A new knitting project- Slippers.

On a recent trip to the Lake District I was charmed by the endearing Herdwick lambs. Sadly, the wool from the sheep is too coarse for knitting but in a shop dedicated to sheep things I found some lovely 100% British Wool called Herdy. I just had to have some as a momento of my trip.

Herdwick sheep and lambs.

Returning home I had a pair of socks for my niece’s fiancĂ© to finish before I could get to ‘play’ with my new wool. A few months ago I printed off a free Ravelry pattern for slippers using chunky wool so decided to try it out with my Herdy wool. After trying 3 different sizes of needles I still couldn’t get the gauge right so had a few brain aches trying to work out the correct number of stitches. The first slipper was slow going due to having to make adjustments but the second was ‘a breeze’. I’m thrilled with my finished slippers and my mother has already hinted at a pair which I’m more than happy to knit for her. There is more than enough wool left for her pair too.

Herdy slippers.

The original pattern can be found at http://www.Ravelry.com and is called Non-felted slippers by Yuko Nakamura Designs



An inspirational artist.

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be staying at the Shangrli La Resort in Oman and chanced upon an exhibition by the Omani artist Safiya Al Bahlani. I loved her mixed media approach and admired her even more when I read her biography and the challenges she has faced.







Her pieces definitely reflect her culture and I was sorely tempted to buy one, but didn’t. Instead I bought some silver Bedouin jewellery as a momento of my visit. I hope I don’t regret my decision.

My name is Safiya Al Bahlani, I am an Omani artist, graphic designer, and inspirational and motivational speaker.

I was studying animation and graphic design, but was not able to complete my studies, but on a daily basis I try teaching myself through various tutorials and through practise.

I am a physically challenged young woman. I would like to draw the attention of Omani society to recognize that people with special needs, are unique, talented and able to contribute to the society.
I have been drawing and painting ever since I can remember, it has always been my way of expressing my emotions and communicating my thoughts to the world.

I was recognized for my skills when I was fourteen, then I started learning art under various teachers and artists.

At The American International School of Muscat, I took AP Art, which is an advanced program for art in preparation for studying art in college, where I started learning using different medias in art using various mediums and techniques.
During my college years in Jordan I held my first solo exhibition which contained thirty of my paintings. It was a wonderful experience, had many positive feedbacks that encouraged me to think of doing one in my own country.

In March 2011 in collaboration with an Omani fashion designer, we had combined fashion show and art exhibition. The theme was derived from His Majesty annual speeches which inspired to us to incorporate them in a collection of dresses, and paintings.

I have also been drawing on the I Pad, which I participated in Muscat Festival 2012 with ITA to promote technology as in COMEX 2012

I just had my third solo exhibition, with Bait Al Zubair, at the Shangri La, Bar Al Jissah “Beneath The Surface”.

Currently, I am trying to establish my own graphic design company, I am also a freelancer in Inspirational, and Motivational speaker.

My first visit to a mosque.

Last week I visited a mosque for the very first time. So what? Say any readers who don’t know my background, but I have been living in Saudi Arabia for 28 years and am never very far away from these places of worship. However, as a non-Moslem it is forbidden for me to enter a mosque here. Last week, I spent an interesting 6 days in Muscat, Oman and before I went there one of the must dos according to a few friends was to visit the Grand Mosque there.
We organised it as part of a city tour and were lucky to meet Abdullah, our charming and knowledgable Omani guide. He made us feel very relaxed, told us many interesting things, answered our questions and gave us space and time to enjoy the different venues. The mosque was, for me, of special interest. As a woman I had to be vey respectfully dressed and before leaving the car park Abdullah made sure my hair and neck were all covered by my scarves- it was at this point I thought how silly of me to have left my abaya in the car in Jordan as that would have made my dilemma of suitable attire a bit easier that morning. Anyway, it was an amazing experience and like some of the magnificent cathedrals I have visited in Britain and mainland Europe I felt very humbled and experienced a great sense of peace whilst walking around inside, both the woman’s hall and the much larger men’s hall.

20131109-223319.jpgthe inner courtyard and one of the 5 minarets.

