Monday, 31 August 2009

The end is nigh...

Most of my time is spent writing these days. I should consider myself lucky! I do consider myself lucky. Although it does feel a bit much at the minute. I've got three weeks of PhD left. Three weeks. After five years (or four, or six, depending on what you count), three weeks seems like nothing. 

And so I'm abandoning pretty much everything else to get it done. I'm trying not to think about the sunshine I'm missing while I'm staring at the computer screen... but this is all temporary... 

And I have managed to sneak a little bit of fun in the last week:

... picking blackberries

... and making a few pies

... harvesting the broad beans (yep, this is the entire broad bean harvest from our garden)

Anyway, I thought a little mini blog project might help me keep sane over the next three weeks. I've taken (stolen?? call it a tribute...) the idea from Heather's morning and night series, but since what I need to be doing at the minute is working and relaxing, that's what I'll call it. 

Each day (or as close as I can manage), I"ll post a working picture and a relaxing picture. Just to keep me on track, and make sure that I'm doing both :) So here we go:

... working - in the university library

... relaxing, with garlicky goodies from a friend for watering her plants - including this cucumber

So, let's see how it goes, shall we? 

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Saturday pondering

Well, we finished off those tasty buns for breakfast in bed this morning, a tranquil start to a busy day. They were just right, and I'm glad we didn't give into temptation and eat them all yesterday... 

Today's been a bit of an all-over-the-place day. I'm writing, writing, writing at the minute. Or rather, trying to... Isn't it funny all the little games you play with yourself to make things exciting? (or is that just me??). Last night I scheduled out an entire itinerary for today, as if I was at some kind of event, with specific time slots for work, divided into specific activities for each slot. There was time for gardening (including reading a gardening book...), time for a bit of house keeping (yes, it does happen occasionally round here, increasingly often), and time for writing a thoughtful and considered blog post at the end of it all (hmm...). 

Well, I pretty much stuck to it. It was actually nice having that piece of paper telling me what to do. I got in a nice walk this morning to water a friend's green house plants, being horrified when I got there that I had ONLY watered the greenhouse the other day, and hadn't done the pots in the front garden, which were all dried up and looking incredibly thirsty... I'll offer to replace those if they haven't perked up by tomorrow! Lesson learned about slowing down and paying more attention... 

I've spent a lot of time sitting in the garden, working, eating, reading, drinking tea. I love these old green glasses, they make me feel like a princess drinking out of a goblet :) 

And I spent a lot of time sitting on the concrete path of the garden, writing and staring...

I'm finding it so difficult to concentrate on finishing this PhD. It's just not where I want to be any more. Well, not right now, I can see that with six months distance from it I might feel differently! :) 

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about what I want life to look like afterwards. After all, I've been doing this for six years, full time, and while I've also been working two days a week for most of the last two years, other than that I've had quite a lot of freedom. No set office hours, being able to work at home in my nightie, taking the laptop to a cafe, or a pub, or a field. I've met some wonderful, wonderful people, from all over the world, who I treasure dearly, and will keep in touch with. I've had opportunities I would never have had otherwise, I travelled on the Orient Express from Paris to Vienna, stayed in Denmark for three weeks, visited Stockholm, London many times, Austria, Sweden, Norway... 

And I've learned a lot about myself along the way too. I've moved house three times during the last six years, been in two different (very different) relationships, got an allotment and given it up, paid off the credit card I ran up with work expenses, which just then wouldn't go away, worked three jobs on top of the PhD - all at once for a while! Things change - I used to work better in the mornings, these days I don't seem to be able to get going til 3pm.  I've learned I don't deal very well with a huge project hanging over my head that I can't switch off and forget about. Often I switch off all to easily, and the wrong moments... 

