Total Pageviews

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Tail of the Cat and the Alpaca

Yesterday I was carding some alpaca wool out on the patio.  I had a large bag of white alpaca given to me by Colette a little while ago and hadn't got around to doing anything with it.

It's obviously fascinating stuff :

but a little difficult to see properly.

Ah, that's better :

Going . . .

Going . . .

Jak, have you been messing with my wool?

. . . who, me??

At least if I know where he is I know he's not up to anything else!  Now Jak, get those claws out and get that lot nicely carded for me.

He likes to spin as well :-

picture courtesy of Peter Murray - thanks Pete!

Have you ever tried spinning with a 2-ton cat on your lap?

His next lesson should be dyeing - watch this space!

I'm just adding a little post-script here - when I started spinning this wool, I realised it was a bit too "woolly" to be llama (which is a bit silky) and suspected it was probably alpaca instead.  So tonight I confirmed it with Colette and have now changed all references of "llama wool" to "alpaca" . . . just in case you thought you'd imagined it!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Where Did All the Spiders Go?

Remember in August I found a couple of argiope spiders in the garden?  They were the yellow and black ones which make the large webs with a zigzag pattern running down the middle.

Yes, that's the one!
There was actually a second one just behind it but not visible in this photo.

Well yesterday I went looking for them and found four of these :-

I came back into the house and Googled "argiope spiders" to see if they hibernated, and if so, were they inside here.  It turns out that these are egg sacs - can you imagine the work those spiders had to make these? and then lay eggs in them?  Amazing creatures.  If I hadn't known that the spiders had been there in the first place I would have assumed they were seed pods from a plant.

I seem to be developing a fascination for spiders and their webs, mainly since I got my new camera and can take fairly close-up shots, but I don't really like them in the house, especially when I hoover away the cobwebs one day and find they're back again the next. They're OK out in the garden though.

Friday, 28 October 2011

*@^**@! HACKERS !!!

Just spent a very tense 24 hours after my gmail account was hacked and stolen.  This meant I couldn't access my blog as well.

Loads of people on my address list received a message, in extremely bad English, saying Eric and I had gone off on an impromptu holiday to Mali and had been attacked and robbed of all our money.  Eric had been knifed in the stomach and doctors refused to treat him because we had no money to pay.  They were asked to send £2,000 immediately so we could get treatment for him and then return home.

I actually found this very distressing even though I knew it wasn't true.  If they'd just said we'd been robbed and could they send some money, I could have coped with that better I think.  But to come up with a story like that absolutely disgusted me.  Needless to say, everyone (I hope) who received a message realised it was not us who had sent it - I'd like to think my English is a bit better than they could come up with - but still very disturbing.  There's always an element of doubt in these things isn't there?

Anyway, I'm back, and very glad to be too!  Apologies to everyone who received the e-mail, and please send your cheques to . . . (only kidding!)

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Misty Autumn Morning

I love autumn, after the heat of the summer it's so nice to have a little bit of coolth(?) but nice blue sky days.  The other day we woke to thick mists all around us, but I could see blue sky overhead and, sure enough, once the sun had burned the mist away, we had a glorious day.  But the magic in walking around the garden early on has to be the feeling of being the only one on the planet - the village across the valley had disappeared and I could only see a few yards into the fields surrounding us.

The dead weeds were wearing their best lace shawls

Perfect cobwebs, normally invisible, were everywhere

but the spiders had legged it - they were nowhere in sight.

This looks as though I should be able to spin it . . . spider silk!  More than enough around the garden to make a pair of lace gloves.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

I Got The Blues!

It all started off looking promising, the wool turned a really nice yellow colour in the dyepot.

I decided to give it a good long rest in the dye to soak up as much of the blue as possible, so I left it overnight and, the next morning, the magic begins :

You can see the colour starting to develop as the air hits it . . .

and continues . . .

. . . still developing :

et voila :-

Look at that blue!  Unfortunately, it doesn't look quite so spectacular after washing and drying.

I thought there may still be some colour to be had, so I dunked in some merino (from my carders!) and left that overnight.  It's a bit pale, but definitely blue. 

So that's the last of the woad until next year, not bad considering I only had the two plants.  Next year I'll definitely have more.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Cool Hot House

The greenhouse is coming along - we now have two full curved roof panels fitted.  It hasn't been an easy job by any means, mainly because we are fitting second-hand panels which had been damaged in a storm (we got them free as the people had claimed new ones on their insurance and just wanted to be rid of the old ones - they advertised them "free to a good home" and, unfortunately, we got there second so got what was left!).  We then found that one of the panels had a slightly different curvature from the other three, so that's been a bit of a problem getting it to fit in with the others.  However, here it is so far :-

This photo shows the inside of the greenhouse with the two panels fitted - the gap on the right hand side will be filled with a framework of polycarbonate sheeting (the panels weren't quite wide enough - beggars can't be choosers and all that!)

