Thursday, 22 January 2015

Sunshine in a Jar

It can be no coincidence that the short season for Seville Oranges coincides with what feels like the longest most grey, cold month of the year. These sharp aromatic oranges never fail to bring sunshine into my kitchen. Despite still having a cupboard full marmalade from last year, I couldn't resist a morning spent juicing and slicing, bubbling and boiling. The house was filled with the scent of citrus and I could imagine sun baked orange groves.


And while the cut peel simmered I managed to file my tax return... Another January ritual completed!


And now I have another eight jars of marmalade waiting for labels. Sunshine in jars!



Despite loving the stuff, I don't really get through much in a year. I'm the only one who eats it but as I rarely eat toast I might use a couple of jars at most. Since Christmas we've been trying to eat more healthily and so far there has been no baking this year (do not fret on our behalf, we've only just finished the Christmas cake) so the occasion of a friend's birthday gave the perfect excuse to bake a cake... And use up some of the marmalade of course.
 

Nigel Slater's marmalade cake... A wholesome cake that is good all year round but especially in January.


Not really what I would call a celebration cake but it's amazing what a few candles can do.


And because someone indoors was having a moan that I hadn't made cake for him... There was a marmalade bread and butter pudding this evening too. Not only did it use up marmalade but also some hot cross buns that I found lurking in the depths of the freezer.


It seems like our healthy eating regime has fallen by the wayside but it's worth for a bit of sunshine in January.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Identity

The weekend before last we had a day in London and one of the things we did was to pop in to The National Portrait Gallery to see the fourteen portraits by Grayson Perry that were made during his Channel 4 TV programme "Who are You". None of them are really portraits in the conventional sense but are studies on identity... the identity of individuals, families and groups.


Each and every piece is fascinating and I would find it difficult to pick a favourite. They range from this huge blanket featuring British identity, to a self portrait done as a map. There is a silk scarf, a poster, an embroidery, a money chest and of course... pots!


Comfort Blanket
 
 I think it is the pots that I like the best. Big magnificent pots that say so much about their subject
 
Memory Jar

I loved them all and again I am bowled over by the sensitivity, humour and insightfulness of this artist. He doesn't miss a trick! The work is intelligent yet accessible... fabulous stuff.

Idealised Hetrosexual Couple

I especially loved these three goddesses, resplendent in their oversized gorgeousness.
 
Melanie, Georgina and Sarah

I could share much more - I took photos of all the pieces but I don't feel I have the words to do them justice. So if you can, do go and see them for yourself... the exhibition is open until 15th March and is totally free. And of course when you've done with the Grayson Perry exhibits, there are all the other wonderful portraits to see too. Or you could do what we did and go on to the Tower of London! Hadn't been there for years and Stewart had never been before... Great fun!




Thursday, 15 January 2015

All is Calm...

The week started well and it was back to work on Monday morning making samples for this term's classes. This was a bit of a diversion as I am working on a big project... a commission that I'll promise to share with you when it is done, and much as I would like to devote all my time to finishing that, getting samples done for this week was a matter of urgency! Last minute as ever...
 
 
Just as I was feeling in control of the situation there was a message from youngest son... "are you at home?" I have written about him and the obstacles he has overcome in his life on many occasions... here, here and here! He makes me proud on so many levels... equally he drives me crazy! There were times when I didn't believe he would ever get back into mainstream primary school, never mind be studying for a degree and living in a house with three strangers 80 miles from home. His achievements are huge... and I really wish he could see that and believe it too. Because what I don't write about are the daily struggles with depression and anxiety that at times completely cripple him and make me despair of him ever being happy. A conflict with his housemates and a panic attack late on Monday night brought him home on Tuesday and it has been a few days of turmoil. My life has felt like it was put on hold for 48 hours. But this afternoon he feels better and he is returning to Guildford this evening... several days earlier than anticipated.
 
