Tuesday, 29 March 2011

At The Crafting Table

On Sunday, I visited my lovely friend Wendy for a crafting afternoon. A group of ladies from work, and a couple of their teenage girls sat round her kitchen table, sipping tea from pretty cups and saucers and crafting. It was such a comfortable convivial afternoon. The sun was shining which was nice, and everything was peaceful and companionable. One of the teenagers had baked brownie cupcakes which were really tasty. I stitched on my 'keep calm and carry on' cross stitch sampler while another girl sewed a chicken pincushion. Another made a heart lavender bag, and someone else sewed bunting while another knitted. We made plans for future craft endeavours, swapped chatter and news and just created. There is something about communal crafting like that that makes me feel very relaxed and happy. Wendy's kitchen was just beautiful, too. The walls were covered in a blue and cream wallpaper that reminded me of William Morris, and she had bunting up that she hade made. I had not visited her before, but it was just the kind of home I imagined her living in, which is really the best thing you can say about any home, I think! Tell me, what craft projects are you working on? I wish we could all sit round my kitchen table together (if I had one!!) and sip tea and catch up!

Written In The Stars

It's funny, what we believe, isn't it? I don't believe in stars and horoscopes as in 'a tall dark stranger is coming into your life' but I do believe in certain astrologers (such as Jonathan Cainer) being able to give you a kind of 'weather forecast' as it were. I know from experience with working with the public that we can tell when a full moon is coming from their behaviour! I was given a free booklet of week-by-week predictions at the start of the year, and for me the theme seems to be change. Now I am not great with change! I rather like routine and am a creature of habit. I tried to brush thoughts of sweeping changes out of my mind, but it must be written in the stars, because things are starting to happen! Firstly, of course, there is the change to the opening hours and days of my little library on the hill. Swiftly followed of course by the will-I-won't-I-have-a-job review at my other library. Oh, and in 8 weeks time, we are offically homeless as we have given in our notice to quit! Really, we have outgrown our flat and need somewhere with more storage and closer to town, but it feels terrifyingly scary to know so little about what my life is going to look like in just 8 short weeks. In 8 weeks I will know if I have a job, and if so, where, and be living somewhere else! Eeek! We viewed two properties tonight, the second one I knew as soon as we walked in it was not for us. The rooms were small and dark and very tall, and there was an oppressive atmosphere. Although it had more rooms than the first property, it seemed to have less space. Not for us at all! The first place though, I fell in love with. It only has one bedroom but is large and airy and spacious, and I just walked in and felt at home. I have phoned to say we want to take it, but have to hope we get in before anyone else as property rents so quickly. It is not ideal as it is available before we have to give this place up, so we may have to run them both for a month. It is making my tummy bubble with nerves and excitement all at the same time! I am at once overwhelmed by the thought of packing all our things up and moving, but do think it is a great opportunity for us (by which I mean me) to have a good declutter. I am a hoarder by nature, but the idea of having fewer things, and everything being super organised really appeals to me. I think it will be exhausting and I know it will be overwhelming at times but yes, we are ready. So please, do keep your fingers crossed for me that we get this new little flat! It would mean a 10 minute walk for Carl a day to the station instead of his current 50 minutes! More space and a new start somehow. I guess what is written in the stars is bound to come true, it is all change for us at the moment! Also, I am having a birthday tomorrow. I will be 29...the last year of my 20s. I have had some wonderful times in my 20s, and I feel sad in a way that they are coming to an end. I don't like finding grey hairs...I don't like feeling less flexible. I don't like feeling old and tired sometimes, although I know that 29 is not old...it is just older than I have ever been! I always somehow feel nostalgic too, and it is the thought that this is the end of my 20s that I am dwelling on ever so slightly, rather than it being the beginning of my 30s. I am not sad and blue about it, although I realise I sound a little reflective. I think really, I am getting to know myself better and am becoming closer and closer to my authentic self, to use a phrase that readers of Sarah Ban Breathnach will recognise. I want to spend this last year of my 20s having some wonderful adventures, but also, perhaps rather selfishly, to spend it on me. I want to have an idea of who I want to wake up as, this time next year, and spend the year working towards it. Poor Carl has been working so much recently, weekends, evenings, early mornings...but lucky, lucky me, he has managed to get tomorrow off work to spend with me. We are going to have brunch then go up to London for a talk at the V&A museum, and I am hoping we might squeeze in tea at Fortnum and Mason, or perhaps Liberty too. Whatever you are doing, I hope you have a scrumptious day!