I don't want to spend any more of my days staring at a computer screen. Oh, I don't mind a little bit of that... :) But not all day, every day. I don't want to be constantly worrying about something every time I leave work for the evening. I do not want to work for someone else five days a week. I want to spend time with my hands in flour, warm water, soil, in that order ;) 

When I started this blog on Boxing Day last year, I think I thought it'd be a place to put photos of the garden as I gradually tamed it as a place to sit, eat, and grow. I thought I'd look at it, and probably Peter, and maybe my mother. Well, Peter reads every entry I write, and so does my mother :) And I've picked up a few other people along the way too, which I'm thoroughly grateful for. 

One of the unexpected things that happened was that I wanted to do things so I could put photos up here. Perhaps not the right reason, you might think! But really, it's ok. It made me stop staring at the computer for an hour and do some knitting, sewing, baking, gardening, or whatever for a while instead. It made me decide to have a go at making all the presents I give this year. It made me start soaking dried beans instead of buying tinned, making my own yogurt, making soap, stop using shampoo (more on this another time...), and see my home more as somewhere to be, rather than somewhere to live. To see that they're the same thing. 

I've spent plenty of time reading other people's blogs, and learned so much from them. I'm just not sure how much I would have made the effort to put some of those things into practice right now, with everything else so busy, if I didn't have my own little corner of the blogging world. I think mostly, I've learned so much from Rhonda's blog, where she's got fabulous tutorials on making soap, yogurt, and just about everything else. Rhonda, I've read your posts on time management over and over and over these past few weeks, and I try to put some of the things in practice. Isn't it wonderful how you 'meet' all these people you never would get in contact with otherwise?? I'm trying to add slowly to my blog reading sidebar thing, I have no idea what the etiquette of these things is, so be patient!

Anyway, this post wasn't meant to be about how much I love having a cheery little blog, or how much I love other people's blogs. It was meant to be about how I've decided on a few things to prioritise over the next few months. In the next month - finish the phd (tough one, that!), without going completely bonkers and neglecting everything and everyone else in my life. Make sure I get enough exercise, and it's all going to be walking at the minute rather than anything more strenuous. And I think we'll be trying to make more of a shift towards organic/local food in the coming weeks, we'll see. 

Before Christmas? Because that's always a nice end point for some goals :) I'd like a new job, please :) Two or three days a week, with maybe another day volunteering somewhere cheery (I've got my eye on a few places). It'd be nice to use the PhD, of course, or at least some of what I've learned! But I don't want to, and don't need to, work full time doing that (and yes, I do consider myself lucky), so we'll see what turns up. I'd like to start writing on this blog consistently and regularly. Oh, and trapeze lessons. Yes, trapeze lessons, because that's what I promised myself as a do-something-completely-different-present when the PhD was finished. I might only have one, I'm not a huge fan of heights, but I have to have a go... 

So, there we have it. A huge waffly blog post full of appreciation for most things, slightly less appreciation for others (ahem, PhD, ahem), and a few goals to be keeping us going. And a nice picture of the view from the concrete path this afternoon... 

Friday, 21 August 2009

Belgian buns and potato bread

We're off to a Belgian themed party tonight... 

And I thought a few Belgian buns might be in order. They certainly are.. 

And while I was kneading and baking and waiting for things to rise, I made some Russian potato bread. 

Which I made into a pizza base. 

Which was very tasty :) 

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Budgeting, and a bit of handmade goodness

I made these little cash purses today, partly inspired by Heather's post about budgeting. I had a proper budget for a while, when I was trying to make sure I had enough money for two months off work. I used the envelope system, putting each bit of money into a plastic cash bag from the bank. 

The system kind of dropped off when I actually stopped working, ironically enough. Not going to work seemed to save me spending quite a lot anyway (hmm....), and I just got lazy. Now I've been off for a few weeks, with the prospect of being off for a few more (fingers crossed...), it's about time to instigate the system again. 

