Sunday, 2 December 2018

It's Starting to Feel a Lot Like...

Yes, Christmas. So now we are here in December I cannot help myself feeling a lit bit excited. Already I imagine I can make all the presents, cook everything from scratch, decorate the house with homemade garlands etc. etc. but it's not going to happen because the truth is I'm already exhausted! This week began with a long overdue trip into London to catch up with a friend. I went in early not wanting to waste the opportunity of being in town and I saw the Anni Albers exhibition at the Tate Modern. It was good, but if I'm honest weaving is not really my thing and so after the first few exhibits they all started to look the same. Coming out it was lovely to see the city lit up on a cold but sparkling evening, already looking very festive.

Jude and I met at Comptoir Libanais, London Bridge which was a feast for the senses, a riot of colour and decorative detail. The fabulous Lebanese food was also a treat for the taste buds full of wonderful flavours. I had an Aubergine Fattet ( a sort of Moussaka) followed by an Orange blossom Mouhalabia ( a traditional milk pudding with a dried fruit compote). My Insta worthy photos of my half eaten food weren't really that good so I won't share them with you. Trust me... it was excellent!

Back at home there has been baking as I have made a start on the Christmas cakes... yes, that is cakes not cake as I have six to make this year. I'm not complaining as they are all orders and I enjoy making them. If we are lucky we might get to keep one of them too but I'm not that bothered. I can take it or leave it as I find I'm too full of everything else to want cake at this time of year.

There were also a batch of mini Christmas cakes too, made for the church market on Saturday. They usually sell like... well, hot cakes... but not this year. So if I don't get to keep a large cake for us there could well be several small ones instead.

The reindeer cookie pops however were a big hit and I sold out of those.

There was also a day this week looking after this little chap... it's hard to believe that he is almost two. He is on the move constantly and so busy and interested in everything. I think I must be getting old as I'm sure I never used to get this tired when my four were small! He's an absolute delight though. Maybe I wouldn't get so tired if I wasn't crawling around on all fours pretending to be a lion!

Stewart got a treat this week as I made him an advent calendar filled with twenty four different beers. Well I think they are all different but I did start to lose count of what I had already bought. It's a bit rickety and the doors don't quite fit but he was happy

This was me at the market yesterday, held in the local church. I have been doing this market for several years now and it feels like the start of Christmas for me. It's always a lovely morning catching up with lots of friends

Today I have been at work in the cafe, mostly in the kitchen where it has been non-stop all day. Back home I made another couple of Christmas cakes this evening, plus a pan of soup from all the veg lurking at the bottom of the fridge (it tastes much better than it sounds), a batch of granola for some quick breakfasts as well as tonight's dinner. Should keep us going for a few days I hope as I'm back in the cafe again at 8.45 tomorrow morning.

So bit of a boring post really as I catch up on this week. Plans of shorter more regular (and more entertaining) posts just don't seem to happen. Well they do in my head but as you can see there is too much else going on. At least I wasn't silly enough to attempt a daily post in December as in previous years! How are your Christmas plans going?

Saturday, 24 November 2018

How You Can Help!

For the past 11 months our income has fallen way short of our monthly outgoings, a situation that has been on and off for the past six years. Recently both Stewart and I have got part time jobs (can you believe I have been working in the cafe for two months already!) and the difference between what comes in and what goes out has narrowed but it's still a bit of a juggling act. I'm not complaining, it is what it is, but it does mean that my 'art career' if that's what you can call it is more than just a hobby. I don't do it just for fun (although it is fun) it is my work. The teaching is well paid but unfortunately it is sporadic and not reliable as often classes don't meet the required numbers and then they don't run. And selling stuff is really difficult which is why this past week I have taken part in the JustaCard indie week on Instagram.

Photo: Joanne Hawker

The idea is to encourage people to shop small, local and independent this Christmas to support all us little independent businesses struggling to make a living. The campaign arose after a gallery owner was overheard to say that if everyone who had come into the gallery and admired the work, had bought just one card, then they wouldn't have had to close down. One card is the price of a coffee, and these last couple of months have really opened my eyes as to how much people spend on coffee!

Of course, you may not always want to buy stuff but there are so many other ways in which you can support small businesses. Most of us don't have a huge budget for marketing and rely on social media to spread the word about what we do. So getting people engaged is crucial as search algorithms alone do not work. So what can you do?