This is the side view - only two more panels to fit.

This is the view we will see from the house - it looks a bit of an eyesore at the moment, but once it's all finished and sealed up it will be "cosmetically enhanced" with a good coating of render.

This one shows another view of the inside - and also tells a story of the condition of the pool as we inherited it.  A good thick layer of white paint won't go amiss.

The nice thing about the separate panels of polycarbonate on the right hand side is that we can make part of it "slideable" to create an access hatch for dumping soil, manure etc. into the basin.

In the winter I'm planning on making a hotbed with lots of fresh manure inside an "inner sanctum" (a protected area made of polycarbonate or thick polythene) where I can store my sensitive plants, i.e. orange and lemon trees, avocado tree, lemon grass etc. - lots of work for me, but in a nice warm environment hopefully.

I'll post more photos when it's all finished and tidied up.  In the meantime, I've got an appointment with two skeins of merino and a pile of woad leaves . . . more on that later.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Frost Alert!

Frost forecast tonight - must get the cotton plants well wrapped in fleece.  Looks like autumn's arrived.  It's still good weather during the day - in the upper 20's, but tonight we're getting minus one.

Fingers crossed the plants survive!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Dyed and Gone to Heaven

Well, here's the finished, dried merino/silk :-

- and I love it so much I might just have to keep it myself!!

Oh well, back to the wheel and start spinning again for my Christmas presents.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Dimanche Dyeing

Today, I announced I was having a "day off".  This doesn't mean I get up and do absolutely nothing, it simply means I don't do "jobs", except for watering the garden, hanging washing out, cooking, washing up etc.  Outside of that time, I have a day off.

Sundays in France are supposed to be sacred - every few years we get a letter from our Mayor reminding us that if we want to do "jobs" that make a noise on a Sunday, please do them between 10:30 and 12 noon.  That leaves me free to card, spin, knit, dye etc. all day long!  These are classed as "un-jobs" - why? - because they're enjoyable!

Today I decided to dye the 2 skeins of merino/silk I've had loitering for the last two weeks.  Stupidly, I forgot to take photos while I was applying the dyes, only remembering when I put them in the steamers for processing.

Why is it, that whenever I plan to dye something, it never actually turns out the way I'd imagined?  The blues were supposed to be much darker than this, and the pinks maybe not so bright, but actually, I like the colours as they turned out.  The problem is, will the person they're destined for?

At this point (half cooked) I start to get a bit panicky - the colours actually look very subdued and I wonder if they're going to work at all.

But, when it's all finished, colours set and washed, it's probably going to be OK after all.

Mind you, who can tell how it'll knit up?

The skeins are currently hanging up, drying.  But I want them dry NOW!!

There is one drawback to this dyeing lark though . . . guess who forgot to buy the rubber gloves?

Oh well, it'll wear off!

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Another Cotton Update

Thought you might like to see how the cotton seed pods are coming along. The largest, pictured below, measures 1.25 inches in diameter.

I came back into the house and "squashed up" a cotton boll, and it measured about 1.5 inches diameter, so not much to go.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the good weather will continue (and it is forecast to stay warm) until it manages to ripen.  For the last 4 days we've had 30 deg C. - today is only 29 deg because of a breeze, but we have full sunshine.

I'd be so happy to just get one cotton boll out of all this, to prove a point if nothing else.  (A friend, two years ago, laughed at me for trying to grow cotton - he said I'd never manage it!)  Please, please, please let me prove him wrong!! - preferably this year if that's OK.

The last of our summer visitors have now left, and I'm getting the house back to normal - washing done, most of the cleaning done (I can't settle to clean when there are people around, so it gets left), but still a large pile of ironing.  After that, there will be spinning, there will be knitting, there will be dyeing.  In fact this is sitting waiting to be dyed, so would like to get on with it in the next few days.

This is merino plied with a strand of tussah silk.  It was spun quite finely as I need a lace weight yarn for a special project.  Can't tell you what it is yet, but I have 470 yards of supersoft lustrousness.  Let's hope it's still as nice after I've dyed it!

Thursday, 13 October 2011


Today is my first blogoversary - I can't believe it's 12 months since I started on this journey.  To celebrate, I thought I'd do a post about our friend's daughter who has just spent a week over here with us.

Meet the Artist

Caroline is Ted's daughter.  Ted is an old friend of ours who lives in southern Germany.  Two years ago they met for the first time in 40 years at our house here in France - there's a story here to tell, but I'll save that for another post.

They were both here last week for a short holiday together, and Caroline had brought some work with her.  She has been commissioned to paint some murals for a restaurant in Marbella, Spain and thought it would be a good opportunity to do a little bit of painting in the sunshine on our patio.

Action Shot!

The restaurant is called Picasso, so they wanted all the paintings to reflect him, his life, his family, his work etc.

She finished this one in a day.

