colour, so I divided the scales into two sets, one for each glove, with an equal number of each colour. Then I stacked up the scales for the first glove so I could see how many of each colour were left and try to use them evenly.

I chose a dark grey wool, Rowan’s Creative Focus Worsted, which I’ve had in my stash for a while. It’s a really nice yarn to work with, a single ply that’s very soft but not too fluffy. I keep seeing it on sale at Hobbycraft and picking up one or two balls of a colour I like, and the grey went best with the scale colours. Bright pink wouldn’t have worked very well!

Knitting the scales in was really easy, and the position of scales on the row below made it clear where to start adding scales. It was a very low effort project, which I liked after the complex cable patterns on the dress I made before.

The gloves are knit flat, back and forth, then seamed into a tube with a space for the thumb. I don’t like seaming, but since it’s just a small project it wasn’t such a big deal, and I think it would have been a bit awkward to knit in the round anyway.

I managed to cast off a bit too tightly on one glove, but it’s not too tight to wear, so it’s not a big deal. I really like the way the scales came out. You can’t feel them at all from the inside, the gloves are super comfortable and soft. They’re also only on the back of the glove, and the scale section is just the right width so they don’t get in the way of using your hands, but they don’t look like just a narrow strip.

View this project on Ravelry.

My first driving lesson

I had my first driving lesson the other day. I’d never driven before in my life. In fact, the closest I’d come was when my dad handed me the car keys, when I was about nine years old, and asked me to turn the car radio on. We must have been having a barbecue or something. I followed his instructions, but turned the key too far and started the engine, which was pretty scary considering I was only a little girl.

This time, as well as managing not to panic and burst into tears, I actually drove the car. I was super nervous to begin with, but my instructor was great, and before I had chance to worry about how scary it was going to be, I was driving along. It wasn’t as scary as I had expected it to be, and although I made a few mistakes, I think I did pretty well overall.

I learnt to start and stop, drove around a roundabout, and had a go at a U turn and a 3 point turn, with much guidance and hand-holding from my instructor of course. I was rather proud of myself though, going from never having driven, to trying out fancy maneuvers in the space of half an hour or so, go me!

I’m looking forward to my next lesson, which is a huge step up from the nervous dread I felt before the first one. Fingers crossed, I’ll be driving by myself in no time 🙂

Cowl Neck Sweater

In December 2009 we moved from Toronto back to the UK. My brother and sister stayed over there, and it sucks that we live so far apart now. My sister visited the following summer, and when she left I bought some yarn to cheer myself up.

I bought 10 balls of Artesano Inca Cloud, a sport weight alpaca yarn that is lovely and soft. It came with a free pattern, and I selected the Nico sweater by Jean Moss. I had only knit one sweater before, a chunky acrylic man’s cardigan, so this would be the biggest project I’d started for myself, and the second sweater.

I started knitting the sweater right away, but I didn’t get very far, and I kept putting it aside and doing other things that seemed more important at the time. When I realised that it had been on the needles for three years, I decided it was past time I finished it, and picked it up again determined to get it done. It worked, and today I’m wearing the finished sweater 🙂

My tension was a bit wonky while knitting, so I was a bit worried about the way it would fit, but it turned out alright. It’s a little wider than I had hoped, but it’s not a big deal. Somehow I managed to knit all the purl stitches backwards. I’m not sure when I started doing this, but it has affected the texture of the sweater. The ribbed parts aren’t as stretchy as they should be, and the stocking stitch isn’t as smooth as it should be. It’s a little weird, and may have contributed to the odd tension, but it’s not really a problem.

 

Overall, I’m pleased with the garment, and I’m really glad that it’s finally finished so I can start on my next project. Hopefully that won’t take me quite as long!

See the sweater on Ravelry

Sock Knitting

I’m not sure where I heard the idea that real knitters knit socks, but I’d been knitting for probably over a decade and had never tried to make a pair of socks before. I was curious, were they really so difficult? It was time to find out.

My friend bought me some lovely alpaca sock yarn for my birthday back in 2012 and I started knitting. I chose a toe up pattern as that meant no seaming on the toes, and a short row heel as I thought they looked the nicest. I went with Elfine’s Socks, a free pattern with a pretty lace design, with both a chart and written pattern. I prefer to knit from a written pattern, but many lace patterns only provide charts which I find frustrating.