1. LIKE posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as this shows someone is engaging.
2. Better still, leave a COMMENT. Tell someone if you like something, ask a question and start a dialogue. Just say something nice... it really does make our day!
3. SHARE a post, linking back to the maker. This is the most powerful thing you can do as it helps reach a whole new audience. 

Just these three steps can make all the difference but you can also subscribe to newsletters - I have a button to subscribe to mine on my sidebar, where I share upcoming classes, sometimes I have discounts in my Etsy shop and I generally let people know what I'm up to. Then share these newsletters with like minded friends, again it is reaching a new audience. When you buy something on Etsy and love it, then post to social media, link back to the maker and leave a glowing review. Each of these small steps really do help.

I had been planning a post about this for some time but thank you Joanne Hawker for helping me put it into words!

And you can find me on Facebook as Gina Ferrari Textile Art and on Instagram as Gina Ferrari Art. I'm also on Twitter occasionally and the link is on my sidebar. So if you don't already, please follow me on these platforms.

Of course while it is lovely if you do all these things it is even better when someone buys something and so I'm am trying hard to keep my Etsy shop stocked up. There are several tutorials that can be purchased as downloadable PDFs available so you can make your own gifts. It is whole other blogpost about charging for tutorials and rather than make this too long you might want to read this post by Dolly Henry but I think anyone who sells tutorials comes across those people who expect something for nothing. I recently posted about these crackers on Facebook and had a message from someone saying how much she loved them and asking for details of how to make them. I sent back the link to my shop where the tutorial is available for £5 (It would cost £35 or more to come to a day class with me to learn how to make these) Not a word of reply, not even a thanks but no thanks... and certainly no purchase! It can be quite soul destroying, as though we are trying to cheat people out of their money.

There are also some physical items for sale including one or two of these hoops that have escaped the dog's shenanigans (although there are PDFs to make these too)

And this week I have been making angels for the Christmas tree... because it really is only four and half weeks away!

They take a ridiculously long time to make for what they are but I do love making them.
And I guess that is why we do what we do... it's certainly not to get rich quick!
There are only three available at the moment (free postage in the UK) but I hope to be adding more next week.

Now my little rant is over, enjoy the rest of your weekend... I'm off to make some more angels!

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

It Just Wasn't my Day!

Having delivered these four paintings for a small local exhibition last week, I was looking forward to seeing them in situ. Although I have had textiles in many exhibitions over the years, paintings are still new territory for me and I wasn't feeling too confident. But on Saturday morning we set out, collecting my Mum en route, to visit the exhibition.

Imagine my disappointment to find two of my pictures hung together like they had run out of time and space. I wouldn't have minded quite so much if the whole exhibition was badly hung but every other picture had lots of space around it and looked very professional. The chances are I wouldn't have sold anything anyway but I knew there was no chance of selling them looking like this. I felt like I had been an after thought.

It was disappointing but there wasn't much I could do at the time (I have let the organisers know what I felt since) so we left and went off for some lunch before returning home to carnage! Our very naughty dog had managed to get into my studio (he likes it because it is the only room downstairs that has carpet on the floor) and take six embroideries out of a bag, destroying them all, along with several reels of thread. I'm not sure how much of it he swallowed but so far has shown no ill effects (Suffice to say some of it has reappeared!) He had no concept of having done anything wrong and was really excited to see us and wagged his tail enthusiastically when we got back, keen to show us the new toys he had chewed! I wasn't quite so enthusiastic as him as you might imagine.

Taking the philosophical approach that it is only stuff that can be replaced, we had a quick cuppa and I took Mum home. When I got back there was a message from Stewart that he had gone out to collect his son from the station but was unable to start his car again so was stranded at the station. I had to go and rescue them leaving the car there for the weekend until we could get it towed back. It's a very old car. Originally mine, it was the first one I bought for myself after I was divorced. That might not sound very significant but was actually the first car I had ever bought or chosen for myself, having always had cars chosen for me, (don't get me started on the subject of control) which at the time seemed a huge step  towards my independence. After four days without it, our local garage have got it working again for the time being but its days are definitely numbered. I know it's only a car but I will be sad to see it go.

