Sunday, 28 February 2010


Mmm, tasty scones. And a lovely new cake stand, that up to now has only held toy cars. Obviously that had to be rectified, and a visit from Peter's sister seemed as good an excuse as any to fill it up. In fact, Peter made these scones - he is a most excellent scone-maker indeed, and the were very tasty.

A week of mostly work here, and most of the time I've been at home has been in the dark, so mostly no photos. But things are ticking along nicely, lists are being crossed off, goals are being met, sewing is slowly getting done, money is being put to good use, the PhD is being worked on, voluntary projects are underway, running shoes are regularly being used, and jobs are being applied for (and I have an interview next week, yes, an interview! But don't tell anyone, I'm trying not to get too excited...).

Writing that I've realised I haven't yet done a post about goals for the year - and in some ways it seems rather dry to just list them! But I'll post soon about the kinds of goals I have, and the way I'm going about making sure they're getting achieved.

But first, a cup of tea and a scone, I think.

Although perhaps before that, I should deal with the product of yesterday afternoon's rainy jaunt to the stables...

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


I'm sat in the living room this evening. It's been a busy day at work, a quick (but lovely and wholesome) tea, and then out again to spend an hour in a portacabin with three beautiful women. So I was ready to come home and just sit for a while. There's been lots going on in the kitchen, and I've been sitting here listening to the bustling and singing. It's snowing outside, and the street looks strangely erie in the streetlights. I love this room for its big picture windows, the way you can just sit and watch people wandering past.

And onto inside. I've got my knitting on my knee - just the thing for a night like this. And beyond that, the other sofa, with a red rope light running along the floor. We don't do ceiling lights in this house - atmospheric lighting all the way. There's the laptop on the floor, and my cast-off cowboy boots where I left them in the middle of the room. At the end of the sofa is Neddy, who is very old, and no longer rocks, but occupies a regal spot in the living room. In front of him, temporarily, is an old trunk, which I can't bring myself to fill with anything other than treasure, and which will therefore sit empty for many years to come. And then, the other window, with the other streetlight, and more snow.

I've hand written two letters in the past couple of days, and both have turned out to be snapshots of where I'm sitting, what's going on in my days. When I started this blog, it was going to be a record of what was going on in the garden. Then it slowly reformed into what's going on in the garden, plus experiments in frugal living, making soap and the like. Then it became a place to hang photos of things I'd made. And this week it just seems to be snapshots of where I am. I love the way it's taken on a life of its own, which is, of course, all about where I am in my life. And I love the way I don't have to define it, say it's one thing or another, or explain to anyone why it is what it is right now. There's too much explaining goes on in ordinary life as it is.

Time for hot chocolate, I think, and a bit more knitting.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Street treasures

I can't resist picking up things I find in the street, I just can't. I've always done it. Turns out, I'm a complete amateur compared to Peter. He's got drawers full of things he found in the street, and they occasionally get made into displays and put on walls.

So when I got up yesterday morning to find an intriguing assortment of things on the coffee table, I realised what had happened.

Would you like a tour? It's all colour coded. First up are the green things, headed by a rather fetching plastic octopus.

And here we have the yellow corner - I love the badge, and what game has that castle card come from?

Oops, a fiver seems to have sneaked into the blue section. Might have to rescue that before it gets glued to something else.

Look at the dalek badge!

Aha, the shiny things. We've got so many single earrings in this house it's beyond silly. Most of them hang on a branch in the kitchen. These look like they're on the way to being made into something.

And finally, a few badges. I love the bizarrely random nature of badges you find in the street.

So there we are. That served absolutely no purpose whatsoever other than to amuse me and show you a bit of colourfulness and the cheery things you can find in the street. I once remember going to an academic conference where a woman had taken 500 photos of her hall table, and was trying to think of something to do with them. Perhaps I'm turning into her?

Friday, 19 February 2010

Walls and bread

I don't know whether I've ever mentioned it here, but I like walls. Old walls specifically, with lichen and moss and things growing up them, and water dripping down them. Walls that look like they've seen a thing or two.

This week, I've been taking photos of walls. There's two reasons for this - first of all the pictures in one of the old National Trust magazines I picked up in a charity shop last week. Look at those colours! It made me want to go and take lots of photos of walls straight away.

The other reason I've been taking photos of walls is because it's been a busy week, and when it's one of those busy weeks, I find I have to take my relaxation and recovery time where I can get it.