Mimi's Jingle Belles

Hello and good evening! I can hardly believe that it is my third Jingle Belles post already! So far we have taken it quite gently, and much of our work has been in our heads and on paper. Hopefully by now, like me, you have a pretty good idea what you are aiming for this Yule, what your Christmas is going to look, smell and taste like! This month we are moving a little more into the physical realm and are going to start making it all happen! First things first, and that is to stash away a little more money in your special hiding place. Isn't it nice to feel the little hoard grow? I don't think it matters how you plan to use it - if it is going to pay for all of Christmas, or one special gift for one special person, or the cake ingredients or whatever, it is just nice to know you have a fund that you didn't have last year. Next on the list is to find a space. Now I know this is not always the easiest of things, but what you need is a cupboard, a shelf or a drawer, or even one of those plastic crates. Something, somewhere, preferably not on show all the time where you can keep things. If you are buying a few gifts a month, or buying someone's Christmas gift when you buy their birthday gift, or if you have made some marmalade, or when we start making our cards...you need somewhere to put them, and if everything is together it makes it easier to keep track and watching it fill with the fruits of your labours will feel really satisfying. I need somewhere to store the cups and saucers I am collecting for making candles in, and the hot water bottles I bought ready to make covers for. Your third task this month is to decide on your approach to Christmas cards. Are you making them all? Buying handmade? Making just a few? Whatever you have decided, you need to choose your strategy now. For example, if you are making them all and need 100 cards, if you make 15 a month, perhaps on the 25th of every month, you will have them all made by September ready for writing in October and November. If you are buying them all or making fewer just apply the same maths...work out how many you need, and if you can face doing them in one go or would prefer to do a few at a time. Work out which month you need to start, and put the dates in your diary! So there you, three tasks for the third month of the year. Hopefully none of them too onerous, and just think, we are a month closer to the most wonderful Christmas ever!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Stepping Back In Time

Given my profession, you would think that I of all people should know everything that goes on in libraries...but it is a sphere in which it is impossible to know everything which is a secret you soon come to know. Instead you need to know who to ask, or where you heard or saw something...

This morning I took a walk around the big library at the bottom of the hill, just to 'reconnect' as it were after my week off, and see what I could see that was new and different. As well as a few displays, I found a small pile of leaflets, and I am really excited by what I read on them!

I am obviously late to this party, but there is a blog which is publishing the diaries of Colchester man, 70 years to the day since they were written, so you can follow the home front side of World War 2 as it happened. I love social history and have an interest in WW2, and also Colchester is local to me, so I shall be reading to catch up what I have missed so far!

The BBC are covering the project today...and you can read for yourself about the wartime adventures of E J Rudsdale here: http://wwar2homefront.blogspot.com/

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Looking Back...

Suddenly, it is Sunday evening! The afternoon has melted into a darker sky and cooler air, and I cannot pretend it is afternoon any more! Half past six, time to think about dinner, and then a bath, and then my first day back at work after what has been a wonderful week off.

I have had more adventures than I have had time to blog about! I had the most amazing massage and facial at a day spa, which involved orange oils and herbal pommanders, have been to London for Stitch and Craft at Olympia where I bought the wool and pattern for a new tea cosy, and was given a pattern for a 'keep calm and carry on' cross stitch, which I hope to start later on. I have had dinner at my in-laws, and a day at the zoo. Today I have been to the cinema, and had brunch at Cafe Rouge.

After a slightly wibbly start on Monday and Tuesday where I felt the solitude stray into the 'lonely' area once or twice, I really hit my stride and have enjoyed filling my days. I have not watched as much Ballykissangel as I hoped, nor knitted as much as I thought, and I still have not got round to properly pinning down my ideas about menu planning, but I have had a lot of lovely adventures, and also discovered some lovely new blogs along the way. We have decided that we are definitely going to move this summer, and although we will be renting rather than buying, I feel really excited about that. We have outgrown our little flat and are ready to move on, and I am glad that I feel like this, because I was afraid I was going to be terribly sad! I have started to look at potential properties and places on the internet...isn't it a wonderful tool?!

I suddenly feel very 'homely'. I think that perhaps before my week off my mind was too much on my job and the uncertainties there. I feel like a bit of balance has been restored. All I want to do at the moment is create and care for my home, do my job at work, have happy quiet moments with friends, read, craft, cook, breathe, enjoy life.

Now, I am off to cook some dinner (chicken in a light curried sauce with vegetables, topped with a savoury oaty crumble, courtesy of the WI market!) and then it is a long hot bath for me, with the new edition of Sainsbury's magazine. Wherever you are, I hope you are having a lovely Sunday evening!

Love, Mimi xxx

Feeling Myself

Although I love the vintage look, I don't have a lot of vintage in my wardrobe. Partly because authentic vintage is expensive to buy, and also the sizes were a lot smaller back then. Also, while the high street sometimes has vintage inspired clothes to buy, it does not happen as often as you would think, and the shops that do have them more ofen (think Cath Kidston and her delightful tea dresses!) are beyond my purse.

So imagine my delight when I popped into Peacocks and found not one but two vintage style floral dresses, and a little cardigan that went with both of them! And not more than three days later, I found in Sainsbury's a bright red and white polka dot swimming costume that just screams vintage!

I tend not to buy new clothes very often at all, and when I do, it tends to be because I have stumbled across something that I like, rather than proper Wardrobe Planning where I think about what I need to buy! I think that I definitely want to have more vintage-inspired clothes in my wardrobe, as they do feel 'me' and make me walk with a bounce in my step.

On Thursday, I had morning coffee with my lovely friend Anna, who also loves all things vintage, and has recently had an amazing Bettie Page style fringe cut in. We sat in a tea shop together, her in vintage style high-waisted trousers and a top with bright red cherries on it, and me in my floral dress and little cardigan, with red lipstick. It made me smile to realise that we both looked as though we could have stepped out of another era, but it also made me smile to really feel myself, and to feel that my clothes reflect how I feel.

The second floral dres that I bought from Peacocks reminds me of the kinds of dresses that my Gran used to wear. On one hand it feels a bit odd to want to wear dresses that my Gran would have worn, but on the other hand, it makes me feel very connected to my ancestry, if that makes sense.