By then, we didn't  think anything else could go wrong. In the evening we were going to a village social fundraising supper to celebrate Thanksgiving. I decided to wear red, white and blue so put on my special dress that I had made for Kirsty's wedding, along with red shoes and cardigan. As the first course was served I suddenly had a whole cup of pumpkin soup poured over me... accidentally I might add, the poor chap serving us was mortified. It mopped up and the dress has been washed so there was no lasting damage but I couldn't help thinking I should have stayed in bed on Saturday!

I know I have not replied but thank you if you commented on my last post. I really appreciated your kind words and thoughts but didn't have the energy to answer. Jacob seems to be in a better place and dare I say it, life is returning to normal... well as normal as it ever gets if you have just read this post!

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Life's Curve Ball

Just as I was starting to get used the the constant merry go round from working in the cafe to teaching embroidery and everything else in between.... just as I opened my mouth and said that at last life was starting to feel okay for the first time this year... a curve ball came and threw everything off course. Once again my youngest son hit a crisis and I had to drop everything. It is his story and not mine to tell but it obviously it impacts on our life too. He has faced much anxiety inducing change over the past few months and finally something tipped him over the edge. I'd like to tell you the NHS were amazing but without us to provide him with a safe environment I'm not sure what he would have done. When a crisis team finally got to see us their "help" amounted to little more than a series of platitudes. Telling someone who barely has the energy to get out of bed and feels that life is hopeless that they should try exercising more or should perhaps practise mindfulness is not in the least helpful. When he is in a better place he is well aware that these things help to keep him well but not when he is in a place of despair. For three days, I held his hand, ministered cups of tea and listened when he had the energy to talk. I didn't leave the house except to walk the dog and I did what I always do when  life is stressful... I baked!

There were apple and oatmeal cookies...

Chewy brownies with nuggets of caramel...

Orange scented almond ricciarelli biscuits...

And even some membrillo jelly sweets because I was given another bag of quince to use up.
Being confined to the house and missing a couple of days of work also meant that I managed to get my paints out one afternoon and I finished this painting of tango dancers... which was just as well as it had been accepted for an exhibition that opens this week!

Then by the end of last week things improved enough that I took J back to his house in Cambridge (the boat is a thing of history!) and although I wasn't sure I would make it I managed to get away for a much anticipated girls weekend away. Ten of us stayed in a fabulous barn conversion in the middle of a nature reserve in Oxfordshire for three days of eating, drinking, walking and friendship. On Saturday we ventured out in the sunshine for a walk though the nature reserve. It wasn't long before we were faced with a small stream and no bridge.... the only thing for it was to take off our boots and socks and paddle! It might have been okay if I hadn't dropped one of my boots in the water!

With boots back on we carried on walking as the black clouds closed in and we tried to decide whether we could make it to a pub before the rain started. Instead we opted to go straight back to the barn...

But not before walking headlong into driving hailstones. We laughed but oh boy were we wet! And the barn was a lot further away than we thought. Back in the dry we shed our wet things and stayed in for the rest of the day to drink tea and eat cake (I knew there was a reason I'd done all that baking!)

Sunday morning was glorious and so we set out again, albeit with slightly damp boots for a lovely walk along the river Thames

At one point our navigator led us astray to a ford across the river... She was much amused as we all protested and refused to take our shoes and socks off  a second time to cross to the other side. Only then did she confess she had taken us on a detour!

We carried on walking and found a bridge instead!

At 11 am we stopped beneath these trees near an old pill box to observe two minutes silence. As we all stood together the only sound was that of the wind as it picked up and rustled the last remaining leaves causing them to flutter down amongst us, a fitting metaphor as we remembered the many fallen. And as the last post sounded, a single bird sang. I'm not a particularly spiritual person but it was an amazing shared experience that moved us all.

For me, it was also a moment to realise that all I can do is be there for J when he needs me, I can't make him better. But equally it is important to live my own life to the full too. And being away with these nine fabulous women certainly was a life affirming experience. We ate some amazing food that everyone contributed, drank prosecco, wine and gin (although not all at the same time) as well as copious amounts of tea, read books, did some knitting, finished a jigsaw and even played pass the parcel with some hysterical forfeits... have you ever tried turning around ten times and then drinking a glass of water? And on the final night we discovered that one of our party, Fiona, is a talented poet when she read us some of her very witty creations. We thought she should write a poem about our weekend away which led to everyone trying to contribute an offering... this is my rather amateur attempt:

"Ten fabulous friends converged in the shires
For a long weekend around cosy log fires.
With lasagne, chilli and tiramisu
There was plenty of food and lots to drink too!
Gin, Prosecco and the odd glass of wine
plus tea and cake ensured a good time.
On Saturday morning they ventured outside
To set off for a walk and spy birds from a hide.