Which involves walking home from work along little alleyways, taking photos of walls.

For me this week, relaxing also involved cycling along the canal to do some voluntary work in another city. Cycling along rather a lot of canal, in fact, in quite a lot of rain and mud. A good opportunity to practice some enforced relaxation, and to appreciate what I could see, rather than concentrating too hard on what I felt like.

It's been easier today. I've been doing some of the never-ending PhD work, but I've been doing it at home, and I got up early to make some bread. Enthused by my success last weekend, I made some more of the Iranian flat breads (although they're not very flat, and are just rather like simple white bread rolls). Again, they turned out perfectly, and again, they all disappeared within about five minutes.

I love making bread. It's one of the things we've done most in the last year or two as we've cut down spending and tried to do things for ourselves a bit more. We mostly make it in the bread machine, but I'm trying to perfect a few recipes for making it by hand when we're in the house for a couple of hours.

There's something so comforting and rewarding about making bread, the waiting, the rising, the kneading, the smell, and the taste, and the satisfaction of eating something you've made from flour and water that tastes like so much more.

Now, if only I could figure out how to make it last for more than ten minutes, we'd be sorted...

Monday, 15 February 2010

It's been a funny sort of a day. A standing-in-queues, walking-uphill-in-the-rain kind of day. You know, those days where you get a few things done, but they're functional things, not really cheery things, and at the end of the day you don't feel particularly satisfied. Well, I didn't, not today.

I should acknowledge this partly stems from a set of unrealistic expectations I have of myself around a bit of voluntary work I'm doing for some very nice people, who don't at all have unrealistic expectations of me, and are in fact, Very Nice Indeed. There, I said it out loud, so hopefully that'll make me take some notice.

Anyway, as the evening wore on, I have to accept that Nothing More was going to get done, and admit defeat. But it's just not very nice admitting defeat and then just going to bed, because then you still don't feel like you've got anything useful done.

And there was no milk for a restorative cup of tea.

It was time to pull my socks up, literally, put on my running kit, and trot out of the door for a little plod. I don't know whether I've mentioned running much on here. I love it, and I'm incredibly slow, to the point of stopping a lot, walking even more, and sometimes not even getting out of the door at all. I've been known to stop to buy jelly beans in the middle of a race. That's how much I care about winning.

But I do love running, especially when I've been doing it regularly for a few weeks, like I have been now, and I can do more than stagger for 30 seconds at a time. I love the freedom I feel, I love the way it lifts my spirits, I love the scenery, the sights and the sounds. And I love my gorgeous online running community, over at Runner's World, who were my introduction to the wonderful world of online friendliness and cheeriness, and who I count as Real LIfe Friends. Some of them are over there in my blog list with blogs of their own. Some of them even talk about running!

Oops, wandered off the topic there for a minute... The point of all that was to say, I laced up my trainers and went out for a little slow plod in the dark and the rain, and I plodded away for 20 minutes without stopping (a rare thing round here, I have to tell you), and I felt so SO much better. And now I'm home, I feel quite giddy with the cheeriness of it all.

And then I remembered I hadn't posted pictures of my lovely purple flowers I picked up from the bargain bin at the florist yesterday. I don't often buy cut flowers, but I'd been promising myself a few tulips at the weekend for a while. Then I spotted these, and they were so irresistible that I just couldn't resist. I'm glad I didn't, because they're making me very happy indeed.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Sunday treats

Ooh, what a day of treats it's been!

:: a Valentine's breakfast of home made crumpets

:: a trip to the local community garden for some plotting and scheming

:: a rescued bag of old lace and half finished embroidery being thrown away by a charity shop

:: some snowdrops, replanted into one of my favourite mugs that was just getting a little too chipped

:: and finally, some gorgeously soft, eat-straight-from-the-oven home made bread

I hope your weekend contained quite a few treats too!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Today I am...

:: relaxing, with a couple of old National Trust magazines from the charity shop, a hand made blueberry muffin from the Women's Institute country market, and a cuppa. Peter painted the mug for me for Christmas, it says "a nice cup of tea cheers you up", which we once saw written near the mugs in a charity shop, and which we say at last three times a day. Each.