I hadn’t done a figure 8 cast on or short rows before, but I had knit in the round and knit lace patterns many times, so the socks should have some challenges and some easy sections.

The cast on was particularly fiddly, and it took me a couple of attempts to get started without dropping stitches off any of the needles. Although the pattern called for a circular needle, I didn’t have one small enough, so I opted to knit these on double point needles instead. This added a challenge as well, the lace pattern didn’t allow for a suitable stitch distribution across the four needles, so I had to shift stitches around on several rows to allow for the increases and decreases.

One of the benefits of the toe up structure is that you can try the sock on as you go and get a great fit. I tried the first sock on every few rows to see how it was looking, and decide where to start the heel. The heel was easier than I expected it to be, short rows sound pretty difficult, but after a couple of youtube videos I was flying through them.

The foot section and leg section of socks require nothing more than regular knitting in the round, so other than the stitch distribution, these sections were easy. I did get pretty bored during the leg section on the first sock and considered making it short just to get it finished, but I persevered, took several long breaks from knitting, and eventually got it to a decent length. I found the needles made my fingers sore when I was knitting the first sock, but I must have held them slightly differently when knitting the second as it stopped bothering me.

I finally finished the second sock a few weeks short of three years after I started the project. I actually completed the second sock in a matter of weeks, so most of the time was due to avoiding finishing the first sock. I enjoyed knitting the second sock a lot more as well. Knitting with yarn as fine as sock yarn takes more patience than I was used to, as I mostly knit with worsted or chunky weight yarns before I tried the socks.

I’m glad I took the plunge and knit a pair of socks. I’m not sure that I am any more of a knitter for having completed them, but I (eventually) enjoyed working on a more fiddly project with a finer yarn than I’m used to, and I expect I will be knitting more adventurous projects like this again in the future. I do still have a sweater on the needles that I started before the socks though, so that’ll be the next thing I work on!

View on Ravelry

Moving House

We’ve lived in our current house for over three years, and it’s really too small for our family. The girls are growing up fast and it’s past time they had more space. Until recently, our budget just wouldn’t stretch to a bigger house, especially while we got our company off the ground. Things have improved a lot lately and we’re ready to make the leap.

I’ve been looking at houses online for a few months while we made sure our finances were in shape and thought about what we wanted from our new home, so I could get an idea of what was available at what price. I saw a couple houses that would have been great for us, but there weren’t many. I decided we were ready to stop browsing and start seriously considering houses around the middle of January.

Actually, it was January 21st, four weeks before we were expecting house guests. I didn’t expect anything to turn up in time to move before our guests arrived, but I was excited to start looking at potential new homes. The following morning, a house appeared in my inbox that looked perfect. It was a little further from the girls’ schools than I wanted, but I couldn’t find any other negatives. A few emails later, we had an appointment to view it.

We spent the weekend checking out the area, both online and in person. We really couldn’t find anything to dislike about the house, and hoped that the viewing would live up to our expectations. It did, and we decided to go for it straight away. We paid the fees and waited for the application process to go through. A few nerve-wracking days later, we were approved and our moving date was confirmed.

We spent the next weekend sorting through our belongings, donating and throwing away an astonishing amount of junk that we didn’t want to take with us. We collected boxes from grocery stores and started packing. We’re organised, focussed and motivated. We have six days left before moving day, then exactly two weeks until our visitors arrive.

Moving house forces you to change your perspective about what’s important to you. You have to take a critical look at your possessions, which is something I don’t often feel the need to do. I was genuinely surprised by the volume of stuff we decided not to keep, and how much of that stuff wasn’t even worth donating. I have no idea why we were keeping some of it, other than because nothing had prompted us to think about why we still had it until now.

Moving also makes you rethink how you’re spending your time, especially when you decide to move on such short notice. There were just ten days between us confirming the move and our moving day. The idea of sorting through my stuff usually fills me with dread. I imagine it taking up lots of space, making a huge mess, being a lot of work and taking a long time. I had no idea that I would be able to sort the entire house in just three days, taking frequent tea breaks and actually enjoying the process.

I was also surprised by the number of things that I had collected for projects I planned to start that seemed like a great idea at the time but I never made time for. And not just that I had the stuff, but that I wasn’t at all bothered about getting rid of it. I guess those projects weren’t as important to me as I thought they were.

Moving gives you a fresh start in more ways than one. You get a new house and new neighbours, but you also get a new perspective on who you are as a person, what your priorities are, and what you want to do with your time.