But those plastic bags just weren't inspiring enough. So here are the little purses. Not really robust enough to carry round all the time, but that's not what they're designed for. The one with the birds and flowers on is for the garden budget (of course). The pink one with the stars is for cheery things. The one with the leaves on is for food. And the butterfly one? For emergencies. No link at all, just liked the fabric :)

I'll do a more sensible post about the difficulties I've had with budgeting, and what I'm learning, another day, I just wanted to show off my lovely little 'envelopes' that I'm so pleased with. 

And, while we're talking about home made things... this Cheerful Dragon (yes, that's his name) arrived in the post the other day. 

My sister had asked my 3 year old nephew what he thought Peter would want for a birthday present, and he said "I think he'd like a dragon". Of course he would :) It's got pride of place on the kitchen windowsill, feet planted in basil plant pots, and very happy he is too. 
And for no reason at all... this is the garden bench when I arrived home this afternoon. I love, love, love the late afternoon sunshine on the water on that bench. I'm so glad I painted it blue, it makes me smile every time I open the door :) 

And from one enthusiastic colour to another... this is where I found myself planted at 9pm tonight, staring, as I have done for most of the day, at the computer screen. Bleurgh. But got to keep writing, for the time being at least, and this cosy corner of the attic sometimes even makes it seem alright. 

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

When I was just a little girl...

Well, I just couldn't help myself. I popped into the attic for something else, and just had to take some pictures. And yes, I am carrying that new camera everywhere today...

Anyway, these are pictures my mum brought with her at the weekend, dug out of her loft after years. 23 years, by the looks of it (really, that long??). I want to live on that farm just as much as I did when I was six. Those chickens! That house! Those cows? sheep? The yellow ones that look like moomins, anyway! I love it, and it's got pride of place above my sewing machine. It makes me smile :) 

This little book makes me smile too. I can't remember a thing about it, I don't know if it was based on a story we read at school, or if I just made it all up, but I like to think it shows an early inclination towards peace, cheeriness and working together :) And birds and beetles and mice :) I just love the way the eyes and whiskers change colour in every picture... 

Some photos

Ooh, look at me with my new camera. I could have kissed the postman (but didn't, there's been too much exhibitionism in this street this morning). So instead of rambling on more, here's a few photos. Yes, photos, yippee! This camera has a flash! Not that I need it today, but I broke the flash on my old one eighteen months ago... I've almost forgotten how to use it. 

Anyway, this is just a quick few snaps of the house and garden this afternoon. The tomatoes from Mum's garden ripening on the windowsill. The dishcloth-in-progress. The rose that sits right next to my arm and is visited by a marvellous array of hoverflies. The lone tomato soldiering on. And the cosy little spot in the corner of the garden where I sit and eat, drink tea, work, and think of all the things that need doing, and nothing at all. Did you spot the rose in the middle there? 

More cheery things...

Well, after an early morning flurry of activity (of the cleaning-out-the-fridge-and-writing-a-shopping-list kind), I've ground to a halt. And since yesterday's cheery things post cheered me up to carry on with the rest of the day, let's do it again, shall we? So here are a few cheery things from today...

... the sunshine (again)

... the anticipation of waiting for my new camera (today, please?)

... and the planning of all the lovely pictures I'll take with it

... home made yogurt that turned out just right

... the tiny, tiny rocket seedlings growing on the living room window

... the yellow tomatoes that are nearly, nearly ripe

... the lady across the road who knocked on the door this morning to tell me my clothes airer had blown down, scattering underwear all over the yard in full view of the whole street, and who offered to let me use her washing line

... my gorgeous rock star boyfriend, who will be constructing our own washing line, very soon

... strawberries for breakfast

... a cheery small, frugal sewing project that's very nearly finished

... old pictures from my school days that are now on the wall round my desk

... the prospect of maybe even too many cheery opportunities to choose from when the PhD's done

... my new home made attic blind, which will be fixed up later today

Now, about time I went to sit in the garden with the laptop to wait for the postman, I think. 

Monday, 17 August 2009

Cheery things...