:: imagining what I'm going to do with this gorgeous old pink and white swirly sheet that came home with me today. It's so grey today, I don't think the photo conveys just have swirly and fabulous it is, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

:: pondering, whether this ludicrously remelted rusty-looking soap I made should have been binned, whether it's usable, and whether it's time to replace the sugar thermometer I broke, meaning I had to guess not only the measurements to make this soap, but also the temperature.

:: admiring, this charming little mug I couldn't resist for 30p this morning. It's probably a bit small to be used as an actual mug, so I think it's going to live in the attic with me, and be filled with ribbons and Nice Things.

I'm also resting after a week of being poorly, popping round to a friend's house later, and perhaps doing a tiny bit of sewing. Just right for a grey and drizzly weekend I think!

Handmade presents: the peppermint bark

Would you look at that? Peppermint bark, that's what it is. Well, for people who really know peppermint bark, it probably wouldn't pass as anything of the sort, but for those of us who hadn't heard of such an outlandish thing until a few weeks ago, and felt compelled to try some, this looks the part, and nobody will know any different.

I read about it here, and it just looked so irresistible laid out in those jars, that I just couldn't help myself. And then I dutifully followed the link over to here, and lost an hour or two reading through all those lovely recipes. Oops.

I simplified the recipe a bit. Ok, quite a lot. This is just some melted milk chocolate, spread on a tray, sprinkled with crushed peppermint candy canes. And the middle layer is just milk chocolate, melted with a bit of double cream. Then white chocolate spread on the top, with more candy canes. Oh, so simple. I didn't add peppermint essence to the middle layer - partly because, a bit of a strange confession this one, but I don't actually like peppermint, and even though these weren't for me, I just couldn't bring myself to.

And do you know what? It was ever so nice! And doesn't it just look so festive and colourful? It's making me happy just looking at it now. Hard on the top and the bottom, soft in the middle, crunchy candy canes, stripey, chocolatey, how much more can you want from a sweet??

Friday, 12 February 2010

Handmade presents: the ribbon blanket

I made this for my youngest nephew.

It started when I found a piece of pale blue lambswool for 50p in a charity shop. I must confess I fell for the label really, rather than the cloth...

I mean, how could I resist? So home it came, and it sat and sat for a while because I couldn't bear to cut it up.

Eventually, I'd made all my other Christmas presents, and still didn't have anything planned for this one. It was time to cut into the lambswool.

After a bit of pondering, I decided to make a small blanket, with ribbons sewn into the edges. I can't remember where I first saw this, but I've seen it a few times since.

So - it's red fleece on one side, and blue lambswool on the other side, with three different colours of ribbon sewn into the seams. To keep the two sides together, I machine stitched several lines across the middle.

It was actually one of the simplest and quickest of the presents I made, and I think it might actually have turned out to be my favourite! Certainly something I'll do again - must keep my eye out for some more lambswool...

I've just got one more handmade Christmas present to post, and then I'll be stopping for a while. That isn't quite all of them, but it is February, after all, and I'm feeling the need to move on! Not far, mind you - I've been laid up with a bit of a stomach bug this week, so it's been sofas and blankets all round. But there's plans afoot for some making and some gardening at the weekend, and a gorgeous little library book I'm going to have to try a recipe or two out of, and a few other things in the pipeline too!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Handmade presents: the furry ears

I wondered and wondered what to make for my second nephew, who's two, and likes investigating things, turning things upside down, seeing what happens when you put something where it might not normally go and generally, well, being two.

In the end, two things combined - a conversation with my mother, and a memory of a pair of furry ears I'd made for myself a few years ago for a party.

Oh, I loved those ears! They were the same colour as my hair, so you almost didn't notice them at first, but they made me feel furry and animal-like and cute. They were good fun.

So, I thought it was about time I made another pair. They're just long furry fabric, two squares, folded and sewn into triangles, with small pieces of elastic sewn into one seam to hold them on a child's headband. And they make me laugh every time I look at them.

I made a tail too, and filled it with dried peas, although in retrospect it could perhaps have been a little lighter...

And, just as I'd hoped, it's already being borrowed by big brother, who's going to wear it to a fancy dress day at school next week. Hooray for presents being used by as many people as possible, I say!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Handmade presents: the drawing book

I'm afraid I don't have any in progress photos of any of this next sequence of presents. They were thought up over a number of weeks, but made and wrapped fairly quickly, on a dull day, as the sun was setting, and so none of the photos are brilliant.