20131109-223435.jpgmy shoes in the rack outside the men’s hall.

20131109-223542.jpgchandelier and stained glass window in the woman’s hall.

20131109-223728.jpgMe, suitably covered, with Abdullah.

20131109-223841.jpgthe magnificent chandelier inside the men’s hall.

20131109-224136.jpgKoran niche.
At the end of the visit we went to the hospitality area, where I met an extremely friendly and informative young woman called Marwa. We had a lovely chat over Arabic coffee, ginger tea and dates and at no time did I feel like she was trying to convert me! I would happily have stayed longer, but had to move on if we wanted to fit in a couple of other things before they closed at lunchtime. My first mosque was certainly no ordinary mosque but it will be long remembered just as much for the people who made the visit special rather than just the magnificent opulence and architecture.

What will I do today?

As a teacher I am blessed with a lovely long 8 week holiday in the summer. Interestingly, that’s usually when others envy my job- at other times of the year they don’t want to know! My husband isn’t a teacher so he gets a lot less holidays which means that very often in the summer we will spend a month in UK and I will spend the other month chilling in the villa. I love the freedom this allows me to begin most days with the luxury of ‘what will I do today?’. One thing that I never get is bored, but I suppose I know that my time is limited and the school year will begin again and I will be once more back to fulfilling the National Curriculum and all the ‘paperwork’ that goes with the job.
So how have I filled my days so far?
I’m still hooked on knitting socks. My latest ‘victim’ is my brother, Billy. So far, all my sock knitting has been using Regia 4 ply and following the free pattern I received when I mass ordered a selection of wool awhile ago. I love looking at the wool I have and thinking about the person I am going to knit for. This is my choice for Billy:-

I usually knit while I’m watching T.V. which tends to be for about an hour in the evening, but as I’m on holiday I’ve been able to go to the Ladies’ craft morning on Mondays and this has given a boost to the speed in which the socks have grown:) it’s also to great to catch up with some of the other women in the community and meet some ladies who are relatively new and I would probably not have the same opportunity to meet when I’m working.
Normally, I wouldn’t regard myself as much of a baker but today I excelled myself by baking a banana and walnut cake and some Stilton and walnut scones.
The banana cake recipe was in the ‘Landlove’ magazine that I brought back with me from UK. It required 700g bananas and as I was weighing them out I began to think there had been a misprint as this seemed a LOT of banana to me! However, it seemed to turn out fine and tasted good.

After the sampling it got sliced up and put in the freezer- probably to be used on a couple of desert trips once the weather cools down next month.
I made the scones to use up some Laban (sour milk) that I had bought to make cheese scones at the weekend. I love cheese scones and usually buy some from a friend who makes them to sell in the compound community shop on Thursdays. However, she has gone on holiday so I thought I should give them a go. They turned out a bit thin but tasty and didn’t last long.

I also had some Stilton in the fridge so googled Stilton scones and found a few recipes. I used one from the UK magazine ‘Delicious’ which also added walnuts. It was interesting as instead of rolling and cutting out circles it said to roll the dough into a fat sausage shape and then slice it to make the individual scones. Again, mine didn’t rise much but as they’re just for my husband and me and they taste good I won’t worry too much about that. Perhaps I should ask my friend for some advice when she gets back, but then again it’s just so much easier to get her to make them!

So that was today- what will tomorrow bring? I have few ideas but when I wake up in the morning I know it’ll be my choice whatever I end up doing- how wonderful:)

Harris Artisans

Many years ago, when I first visited the Outer Hebrides there was very little in the way of art and craft items for sale. Possibly, there just wasn’t the tourist trade and anything made was very much for personal use and most people made their own knitwear and tweed items. Since then there has been a growing community of art and crafts in the islands and especially on Harris. Many of these talented people have settled there from mainland UK and have very much embraced the local way of life. Visiting in the summer when the days are long and the sun is shining it seems a very desirable option, but knowing how long and dark the winter months can be when the Atlantic gales are battering all in its way I’m not so sure I would last very long.
This summer, I visited a few new (to me) artisans and enjoyed some lovely chats about their work and general life in a remote area of UK. A shed definitely seems to be an essential addition and a great asset for a personal place to work. 3 sheds I fell in love with were-
The Scalpay Linen shed which smelt so good with all the wool that was being worked as well as the linen.