It's a slightly gloomy Monday here, not the weather, but rather the getting-back-to-work after the weekend type gloomy.  So, to lift the spirits, here's a list of recent cheery things to be grateful for... 

... a new second hand camera, which should be here tomorrow! I can't wait. 

... a visit from mother, and a helpful hand in the garden over the weekend

... the two giant wood pigeons chasing each other clumsily around the lilac

... the three completely different types of hover flies landing on the rose right next to my arm in the last five minutes

... the sunshine

... a new, hand sewn green and brown blind for the attic (and a camera to take pictures with, did I mention that??) 

... old paintings from school dug out of the loft and soon to be on the wall

... a story written by my own six year old self, about the very tall mouse and the very small mouse, which I'll share as soon as I can show the pictures

... the frog I discovered camping out in a damp plastic tray under the garden bench

... discovering that I've managed to switch sides half way through knitting a dish cloth - with 'artisan' results

... making more crumpets

... a lovely man agreeing to examine my PhD - in November! That soon? So it'll all be over by the end of the year, fingers crossed

... the prospect of picking blackberries, very soon

... sitting in the garden, staring at the flowers and birds, and wilfully ignoring the laptop (oops)

There, that's better, isn't it? 

Pictures of, oh, so many things later this week... 

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

A home made birthday

Last night's birthday preparations went well, and this morning was very cheery :) I was just so impressed with my crumpets that we had for breakfast - so simple to make, and exceptionally tasty. Although I might put a little less salt in next time, and make them a bit thinner. 

The idea for heart shaped crumpets came from Rhonda's blog. I spent ages yesterday looking for the picture I remembered, and eventually found it, but haven't saved the link. I will find it. I got the recipe from the Essentially England website

One of the other things I made was a birthday banner. Of course, these photos are completely inadequate, but you get the idea! I've seen a few floating around on various blogs, and there were some in the Chatsworth shop when we went last week, but I just had to make my own. It started off hung above the bed, and now it's in the kitchen. I think it's going to be brought out for quite a few future birthdays in this house. 

Making rugs

I came across this beautiful rag rug, and several others, when we went to a heritage day at a local outdoor museum. I love rag rugs, and have made a couple of small ones in the past, but not for a while. Seeing this one reminded me how much I enjoyed it, and prompted me to dig one of my old ones out from under a lot of other things :) It's not big enough to use as a floor rug, which is why it ended up in a bag of fabric, but I'm thinking maybe a chair seat or something? I'll post pictures soon.

This rug also reminded me that my mum requested a rag rug for her christmas present. Much as it seems bizarre to be thinking about christmas at the height of summer, I also remembered how long the last rug took to make, what with finding the hessian, designing the pattern (the last one was just simple stripes, but I'm not sure about this next one), cutting all the little pieces of fabric, poking them all through holes.... 

I actually found it a very relaxing way to pass the time. Of course, the rugs were initially functional, using up old clothes and, well, rags, to make a warm covering for a cold stone floor. I do like the idea that something so useful ends up being so beautiful :) 

It's more of a wintery craft, is rug making, sitting indoors, maybe in front of a film, or listening to the radio. But it's looking like I might have to start doing it out in the sunshine some time soon...

Speaking of presents, here's a small glimpse of one I finished this week for a friend. Can you tell what it is?? I couldn't resist trying to take just one more picture with my camera, and these are the results.

Rather beautiful in their way, I thought :) But I will post a proper picture when I get chance, I'm quite pleased with this present. 

Right, I must get to bed. It's very late, there have been lots of handmade birthday preparations tonight... :) 

Sunday, 9 August 2009

A weekend by the sea

This has nothing to do with gardening, or sewing, or baking, but everything to do with resting, relaxing, watching, listening, and seeing some gorgeous colours and textures and places. Oh, and ice cream, of course. 

We've been to the north east coast for a couple of days, and the sun shone, the sea was blue (and rather cold), and we had a lovely time. 