I can forsee my 'uniform' for this summer being floral dress, little cardi, flick of black eyeliner and a sweep of red lipstick!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Upon The Pleasures of a Tidy Underwear Drawer and Dressing Table

I never went to boarding school, and to be honest I don't think it would have been as Enid Blyton led me to believe in her Mallory Towers and St Clare's series...but I did long to pack up my trunk (with my initials stencilled on the side of course!) and tuck box and board the steam train! My sister and I used to play at making Lists Of Things To Take and drew out plans of the school in notebooks, made lesson timetables and the like. I used to read about playing lacrosse and going on nature walks, and the exams - drawing maps for geography - even sounded rather exciting!

One thing that featured at the start of most of the books was a scene in the dorms listing what each girl had on her chest of drawers, and of course you could tell a lot about the girls from that. Vain Gwendoline had brushes for her long golden hair, and jolly nice Darrel had photographs of her family. One of them had a photo of her horse, as she was, of course, horse crazy!

Boarding school has been on my mind lately, as my 11 year old god son is being sent to boarding school this year. I feel sorry for him on one hand because he does not have much family, and to go away from them seems a little cruel almost, but another part of me knows he will have a fabulous time, learn to be self reliant, and he does already board at another school 2 nights a week, so it wont be a complete culture shock. I am already making plans to send regular parcels down to him! So it may have been a coincidence, but yesterday afternoon I was overwhelmed with a sudden urge to tidy out my chest of drawers in the bedroom, the top of which I use as a dressing table, almost as though matron woudl be round to do an inspection later!

I threw out any tights that had ladders, folded everything up nicely and rearranged things. There is a great deal of pleasure to be taken from a well organized underwear drawer! I will treat myself to a new packet of tights today to swell the ranks, and perhaps sew a lavender bag or two to slip in.

I have a pretty cup and saucer on the top of my dressing table which holds my necklaces, earrings and the like, and also my dried out bridesmaid's bouquet from my sister's wedding last year. There are all the little bottles of lotions and potions that go on before bed time or upon rising, and bottles of perfume, all in their boxes to prevent spoiling, too. As a finishing touch, I went out and bought a tiny bunch of sol narcissi, which are so heavily scented it is hard to believe it comes from such a small bunch!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Spring Beauty From 1934

A few months ago, I visited a new vintage shop that has opened up in town. I like that the shop has a nice mix of actual vintage goods and vintage inspired goods, and even a few handmade things sprinkled in, but I must be honest and say that the customer care and whole experience isn't up to much (you get a far friendlier welcome at Truly Madly Vintage the other side of town.

Anyway, just down a little alley is the shop, and in the shop I discovered a lovely book, Home Management from 1934, published by the Daily Express. As well as countless articles on running the home, cooking for your family and hobbies, there is a beauty section. I love vintage beauty tips! Here for your enjoyment, are the recommendations for Spring Beauty:

Everyones skin suffers during the winter months. Smoke from cosy fires, fog, and a heavier diet are all enemies to the perfect complexion. Open-air exercies isn't so easy, and oru skins are bound to suffer; blackheads flourish, too, in hot, stuffy rooms.

A Good Spring Clean

Give your face a spring-clean. Get an ounce of fuller's earth, and mix it to a soft paste with a little boiling milk, then before the mixutre has had time to cool, rub it well into the skin with the finger-tips - be very thorough over the cleanisng of your chin and nose, where the skin is thicker and impurities lie deeper in the pores. Rub until the face is quite dry, then rinse the face in warm water.

Keep Your Skin Spick And Span

Once you have got your complexion perfectly clean, you must keep it so. Wash frequently with soap and water. A change of make-up is often a good thing in the spring months, when the light is stronger, and cold winds often whip more colour up into the cheeks. If you have been using a light 'naturelle' powder, try a 'Rachel No 2' it gives the skin a lovely creamy tone.

Care For Your Hair

It is excellent for the hair to go hatless in the country or on the golf links, but if you want it to look its best, it needs a little special treatment at this time of year. Nourish the roots with almond oil. This is an excellent preventative of greyness. Almond oil is best applied warm. Be quite lavish with it, and massage the whole scalp until it glows and tingles. Then rub off the excess of oil with a Turkish towel, and brush your locks until they are smooth and shining. Don't shampoo immediately, but allow the skin on the head time to absorb the oil - three days is generally sufficient for this.

Now I must confess that I am not so very keen on walking round with oily hair for 3 days, but a good deep face scrub and a deep condition sound just the thing to me. The new issue of Making Magazine has a recipe for facial scrub in it that I might just whip up later - it has oatmeal, yoghurt and evening primrose oil in it and a few other things too i believe, which is just perfect as I have all of those things!

Now the daffodils are dancing about, even though it is still very chilly and blowy out, it makes me want to spring clean myself a bit...go through my wardrobe, find a new shade of red lipstick to try. I am also thinking about a hair cut...nothing too drastic as I have spent ages growing it long, but I fancy something like the picture at the top of this post...what do you think?
What will you be doing to get yourself ready for spring?

Rolling Pin Ravioli...

...turned out to be a dish that is definitely for weekends or days off, not for a work night! I did enjoy making it, but parts of it were very fiddly!

You start off by making a soft pasta dough, which you then roll out with a pin (I did try and put it through my pasta machine, but it was just too soft!) and then cut into small rounds (2-3cm). Then you fill them with pureed roasted butternut squash, put them together (I brushed the 'lid' with water, draped it over the filling then crimped the edges with a tiny cake fork) and boiled them.

