Sunday, 29 March 2020

The Pattern of my Days

I hope you are all staying safe, well and busy. Our days have taken on a new slower rhythm as we try to keep some structure in our lives whilst observing the lock down. Stewart still has work delivering groceries so is now deemed a "key worker" and much of his other work has always been done on line so not much has changed to his daily routine. Of course, it is a worry that he is going out to work and potentially at risk of being exposed to the virus but we are being as careful as we can under the circumstances. For me, suddenly being without any work and not knowing when it will resume has meant creating a new pattern to my days. I continue to get up at much the same time as usual and take the dog for a long walk. I come home and we then have breakfast together. The heat then gets put on in my studio and I might catch up with emails or maybe watch an art video or two in the house while it warms up. The day is spent in my studio, with breaks to make lunch, make a daily phone call to my Mum and calling or sending a message to other friends and family. More than ever it seems important that we all stay connected.


Studio activity varies depending on what I feel like doing, although I've not felt very much like making big paintings this week. The windows in our village are being filled with rainbows, an idea so that children could play a game of "Rainbow I-spy" whilst out walking, although I suspect a lot of adults are playing too... I know I am and feel disproportionally excited when I spot a new one! So I started the week by painting a rainbow for our hall window. I then decided it would be fun to have a more permanent rainbow to hang up and so made another from mosaic. Are there rainbows in windows where you live?


Although I haven't felt much like making large paintings I want to make some sort of art every day and sketchbooks seem an ideal way of doing this. I have been taking part in Karen Abend's Sketchbook Revival this week (still not too late to join in) which has prompted me into making an art journal. I've started these before but I've never progressed much beyond the first couple of pages. I thought it would be a good way to document our days at home during the pandemic though and with not a lot else to do I might stick with it this time. These are just some random pages from this week.


Important to remember to keep smiling I think...


It is hard to believe we have only been in lock down since last Monday evening... it feels like so much longer. I guess that's because so much has changed in such a short space of time.


Laugh whenever you can... it's the best tonic to keep your spirits up!


We have been lucky that the weather has been so good the past week and on my morning walk one day I was struck by the fact that there were so many birds singing. Nature carries on regardless and it's a joy to see so many signs of spring.


A reminder to myself to make art every day...


... and to keep in touch with our family and friends. We have a family WhatsApp group and there were all sorts of puzzles being sent yesterday between our adult children. It's hard not being able to spend time with them though especially our new grandson who is already a month old.


As well as daily sketchbook work I have also been making some short videos with a view to eventually teaching online. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you may have seen some of these already but this week I uploaded my first ever YouTube video which you can find here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fnbBcyyrVM8

I made it specifically for one of my classes that was due to meet last Saturday as this was one of the things we were going to be doing, and I know some of the class aren't on Facebook etc. It's ridiculous that I have happily been teaching classes to adults  face to face for twenty years but it felt so exposing and I felt so self conscious talking to camera. But I have gradually got braver and my next plan is for a step by step collection of short clips showing the progress of a painting... as a response to a request in a comment from Stitchinscience on my last post. Anything else you would like to see me teach? 

In the evenings I occasionally pick up my knitting but I have also been working on a rag rug for our hallway which I finished on Thursday... I can see a lot of projects getting finished in the coming weeks. I had no sooner put it on the floor to see what it looked like when Hector came over, gave it a sniff, circled a few times and then plonked himself down with total ownership. He approved of the rug that I obviously made for him!


But this is where it really belongs... in our hall where Hector doesn't go!


Last night we had a very special evening... we cracked open a bottle of wine... okay that's not that special and seems to be a regular occurrence ... we then had take away fish and chips delivered on our doorstep by our village pub. This was followed by a delicious homemade crumble and ice cream (even if I do say so myself) made with a gift of allotment rhubarb from one of our neighbours (also left on the doorstep). We then spent the evening on a zoom call with several neighbouring families taking part in a village quiz. It was a lovely evening, just as good as going out and makes us realise how lucky we are to be part of such a wonderful community.

So that's the pattern of my days, which of course may well change as the weeks go by. It's not always upbeat and happy and I have my moments of anxiety worrying about all the people getting sick and whether my family will be safe etc. just like everyone else, but I try to remind myself  that I can't control what's happening in the world, I can only control how I feel and act and it helps by limiting my exposure to the news (which I've realised actually makes me feel physically unwell with a racing heart and pressure in my chest). I feel it's good to know the facts but I don't need all the "what if" horror stories and factually incorrect rumours that are abounding.