The weaving loom.

Hand spun art wool.
The food shed at Northton where you can be tempted by home baked bread, scones, cakes as well as fresh caught shellfish.

All the purchases here are made on trust- loved the box which asks you to roll pound notes up tight to feed into the hole on the top!

And thirdly this cheekily called ‘Northton Trading Co’ shed with an eclectic mix of items. Again, trust is an essential part of its success as you are asked to ring the bell if you want to buy anything!


Handbags for sale.

An inside view.
How heartening it was to think that there are still areas where people can live in harmony without taking advantage of each other so readily and that they extend this trust to us,the visitors, who come from very different backgrounds.
And how do they survive? I’m not too sure. I know that for some the Internet is a vital link for selling their goods, and perhaps for others, who have partners with regular paid jobs, the financial reward isn’t the ultimate goal. Whatever, I know I met some very happy, contented people living on the Island of Harris this summer and hope when I return next time they will still be there …and their sheds of course!

‘Hobbit House’ in Harris.

Eight years ago we took a chance and booked a week in a cottage on the Isle of Harris. We had been to Harris before but never really stopped very long to explore so thought we’d spend more time there to get to know the area better. I can’t imagine we expected to still be returning in 2013! We totally fell in love with, not just the island, but our cottage as well. For me it was definitely love at first sight! And once inside I was hooked and just didn’t want to leave. When we tried to book up for the next year we found we were not alone as it was already fully booked. Since then we get our Harris ‘fix’ every second summer and after this year’s visit we still haven’t had enough! Taigh Sheumas aka Hobbit House.
And here are a few inside images.The wood or peat burning stove for those to so warm days.Very comfy sofa to chill on and watch the world go by.Luxurious spa bath to soak away the aches after long walks!  Or ........:)Very comfortable bed adorned with  Harris tweed cushions:)
And outside this idyllic haven is a carpet of wild flowers called the machair.
Machair flowers surround the cottage.Even on the roof!
And just when you think you will never want to venture far from this heavenly place ……you see the enticing sands of Scarista stretching before you!Scarista beach.
Yes, Harris and Taigh Sheumas have lodged themselves firmly in our hearts and while others jet off in search of beach resorts in the sun, I have a feeling we will be taking the ferry to Harris for many years to come!

Back in the Kingdom!

So after a lovely, busy, enjoyable month in Scotland I’m back in Saudi. Lucky for me I have a whole month to relax before school starts again:) so I’m anticipating some serious crafting, book reading and relaxing before that happens!
One month seems like a long holiday for those at home but it flies by and is usually a bit hectic as we always seem to try to pack 5 or 6 months activities into the time. I suppose that’s natural as we have a definite deadline for getting things done or they just don’t get done until the next time. This time we managed to catch up with a lot of friends and family which is always enjoyable. One of my old school friends I hadn’t seen for many years. She lives in the south of England and was up visiting her mother. She brought her son along, who is now 27 – I’m sure he was about 8 last time I saw him! Time certainly zooms past these days. I don’t know if its different for people in other parts of the country but I find that most of my family and friends especially those who went to university just don’t return home again unless they still have parents in the area. This means that the chances of meeting up with them are limited and many years can go by without seeing each other. Another reason I am so glad for – the love it or hate it- Facebook, as at least there is a bit more interaction with each other than the annual, hastily scrawled Christmas card.
When I left Saudi Ramadan had just begun. Now it is Eid holiday and party time for the local people for a few days. This means that my husband doesn’t have to go to work til Tuesday, which is nice to have some time to relax together after travelling back. It’s traditional to give chocolates at Eid and yesterday on the Saudia flight to Tabuk we were given these little boxes of chocolates:) such a lovely thing to do and I thought – now why doesn’t BA do that at Christmas? – or a choccie egg at Easter?

Now that I have a much more reliable Internet and a bit more time to myself I hope my blogging will get back on track again and there will probably be a lot of back tracking over my holiday. – please bear with me:)