Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Photo Shoot With Friends

We've made many dear friends while living here in Oxford - but topping the list are our good friend's the "S" family. We've been trying to get the whole family together for a family photo for months, but with busy schedules and their eldest daughter living away, it's been a challenge. We finally managed to squeeze it in though! Here are a few of my favourites!

A Last Blast with Team Tolan

Team Tolan decided to drive down from Manchester to have a final UK weekend with Team Liu. Being fairly close to Christmas, we decided to visit Millett's farm and their famous Santa's Grotto. While Father Christmas definitely looked the part, I think he might have been on a bit of a bender the night before as he was having a little trouble following his "script." That aside, the kids had a ball!
The Tolan boys and the Liu girls always get on like a house-on-fire! Our girls were fast asleep in their beds when the boys arrived, but they quickly awoke to welcome them and proceeded to play into the wee hours.

Tommy Tolan is adorable!

The boys have grown so much!

Everyone is sneaking a peak at Cath's pictures.

Hannah was so good with Tommy. She even helped give him a bath on Saturday night!

On Sunday we ventured out to Blenheim Palace and had a chilly wander around. Temperatures here have plummeted. By home standards, we're talking positively balmy, but I'm afraid the Brits are finding the chill a bit of a challenge. I was amazed at how empty the public pool facility was when I took the girls to their swimming lessons. Usually it's a bit of a madhouse, but I guess everyone decided it's too cold to swim - even in an indoor, heated pool!

Friends Forever! We can't wait until next we see Team Tolan - during their "twenty-twelve Canadian Adventure!"
The week previous, Stan and I had the opportunity to attend a college dinner - a must-do on the Oxford social scene. One of Stan's lovely colleague's invited us to Brasenose College. We had to get all dolled-up (although Stan refused to "dicky up," as they say!) The dinner was preceded by Presecco in the student lounge (yes, even Oxford student lounges have peeling paint on the walls :). Dinner itself was delicious and served in the college's dining hall - a very Harry-Potter-esque room. Then we moved to the College library for cheese and port. I love port! Who would have known? I think it might become a little habit!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Felt, Felt and More Felt

In my quest to refine my felting skills as much as possible before leaving the UK, I outreached to a felt artist based near Birmingham and she graciously agreed to host me for a day of felting fun. Deborah Allen is an amazing artist and lovely woman who taught me so much. While I knew the basics for the projects we worked on, it was incredibly helpful to watch her technique and glean all the little tips and tricks she has picked up from experience. You can find her work at www.feltersjourney.blogspot.com and there is a link to her Etsy site there - she has some beautiful work for sale if you're looking for a unique Christmas gift!
The first item on our agenda was a pair of slippers using Styrofoam shoe lasts, Icelandic wool batts, and some silk for embellishment. I am so in love with the colour combination I chose! Unfortunately, I didn't make them in my size as I'm usually more of a barefoot kind of girl, but now that I have them I think I might just have to make a pair in my size. I'm planning on doing some hand embroidery on these, just haven't decided what yet. I've also ordered some leather hide and will be adding some soles as well. Hmmmmm... who do I know who wears a size 5/6 (cdn sizing) who needs some cozy, warm slippers for Christmas...

The second item we worked on was a felted vessel using a resist. I used a lovely musterd merino wool with hand-dyed (by Deborah) silk. For my first proper attempt at resist felting, I think I did okay - there are a few ridges and the shape is a little asymmetrical, but overall I was pleased. At home I added some Austrian crystals and mustard-dyed freshwater pearls.
I've always been an advocate of practice-makes-perfect, sooooo....
...I soon decided to work on a second vessel! I cut a resist out of a flexible Ikea placemat and proceeded to use the methods Deborah taught me. (You'll have to excuse the bad lighting in these pics - it was late in the day and our kitchen is a bit dark at the best of times.)
I used four colours of merino wool and some mulberry silk and sari silk for embellishment. Here the fibres have started to shrink enough to pull at the resist and crumple it. Time to make a cut and release the resist...
...after a bit more rolling, it starts to take shape.
Next I blew up a balloon inside and proceeded to work out the wrinkles and shape the vessel...
...And here it is! Dry and perfect! I was so pleased - No wrinkles. No ridges. Awesome shape. Awesome colours. I love it! I'm going to bead a few bits around the lip but for now, I'm enjoying it exactly as is :-)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My Love Affair

It's official! I've fallen in love all over again. No, I haven't forsaken Stan - he is still the most wonderful man in the world! However, he does have to learn to live with the "other" that has entered my life. I've tried to resist the tempatation, but it has proven too much for me. Everytime I feel the fuzzy warmth of it, spy the luscious colours it comes in, and smell the comforting, organic smell, I fall in love with wool all over again. Our house is now full of it. It's stuffed away in bags in every nook and cranny and most days find me creating something new with it.

This scarf was an experiement with resist plastic to create some peek-a-boo features. I laid the resists (cut from a NEXT carrier bag), laid them over some layers of wool, then laid more wool on top. After felting, the resists were literally encased in felt. A careful cut here and there and...

Voila, vibrant orange mulberry silk peeks through the ends of the scarf.

