Saturday, 1 January 2022

Another Year, Another Blogging Reboot

And just like that, it is 2022. Happy New Year! 

It seems I can only keep up with regular updates on one social media platform at a time. I got hopelessly distracted by my 100 day dress challenge, which led me to a lovely community of 'woollies' and what I suppose would be called microblogging on Instagram. If you would like to follow me there my account is wearingladygrey - it is set to private to weed out strange men / bots / scammers or whatever they are! I am now on day 87 of the challenge and have found it surprisingly easy. I now have lots of half-formed thoughts about style and capsule wardrobes which I am hoping will turn into something fully-formed before too long. 

What has been happening since I last wrote? December meant lots of carol playing with the brass band. Indoor concerts didn't seem wise, especially with the arrival of omicron, but we played at the airport (large, ventilated space!), outside supermarkets and as small groups of wandering carollers. Christmas this year was particularly good - last year we were heading into lockdown and saw nobody outside our immediate household, which made us extra appreciative of the opportunity to spend time with family and friends this time. There have been walks outside, games inside, lots of good food and general enjoying of each other's company. Sadly though we did have to cancel a planned visit from M's family. With assorted nieces, nephews, partners and family friends there would have been 17 of us from 9 different households, which simply wouldn't have been sensible. We also postponed a short break in Edinburgh before Christmas, because we decided 6 hours on a train with omicron running riot was also too risky. All being well we will go in February instead. 

We are all now fully vaccinated and boostered. We managed to get TG booked in for her second jab the first day she was eligible - the government here has been ultra cautious about vaccinating healthy children to be sure the benefits outweighed the risks. After retiring from his job with NHS 111 M wanted to do some voluntary work so has been doing shifts helping out our local pharmacy with their vaccination clinic. It is a tiny place, so it is just him checking people in and out, and someone giving the vaccines. He loves it as it gives him lots of opportunity to indulge in his favourite hobby of talking to people! 

TG has been working hard at school, with mock (practice) exams in the week and a half before she finished for Christmas. She is due to take GCSE exams (General Certificate of Secondary Education) in the summer, but her age group are being given lots of in school testing in case the GCSEs end up being cancelled for the third year running due to the pandemic and grades have to be awarded by teachers. She has also been thinking hard about what subjects to choose to study for her last two years of school. Most students take three subjects at A (Advanced) level. Her school recommend starting four, then dropping one after a month or so when they have had a chance to test them out. After some dithering she has picked biology, chemistry, psychology and maths, with maths being the subject she expects to drop. However, she has the option to do a lower level (AS) maths course as an extra, and thinks she will do that as it is likely to be helpful to her when she goes to university. Her current plan is to study biological science in some shape or form. She thinks neuroscience sounds interesting, but is also tempted by zoology. 

I have thoughts about the new year, changes I want to make and habits I want to improve, but I'll save them for later. I hope not too much later!

Sunday, 7 November 2021

Autumn Travels: Copenhagen Part 2

On our third day we decided to venture out of Copenhagen and took the train to Denmark's ancient capital, Roskilde. It was only a 25 minute train journey, and was covered by our Copenhagen Cards. 

The Roskilde Cathedral, or Domkirke, is where many of the kings and queens of Denmark are buried. Unusually the current Queen's tomb has already been constructed, but is covered with a wooden case and will not be unveiled until after her death - at her request it includes a bench around it for people to sit on! The cathedral was built in the 12th and 13th centuries on the site of at least two older churches and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Only in Denmark would your find a tricycle parked inside a church, being used as a mobility scooter by an elderly gentleman!

After visiting the Domkirke we walked through a park down the the fjord, where there is a Viking Museum. By this time we were getting hungry, and had assumed we would be able to find lunch somewhere near the sea. However the museum restaurant was rather more upmarket than we were looking for, and other places were shut because it was out of season, so we turned round and walked back into the city centre where we found a cafe and had a slightly larger lunch than we intended! 

By mid-afternoon we were back in Copenhagen so we went for a walk around the picturesque Nyhavn, the canals of Christianshavn, and Freetown Christiania - an abandoned military base which was taken over by squatters in the early 1970s and put in place its own rules and regulations (including 'legalising' cannabis, which was sold there openly on the aptly names Pusher Street). These days it is part commune and part flea market. In the evening we went back to the Tivoli Food Hall for something to it. None of us were very hungry after our large lunch!

On our final day our flight home was not until late afternoon, so we had a few hours to explore some more of the city. We caught a train out to the eastern side of the city and went to see the famous Little Mermaid statue. 

To get to the statue we walked through the grounds of the Citadel. Built in the 17th century, it is an odd mix of military base and public park. 

On the way back we went through the barracks and did a complete circuit of the five sided park, which for some odd reason includes a windmill. 