 
I'm sure life with him will always feel like two steps back for every three forward but at least he is moving forward and I take hope and encouragement from that.
 
Meanwhile I'm trying to take enjoyment where I can and this week I had the first class in a series of five that I'm taking to learn about egg tempera (or tempura as my lovely husband calls it) painting. I suppose that painting and drawing were my first loves long before I discovered embroidery and textiles and it was a complete joy to immerse myself in mixing the pigments and painting this tiny illuminated letter. The time just flew by... and it took hours, believe me!
 
 
I've much to learn and a long way to go before I'm happy with the results but I just know that it is going to be a very enjoyable process. I'm desperate to paint some more but for now... while calm has reigned once more on our household... I really need to get on with that commission.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Five on Friday

Following on from my last post and after reading the various comments I decided that if my life is going to be bonkers in 2015, then I should also apply the word ENJOY (thanks for the suggestion Jude). Which brings me rather neatly to my Five on Friday post for this month... Five things that I have enjoyed this week.
 
1. Breakfast.
I always enjoy breakfast and it is probably my favourite meal of the day. It is usually some form of cereal together with fruit and I like to vary the combinations. Yesterday it was porridge with a spoonful of honey, a splash of milk and a sprinkling of mixed seeds and blueberries. Yummy!


2. Amaryllis
I have never owned an amaryllis before so I was thrilled to be given this by my friend Val before Christmas. I am a serial killer of house plants so I was even more thrilled to see it grow from the rather phallic looking green stem (as my youngest son pointed out to me) and bloom in time for Christmas Day. And it has continued to produce more blooms and positively flourish. I'm enjoying this very much!
 

3. A Good Book
I always enjoy a good book and I'm loving the book I've chosen this month. I enjoyed joining in with Laura's Year in Books last year so have decided to do it again in 2015 and the book I have chosen for January is The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I'm already half way through and I'm loving it as the story unfolds revealing its secrets, totally transporting me back to 17th century Amsterdam.
 

My book for December was Love Nina by Nina Stibbes, a book of letters from Nina to her sister during the time she was a nanny to a well known literary family in London. As I predicted it was a light and easy read, laugh out loud funny at times and easy to pick up and put down. I also read The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams. A dark and disturbing tale of sisters Vivien and Ginny, a reclusive expert on moths, that is full of secrets that gradually surface throughout the story.

 
4. Cooking
Cooking is rarely anything but a pleasure for me and this week I've enjoyed putting together light and tasty meals that have been a contrast to all the rich food eaten over Christmas. Last night I had some red cabbage to use up so made this winter coleslaw by Nigel Slater which was crunchy and full of flavour. We ate it with some frittata and I was feeling very virtuous... Until I followed it with Christmas cake and a glass of whisky!


5. Lists
I am a great list maker... It's the only way I can ever get through those bonkers days. And there is nothing I enjoy more than crossing off items on my lists. Yesterday I got through almost everything, even my Italian homework, except for "write book blog post". I had intended to write a separate post for the year in books but never quite managed it... So I've sneaked it in here instead.
 

So that's five of the things I'm enjoying this week, although not the only five!
 
I am joining in Five on Friday, taking five minutes from our day to enjoy five things. Please go and visit the other people who are also blogging about Five on Friday this week.
 
Helen from Woollybluebells
Rosie from Corners of my Mind

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Bonkers!

Somehow, certainly through this blog, I seem to give the impression that I'm able to fit more into my hours than others. At least that is how it seems from some of the comments and emails I receive. Yet it really is a very skewed perception. Yes, I am busy... I teach, I try to make art although not nearly as much as I would like and I have plenty of other interests. Yet I never really feel as though I have the time to truely get on top of things. I'm forever chasing my tail and getting things done at the last minute no matter how organised I plan to be. I might come across as calm and serene but you want to see the jumble inside my head. It won't surprise you to know I don't sleep well!
 