How are your days and evenings? I really do hope you are all staying safe, well and busy xx

Sunday, 22 March 2020

A New Normal

I don't think I'm going to write at length about the current situation sweeping our country and the world. We are all in the same boat, with the same problems to face and everyone going on about it doesn't help anxiety levels. It's going to be tough but I believe we will get through it and hopefully come out of it a kinder and more caring society. Of course it will also bring out the worst in some people but let's hope they are the minority. I'm not used to having so much time on my hands though. I'm not working from home because all my work has been cancelled for the foreseeable future - no talks, no classes. I've starting investigating how to produce teaching material online but it's all new to me so it's a steep learning curve... but at least I have plenty of time to learn.


Yesterday we cleaned the house, I did two loads of laundry (which dried outside... yah!), washed the windows outside, which were very dirty after recent storms and then decided to clean and sort out our larder cupboard. We don't have a lot of space for storage so I probably have potential to rummage up four or five unplanned meals at the most, Ready Steady Cook style! Most of the contents are spices, vinegars and jams... so many pots of jam! No hoarding going on here (apart from the jam of course, although it is mostly homemade), but at least I can see what we've got. 

All that was done and it was still only lunchtime so in the afternoon we decided to take advantage of the fine weather and go for a long walk around the villages. It was quite cold and blustery, but lovely to be outside. There were more people than usual out walking but still not that many and all at a distance!


There were lots of signs of spring arriving which was a cheering sight. Mother Nature carries on regardless.



It was Hector's fourth birthday so an extra long walk was a treat for him too!


I've also managed to set up my new website in the past few weeks, which I'm really pleased about. It's very simple but I do quite like it. You can find me here if you want to take a look


Plans to sell my art are now on hold however!



This is my most recent painting... I found a tiny rough sketch in one of my sketchbooks and based it on that. I like it enough for the moment but it may get changed or painted over. I've only a limited number of canvases to keep me going over the next few months!


So that's what I've been up to this week... staying at home, pottering in the garden, making lots more phone calls than usual and sending more messages. It's going to be our new normal!

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Troubling Times

I do hope you are all staying safe in these difficult times. I am sure I am not alone in finding it difficult to sift through the masses of sometimes conflicting advice, plus lack of trust in our government in the UK is not helping, as I really don't believe they know what they are doing. Personally I am quite happy staying at home except for work and grocery shopping (assuming the hoarders have left us anything to buy) but trying to convince my 85 year old mother this is what she should be doing is another matter! If I don't take her out I know she will just get herself a taxi so I would rather it was me driving her to the shops, but then I feel complicit in putting her at risk. I think the sooner we are all told to stay home the easier it will be.

At least I won't be bored if we get put in lock-down... just think of all those unfinished and yet to be started projects. Recently I signed up for a twelve week art program called cvp so I know there will also be plenty of painting to do in the weeks ahead. For the first couple of weeks we have been creating Inspiration boards and looking at our motivation and desires etc. so there's not been any painting yet. So I decided I would tidy up my studio in an effort to clear some space for when the painting starts but in doing so I discovered a basket of my old Lino printing tools along with a couple of pieces of Lino.


An hour or so later I had made several prints and rather than tidy up my studio I had also created more mess... I'm good at that! But I did have fun.


So much fun, that the following day I went back and made another Lino cut, this time basing it on one of my book jacket embroideries.


Today, having run out of Lino I made a small stamp from a sheet of foam and made another little bird print. Don't ask me why I decided to go with the Robin Colouring because I don't know. However what I do know is, that come next Christmas when I decide to make Christmas cards I won't have a clue where I have put this stamp, assuming I even remember making it. 
And the studio has still not been tidied up!


As well as plenty of creative pursuits to keep me busy I also have this ever growing pile of books beside my bed. I think I would quite like some enforced reading time. I've been enjoying the Ruth Galloway novels by Elly Griffiths but I'm trying to alternate them with other books for a bit of variety. I'm also trying not to buy any new books so my reading matter does tend to depend on what I can find in charity shops, borrow from other people or pick up from our village book exchange... although that's probably not a safe activity any more! At the moment I am ready Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. It has the feeling of The Great Gatsby but far more enjoyable in my opinion. I loved his only other book A Gentleman in Moscow too and the story of Count Rostov who is placed under house arrest, unable to leave his hotel is probably rather apt for the circumstances we currently find ourselves. From Goodreads: "Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery." I might just have to read it again.