I have to say that next time I will be making them a bit bigger...at that size you make a great many which is very time consuming, and you can't fit anything like the teaspoon of filling in them that the author suggets.

To finish, you serve with wilted spinach, a dribble of sage butter, a sprinkling of toasted pine nuts, and a grating of parmesan. I topped mine off with a grating of black pepper and nutmeg.

I was feeling a bit tired after making it...not necessarily from the exertion, after all, rolling out pasta with a rolling pin isn't a lot of work, just sometimes when I have cooked something, I suddenly get tired of it all of a sudden...but when I served it, it was pronounced delicious by my lovely husband, and it did look lovely on the plate, so I will be making it again.

Just another word of warning...I definitely recommend both the book and the recipe, but this is a washing-up heavy dish! Happily nothing gets too dirty, but there is just a lot of it (a tin to roast the butternut squash in, then the vitamix to puree it, a bowl for the pasta making, two saucepans to boil it in, a pan to toast the pine nuts in which I reused to make the sage butter, and then a pan for the spinach too!)

Now, what shall I make for dinner tonight...?

Monday, 14 March 2011

Spring is in the Air!

I had planned to spend the whole day at home today, to knit as I cannot work on my crochet at the moment, to putter about and do nothing very much. We always sleep with the window open, even if it is just a crack on the coldest of nights. Well all I can say is that spring must have been in the air, becuase I was not in the mood to laze about!

Instead, a brisk trip into town, to return library books and run a number of small errands. In Marks and Spencer I discovered a wonderful scented candle called Cut Flowers, which smells exactly like a bunch of freesias. I treated myself to the candle, the room spray and the essential oil. I also bought the ingredients I need to make Rolling Pin Ravioli, a recipe from 'Less Meat More Veg' by Rachel de Thample. I will let you know how it goes! I was most pleased to see that all I needed to get (in addition to what I have in my store cupboards) was a butternut squash, some butter, and some sage! I will let you know how the recipe goes later!

Back home and all the windows thrown open to let the air in, although it has cooled down now. The bed clothes put on to wash, the hoovering done, and the bedroom mostly turned out.

As I brush my hair by the open window in the bedroom, a grey squirrel bounds across the garden. He used to be afraid, and any time I went to the window to watch his acrobatics, he would scamper away up the nearest tree. Now, when I go to the window and open it and take out my mirror to do my makeup, he bounds out and performs for me!

Maybe tomorrow will be a sit and knit day instead...

Sunday Spent With Family

A wet Sunday morning. The washing is hanging to dry in the living room which normally irritates you, but today you are going to see your Aunt, Uncle, Cousin and Godson so you won't be there to be irritated by it. Your Mum and Dad arrive and transfer the contents of their car boot to yours (baskets of flowers, copies of The Lady magazine, and other assorted bits and bobs) so you can travel down together. The rain hangs and gusts in the air, and the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge comes upon you sooner than you expected. You find your cousin's house surprisingly quickly considering that it is you who are navigating, and go inside to find you have beaten your sister and her husband there by just a few minutes! Hugs from godson and his brother, and fish pie and peas in front of the hugest fireplace you have ever seen. Time flies as cups of tea are sipped and 'do you remembers' are uttered. Down the road to your Aunt's and Uncle's home, to see your Aunt in the doorway. What a happy sight. A tree loaded with catkins in the garden. More tea, always more tea. This time, in a beautiful white and gold bone china service that was bought for £5 at a car boot sale (they call car boot sale visiting 'yachting'!). More talk, smiles, the menfolk go to poke at computers in the study. The women talk, talk, talk some more. Plans are made for a Ruby wedding anniversary in the summer. A bunch of Bridal Crown Narcissus and daffodils scent the air. Time for dinner, but almost no room left for it! Tamarinds handed round, a most curious affair. They look like a giant misshapen peanut, and when you crack open the shell, a long caterpillar shaped thing emerges, which tastes like a cross between a dried fig and a currant, with a similar texture. There are heart shaped seeds. The box had been brought back from their last trip to Barbados. A visit to the bathroom makes you smile as your toes sink ito the deepest carpet, the pink tiles, the pile of fluffy towels and the frilled shower curtain...this is your dream bathroom, you realise! Suddenly it is 8:00 and time to go home again. A stop at the service station on the way, and a quick visit to Marks and Spencer for lunch the following day. Home, the electric blanket on, and to sleep.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Miss Buncle's Book

I read Cranford a few years before it was adapted for the delightful tv series that it became, and although I had enjoyed the gentle humour and wry observations in Jane Austen's works, it was the first time I had realised that Classic Books could be laugh out loud funny. I remember errupting into giggles on the bus, in the doctor's waiting room and all sorts of other unsuitable places! I had enjoyed Classic Books before, but now I really loved them.

It was Jane Brocket's blog, Yarnstorm, which first introduced me to Persephone books, which I now adore but struggled with a tiny bit at first. I remember eagerly ordering a Dorothy Whipple from the library and being frustrated and disappointed with it and sending it back, unread. A few months later I tried again, and they just 'clicked' for me, and I don't find them hard work at all, just a wonderful literary treat. Dorothy Whipple is undoubtedly one of my favourite authors, and I can barely wait for a trip to the Persephone shop in April.