I don't know much about geology, but that part of the coast is fabulous, worn away, intricate patterns, rock pools and caves, beaches like the surface of the moon. The highest cliffs in England too, and the most amazing seabird colonies. We stood and looked down on the birds, swooping and nesting, it was a strange, and very noisy, experience. In other places, the coast is eroding, several feet in the last few years, apparently, gardens and roads just slipping into the sea. 

Not much else to say, but I tried using my the camera on my phone, and the results aren't too bad. 

I'm hoping for another few weekends like this before the summer's out... 

Friday, 7 August 2009

A spot of bother...

In a small episode that strongly represents several other episodes of my life involving technical equipment of some kind, I have broken my camera.

The flash has been broken for about 18 months since I dropped the camera on a pier in Orkney while photographing rusty old boats in a storm. 

The screen broke a few weeks ago at a festival. 

Yesterday morning the zoom lens mechanism broke. 

Yesterday evening I unscrewed the camera into several pieces and stared, as I have so often done before, at the pieces, wondering what on earth I was going to do with it now. 

Today I started looking for a new one. 

So there might be a lack of posts, or at least photos, from me for a few days, or maybe even a couple of weeks. Sorry. 

In the spirit of frugality and reuse, I'm hoping to buy one second hand. Which means that I can't just trot out and buy one tomorrow. Still, I'm good at hunting out second hand things, so I'm quietly confident that one will turn up soon. 

In the meantime, I'll rummage out some old photos later in the week and post those instead :) 

Saturday, 1 August 2009


I've rediscovered crochet in rather an obsessive way this week. It was a friend's birthday, and I saw these adorable (and easy) crocheted slippers at Oh my good knits blog, and thought I'd have a go. 
Hmm. After an entire afternoon sitting on the living room floor in front of repeat episodes of Jeeves and Wooster (another slight obsession), crocheting and unravelling, I ended up with three slippers, two supposedly the same but actually entirely different, and a third of another pattern altogether, which also didn't look right. 

I should point out that the instructions were perfectly clear! It was my own complete inability to follow them and remember even the basics of crocheting patterns that was the problem :) Once I sussed out what I was doing, the instructions were very easy. My hook and wool were also several sizes thinner than in the pattern, (well, you know what it's like when you have to do something right now) so I was having to add in extra bits here and there.

Eventually, after another few evenings of puzzling, and a bit of improvisation, I managed to get two vaguely similar slippers. Hooray! They were rather too big, even for me, so they would have been huge on my friend. After a couple of, er, funny looks from the people I showed them to, I decided they weren't the best present, and so am keeping them for myself, and very nice they are too :) 

What I ended up making for my friend was rather easier, and nicer, but the photos are on the other camera, which I don't have here, so you'll have to wait to see them... 

I've had quite a good couple of days of charity-shopping this week. This morning I found this fabulously shiny pink material, goodness knows what it is, I want to call it organza, but I don't think it is... There was also a huge selection of zips for 10p (I did manage to refrain from bringing them all home), and three baskets (!) of embroidery thread. I already have boxes of this, so I managed to leave that in the shop too. It was difficult though...

Yesterday we found ourselves in Doncaster for a few hours, and gravitated towards the market. There's a couple of fabric stalls there, and I haven't been before. There was an excellent selection of remnants, and I picked up a couple of yards of thick cotton with gorgeous patterns on. 

It's not really yellow, it's white, but my camera isn't fixed yet... :( Anyway, you can imagine! 

On top of that, I helped a friend clear out her kitchen yesterday as she's soon moving to Belgium, and I acquired her collection of old linen embroidered and edged linen. There's not too much of it, and some of it is covered in coffee, but there's some beautiful lacy edging which can be added to something else. I couldn't get a decent picture in this light, but as soon as I've made something with it, I'll post it. 

So, on with the crocheting. I've learned how to make flowers today, so I can foresee some garlands hanging about soon...