I'm thinking of beading a pin in shades of orange to form a closure. I've named this one "sea monster."

I'm pleased with the way this nuno-felt scarflette turned out. (Stan thinks I made that word up, but I have seen it used elsewhere!) I used some silk pongee, olive-green merino wool and some varigated silk laps to add luster and colour. A tagua nut button completes the look nicely I think.
The kids like to felt too. Mira just likes all the pastel colours 'cause they're soooo girly.

Here Hannah was channeling her inner Monet, creating a piece that really reminds me of Waterlilies.
I've also been experimenting with pre-felts to create more precise designs. I create solid-colour pieces that aren't quite fully felted, then cut them out and piece them together like a puzzle. The finished piece is quite fun I think - although I'm still working on getting my edges consistently straight. Once we're home and I get to work on a table instead of the floor, I think my technique will improve.
On my mission to learn as much as possible about this amazing art-form, I'm heading up to Birmingham this week to study with Deborah Allen, a great English felt artist. She has nicely agreed to host me for the day and teach me how to make felt slippers.
I can't believe how much wool I've collected here. I figure it makes sense as it is so widely available here. However, if I keep going at this rate I think it might be cheaper and more efficient to just buy myself a sheep!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween and a Surprise Visitor

We welcomed a surprise visitor from Toronto last weekend. We met Julia about 8 years ago when she was one of our neighbors on Lamb Avenue. We always really liked her house. Stan said, half-jokingly, "Julia, if you ever want to sell, call us before you call a real estate agent." Well, guess what -- she did! A few months later, we dragged all our stuff up the street and moved into that house that we loved! Julia has remained a good friend and we were very flattered when she took a day out from her week in London to trek down to Oxford for a visit.

The autumn colour is in full swing - you wait until November for the vibrant colour here.

Christchurch dining hall is the inspiration for the dining hall in Harry Potter, although I think most of these tourists thought it was actually filmed there. Apparently there is a replica of it it in some film studio somewhere. However, walking around Christchurch college, so much of it is instantly recognizable from the films. Many of the actors are from Oxford and surrounds. I've never seen them, but apparently the twins are always out-and-about around town.

The girls are always fascinated by the candles in cathedrals.

And then came Halloween. I stuck to my guns and we didn't buy new costumes this year. I am trying so hard not to accumulate in our last few weeks. So Hannah set to work on an old pillow case and Mira put on Hannah's costume from last year. We didn't end up with the most original costumes, but c'est la vie! While it's popularity is growing, Halloween doesn't cause the mass sugary hysteria that it does in North America. So we set out for the "Halloween Howl," an annual event at nearby Millet's Farm.

I have gotten a lot of mileage out of the face paint I bought just a couple of weeks after our UK arrival!

The girls are listening to the "scarecrow" before setting out on the "Trick or Treat trail."
Millet's Farm has a great garden centre and as part of a Halloween promotion they brought in an animal keeper to display numerous little critters.

I couldn't believe how soft the tarantula felt. If you are afraid of spiders, I definitely recommend holding one of these - really changes your perception!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Magic" Roundabouts

We decided to journey to Swindon this past weekend to visit the Outlet mall there. The mall was great (finally I find a good place to shop in England and it's almost time to leave!) The journey to the mall was... well... an experience.
Swindon is one big traffic experiment. Someone with very little wisdom and, most assuredly, an endless supply of hallucinogenic drugs decided to invent the "magic" roundabout. A magic roundabout consists of four (or more) small roundabouts placed equal-distance around one big roundabout. The system is complicated by the fact that you can travel two different directions - clockwise or anti-clockwise - approaching it you can turn either left or right onto the roundabout and proceed around it in whichever direction provides the shortest route to your exit. The result, for the uninitiated that is, is absolute mad panic! Cars to the left. Cars to the right. Cyclists everywhere. The temptation is to just close one eyes, put pedal to the metal and pray.
Inexperienced panic aside, they claim it works quite efficiently. However, I still think the only "magic" about it is the fact that people aren't killed on a daily basis! And I did find a list claiming it as number 3 on the top-10 list of England's scariest junctions.
I have actually become quite fond of roundabouts in my time here. In most situations they work exceptionally well - no more waiting at red lights when there are no other cars in sight. And of course, the bean-counters like them because they cost next-to-nothing to maintain. In higher-volume traffic their efficiency reduces dramatically - but intersections and traffic lights don't work so well in that case either. I will miss the roundabouts - but definately not the magic ones!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Nanny and Poppa Part Deux

Nanny and Poppa decided to squeeze in one more visit to Oxford before the big move home. With a chill in the air and all the big tourist spots already visited last trip, we spent most of their visit cosied up in nice warm pubs - but I don't think they minded much!

We did venture out into the cold to visit the big car boot sale at Kassam Stadium - it runs year-round, every Sunday and presents a very interesting social portrait. Forget all the bargains - what a great people-watching spot.

Another visit to the Victoria Arms - it's become a favourite spot for us - one of the things we'll truly miss about Oxford.

After leaving us, Nanny and Poppa hopped on the Eurostar for a few days in Paris - really I think we were just an excuse for a long-weekend in France! ;-)