So yes, there are difficult times ahead for all of us I think, wherever we live, but looking on the bright side not only will I get lots of painting, knitting, sewing, gardening and reading done... I might actually have time to write here more often because I do miss it when I don't!

What are your lock down plans?

Sunday, 8 March 2020

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Busy schedules, changes of plans and weekends with no trains and replacement buses have meant that I've not managed to see Joe (son no. 3) since Christmas and not only that I've not actually seen his flat, where he has been living since last September. But today the planets aligned and we found a day where we were both free and the trains were running normally so we met up in North London for the day.

Having lived in Stoke Newington, gone to school in Stamford Hill, worked in Wood Green and frequently spent nights out in around Finsbury Park when I was growing up, it was like a trip back in time. We started from Finsbury Park with a walk across the park, where I immediately recalled going boating on the lake. Joe wasn't sure there was even a lake never mind boats but sure enough, there it was! It started to rain so our first stop was back to Joe's flat for a cuppa and to dry off. Joe lives in an upstairs flat in a typical north London terrace house and as we walked upstairs it felt so familiar. The smell of the house was just like my grandmother's, difficult to describe but it was a woody, 'old' smell that seems more to do with the fabric of the house than anything in it. After a quick cuppa we ventured out onto Green Lanes where there were a plethora of Turkish restaurants to choose from although we opted for some amazing salads at a lovely little coffee shop.

After lunch Joe suggested a walk or a bus to some of the places I remembered. The rain had stopped so we decided to walk and head down Green Lanes to Clissold Park. By the time we arrived it was pouring!


Not to be deterred by a spot of rain we crossed the park to Newington Green, where I have memories of going for school swimming lessons.


From there we headed down Church Street towards Stoke Newington. I lived here very briefly when I was about 10-11 years old and attended the William Patten junior school which was every bit as grim as I remembered! Our playground was actually on the roof! I was in Miss Pinkington's class and I probably have a photo somewhere if I could be bothered to look.


We lived in a rather ghastly top floor flat above a greengrocers shop, now the Anglo Spice Grill... one bedroom, tiny kitchen, no bathroom and just one shared toilet with the flat below. My brother and I shared a bedroom and my Mum and Dad slept on a sofa bed in the living room. We washed at the kitchen sink and once a week we went to my uncle's flat in Dalston for a bath.... don't worry, I'm not going to go all Monty Python on you! We weren't there for very long but I do remember watching the  first moon landing whilst we lived there and singing The Beatles song Obladi Oblada so I guess it was 1968-69. Isn't it strange the things you remember!


A surprise memory was walking past Abney Park Cemetery. There is something quite special about urban cemeteries like this one that feels unique to London. Crowded, overgrown and steeped with history they evoke an atmosphere of times gone by.


From Stoke Newington we made our way on to Stamford Hill, where I remembered my grandmother working at the local Sainsburys... in those days it was a shop with beautiful separate display counters for meats, cheeses and groceries and lovely tiled walls and floors, nothing like today's supermarkets. Today the same store occupies the site that used to be cinema where I remember going to Saturday morning pictures! A little way up the road we passed my secondary school, for which I have mixed memories many of which involve bunking off to miss going to weekly mass!


From there we ventured to where my grandmother lived, but her London terrace house has long since been replaced by rows of flats. I probably have a photo of me sitting outside her old house somewhere too! It looks nothing like it does today.


After that we wandered back to the main road and on to Seven Sisters where I caught the train back and Joe walked home.

It was quite a trip back down memory lane and I was surprised by how much came flooding back. Things I hadn't thought about for over forty years suddenly popped back in my head, street names, old school friends, places that used to be but are no more! Such a lovely unplanned day.

In other news it was my second trip into London this week. On Thursday we ventured south of the river (when it also rained and we got very wet) to meet my new grandson. He arrived last week on what would usually be the last day of February, narrowly missing being a leap year baby. He is called Sokratis and weighed a very healthy 8 lb 3 oz and although I might be a little biased he really is gorgeous with a head of dark hair, just like his Dad!

Friday, 28 February 2020

Still here, still painting


Once again I am wondering whether this blog has run its course. Every time I write a post I think I must do this more regularly but then I forget all about it and it is no longer in my consciousness and another three weeks goes past. I used to write twice a week but its now more like twice a month... on a good month! But I'm hanging on in there!

