Hello everyone – hope you are all having a lovely day, however you are spending it. We’ve just been out for a very windy walk. Let me tell you, there is a very good reason that those nineteenth century women mountaineers abandoned their skirts at the foot of the hill — the damn things act like a bloody sail when the wind picks up.

Ascending was pretty difficult in this get-up, and Tom had his own problems . . .

The weather really is quite bizarre: the past two years, we have had crisp, white Christmases, but today it is weirdly mild, incredibly windy, and strangely brooding. There was no-one to disturb us up on North Berwick Law.

Tom is wearing his new Christmas sweater. He picked out the wool himself to match his kilt. It is Alice Starmore Bainin in the ‘Cairngorm’ colourway – a very pleasing shade of blue. Tom also more or less designed the sweater (based on one he already had) and I then knit it – more or less to his specifications. It is a high-necked raglan, plain and very simple.

Looks good with that blue-y green tartan, though. (It is the Macdonald of the Isles ‘ancient’ tartan, for those of you who are interested)

Tom’s Christmas sweater is ravelled here.

Right, a feast beckons. I’m off to the kitchen. See you later!

merry mucklemuff

I am currently completely obsessed with the knitterly potential of colourwork tubes. Here is my latest tube – which I have called the Mucklemuff. In Scots, ‘muckle’ is a sort of catch-all emphatic expression which means big, large, or much. This skater’s muff is all of these things, and its name is also a shout-out to the lovely and talented Mary-Jane Mucklestone.

Here’s Mary-Jane, myself, and Gudrun, looking like a line-up of shifty woolly criminals at the Woolbrokers during Shetland Wool Week. I think I am removing the sticky-label for jumper-weight shade 125 – which is, incidentally, one of my favourite J&S colours – from my head.

You may recall that, during Wool Week, I was completely blown away by the sight of the swatches that Mary-Jane had knitted for her book – 200 Fair Isle Motifs. The Mucklemuff uses one of Mary-Jane’s motifs, and illustrates just how useful her book is for knitters.

Each motif in the book is swatched and charted – in colour and black and white. Alternate colourways are given, and many pages include suggested allover patterns as well as single repeats. This is incredibly useful for imagining the potential of an individual motif. Sometimes repeats do surprising things when you chart them en-masse – they often don’t work up quite as you’d imagine. But, as I turned the pages of Mary-Jane’s book, I was immediately able to picture the zigzags and crosses of motif no.172 as a balanced allover pattern — saving me hours of chart-fiddling and squinting. I whipped out my needles and started swatching, and soon the Mucklemuff was born!

The Mucklemuff is knit in 2 shades of Artesano aran (I used shades c853 (pine) and 3528 (deep purple). It begins as a provisionally cast-on lining tube in plain stockinette, which is knitted to half the length of the finished object. The ‘outer’ is then knit in colourwork, folowed by the second half of the stockinette lining. The two sets of live stitches are folded in on themselves and grafted together – leaving a small gap to fill with fibre stuffing (I used combed Shetland tops from Jamieson and Smith). After stuffing, the final stitches are grafted – and the end result is an entirely seamless, lined, stuffed, super-cosy, and pleasingly double-layered tube. Stitches are then picked up around the top and bottom edges to create a neat i-cord finish and attached wrist-loop (for carrying your Mucklemuff).

And the pattern also includes instructions for creating an optional icord strap, which is simply passed through the Mucklemuff, thus . . .

. . . before being tied around the neck.

The Mucklemuff pattern is my present to all of you, and it is now available as a free Ravelry download until January 6th. You have 12 days of Christmas to get your skates on and download a copy!

I’m going to take a proper break now – though I may pop back here from time to time, I’ll be on my holidays and not answering my email until January 9th. Thanks so much for sharing 2011 with me, have a lovely Christmas and Hogmanay and I’ll see you again in 2012!

mead mountain x2

A White Christmas! And time, once again, to ascend mead mountain. Does doing this more than once make it a ritual or tradition? Whatever it is, the excitement of uncovering a bottle of home-brewed mead, buried at the top of a mountain, really never goes away. This bottle had a full twelve months to mature in its trusted site . . .

. . . and if possible, it tasted even better than last year’s vintage. Slainte!

To add even more fun to the mix, we had brought our fell shoes along with the idea of having a reviving Christmas run in the snow. So I took off my boots and donned my trusty Walshes (thanks once again for the super socks, Viv!) . . .

