Monday, 31 May 2010

polka dot cakes

Just how much am I smiling at these little polka dot cakes?

Oh, so very much.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

a mini adventure

Today I had my first meeting at my new job. I start properly next Tuesday, so this was just to meet the other people, arrange my working days, and get a few forms signed.

the picnic area outside my new office - I'm looking forward to eating lunch here

I had a lovely morning. The other research I'll be sharing an office with is great, very cheery and chatty, and we got on well. What a relief! The whole department stops for tea and biscuits at 11.15 every day - a sign of a civilised workplace in my opinion ;) And next week, they've arranged to have cakes in honour of my arrival!

And I'll be able to go to the knitting club on Tuesday lunchtimes. Yes, that's right, my new job has a knitting club.

I am going to have to get used to getting up pretty early though, as I'll have to leave the house before 7, which I am just not used to doing. But it is beautiful at that time in the morning, so I'm going to try to be positive about it, and daydream myself awake on the train.

cycling is rather more popular than in Sheffield!

It's at times like these when I'm ever so grateful for my folding bike. It's the green one at the front of that photo above, the one that looks like its wheel is all bent. It's a Brompton, and I've had it for about ten years I think. It was expensive, and I seem to remember saving, and asking for money for Christmas to put towards it. I'm glad I did. Brompton are a really interesting company, and their website is well worth a bit of a wander round.

Apparently, 'the Brompton owner is free and independent - she chooses where to go and when and how.' Well, that's me alright (!), and this morning, I 'chose' to go to work :) Which now involves cycling to the station, folding up my bike, jumping on the train (without booking 3 days in advance or arguing with train staff), jumping off 45 minutes later, folding my bike up (it takes 9 seconds, I timed it), and cycling 3 miles to my new office. Not a bad commute. I reckon folding bikes should be issued as standard to everyone.

Anyway, enough raving about my lovely bike, and my fab new job. I'm also quite excited about getting to know a new city, even more so when I spotted this family of geese pottering about in this little area of greenery in the city centre.

Geese? Trains? Folding bikes? Knitting? Tea and biscuits and cake? I think I'm going to enjoy this new job!

Sunday, 23 May 2010

simple living at the weekend

our ingenious Mary Poppins style shade

We've been outside a lot this week, the weather's been gorgeous, and it's a shame not to take advantage when it could quite easily be cold and rainy tomorrow. This is my friend's garden, which I love - it's tiny, much smaller than ours, but it's so lush and welcoming, mirrors and old brick walls peeping out from behind the plants, all cosy and inviting. Can you see the shading system we rigged up today? This photo's been making me laugh all afternoon.

tea on the lawn

Saturday morning was our regular trip to the Women's Institute country market. This is a small market and cafe that runs in a scout hut for 3 hours each Saturday morning, filled with local and home made produce, cakes, jams, home grown plants, and all kinds of crafts, and it's just round the corner from our house. We're there most weeks, meeting friends and enjoying a small home made something.

Saturday morning at the country market

This Saturday's visit brought with it the prospect of a new adventure. You see, there was a notice up saying they're looking for new producers. And I kind of got chatting to the woman who was selling the cakes...

Now, before I go getting all overexcited, I should make it clear that I have absolutely no idea whether I'm capable of making anything that anyone else would want to buy. Heck, I don't even know whether I'm capable of making anything that would pass being inspected for quality by those women - they're seriously good.

(I should also point out that, much as I love baking, and much as I love eating what I bake, there tends to be a devil-may-care attitude towards both recipes and cleanliness in my kitchen that I wouldn't want inspected by anyone obsessed with hygiene, so I wouldn't be making cakes or anything food related...)

But I must confess to being just a teensy bit excited at the prospect, however unlikely, that I might be able to sell something I've made there.

What got me asking questions this morning though was thinking about diversity and resilience. I'm a great believer in diversity, in gardening as well as in life. Diversity in the garden means resilience to disease, and I reckon diversity in skills and work means resilience to the vagaries of the economy and job market.

I'm a great believer in the virtues of a patchwork lifestyle, and I've been practicing at mine for several years now. For the past three years, for example, I've been working on my PhD full time, working two days a week as a personal assistant to a disabled woman, working a few hours a week taking notes in lectures for students with hearing impairments, teaching undergraduates, and working on voluntary projects for our local Transitions group and the Permaculture Association. And that's on top of growing food in the garden, improving my sewing, making presents, and having a go at making my own clothes.

Not all of these things bring me an income, but they all bring experience and add skills, and they weave together like a patchwork quilt to make my life as full and as interesting as it is. And the value of doing lots of different things, a vital one of which is budgeting and spending less, is resilience.

I'm starting my new job next week, and even though it's only two days a week, it's rather different to anything I've done before, and I think it's going to take up a fair bit of my mental energy for a while. And, of course, there's still that pesky PhD to be getting on with, so I'm not going to be taking up my knitting needles to fill the stalls any time soon.