They dipped their feet in a stream that made them all scream
As they paddled and slipped across.
The water was cold and tingled their toes
And the stones were all covered in moss!

Before very long, black clouds blew in and everyone got a good soaking.
But back in the barn they soon dried off and glasses were raised with more gin in!
They ate more food and games were played
Photos were swapped and stories relayed

On Armistice day they walked once again
In cold winter sunshine by the banks of the Thames
They stood together in silence beneath some bare trees,
As leaves fluttered down in the whispering breeze.
Remembering the fallen, there was a tear or two
A spiritual moment and beautiful too.

It was all agreed they had a great time, despite the brief spot of rain
in unison they all declared... When can we do it again?"

Back home, J is in a slightly better place than he was two weeks ago, I'm feeling refreshed from my change of scene and I'm hopeful that life will get back on an even keel once again. Who knows, I might even manage to blog more than once every two weeks! I hope all is well with you x

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Being Creative

I still feel I'm on that merry go round, juggling the work life balance but trying to fit in as much life as possible around the work.

Last weekend our drama group put on a Jazz evening with live music. We decided to provide canapes and cocktails, which might have been my idea so I volunteered to make the canapes... I'm full of good ideas me! Just for the record... canapes take a ridiculously long time to make. Remind me of that next time I come up with a good idea!

I also volunteered to cut out some silhouettes to decorate the walls.

We dressed up in glitzy 1920s outfits, danced to the live jazz and generally had a brilliant evening.

After a full day at work on Sunday, I then had a yearning to bake so made this blueberry, lemon and almond loaf cake... an Ottolenghi recipe that was featured in Delicious magazine. It really was deliciously simple!

Tuesday I managed a nine hour shift at the cafe. It was ridiculously busy for a Tuesday and I ended up only having a five minute break all day. I was so tired I don't really remember driving home, which I guess is not ideal. It was tempting to do nothing all day yesterday, but it was Halloween and I couldn't resist a bit of pumpkin carving...

Not too scary for all our little visitors last night. And as a bonus, we've lots of chocolates to finish off tonight!

And then today it was my turn to provide a cake for our village over 60's club. One of my earliest blog posts was about providing a cake for the over 60s club... something I've done on the first Thursday in November ever since. I'm ignoring the fact that I'm now actually eligible to attend the club myself! I made a cherry and coconut cake, not for the first time, as you will see if you followed that link.

And tomorrow I'm back in work again, back on that merry go round. But something I have realised this week is that I'm happiest when being creative, whether that means making canapes, cutting out decorations, baking cakes, carving pumpkins...  sewing, knitting or painting. That is what I really love doing. Now if only someone would pay me for doing that every day!

Have a lovely weekend everyone!

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Catching up.

I think that blogs posts from me in the coming weeks might be a bit like the proverbial hen's teeth as I am finding juggling the job at the cafe along with everything else all consuming at the moment, not to mention exhausting. I'm not sure I'm quite rocking the 'struggling artist waiting tables to make ends meet' image at my age! All I can think about is this particular waitress!

Friday was a fun day at work though as we held a Wear it Pink day to raise money for Breast Cancer Now. I brought in some raspberry ripple cupcakes which were sold alongside all the other goodies and lots of friends popped in to support the good cause.

I then worked all day on Saturday and another five hours on Sunday but despite being tired I was determined when I finished on Sunday not to waste the last couple of hours of sunshine. Rather than venture further afield we just headed out of the house and walked the footpaths around our village.

As always Hector enjoyed the extra long walk and a chance for a good run.

We stayed out for almost two hours until the sun started to go down... it was beautiful.

I was also given a huge bag of quince (is quinces a word... I don't think so, it sounds wrong?) before the weekend so I couldn't let them go to waste. They look so gnarled, knobbly and unpromising but I know they yield the most exquisite perfumed jelly. They are ridiculously hard and difficult to cut when raw but I chopped them up and boiled them to a pulp before passing them through a jelly bag.