So when I find myself in the bigger library at the bottom of the hill and in need of something to read, with nothing particuarly in my mind, I head for the Classic section, and after a cursory glance, look to see which Persephone books are on the shelf. Their distinctive dove grey covers make them easy to spot! A week or so ago, I came away with Miss Buncle's Book which I did not much fancy when I first read about it on the Persephone website, and for what reason I cannot remember. I am so glad that I gave it a go though, because it is another book that it is laugh out loud funny, and a delight from beginning to end. As well as having the power to make me laugh in common with Cranford, the flavour of the book is just the same - set in a small village and concerned with the daily lives of the inhabitants there. If asked to sum the book up, I would say it is Cranford for the 20th Century (it was written in 1934). Miss Buncle is in hard financial times, and decides her choices are down to keeping hens, or writing a book, and as she does not much care for hens, she decides to write a book, and looks around her for inspiration. If you are looking for a light but warm and happy read, then I cannot recommend it enough. Of course, I would always suggest try your library first, but if you wish to buy a copy, or read a bit more about it, then click on the link (the title of this post).

There is, happily, a sequel, which I already have on order from the library. Discovering this kind of writer, and that kind of publisher, the genre of 'hot water bottle' fiction makes me feel curiously completed, somehow. You know that feeling, when someone gives you a gift, perhaps something they have made, but anyway, something that just sings out to your soul, and is something that is 'so you', and as well as loving the gift itself, you love the feeling that this person really understands and 'gets' you...well discovering this area of fiction makes me feel like that.

I have yet to find a Persephone novel that I have not loved, and have often gone on to read more by the authors I have discovered. Some things to note, should you decide to explore the wonderful world of Persephone for yourself, either direct from them, or through your local library....you must have a favourite spot to sit in to read - the novels are compelling, and you will find yourself wanting to sit for a good long time to read, to take it to bed, on the bus and probably even the bath! You will also need a favourite cup and saucer, and a tea cosie to keep your tea pot warm. Then, just be ready to sigh with pleasure, a small smile on your lips, as you open the pages, and begin.

Little Vexations and Happy Pleasures

Oh dear, the end of the world has come, the sky has fallen down! Almost literally! With a week off just started, I have borrowed from the library a stack of dvds, and have got myself all set for lots of crocheting on my ripple stitch blanket. Except....I am about five inches from the end of a row, and have run out of wool. Not such a big problem....except when I went to the market on Wednesday to buy some more, the wool lady was not there. Thursday I could not go as I was in my library at the top of the hill, and Friday I could not go because a friend left work and I had lunch with her to say goodbye. Not to worry, I thought, and sallied forth this morning, only to find that a bit of the roof has fallen in, and the market is closed indefinitley! So I can't carry on with my blanket, and I am really in the mood too! I may have a look on ebay for a ball to keep me going for now....but oh dear!

The second vexation came just now, when I picked up my phone, which is only a month or two old, and somehow dropped it straight into my cup of tea! It shut itself off right away and I now have it drying off in the hope that I may be able to get it working again later.

So for now, I am sitting on the sofa with the windows open to let in the beautiful (if slightly chilly!) spring air, which carries with it the scent of the masses of cream daffodils that I have in a vase opposite me. Perhaps I shall pick up my knitting instead, but as they say bad luck comes in threes, I am a little nervous! It is a 24 row lace pattern, so perhaps I should not be tempting fate!

Last night, I went to London to see Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera. I have quite mixed feelings about it...it was well acted and the visual effects were amazing (the stage revolves and there are lots of moving images projected on to screens) but after half an hour or so I began to think that perhaps they were relying just a little bit too much on technology...and I wasn't so sure about the storyline either, or setting it on Coney Island. Still, a happy evening spent in a theatre with friends is a good evening, even if there were one or two little things to pick at in the play!

Other little happies today....fresh pineapple, the most perfect cup of tea, a new copy of Good Food magazine, and a trip to the cinema later!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Works In Progress...

...Reading The Hidden Heart of Emily Hudson for book group

...Knitting my lacey bedjacket....still!

...Crocheting a ripple stitch blanket in sea colours, inspired by Lyme Regis

...Cooking (in about 10 minutes, anyway!) Pea and Parmesan Risotto (probably with some spinach added to my usual recipe)

...Writing a menu plan and shopping list for next week

Today I Am Wearing...

...red, red, red! Quite a few years ago now, I read a horoscope style guide, and it said that everyone thinks Aries girls love red, when usually they prefer it with a splash of white, and pink is their colour, really. Now it is true I do like pink, but red really is my colour, and over the last few years I have really rediscovered it!

Today I am wearing my red wrap dress which I just adore. It always makes my waist feel small and my bust feel generous, even on 'plump' days. I have a flick of black eyeliner over each eye, and a sweep of mascara. Of course, I am wearing red lipstick, today 'Cherry' by Boots No 7. Simple black heels to finish the look, and underneath to carry on the theme, red polka dot underwear!

I snatched a few minutes this morning to blow my hair dry, and when I do that it is much straighter than otherwise, and I can really see that it is much, much longer now! Swishy and swirly, and maybe even in the 'long' category rather than 'mid length'! I must update my profile picture soon, so you can see it. I really can't see me ever going short again with my hair, I feel so much happier with it like this. My organic rose shampoo and conditioner seem to really suit it too!

Fleur de Guerre has a tutorial on her blog (www.diaryofavintagegirl.com) on how to do Victory Rolls...maybe over the weekend, I will experiment with those!