But I don't think it does any harm to be on the look out for new ways of doing things sometimes, being open to suggestion, and thinking about taking risks. It might well be that you can figure out how a skill you have might be a way of earning a little part of your income, even if it's only enough to pay for tea and cakes on a Saturday morning...

Saturday, 22 May 2010


Do bear with me, I'm changing things around in here a little, I fancied a bit of a s--t--r--e--t--c--h.

And, as usual, my imagination is way ahead of my technical skills.

So I think we'll have to live with a little imperfection for the time being, it's just too sunny to be messing around on the internet today!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

early evening pottering

courgette, twisted willow and lady's mantle waiting to be planted

the first pea pod!

remains of a robin's egg shell found under the hedge

lettuce, miraculously untouched by snails

buttercups under the bird table

There's been a full scale, three storey song writing session in our house today. Guitars, keyboards, wires, headphones, paper and pens have been scattered over the kitchen, the bedroom, and the attic as Peter and two friends attempted a marathon creative effort.

I took refuge in the office for most of the day, of course, and then at tea time, I took refuge in the garden.

I thought I wouldn't be out there long, as they were nearly finished, and I didn't think there was much to do. But as one hour stretched to two, and I still couldn't wend my way through the instruments to the kitchen table, I found there's an awful lot that can be done in the garden on a sunny May evening.

I planted out a couple of courgette plants, a small twisted willow, and some lady's mantle that I'd bought from the wildlife garden open day last weekend - not realising that lady's mantle is what's already growing all over the garden path. Hmm, a bit of brushing up on my identification skills is needed I think!

I watered the sweet peas, and the lettuces I planted out last week, which are (so far) still intact, and even growing. I found the first pea pod, and it was so difficult not to pluck it right off the plant and eat it. I cut some lilac flowers, and some flowers from the brussel sprout plant that's gone to seed, but that looks so spectacular I can't bear to cut it down.

I carefully and a little sadly moved the dead baby blackbird that had fallen from its nest onto the top of the compost bin, being both thankful and excited that we have a nest in our garden, even if all the birds didn't survive.

I did a fair bit of clearing of the grasses and unidentifiable things that are growing under the bird table. Not all of them, mind you, as I do like a bit of haphazard overabundance in a garden, so a bit of everything got left to grow.

And I listened. To Stephen Fry's reading of Harry Potter in one ear, to the sounds of two different songs being created and drifting from two different windows in the house, and to the blackbird singing on top of the telegraph pole.

Not a bad evening's work I reckon!

Monday, 17 May 2010


Another full weekend, involving lots of doing and a fair amount of being.

:: I made a new skirt, because an adventurous weekend is always better with a new skirt

:: and then me and my new skirt went off to a wildlife garden open day at a local school

:: then we packed ourselves into the van (along with the new skirt, of course), and headed up to the Lake District to watch a friend run her first marathon. We also met up with some other friends, all known through the internet, and some met in real life for the first time! I managed to take almost no scenery photographs at all, just some of ducks...

... a rather large and very tasty bath bun (spot the new skirt!)...

... and our feet (yep, there's the skirt again!)

There was also the small matter of a 22 mile bike ride to Doncaster, and watching two marvellous live musical performances at a lovely community arts venue.

And today? Today is the first day I should have been at my old job, but I'm not, if you see what I mean :) So I'm very much enjoying it.

And doing lots of PhD work, of course.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

food, glorious food

the bandstand

in the shadow of the war memorial

operation pea harvest

After my last day at work on Tuesday I was feeling a little glum, walking home, and found myself in the park by the museum.

This isn't unusual, I walk through this park most days on the way to work, or to the university, or town, and it really is beautiful. They run quite a lot of events in this park too.

But on Tuesday, I found myself wandering into the museum. I've probably mentioned this museum before, it's ever such fun. My eldest nephew loved it when he visited, and is now convinced I live there. Not quite, but it's a close thing sometimes.

There's a new exhibition I hadn't visited yet, all about food - how we grow it, prepare it and eat it. One of the things I love about this museum is its kid friendliness, there's plenty of dressing up, poking and prodding to be done, and even if you go in without kids, nobody minds if you pick things up and have a play.

But this week, I found myself drawn to the sofa, where they were showing a series of old short films about food production. The one above shows part of Operation Pea Harvest, a 1968 film about frozen peas. There was a film about a spaghetti eating race, a mobile fish and chip shop, and people taste testing dehydrated foods. A nicely varied mix!

Three of the films struck a bit of a chord (I should point out these films were all about 2 minutes long, lest the rumours of me actually living in the museum become more widespread). The 1966 Children's Farm showed city children being taken for holidays on farms, feeding cows, and learning that, much to their astonishment, 'hens lay eggs!' There's much talk these days of doing similar things, and it was interesting to find out that not knowing where food comes from isn't that new an idea.