 
Perhaps this is normal, I don't know, but what I do know is that at times my life feels like it is completely bonkers! I often wish for a simpler, more serene life where I feel in control. Yesterday felt like the proper start to the New Year for me. Holidays over, family members back to work/University... and time for me to assess and reflect over what is on the cards for January.


And already it feels like madness. An exhibition to organise, another to make work for, a major commission to complete, two City & Guilds weekends, plus regular weekly teaching to plan... and that's just the tip of the iceberg. And I really, really did want things to be different this year... I sensed change and I'm determined to achieve it somehow.

 
So no New Years resolutions for me... I'd like to eat more heathily, lose a few pounds, exercise more regularly but don't we all. And I've tried having a word as my focus for the year as seems to be the current trend... I tried BALANCE a couple of years ago... that was a joke! And anyway, I forgot all about it after about three weeks (just like normal New Year Resolutions really) So this year I've done something different... I've chosen a word to remind me what I don't want my life to be like this year...
BONKERS!
And if I fail... at least it makes me smile!

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Patterns and PDFs

My first foray into pattern writing was with this crochet bunting about eighteen months ago. I sold a few patterns, not really enough to make it worthwhile I suppose but enough for me to know I quite enjoyed the process of writing out and photographing the different stages of a tutorial.
 
 
Then last year, I ventured into more familiar teaching territory... machine embroidery. I wrote a tutorial for a freestyle appliqued fabric which I sold together with a pattern for making the fabric into a bag. Popped it onto Etsy and they sold like hotcakes. I was more than a little bit amazed and very excited! And I started to devise a business plan for the future, where I would put more and more tutorials into downloadable PDFs.
 
 
It was while I was in the process of writing my pattern for my Christmas crackers that I started to get wind of changes to the VAT rules on the sale of digital downloads. New EU rules state that as of 1st January, all businesses selling digital downloads to EU customers must pay VAT at the rate of tax of the country where the customer is located. This would be an absolute nightmare to try to implement and so many small sellers like myself have been forced to withdraw such downloads from Etsy shops.

 
However, in the UK, PDFs that are emailed to customers manually are not covered by this new ruling. So should you fancy buying any of my patterns... they are now back in my Etsy shop where I will be selling them as physical items. As soon as payment is received I will email them directly to buyers. Thank you to everyone who left a comment with advice on the first version of this blogpost which I've now updated!
 
Also worth a mention is that the crackers above were made by Carol for her Christmas table, using my pattern. Aren't they gorgeous! And of course... a cracker is not just for Christmas. They are a  fun way to package gifts or to liven up any party table at any time of year... and Valentine's day is just a few weeks away!



Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Out with the Old, in with the New!

Well there we go... Another Christmas done and dusted and a brand new year almost upon us. I hope you all managed happy and peaceful times. Our celebrations were happy, although exhausting. We started calm enough with just Mum, Stewart and I spending a quiet Christmas Day together and then going to friends to share an evening meal with them, which was delightful. Great food and lots of laughter.


Then the hoards descended on Boxing Day for our Christmas lunch. Twelve family members and friends gathered for lunch, games, drinking and more eating... excuse all the funny faces in this second photo... I caught them unexpectedly!


Then before we knew it, Stewart and I were in the car for a whistle stop trip to see his parents in Dundee although this did mean lots of passenger knitting time for me. I was kindly given a ball of beautiful wool before Christmas and managed to finish a pair of socks on the journey there and back.


Quick to knit in dk yarn and lovely and soft to work with...


This pair are for me!


And not only that, I also finished knitting up this pretty brooch from a kit that was another Christmas gift...


And it goes perfectly on my new duffle coat.


Today we are entertaining friends to see in the New Year... Not a party but a relaxed informal meal together... Minimal fuss. And I'm looking forward to taking down the Christmas decorations, making a fresh start, clearing the decks and getting back to some sort of normality. I feel change in the air too... but not sure how that will manifest itself yet. How about you?

Happy New Year!