They also now belong to three rather small boys who live quite a long way away from me, so I won't get chance to photograph them again just yet... These three boys are my nephews, who I don't see half as often as I should. I wanted to make things they could use, play with, get dirty, share (or not), and that could generally withstand being in a house with three small boys.

For the eldest, who's nearly four, I made a paper and pencil book. This started life in my head as something along the lines of this crayon roll. I don't quite know where along the line it mutated and somehow merged with this gratitude wrap.

And, of course, somewhere further along the line it became something different altogether.

On the front is a tortoise. I like tortoises. This is a child's pillowcase I picked up months ago, with no specific idea what I'd do with it. I think it makes a cheery front cover :)

Inside (and again, apologies for the substandard photography...), is a heavy stripey cotton fabric, with two pockets, one for a pad of paper, and the other to hold pencils.

I'm not sure how many times I unpicked the stitching on this, but it was a lot. I'm not entirely sure why it caused me such trouble, I just couldn't get my head around what needed to be done first. Perhaps if I'd have followed some instructions? But I think you might be starting to get a general picture of what I think about following instructions...

So I scratched my head a lot, stitched on the binding, and since it was the first time I'd ever used binding, I unpicked the stitches, and stitched it on all over again. Twice. The pocket on the left, for the paper, is a piece of cotton pillow case, backed with a bit of the stripey heavy cotton to give it weight. The pocket on the right is red fleece, again backed by the stripey fabric, although I now think it would be better if this side hadn't been.

Both pockets have binding on, and both were sewn to the stripey fabric before I sewed the front cover on. Well, before I sewed the front cover on the second time, that is...

I think it went down well. It was opened, turned upside down, the pink pencil crayon held in the air and declared 'my favourite pencil', and a lovely drawing done on the first page :)

Monday, 1 February 2010

Handmade presents: the lace and fleece scarf

Some time late last year, my friend met a lovely fella, found herself a marvellous job, and moved to Belgium. I still miss her, and entertain fantasies about trotting over there to see her at some point.

In the months after she left, I spent quite a long time staring at a pile of old linen tablecloths she left behind.

She's a lover of charity shops, like me, and over many years had built up quite a collection of old linens, some of which she used, and most of which sat in a pile waiting to be made into something. When she was packing to move to Belgium, she was considering sending them all back to the charity shop.

Needless to say, I rescued a few. Not all of them, but a few, and I promised to make her something out of them.

Well, I stared, and stared. I didn't want to cut them up, but I couldn't very well send them back to her whole. So I stared a bit more, and hoped inspiration would strike.

Eventually it did, in the form of this post over at Soulemama.

Now, I'm not much of a one for following instructions. And I'm afraid I don't have a copy of Carefree Clothes for Girls. But I did have a huge roll of bright red fleece, and I quite fancied having paring it with the old linen to make a scarf.

Of course, lots more staring and head scratching followed. Cutting a scarf shape out of the fleece was fairly painless, but the linens got moved around, folded and unfolded, placed and replaced for quite a long time, until even I was fed up of stepping over them.

Finally, I took a deep breath, winced, and cut into the first one. And it was quite fun! I sat on the living room floor, watching the snow swirling past the window, and cut, patched and sewed (the sewing picture of the blog title is this scarf in progress).

I must admit I wasn't sure at first. I wasn't entirely convinced the different shades of linen wouldn't just look like the whole thing needed a good wash. But I stuck with it, and I'm glad I did.

Mindful that I had a list of people I'd promised hand made Christmas presents to, I decided that I'd make this scarf for my auntie, who does lots of sewing herself, and is far more proficient than I'll ever be (she's also very kind, and I hoped she'd overlook the slightly wonky hand stitching).

Not long after I finished the scarf, exceptionally pleased with myself for having finished a family Christmas present before Christmas I got a call from my friend, the one who moved to Belgium, to say she was coming back, and asking if she could pop round for a cup of tea.

Of course, I couldn't resist giving her the finished scarf, since the original idea was for her, and I was going to get around to making her one in the end anyway...

So, she had the first one, and I had to cut into all the linens again (much easier the second time) and make another scarf. They weren't that different, since I used the same pile of fabric, and neither of them looked anything like the original picture that inspired me to make them in the first place.

But all those tablecloths got put to good use, I enjoyed sitting and doing a bit of hand sewing for a change, and I think the end result was pretty good. And very warm.