The result liquid was then boiled up with sugar and some lemon juice and I now have several jars of beautifully fragranced amber jelly.... fifteen jars to be precise! What on earth I will do with fifteen jars of quince jelly I'm not entirely sure. No prizes for guessing what I might be giving people at Christmas!

I also had a yearning to make Welsh cakes. My Mum used to make them when we were young although nowadays she buys them ready made from the supermarket. I thought if I made some I could take her a few... except we seem to have eaten them all. They really are best eaten warm and fresh... just saying! I promise I'll make more for my Mum.

It's probably not surprising that my own sewing seems to have taken a back seat over the past couple of weeks but I just had to share these two beautiful little gift boxes made by a couple of my students, Ruth and Julia, at my weekly machine embroidery class. They are just 5 cm square and really are gorgeous. Ruth has only been doing machine embroidery with me for seven weeks... how clever is that!

So that's what I've been up to over the past week or so... tomorrow I'm back at the cafe so life feels a little like a merry-go-round right now.

What have you been up to lately?

Monday, 15 October 2018

I'm Fine - Here and Now in October!

We were out on Saturday night to another fabulous village event - a fund raiser for the local branch of the NSPCC where my friend Sarah was performing with her stage partner Ros as the totally brilliant Pulsatillas. On arrival Sarah greeted me and asked how I was. "I'm fine" was my reply and Sarah laughed... "Really? We've got a song about that tonight". And it's true isn't it. How often do we say we are fine when actually we are struggling with something or another. To be honest it has been a long time since I've been absolutely fine. Some of the things that are going on I have written about here over the year, other things not and if you ask me I'll say I'm fine. Because that is what we do. But I heard something else on Saturday. One of the customers in the cafe left us with a little quotation:
"Always be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle" attributed to Plato
And I thought that is true too... so be kind because behind the words "I'm fine" there might be all sorts of struggles going on.

Which is by way of an introduction to a post about finding some mindfulness and meditation in our day to day life which came about from reading a lovely blog called Dolly Henry from where I found a  "Here and Now" link up from Say! Little Hen. I'm not sure I'll manage to join in every month but it seemed a good way to stop and reflect on what is good now and then!

Loving// this new little book from Beth Kempton. Last year everything was about Hygge but I suspect it won't be long before we are all talking about Wabi Sabi, a Japanese concept that is about appreciating simple beauty in the world around us, appreciating the passage of time and imperfection as well appreciating the here and now. Or at least that is my interpretation which is rather apt  for this post. I'm certainly appreciating the feel of this beautiful little book in my hand.

Eating// far too many of these little raspberry Friands. Similar to a French Financier, they are a little cake popular in Australia and New Zealand made from almonds, egg whites, butter and icing sugar. They are easy to make and easy to eat with lovely light fruity centres and slightly crispy edges. And they are rather delicious!

Feeling// cosy indoors on a second day of continuous rain. We didn't get a weekend walk yesterday, only the usual dog walks but made the most of being indoors, catching up with jobs around the house

Making// a scarf. Having a day at home meant I was able to finish this scarf which I have been making for far too long. It was meant as a birthday present for my daughter-in-law except her birthday was in September... the beginning of September! Fortunately she is lovely and pointed out it had been far too warm for wearing a scarf yet so it would be perfect timing for when it was finished. Despite looking very complicated it is just a simple repeating pattern of decreases and increases in garter stitch but using two different colour balls of variegated yarn. You can find the free pattern here. I'm on the look out for something else to knit now that evenings are drawing in.

Thinking// of new ways to generate income from my creative work, which doesn't actually feel very mindful or "here and now" just stressful. I seem to have totally bombed with the patterns for my embroidery hoops and have only made two sales. Maybe they are too expensive... but I did a lot of price comparison beforehand... or maybe they are not what people want or like, who knows? But they haven't been a success story. Megan from Dolly Henry made the point that the pressure from trying to generate an income from creative work and constantly coming up with new ideas is actually enormous.

Dreaming// about a holiday and being able to generate enough income to go away next year... either that or hope the house finally sells! I'm not complaining - we had a glorious couple days in Elafonisos for my Son's wedding this summer but it has been three years since our last proper holiday together. It would be good just to get away for a break.
But do you know what... I'm fine!

Linking up with Sarah for October's Here and Now