I was amazed at how 3D the painting looked when it was finished.  These are based on Picasso's pottery.

The next one is one of Picasso's mistresses; the fish are so colourful because it will be put in a children's area along with some of the others.

The paintings she did here were all relatively small in comparison to the main murals.  The following one has already been delivered and (I think) installed at the restaurant :-

This one must have taken weeks.  The detail is amazing.  Note the Picasso-like objects on the table.  Picasso is shown as a small boy on the left of the painting, and the little girl next to him was his sister, who died quite young. Above are his mother and father (he was also an artist, but, when he saw the quality of young Picasso's painting, said he would never paint again - the picture shows him discarding his palette and dripping paint onto the shoulder of the man seated at the table).

The next mural isn't finished yet - Caroline's gone home to re-start work on it.

After this one is completed, she still has two major murals to paint - lots of work to keep her busy until the deadline in December.  If you're interested in art, other work and updates on this project can be seen on her website  But if you're ever in Marbella, you could always drop in on the Picasso restaurant and have a look for yourselves.

As a parting gift, Caroline painted this for us.  She really is a cat person (she has three of her own), which my cat spotted immediately and rarely left her side the whole time she was here!

She accentuated his girth a little bit, but not much, ha ha!!  Little slob! (Jak, that is)

So, that's my first blogoversary post . . . no cake, no candles, no cards . . . but the painting of Jak more than makes up for it!  Thanks Caroline.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Napoleon and Neddy

When we went to the organic farm to get the lamb (and pumpkin!), we happened to meet these two characters.  Just get a load of those ears!!

This is Neddy

and this is Napoleon.

Favourite food - grass
Favourite treats - apples
Favourite past-time - roaming around their field in the sun
Favourite friends . . .

 . . . each other!

Naughtiest habits - well, they weren't about to tell me that, now were they?

Sunday, 9 October 2011


My pumpkins failed to put in an appearance this year and they are sadly missed.  We keep passing gardens which have lots of them laid out on the vegetable beds, just to taunt me.

The other day, we visited an organic farm to buy some lamb for one of our visitors, and Louisa gave me a large pumpkin to take home (plus a couple of butternut squash).  Here it is in all it's glory :-

Sorry about the "turn right" printed on the photo - we've had horrendous problems trying to turn the photo around because I took the photo sideways. This was the best we could do - at least the pumpkin is not on it's side any more.

Anyway, it looked just too perfect to cut into . . . but, it had to be done!

A few years ago we went to a restaurant in Scotland and had pumpkin and chilli soup, and it was so, so good I decided to try and make it myself.  This is my version, hope you enjoy it :-

Chris' Pumpkin and Chilli Soup

Olive Oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1-2 red chillies, sliced
Medium-sized pumpkin, chopped
1.5 pts vegetable stock
Small tub half-fat creme fraiche
Salt and black pepper

Saute onions, garlic and chillies in oil for a few minutes, then add pumpkin. Give everything a good stir, put lid on pan and sweat over a low heat for 5 minutes.  Stir in stock and simmer gently until all vegetables are tender.

Liquidise soup in food processor, or press through a sieve.  Pour back into pan, stir in creme fraiche and season to taste.

Re-heat, without boiling, and serve immediately with a few croutons* sprinkled on top.

*A nice alternative to croutons is to slowly roast the pumpkin seeds in oil with salt and pepper until they are tender and then sprinkle some of these on top of the soup.  The rest make a delicious snack when you're feeling a bit peckish!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Thieving BarStewards!!

Eric was checking our UK bank account last night, and noticed £89 had been removed from our account to SNCF (French railways).  We don't use trains (or not yet, anyway), and have certainly never used our credit card to book anything with them.  He was quite puzzled so rang up the bank help line.  They told him there was actually another payment awaiting clearance of £70 - SNCF again.  Then, they said, actually there's another payment a day later, but we blocked that one.  Don't worry, they said, you'll be reimbursed, but in the meantime, YOU'LL have to ring SNCF to find out what's going on.

(At this point, I left the room with visions of bulls and red rags in my head.)

They then said he'd also have to ring their fraud department in order to have the money reimbursed.  Phone numbers were written down amidst lots of mutterings.

Today, he rang the fraud department and explained what had happened. They proceeded to tell him that they thought it very unlikely to be fraud and that he must ring SNCF himself.

(Quick departure . . . red rags etc. . . . steam emerging from Eric's ears)

Of course, SNCF hadn't a clue what he was talking about, but actually said they didn't think he should have to do all this himself.  We tended to agree.
Back to fraud squad (ha ha!) and, very long conversation later, they agreed to reimburse the two amounts.

What we don't understand, and the bank couldn't help with either, was how could SNCF, who had never had any dealings with us, especially our credit cards, debit our UK bank account with not one, but two amounts, and actually attempt to take a third.  And, if they thought it was all above board, why did the bank block the third payment?

Lloyds - you need to do better!