Pleasures Anticipated

When I am standing in my little library on top of the hill, chatting to my regulars and stamping their books, or when I am at my big library at the bottom of the hill, stock editing and and running staff meetings, I am very happy. I love my work, and I work with some wonderful people. However, it has been quite a while since I took any of my annual holiday time, and I am ready for it. The last few weeks have been exhausting. I am still enjoying my work, but I am tired all the time, and often have a headache at the back of my mind. I have been doing a lot of working late, having to go in early, missing lunches, which I know isn't good for me, and I know I shouldn't but sometimes, you have to, and that goes with being in charge.

So while I love it, equally, I am looking foward to being off next week. A whole week, to myself! Sadly Carl could not get the week off with me, but I am sure I shall amuse myself, and he can look forward to coming home to a week of dinner on the table! On Friday I am going up to London with a friend from work to go to the Stitch and Craft show at Olympia. We go every year and have done for maybe 7 or 8 years, and is definitely a high point in my year. We are taking workshops in making vintage bunting, and stump work bees! I plan to do a lot of baking and reading and knitting and crocheting, watching some films, going for walks, and general puttering. I might even take myself off for a swim or too. Oooh, and I want to try some embroidery too.

I know I am going to really enjoy my week off, but it has come round ever so fast, so I haven't really had time to plan it in my head, or make firm arrangements. I feel a bit like I have missed out on time to anticipate the pleasures to come, so I am making up for it by starting now!

Tomorrow evening I am going to see a comedian at my local theatre, and then on Friday it is up to London (twice in a week!!!) to see Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera. What a whirl!

Mimi's Jingle Belles (belated!)

Gosh, where does the time go?! One moment them snowdrops are just peeping out, and the next they are nearly over. One moment the daffodils are nothing but green shoots, and the next the gardens are just a sea of jaunty golden nodding heads. And so it is, my Jingle Belles post is a little late!

First thing to do is to take some money, and tuck it away with the money you tucked away last month. It feels lovely to have a little treasure store, and even nicer to feel it growing month by month!

Next you need of course, a cup of tea, and the notes you made last month. The idea is to read back over them, and see what jumps out at you. What do you definitely want to do? What fresh new ideas have you had since then? I like to draw new mind maps to show my refined ideas. That is what you are doing here, visiting your initial thoughts and then just seeing where they take you. This is the mood-board themey part, where you are thinking about how your Christmas is going to look, smell, taste and feel this year, where you are trying to pin down the essence of the Christmas you are going to create.

Next we are going to go back to the first draft of your card and gift lists. With the card list, just read it through, add on anyone you have forgotten about, and count up how many cards you need to make or buy. Have another think about your cards - will you make all, or some, or none? If you are buying them, will you buy handmade ones from etsy, or charity cards, or something else? Are you filling them with glitter? Sealing them with sealing wax? If you are making them, look at the ideas you have had so far for a design. Are you going to do one design, or a selection? Then on to your gifts list. Again, update it with anybody you had forgotten, then look again at your ideas. Are you making or buying? Are you doing 'batch' gifts (eg a mug filled with a sachet of hot chocolate mix and home made sweets?). The ideas you have had so far, are they too ambitious? Have you had new ideas, or refined old ideas? Jot it all down!

Now, you can start to think about making and buying gifts, so you need to designate a place to keep them. Don't choke on your tea in horror, I am not suggesting too much Christmassyness yet! You see, now that I have a better idea of who I am giving gifts too and roughly what I would like to give to them, ideas are starting to present themselves to me. I went into the Oxfam book shop to buy a book for myself, and while I was in there, I found a 1904 edition of Keats poems. I have a dear friend who adores Keats, so I bought it for him, and have tucked it away, and made a note on my list. As you know, I bought hot water bottles last month, and last week, my favourite cashmere jumper wore out, so I felted it and have it ready to cut up for covers. This week, in fact, probably later tonight, I am going to make a paper pattern for the covers.

Really, that is all you have to do this month, tuck away a few pennies, revisit your lists, start to refine your ideas, and start to keep an eye out for things you can buy or make and tuck away. Did you make marmalade this year? Would a jar or two make a nice gift for someone on your list? Label and stash!

If you are in the mood, and you may or may not be, you might like to make a mood board to help bring your ideas together. Get out some of your favourite Christmas magazines (mine is Country Living!) and cut out images that appeal to you (photocopy or scan them first if you dont want to spoil the magazine!). Visit some favourite blogs, and print off posts or pictures that appeal, and add them too. A happy hour with scissors and glue, and you should have a better idea of where you are going this year.

This year, I have decided that I want a real 'Country Living' feel to my Christmas. I am going to wrap gifts in tissue paper first, then wrapping paper, possibly even brown paper, and finish with ribbons and spriggs of holly. There will be a lot of greenery and candlelight, and a lot of home made elements to my gifts. I spotted a set of 10 cups and saucers in a charity shop the other day, which I was going to use to make tea cup candles, but alas someone beat me to it! I am thinking of crocheting some bunting for my Mum, and making Baileys Fudge as gifts too.

Thats it! See you next month!

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Wonder of Wonder, or, Ponderings Upon Wonderings

A few years ago, David Attenborough came to do a book signing at our local Ottakars (as it was then). Mum was so excited and wanted to get one of her books signed by him, but at the same time was slightly hesitant. As a little girl, she used to run home from school so she could watch his TV programme (I assume it was Zoo Quest or similar). Suddenly, after years of watching him on TV, she was worried that she might be terribly disappointed. Happily, all was well- she knew that things were going to be fine when he took out a beautiful fountain pen to sign her book with!