I can assure you that mead plus fell shoes is quite a heady combination. The feet securely grip the ice; the body glows with the power of delicious home-brewed fuel; one generally feels quite invincible. It was an exhilarating descent.

Phew! After a crazy snowy hurtle, we made our way homeward, stopping off at the allotment to collect the finishing touches for dinner.

It was very satisfying indeed to pull something we’d grown out of the cold ground. And one of my favourite gardening buddies stopped by to say Merry Christmas.

The allotments looked beautiful in the snow.

We are having a lovely holiday, and I hope you are too, however you like to spend it. Thanks so much for being with me throughout December, and particularly for all your comments, which I always appreciate and love to read. Seasonal joy to you, till we meet again in 2010!

twenty four

There could only be one choice for the final door of the advent calendar — Jesus!

This is Jesus’s tenth Christmas, but he is still as sprightly and daft as when he first moved in with us. For the first few years of his life, we lived in several different places, and he accepted each move, each unfamiliar home, with quiet equanimity. When we finally settled in our upper-storey locale five years ago, he devised a particularly cunning method of entering and exiting — leaping out of or into the bathroom window by means of the adjacent plum tree. This tree is his favourite place to be at all times of the year. It is his refuge from the annoyances of neighborhood cats and squirrels, the predations of the occasional fox, or me and my camera. You will note that his default expression is one of slight confusion — just one of the many characteristics that makes him a particularly endearing feline companion. He looks forward to the festive season as it means a break from his usual Spartan diet of spacefood — if he’s good, he might even get some guinea fowl tomorrow.

Well, Jesus’s birthday is now upon us and, wherever you are in the world and whatever you are doing, he, Tom, and I wish all of you the very best for the festive season and new year!

twenty one

I find the way that St Nick endlessly duplicates himself at this time of year both amusing and mildly sinister (in the way that clowns, or clones, are sinister). You just can’t move for Santas! There’s one waving at passing traffic outside Newington’s “Tree Empire”; another one greets you with a tray of mince pies as you pop into a garage on the A82. They are everywhere: driving buses, delivering mail, selling fish. For me, Santa’s exuberant multiplication sums up the excess that is so characteristic of the season. Unfortunately, I never seem to have my camera at the ready whenever I spot one of these jolly duplicates knocking about town, but here are some wind-up ones.


(dawn on mead mountain)

To say this was the most exciting Christmas morning I’ve had since I was around six years old is no exaggeration. We arose at first light and walked all the way across Edinburgh — to ascend Mead Mountain. The streets were quiet, the air was still, and the whole city felt hushed with anticipation. After reaching the summit, we located where we had buried our treat with no problems, and Tom began to dig. There was a brief worried moment when we wondered whether the mead would actually still be there but then, as Tom dug just a little deeper, we uncovered the lovely bottle, still safe in the ground. BINGO!


We cleaned that baby up and then . . .


. . . it was time to taste it!


This picture cannot suggest to you just how bloody good the mead is. This is the first time we’d tasted it, and we were both seriously impressed. This stuff is not sweet or syrupy or any of the things you imagine mead to be. It is dry, fizzy, and fragrant. Containing raspberries, ginger, and lemongrass, it tastes like a sort of light botanical champagne! We really, really enjoyed it.

Now, you’d think things couldn’t get much better than a belly full of home-brewed mead and a heart full of seasonal good cheer — but then they did!


The Mule recently bought Tom some floating balloon-lanterns for his birthday. It being an unusually still and mild morning, we decided to fire one up. We lit the wick, the thing expanded rapidly and then it went . . .
UP . . .


Up . . .

. . . and away!


It was a truly beautiful sight to see our wee balloon floating gracefully high above the city.


For a while, we thought it might make it all the way across to Fife!

(crappy digital zoom)

But then we saw that the flame had gone out, and the balloon started to descend somewhere over Leith. Perhaps it was trying to get home. So we followed it back on foot, to see if we could find it. We didn’t, unfortunately, but as these balloons are flimsy, and biodegradable tissue paper things, I don’t feel too bad about it.
Thanks for the lanterns, Mule!

I’m going to take a break now until after the New Year, and I wanted to thank all of you who have stopped by during 2008. I always enjoy your comments, and have been blown away by the debates, exchanges and, in some instances, friendships, that have arisen from conversations here. I also particularly want to thank those of you who sent us messages of support after Belle’s death and Tom’s accident — it really meant a lot to us. Seasonal joy to you all. And a very happy new year.


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