We then walked to the Rosenborg Castle and through the King's Gardens. By that time we only had about 40 minutes left before we needed to head back for lunch at Tivoli and to pick up our bags from our hotel, so we decided on a quick visit to the Botanic Gardens which are on the opposite side of the road to the Castle. 

The park part of the Botanic Gardens is free to enter and was beautifully autumnal. The Copenhagen Cards gave us access to the greenhouses and the palm house, and we just had time for a quick tour before hopping onto a train back to the Central station before our 72 hour cards expired. Even though we packed a lot into our four days, there was still plenty more we could have seen and done. This lovely, friendly, relaxed city is definitely one we hope to return to someday. 

Saturday, 6 November 2021

Autumn Travels: Copenhagen Part 1

Last week was TG's half term holiday from school and, inspired by our success in making it to France and back in September, we booked a trip to Copenhagen for 4 days. We had been once before - in fact, it was our first short city break thanks to picking up ridiculously cheap flights, and gave us the taste for more travel. We only went for two days and one night the first time, in February 2016, and didn't have the chance to see much of the city. Also, it was bitterly cold, with wet, icy stuff coming out of the sky much of the time - snow we could have handled, but this was just nasty!

This time we had much better luck with the weather and had a wonderful time. We travelled light, with just small backpacks, as we decided we could manage with minimal luggage rather than pay to take more. After an early flight we arrived in Denmark at about 11.30am - everything went smoothly, and the only thing different to a pre-pandemic trip was that we needed to show our vaccination certificates. At the airport we bought Copenhagen Cards, which cover all public transport around Copenhagen and the area around the city, and entrance fees to a wide range of sites. We had done some calculations in advance and reckoned it would be worth buying, if only for convenience - in fact it did end up saving us money as well as making everything much easier. We then got the train into the city, dropped our bags at our hotel and spent the afternoon exploring the city centre and taking a canal tour. 

In the evening we went to the Round Tower, Europes oldest working observatory. Rather than stairs, it has a spiral ramp up to the top. That evening the telescope was manned and open for the public to view. We had hoped to be able to see Saturn and Jupiter, but unfortunately it was too cloudy and the telescope was trained on the City Hall clock instead! We had booked dinner at a restaurant we saw recommended on Trip Advisor, which was superb (not surprisingly as it was rated number 3 out of nearly 2000 restaurants in Copenhagen) - it was expensive by UK standards, but moderately priced for Denmark, and was a real treat. As an added bonus it was less than five minutes walk from our hotel. More by luck than judgement the hotel turned out to be in a great location, just a few minutes walk from the main railway station and the Tivoli Gardens. Everything about it was good, especially the buffet breakfast we enjoyed each morning. 

Our second day was pure fun. TG suggested that we should go to the zoo. We had been before on our first visit to Copenhagen, but it was well worth a second trip. Highlights included lion cubs, a polar bear cub, and giant pandas. One of the wonderful things about the city is how easy it is to get around. For the zoo we just hopped on a bus from the end of our street and were there in ten minutes. By early afternoon we had seen everything we wanted to see, so went back to the hotel for a rest before heading out to Tivoli Gardens for the evening. 

Tivoli is the second oldest theme park in the world - the oldest is just outside Copenhagen - and is an utter joy, with a mix of rides and gardens, all decorated spectacularly for Halloween. We timed it to get the best of both worlds, seeing it both in daylight and illuminated in the dark. 

At one side of the park is the Tivoli Food Hall, accessible both from the park and from the street, which has a collection of small food outlets with a wide choice of cuisines. As it was so close to where we were staying we ate there a few times, either for lunch or in the evening, as it was both reasonably priced (by Danish standards!) and it allowed us to cater to varying tastes. TG and I are rather more adventurous eaters than M. That evening the two of us chose bao buns, while M had chicken and chips (fries). M does not do rides, but TG and I went on a couple; we also had drinks and snacks in the park and I tested out gløgg, a Danish version of mulled wine. It was a magical evening. 

Visiting Copenhagen was like entering a time warp. Denmark has handled the pandemic exceptionally well and the vaccination rates are very high, so much so that in September the government announced that Covid was no longer considered a significant threat in Denmark and all restrictions were lifted. Cases there are rising now. but from a very low level, and the high vaccination level means hospitalisations and deaths are extremely low. Apart from a few left over signs and hand sanitiser stations it was like going back to before the pandemic. Not a face mask in sight, everything totally normal, bustling and busy, but we still felt very safe. We would have loved Copenhagen anyway, but stepping outside the pandemic and, I hope, getting a taste of a post-covid world, was a huge bonus. Respite as well as relaxation.