I saw an interview with David Attenborough recently, and they showed a clip of his visit to Madagascar in 1960. He described the wonder of being there, of filming it and how to many many people, it was the first time they would have seen the place and the wildlife there. He described how much technology has come on since then, when he had to use wind up cameras that lasted for only a short while. The thing that really made me think, was the idea of wonder. I consider myself very lucky to remember a world without computers. Well, of course there were computers, but not in common use at all, and practically prehistoric compared to todays. There were no computers in the home, or most offices when I was little. I think I appreciate them more now because I remember what it was like before. I remember life before the internet. So many people will never know a world before, and I have been pondering about the sense of wonder.

While I grew up before computers, I grew up when wildlife programmes were already on tv, when David Attenborough had been making programmes for years, and the things being shown weren't new or things we had not seen before. That is not a criticism of the programmes, but just if you have seen elephants, for example, in films and tv programmes a lot, seeing them on a documentary is not going to be as exciting as if you were seeing them for the very first time.

I can't even begin to think that the internet and computers and technology are bad things, although they can of course be used in bad ways, but it makes me think, are we losing our sense of wonder? We are flooded with information, with images, sounds, stuff. So many people have an internet connection now, and can find more or less anything within moments. There are live webcams that I can use to see the view in Times Square, right now. Did I mention that the other day, I was in the baby and toddler aisle of Boots, and as well as Farley's Rusks, they had Spelt and Pommegranate Fingers for little ones? It made me giggle, to think of a little toddler enjoying spelt and pommegranate, things that would have been alien to our parents as toddlers.

None of this is bad, and I do realise I may sound like I am having a rant...but we live in such a snowglobe of information and so much is accessible to us now, I am worried that it is hard to feel a sense of wonder nowadays. What surrounds us becomes normal, and what is normal we can become blind to. A friend emailed me to tell me about a holiday she has just returned from, where she saw a lake so big, that it could hold New York! I could not even comprehend a lake so big, but also I found it amazing that she could go there and see it. Just like that! We are so lucky to live in this age, of having more and being able to do more, even though we are, as the newspapers keep telling us, in an age of austerity!

So my resolve is to try and keep my sense of wonder. To appreciate the tiny things, the little things. To examine things and pay them more attention. To take pleasure in them, and imagine I lived perhaps 100 years ago, and to realise how amazing so many of the things I take for granted would seem to me then.

Wherever you are, I hope you are surrounded by things that make you smile in wonder.

Turning To-Do into Ta-Dah!

I took my crocheted blanket with me to book club tonight, to show the other girls, and to give the book I used to one of them who wants to crochet her own. I am very proud of my blanket and was pleased that the group liked it. Although I made it for me, it was rather nice for the blanket to bask in some admiration! After all, I am rather biased towards it!

As well as loving the finished article itself, I rather loved the act of finishing it, too. Inspired, I stitched together some squares for a baby blanket that I started years ago. Unfortunately, the border I have started to put on it is all crinkly and just won't lay flat, so I may have to rip it out and re do it. Happily I found an online tutorial which suggests crinkly borders are a common problem, and suggests some ways round it. Now it is actually stitched together I don't feel a strong an urge to get it finished, which is odd! Perhaps in my subconscious, the stitching it together was finishing it, and the border is a new project!

Finally, finally, I have my ripple stitch blanket under way. I am using 'Soft Waves' from Jan Eaton's book of ripple patterns. The colours are all sea-colours inspired by Lyme Regis, and as well as using the stitch pattern to make the ripples, I am using the suggested pattern for the stripes of colour too - 4 of cream, 1 of lilac, 2 of grey, 3 of mid blue, 4 of dark blue, then start all over again. I did have a moment of indecision, as to if after I finished the 4 of dark blue I should go back to mid blue and down the scale to white, or just start with white. I opted with the latter, and am glad I did. This is a bigger blanket than before, this one is designed to go on the bed, whilst the granny blanket is for the sofa.

The act of finishing things seems to be just what I need recently. Of course you could argue that I have really only started the Lyme Regis blanket, but the creative process for that began a long time ago, and it is as though the making it is only clothing the process and thoughts in wool. I seem to need to finish things off and tidy up at the moment. I have spent happy hours tidying out and cataloguing the fridge, freezer, dry goods and spice cupboards, something that has been on my 'to do list' for a while. Ticking things off feels good.

You see, I am far better at starting things than finishing them. I remember reading that about my star sign in a girls magazine from the 70s, and I don't know if reading it planted the seed, or if I was like it already. Either way, I think (and hope!) I am conquering that a bit now, and my unfinished objects and projects are endangered species!

I have read several books about decluttering, and they all agree that by clearing space in your home, you create space in your life. The logic goes that if you clear a space on your bookshelf and appreciate its emptiness for a while, you have made space for new discoveries that you would not have had room for in your life before. I wonder, if by finishing off these things, what new things I have made room for in my life. Finishing the first blanket and starting the second are in some ways a relief of sorts...until now I have had the ideas for them both percolating away in the back of my mind. By doing them, creating them, making them, the brain power I was using percolating away on them is freed up for something else. I wonder what it shall be?