To be honest, Painting is taking up most of my free time and these are a couple of my most recent attempts. I'm not sure how finished they are, whether there will be minor adjustments or whether I might even paint over whole areas. It doesn't matter because I am loving it. I am loving it so much that I have now signed up for an intensive three month course called CVP. It was a big decision because not only will it require a fair bit of time but it has also been quite a financial investment. But change never happened without taking risks and I am ready for change. I'm ready to try something new.

So maybe my blog is ready for change too! Originally I set it up with the idea of recording my textile art as I embarked on a degree in stitched textiles. Not many of my original followers from those days are still around. In the intervening years there has been so much more... knitting, reading, family life and cakes... lots of cakes, but I'm not sure that is what I want to write about any more. It's art and painting that is lighting my fire... or perhaps I should say, Fanning my Flame, at the moment. I have set up a new Facebook page to share my art, where you will be most welcome to come and visit and follow me. And I think the website is almost done... I'll let you know when I have finished tweaking!



But just so you know the blog hasn't changed completely or gone forever, I'll share will you my latest knits for the grandson who really doesn't want to arrive!


There is a little cardigan from a knitsofacto pattern, a hat that I invented, that has been made twice (since the due date I might add) because the first time it was huge (I have no plans to go into pattern writing fortunately)... and a little bunny in a matching sweater from Little Cotton Rabbits.


Now all we need is a baby!


Now if you excuse me I'm going out to my studio to paint, where I will ignore the rain and howling wind,  while I wait for that phone call with news!
And the blog... I'm not really ready to give it up because letting go is hard isn't it? So I expect I'll see you again in about three weeks! 

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Since I was last here...

You might have been forgiven for thinking that I had run away to join the circus but no, I've just been here, keeping my head down, doing this and that, nothing really worthy of writing about. I think maybe it has something to do with the time of the year, February always feels like a bit of a transition time... the space between the new year and spring arriving. Most days I have been trying to spend a couple of hours in my studio doing something creative. My 30 second daily commute is rather inspiring as the garden is awash with snowdrops and hellebores


It has been one of the lovely things about moving to a new house, that we are constantly surprised by what pops up in the garden. I didn't bother with my little commute today though... I've just sat inside the house watching fence panels come down. It's not safe out there!


I have been taking another short online course, this time with Este Macleod. I like her work and was interested in her techniques, but although I have found it a good course that is packed with content, it has been too prescriptive for me. And I have realised I don't want to paint like Este Macleod! I guess I already knew that but the journey to finding my own artistic voice feels precarious at times and it's hard to listen to that inner voice that knows what I want to do.


I did make a couple of finished pictures as a result of the course that I am quite happy with, although they don't feel authentically mine. There were a lot of very similar looking pictures from everyone else taking the course. But I figure learning what we don't want to do is just as valuable as learning what we do want.


I have also been making some acrylic paintings that have come straight out of my head - semi abstract landscapes inspired by my weekend in the Lake District last year.


Possibly not everyone's cup of tea but at least they feel authentically mine and that is important to me.   Even if a well meaning friend named the one below 'Blue Slugs on Autumn Leaves'. I believe it was an attempt at humour as he rapidly renamed it 'Tarns of an Autumn Dawn' which is far more poetic but I am trying to be impervious to criticism or otherwise about my work!


There's not a lot else happening really... I'm trying to create a new website specifically for my painting. My old textile website died quite a while ago but it was outdated and clunky to use so there didn't seem much point reviving it. I had to write html code if I wanted update it or change things which was a challenge to say the least. Now I'm battling with the challenge of Squarespace or Wix... anyone here have experience of either? I keep watching online tutorials that tell me how intuitive it all is but I'm not buying it. It might be intuitive to a twenty something but not to this old girl!

The running has had a bit of a hiatus due to painful knees. It feels like muscle pain rather than joints so I'm hoping I just need to take things back a notch. I was putting ice on them but came to the conclusion it wasn't really helping and just making me cold. The pain has gone now and I thought I might venture out for a gentle jog this weekend but I was working all day yesterday and I wasn't going to battle with the wind today. I'm not that silly... running is hard enough without adding in extra resistance.