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

A Dress Challenge

I have been intrigued for a while by the 100 Day Dress Challenge in which Wool&, a small company which sells merino clothing, challenges people to wear one of their dresses for 100 days consecutively. I discovered someone from my old homeschooling circle was doing the challenge and blogging it daily (you can read her blog here) and was inspired to give it a try. I bought a Rowena swing dress in charcoal grey from the EU store and started wearing it, not at all sure whether I would do 100 days, or even whether I really wanted to. My plan was - is - to take it a day at a time and see where it takes me. Slightly to my surprise I am on Day 20 and still going strong. 

I am not dressing very adventurously. Many people do some impressively creative styling, turning the dress into a top, layering dresses, adding skirts (I literally do not own a skirt!) and generally doing clever things. I learned very quickly that tights, leggings, cardigans and scarves are my friends. So are my red Converses - I also have a purple pair, but they are warm-lined and better for colder weather. 

The dress claims to be versatile, and it really is. It came with me to Appleby and switched easily from hiking in the day to dinner in the hotel in the evening. I have worn it for work, for band practice and just lounging around on the sofa. Merino is supposed to regulate body temperature and in some magical way it doesn't get smelly and dirty, so needs washing far less than most clothing. So far Lady Grey has had two baths and she has felt clean and comfortable even after several days wear. 

I have had spells in the past when I have worn dresses fairly often, but mostly I'm a jeans person and had got completely out of the habit of dresses. I realised I didn't have a single pair of tights that fitted comfortably. I saw lots of recommendations for Snag tights and bought a mix of 80 denier and wool tights in black, dark grey, dark red and purple/black stripes. Leggings were slightly better - I had an old cotton pair and some thermal black ones - but I added another pair of the same Marks & Spencer thermals in grey. Nice and toasty for autumn and winter. 

One of the best things about the challenge is that a whole online community has built up on both Facebook and Instagram, which must be one of the most positive and supportive places anywhere on the internet. Watching how others style their dresses is only a small part. One requirement of the challenge is that it has to be recorded with daily photographs, something many people find uncomfortable, and the community supports people as they come to terms with taking selfies and learning to accept the way they look (which, inevitably, is far better than the image that women so often have of themselves). As people come to the end of their challenge they share what they have learned from it, which is often thought provoking and inspiring. And that is beside the love and care that the groups provide for members who are dealing with difficult stuff in their lives that is unrelated to clothing. 

I still don't know whether I will make it through another 80 days, and I'm not entirely sure I understand why I might want to. Maybe by the end it will all make sense. 

Saturday, 23 October 2021

Autumn Travels: Back to Appleby

Two weeks of doing very little worked, and I am fully recovered from the chest infection I started the month with. If I was going to get ill, the timing could have been a lot worse as we had booked to go back to our favourite hotel at Appleby in Cumbria last weekend - just what I needed to complete my recovery! M retired from his job with the NHS 111 call centre and worked his last shift on the Thursday, and we headed north on the Friday for a long weekend. 

Unusually we were unlucky with both the traffic and the weather. Driving up took as at least an hour longer than usual, and Saturday was cold and wet. We had waterproofs with us, but it felt too unpleasantly damp to want to be outdoors for too long. We spent a bit of time at Windermere and found a nice cafe for lunch, then took the car ferry across the lake and managed a short walk around Hawkshead, the small town nearest to Beatrix Potter's farm at Sawrey.

All was not lost despite the weather as we were able to warm up in the hotel spa in the evening. Sunday was showery, but with enough dry spells for us to get in a four and a half mile walk around Keswick and Derwentwater. 

A couple of years ago we climbed up Walla Crag, the hill in the photo below, but this time we just skirted around the bottom. It was raining a bit at this point, but the weather certainly made for dramatic views! 

The views in the Lake District really are gorgeous. I am hoping that we can take TG up there next year - she has started to appreciate natural beauty and I think she would love it. The only downside of Cumbria having been our destination of choice for short breaks on our own is that we have ended up not taking our daughters up there (although the older two did go when they were very tiny).

By the time we had walked through the woods to the lake the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to come out. 

Fortunately the traffic was better driving home on Monday, although there was heavy rain at times which is never fun to drive through. Considering that we have usually been up to Appleby in the autumn or winter, we have generally been very lucky with the weather. I think this was the first time we have had a wet weekend - we have had snow, but not so much that is stopped us doing anything. Despite the rain we still had a good time - the spa, lovely hotel food and Sunday's walk were pretty good compensation!

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Packages and Flowers

The sitting with my feet up and knitting continues, though I did go out for a 15 minutes walk both yesterday and today. I knitted the body of the little baby cardigan, then decided it had come out even smaller than it was supposed to be. I measured, and sure enough that confirmed it was narrower than it should be. I don't normally bother knitting swatches because I nearly always hit the right tension, but this time I was caught out. I decided to knit it again on slightly larger needles and hope for the best. I have nearly finished the second attempt and I think it may still be very slightly undersized, but she is a very tiny baby so should be OK. At least baby clothes are very quick to knit! 