Before I forget - Book club! We read the biography of Agatha Christie by Laura Thompson. As you know, I love her Poirot and Marple novels, and found her biography interesting. I think that Miss Thompson needed a better editor with a red pen as she quotes too extensively from the novels, and does seem to have gone in with an idea and used only evidence to support her ideas, but on the whole it was a good read. I was amazed at how beautiful she was in her youth. 'I was a beautiful girl' she herself said, and it made me think - how awful if we get to old age, and realise that we were beautiful in our youth, only at the time we never appreciated it at all. Perhaps it is finding grey hairs that make me think about this, and I don't by any means think I am gloriously beautiful, but I do think that we should appreciate what we have got while we have it, rather than mourn its passing too late!

So when you look into your mirror tonight, even if you see some grey hairs as I do, or wrinkles appearing under your eyes, look on yourself with a kindly eye and think about all the things that make you lovely now.

When Your Heart Says Spring But The Breeze Says Winter!

It looks so beautiful outside...the sun is bright which makes the light brittle somehow. There are spring flowers peeping out of the greenery everywhere I look - the last of the shy pale snowdrops here, the proud jaunty daffodils standing proudly over the duckling-like crocuses. And yet, when you open the window to let the spring come pouring in, or venture outside, the icy chill of the air reminds you that Winter is definitely not behind us yet! When I was walking home last night, the pavements were starting to sparkle lightly, with a hint of frost.

It is hard to know what to eat in this weather...after what feels like months and months of winter, I am starting to crave lighter food, and yet where it is still chilly, I want something more comforting than salad. Last night I made my new favourite soup, spinach with a poached egg floating in it. Tonight I have made a dinner mainly out of what I had in my storecupboards and freezer - the only addition I bought in were two giant yellow peppers! It is still in the oven so I cannot yet vouch for the flavour, but what I made was:

A Light But Warming Supper Dish For Chilly Spring Days

2 yellow peppers (or any colour you prefer; the larger side is better)
1 box tomato and chilli spelt mix (or you could substitute risotto rice or mix)
handful cherry tomatoes
1 salmon fillet
mature cheddar cheese (a good grating)
handful of pine nuts (optional)
drizzle of olive oil

1) Make the spelt or risotto recipe as directed on the box, or use your favourite recipe, or some left over risotto.

2) Meanwhile, cut each pepper in half, retaining the stalk if you can - it looks pretty - and deseed.

3) Halve the cherry tomatoes and divide evenly between the peppers.

4) Lightly poach the salmon, flake and stir into the spelt or risotto.

5) Use this to fill the peppers.

6) Sprinkle with cheese and pine nuts, drizzle with oil.

7) Bake in a gentle oven for 45 minutes or so, until the peppers are soft and almost collapsing.

If you have some to hand, a splash of balsamic vinegar would be delicious to go with it!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Welsh Cakes and Daffodils

What a strange month February was! It reminded me of the Elvis song 'Moody Blue' as one day it was Spring sprung early, and the next pouring rain, then freezing frost! But I like February for all her foibles...I like the unexpectedness of each new day, the shortness of the month which marks it unique amongst all the others. I have loved seeing each new shoot appear, holding the promise of hosts of golden daffodils. Each year I am gladdened to see the first pinpricks of gold which herald the yellow crocuses who are swiftly followed by their purple and cream sisters.

But Monday found my kitchen smelling of something almost pancakey, with a pot of leek and potato soup bubbling on the stove. There were daffodils in vases all round the house, which can mean only one thing...February has swept away, and March, and St David's day is here! (St David's day was actually Tuesday, but I had a friend visit for dinner on Monday, so I did a themed menu then instead). First we had leek, potato and parsnip soup, then moussaka. I know, Greek not Welsh, but it was Welsh lamb mince! I finished by making Welsh cakes. They are a particular favourite of my brother, so I might make some for him soon. I had never made them before, but I will be making them again! Fresh out of the pan they are a revelation compared to fresh-out-of-the-packet, even if the packet came from Marks and Spencer!

St David's Day Welsh Cakes

First, throw open the windows, no matter how cool it is, to let the spring breeze in! Tie on a happy pinnie, and gather together:

8oz self raising flour
4oz butter (Welsh if possible!)
1 egg
Handful sultanas, currants, raisins, your choice or a combination
3oz caster sugar
Splash of milk, if needed

Rub the butter into the flour, until it looks like breadcrumbs.

Stir in the sugar and dried fruit.

Stir in the egg, to get a soft dough. You can add a splash of milk if needed, but not too much or it will go sticky!

Lightly knead the soft dough, then roll it out to 5mm thickness. Stamp out rounds with a 3-4 inch cutter.

If you have a griddle or skillet, use that, but otherwise, heat the heaviest frying pan you have, lightly oiled (I use fry light spray).

Cook the cakes for 2-3 minutes on each side. Their bottoms go dark very quickly, but do try not to burn them! They don't rise like scones, but do rise as they cook. You don't really notice until you compare to the next batch of raw ones! The middle will feel slightly squidgy and uncooked, but they will firm up whilst resting on the plate. Careful when you turn them in the pan, they are very soft and floppy!

Sprinkle them with caster sugar, then serve with either butter or jam. Delicious!

(I like how these are very similar in ingredients to pancakes, so most storecupboards should hold the wherewithall to make these, but also how they are very different to pancakes and have entirely their own character!)

Hope you all had a Happy St David's Day!