I have also been knitting tiny little garments because after having a year of weddings in 2018 we are now about to have a year of babies. Eldest son and his wife have a son due imminently and then we have another two due later in the year. It is just a little bit exciting!

Oh... and I made a cheesecake which given the love hate relationship I have with this Aga was something of an achievement. The instruction 'turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake in the oven until cold' was a bit of a challenge for an oven that never gets cold and reminded me of why the only cooking I now do is what is absolutely essential. But we had friends over for supper last night and I felt I should at least attempt to make a dessert. All those cakes are a thing of the past though. You would think the weight would be falling off me but it's not!


So that's what I've been up to... what about you?

Monday, 27 January 2020

Bucket Lists

Driving home from work a couple of weeks ago I was listening to a radio programme called "All in the Mind" and they were discussing bucket lists... you know... those things you want to do before you kick the bucket, like swimming with dolphins, sky diving, that sort of thing. They had an expert giving her opinion and she seemed to think that they were not a good thing, taking away spontaneity and keeping us focused on a rigid path in life. She claimed that it became harder to live in the moment if we go through our life ticking things off a list. She also seemed to think by creating a bucket list we were fooling ourselves into thinking we could control our own deaths but I was already shouting no, no, no at the radio by this point! When I embarked upon my 60 x 60 project I guess you could have called it a bucket list but it was never like that for me. It was about trying sixty new things I had never done before, visiting some of those places I had never got around to visiting, one or two were long time ambitions but mostly it was a case of instead of saying "I'll do that one day..." , I actually did it! Most of the things I did weren't actually on a list as such but the result of spontaneous decisions. For example we had driven past The Angel of the North dozens of times and every time we said we should stop there one day. As soon as I decided to embark on 60 x 60, the next time we headed north we actually stopped instead of just thinking about it.

I got to sixty new things but not until my 62nd year, but that didn't matter because it was never a race and I had plenty of fun on the way. Like I said, some were a long time ambition, like starting a baking business. As it happens I decided it wasn't really for me but I would never have known that if I hadn't tried. Many of the things I ended up doing were quite ordinary, several involved food, and one or two things were very exciting like the indoor sky diving and tree top zip wires. As well as recording everything here on my blog I also made a scrapbook and it's fun to flick through and remember everything. It certainly never felt like following a rigid path but just like having lots of fun.

So although when I got to the end of sixty things it was a bit tongue in cheek when I said I was going to start a 100 x 100 project I have been slowly notching up some new experiences. There are things I would still like to do such as see the northern lights one day... and yes, I quite fancy swimming with dolphins, but mostly it will be about trying new things. And making myself a new scrapbook to look back on when I get to be 100... maybe!


The first thing in my 100 x 100 was visiting The Ann Frank house in Amsterdam which we did back in September, something I had wanted to do for quite some time.


I can't say it ever occurred to me that I wanted to go on a 'feral retreat' and learn to spin in the wild but when the opportunity arose  it sounded like fun so I decided why not!


I might also have embarked in some wild swimming if I'd had a decent size towel with me but decided that air drying in The Lake District October probably wasn't sensible!
 

I've often said I would like to learn to carve a spoon and so when I saw a course advertised locally I took the chance and signed up.
 

I really did enjoy it and whilst I would like to do more, realistically I know I don't have the time for another hobby. Something else would have to give.


At Christmas I got to wind the  village church clock for a week.
 

I don't think it would have been something I would have added to my list if there was an actual list, but it was certainly interesting, wonderful to be part of village history and of course a brand new experience.


The next thing I would like to do is complete a Park Run. That might not seem like much of an ambition for someone who has run two marathons but I thought I would never run again, so getting back to a fitness level where I can run 5k will feel like quite an achievement. And I've never actually done a Park Run so it will be a first.

And all this is a rather long winded post to say I had another new experience on Saturday. We went to the local pub for a Burn's Supper and one of the choices for dessert was a deep fried Mars Bar. It has always sounded so wrong and actually not something I've ever really fancied but it was there on the menu so egged on my my Scottish born husband (who also had never had one before) we both opted for the Mars Bar rather than the more sensible Scottish shortbread.  It wasn't the prettiest dessert, looking more like a battered sausage than anything else, but I have to admit it was surprisingly good. Not something I would eat every week, and possibly never again if I care about my arteries but it's another experience clocked up!


So that's it... five things achieved towards 100 x 100 so only another ninety five to go! Maybe the Park Run next, maybe something else... watch this space!