The second film showed the Women's Land Army. Now, I don't know much, but I've been reading about this recently, and it seems being in the Women's Land Army wasn't quite as cheery and exciting as it was made out to be in this little film. I was rather bemused by the narrator telling us 'they know how to keep chickens, even if they can't keep secrets!' - were the women well known for not being able to keep secrets??

The third film was from 1939, and showed the food minister speaking about rationing. It was fascinating to see how very differently he came across to politicians of today - "I am very sure that all of you will buy your fair share and no more..."

I generally think about food quite a lot, but a few things have conspired recently to make me think more about where my food is coming from. I'm trying to grow more of it, our garden's small, but I'm doing what I can. Might there be another allotment in my future?? Possibly, although certainly not just yet.

But I'm leaning more and more towards supporting local food growing and growers. I'm slowly finding my way round the farmers' markets here, sussing out who's who and what's available when. I'm planning to join in with the abundance project this year too, harvesting fruit for redistribution to community projects.

The more I look, the more is going on. And the more sensible it seems to eat as much as possible from as close to home as possible, even if it means making a few changes, embracing cabbage, and waiting for English strawberries...

What local food projects are going on where you live?

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

out with the old...

the sunshine and the rain clouds

wildflower seeds to plant in the garden

Yesterday was my last day at work. No fanfare, no speeches, just a couple of quiet goodbyes, and a copy of the new Rose Elliot cookbook.

It felt strange walking away after three years. Not strange enough to want to go back, mind you. And by the time I'd walked home via the new Food Glorious Food exhibition at the museum (of which more later), I'd almost forgotten about work altogether. Amazing what a good walk can do.

So far this month my main job has finished, the casual work I do has come to an end, and I've finished working on one of my voluntary projects. This was all part of the plan, but it does rather feel like obligations and commitments are dropping out of my life at a rate of knots.

Which, I'm discovering, is a rather nice feeling.

It's even looking like this PhD might just be finished one day.

So what have I done with my first free day? Nothing out of the ordinary. Had breakfast in bed. Went to the post office. Visited some friends and spent a long time looking at knitting patterns. Comtemplated the completely outlandish prospect of altering knitting patterns. Ate biscuits. Drank tea. Walked home through the fields. Planted wildflower seeds. Made flapjack. And curled up on the sofa with a cuppa. Just an ordinary day.

Back to work tomorrow though. The serious business of being a full time student again, for a whole three weeks. And there's plenty to fill the time with.

There are a few more cheery little projects on the cards for the next couple of weeks though. A new knitting adventure. A bit of cycling. A couple of fabulously patterned sheets just waiting to be turned into fabulously patterned skirts. Being Rock Star Girlfriend at Peter's exciting new project tomorrow evening. A weekend picnic in the lake district.

So it's not going to be all work...

Monday, 10 May 2010

a jigsaw path

Trying out the pattern of the stones before laying them properly
The path circling the sage

Tiny lettuces and a very windswept courgette plant

I've been out in the garden this week, despite the slightly grumbly weather. I repotted the cabbages, and decided that a few of the plants needed to be shunted out into the garden. As usual, this was a whimsical garden decision, not based on the best times for planting the plants, or the weather, or anything other than that there seemed to be a lot of seedlings in the living room...

So out the courgettes went, and the lettuces. But first, I wanted to do something about the stones. There's bricks and stones all over our tiny garden, some in piles, some just littering the ground.

I did use a few as stepping stones last summer to avoid standing on the soil, but they just weren't big enough to stand on and wield a shovel. So a path was in order, and a jolly nice path I think it turned out to be too.

I did once go on a dry stone walling course, and quite enjoyed fitting all the stones together like a jigsaw (albeit a very heavy one!). Not sure I'd like the teacher to see my path though! But I'm quite pleased with it all the same.

And I finally got round to harvesting the spouts this weekend too! There weren't very many at all, but they had a lovely peppery taste, and went very nicely in a risotto. I made up for the meagre amount of sprouts by slicing up a few of the leaves too.

Monday, 3 May 2010


A long weekend, this one. A trip over to see family on Sunday was lovely, if a bit tiring, so today has been mostly restful, just a little pottering.

Oh, and my mum gave me pinking shears for my birthday, so I just had to make some bunting. Have you got any idea how difficult it is to photograph bunting?? Hmm, well, you'll have to imagine how festive it is, hanging in the attic. I'm enjoying it very much.

And we rounded the weekend off with a nice stroll through the park to watch the sunset. How lovely.


Well, I just couldn't help myself.

After making the pompom for the top of the stripey tea cosy, I had to make another one. And another. And somehow I ended up with a large pile of pompoms, just before my cousin's birthday.

Now, I'm not entirely sure that a thirteen year old Dr Who obsessive has much use for a pompom scarf, but it also works quite well as a draught excluder, or just a cheery hanging-on-the-wall decoration, or stuffing for a cushion...

And it did get the pompom making bug out of my system, for the time being at least.