The flowers above were a lovely "get well" surprise from H, who dropped in with them yesterday lunchtime. She only stopped for a brief chat as she was also taking flowers over to her BF's mum, whose father died last week (he was both very elderly and very ill, so it was expected), and needed to get home to carry on with her studying.  As a trainee accountant she gets blocks of time scheduled for college and private study, and has to make the most of them as the exams are both frequent and demanding. I love having adult daughters! 

Over the last couple of weeks I have been doing some rather eclectic online shopping. Last week two yarn orders arrived. This week so far it has been gin, clothes and packing cubes. I really want to make my clothing purchases more sustainable and ethical, and have been thinking that I should start actively looking for used items before buying new. I wanted a cardigan or jacket to wear when I need something more dressy than my usual casual stuff, and found this silver-grey kimono thing on Vinted for £4. I am pretty pleased with it, though TG says it is "too shiny". I pointed out that I was looking for shiny, but she wasn't impressed! 

I had been thinking of getting packing cubes for a while so that I can keep luggage nice and organised when we go away. These are compression cubes, with a double zip that makes it possible to squish clothes down into a smaller, neater space. I proudly wrestled a ridiculous amount into the larger one to show M what it could do, only for him complain that it looked far more trouble than it was worth! They are going to be put to the test at the end of the month. We have booked flights to Copenhagen for a short break during half term, and decided - possibly foolishly - that we could manage without paying Ryan Air an extra £60 for the privilege of taking standard carry-on luggage. Three nights with a small bag is possible, right? It will be with my clever little cubes! 

Monday, 4 October 2021

Feet Up, Knitting

The last few days have looked a lot like this ...

The medication sorted out my chest infection but it has left me with absolutely no energy. At least it has moved on from feeling as though I have been hit by a bus to just feeling as though I am made out of soggy spaghetti. I'm still not up to going back to work, so this is likely to be another week with a lot of time spent on the sofa knitting, reading and watching TV. I did at least manage to finish a pair of socks - I'm trying to get ahead on gift knitting for Christmas. Normally I try to match the stripe colours to make an identical pair when I knit socks with self-striping yarn, but my brain is mush and I didn't even realise I had forgotten until I was halfway through the foot of the second sock. Ah well. They are funky stripes. I have now moved on to baby knitting - a cute little yellow cardigan for our former neighbours' new granddaughter, born last Tuesday. Tiny Summer weighed in at just 5lbs 7oz, so I'm knitting the smallest size. Our formerly-petite TG weighed an ounce less and I remember that as a baby TG would grow into each size at around the age she was supposed to grow out of it, so 0-3 month baby clothes only began to fit her when she hit 3 months. Based on that I'm working on the smallest size of this Alouette pattern and assuming it will fit through the winter. In fact, the same rule held true for TG until she hit her teens and a late and spectacular growth spurt, confounding our assumptions that she had inherited petite genes - having always been one of the smallest in her class at school, she is now 5 foot 6 and apparently still growing! 

I hadn't left the house for a week, apart from a 10 minute walk on Friday, but on Saturday I had to go into town as TG had an appointment for an eye test and M was working. Fortunately most of the trip involved sitting down! TG is getting more short sighted, but teenage vanity has kicked in and she is reluctant to wear her glasses so is going to try contact lenses. She now has a new optical prescription, new glasses on order, and an appointment booked for a contact lens teaching session in early November. I also ordered new glasses. I had my eye test done back in August, but hadn't got round to choosing frames - my current ones are breaking, so I really needed to do it sooner rather than later. 

After we had finished at Specsavers we went to the Italian cafe where H used to work for lunch. TG had a craving for spaghetti carbonara, which we can't make properly at home as we don't have bacon or other pig products in the house. Lunch out seemed a good plan as this cafe does the best carbonara, and it meant I didn't have to worry about cooking a proper meal later. I opted for smashed avocado on sourdough with poached egg and pancetta. We picked up pizzas from Waitrose for the evening, so once we got home I could flop back on the sofa and not need to move much for the rest of the day. I did pay for it a bit with feeling overtired yesterday, but it was good to get out for while. Also it allowed me to assess whether I would be fit enough for a full day at work today - answer, no! In the evening I was supposed to be going over to a friend's house for a girls' night, but that would have been way beyond my energy levels so I joined them on Zoom, along with another friend who is still trying to get mobile after a bad ankle break. Blended in-person / Zoom worked pretty well. Yesterday, I flopped!