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 My old textile website died quite a while ago but it was outdated and clunky to use so there didn't seem much point reviving it.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!

Monday, 20 January 2020

New Year, Fresh start

I'm not a big fan of resolutions but somehow a new year seems to be a good time for fresh starts and good intentions. For years I used to be a runner... quite a keen runner, belonging to running clubs, competing in races and even running a couple of marathons. But about ten years ago, on the advice of my GP, I gave it all up as I began to feel the wear and tear on my knees. I've always done plenty of walking and some swimming and my knees haven't really felt any better or worse. But I have really missed running and recently I've had a hunch that a bit of gentle jogging wouldn't hurt... and if it did I could always stop. So I decided that I would like to gently build up to doing a Park Run in 2020 and so three weeks ago I embarked on the Couch to 5k programme. So far so good and there have been no ill effects other than finding it hard work!

One of the hardest things is resisting buying new kit. I still have a pair of decent running shoes but I have been looking longingly at some of the latest lycra running gear. However, as you may remember, back in September I took a pledge not to buy any new clothes for a year in an effort to consume less... so it's been no new kit for me. In fact I have been wearing long sleeved Ron Hill running tops that are about thirty years old... but they do the job and I'm kidding myself if I think a bit of new running gear is going to make me look good when I run! Wobbly, bright red and panting has never really been a good look, has it?

My year of not buying new is going well and so far all I have bought is a pair of socks. They were necessary and I think can be classed as underwear which I am allowing myself to buy new. I draw the line at second hand knickers etc. I do have a look around the charity shops now and then though and last week came home with some great bargains. I bought a pair of shoes, previously unworn, a Phase Eight dress and an M & S top all for a total price of £12.50! I'm a charity shop convert.

The other intention I have set for the new year is to try and work on my art every day. It is such a pleasure to be working in my lovely new studio that this has been an easy one. I haven't always managed every single day as sometimes work and other things can get in the way but it has certainly become a regular habit and I have made lots of new pictures already this year, using a combination of painting, collage and stitch.

And I've been having fun with an app called InSituArtRoom that takes your photographs and makes them look like framed pictures in different room settings!

Although soon some of my pictures are going to be adorning some real walls and will be displayed in our local pub.

Have you had any good intentions for this new year?

Monday, 6 January 2020

A Room of my Own

When we moved at the beginning of July it was always the intention to have a studio built for me in the garden. Initially there was much deliberation as to where it would go... in front of the garage? Down the left side of the garden? Right side? We changed our minds daily but we both knew the only real solution was to demolish the existing garage, which was only being used to store clutter, definitely not cars. I can't remember when we last put a car in the garage.

So an action plan was drawn up and the first job was empty the garage. Despite our extensive decluttering before we downsized there were still many more trips to the dump and the remaining contents were stored under a tarpaulin on the lawn whilst we bought a shed. Cue another round of indecision as to the location of the shed but eventually the shed was built and the stuff that had been sitting on the lawn was transferred... totally filling it. We are promising ourselves another declutter once the weather warms up and we can face empying the shed.

The garage was demolished, unfortunately an old plum tree had to be felled too, but it will be replaced in the autumn and studio was build on the site of the garage.

By the end of November, five months after moving my studio was up and finished.

Of course it was then a slow process moving all the stuff that belonged in the studio out from the house. It's hard to believe I had gone through it all prior to moving and got rid of so much because I still have way too much stuff... just in case I might need it you know!

It has taken a while, especially with Christmas etc but it is slowly taking shape and it is so good to release some space in the house.

Boxes are being emptied and homes are gradually being found for things, although there are still some things I spend forever searching for!

But the best thing of all is I love being out there. It takes a little while to heat up so I switch the heater on about an hour before I need to go out, but then it stays reasonably warm and cosy. And I get quite lost in my own little world... mostly painting I have to say. There's not been a lot of sewing going on!

And just look at the lovely view of the church from my window. It's not a bad place to be going to work and the commute is pretty good too! I just need to train the staff to bring me out regular cups of tea.

Monday, 30 December 2019

No Man’s Land

How was your Christmas? All good I hope.
Ours was merry and bright with various family members visiting and staying at different times all week culminating with twelve here for lunch on Friday, although by then I think everyone was a little tired. So a good time was had but then it was all over in the blink of an eye. I'm resisting taking down the Christmas decorations! I usually relish this quiet no man's land between Christmas and New Year as a time to potter about and recharge my batteries but I have felt a bit restless and low in mood. I'm not sure why, and it will pass as all things do. The answer has been to stay busy and partake in activities that are good for the soul...

I have started some new knitting - a lovely pair of fairisle mitts from Lucy Locketland. I don't need more mitts and I have another knitting project half finished but I couldn't resist starting something new! And these are very portable which my other project isn't... that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

I have been reading, both fiction and non fiction. I heard Dave Goulson speak earlier in the year and I'm thoroughly enjoying his book, whilst dreaming of turning my garden into a haven for wildlife. The painting book was a Christmas present which I hope will encourage me to keep painting into the new year... that's my resolution anyway.

The latest book from Barbara Kingsolver is every bit as good as I anticipated... I don't want to put it down but also don't want it to finish. I just love everything she writes.

We have also been blessed with some beautiful weather over the past couple of days - cold, crisp and sunny which is perfect for walking. If I'm honest I could take it even crisper as it is still muddy underfoot. We seem to be constantly be cleaning muddy paws!

I've also managed to do a bit of cutting back and clearing in my potential wildlife haven... although not too much clearing so not to disturb any hibernating creepy crawlies! Plus the blackbirds are rather fond of the berries.

And in doing so I have discovered absolutely dozens of little snowdrops emerging. One of the joys of owning a new garden is discovering all the hidden gems.

The previous owners seem to have had a thing about hellebores too as they are everywhere, not that I'm complaining. So pretty to have flowers at this time of year.

The biggest highlight of my Christmas week however has been being responsible for winding the church clock. Every morning I have climbed the narrow spiral staircase in the clocktower to wind up this amazing clockwork mechanism, something that has been done pretty much every day for the past 267 years. It's wonderful to think of all the different people who have done this before me and is definitely something to be counted in my 100 x 100 list!

So that has been my week and here we are about to enter a new year. We've no special plans to celebrate and for the first time since we met we are not going out or spending new year's eve with friends, which does feel a little odd. I guess we might crack open a bottle of fizz but there's a good chance we'll be fast asleep by midnight!

Whatever your plans... Happy New Year!

Friday, 20 December 2019

More Advent Windows

Before I disappear under piles of wrapping paper in a mince pie induced stupor, I thought you might like to see some more of the advent windows that have popped up in our village over the past week or so. I have managed to get out at 5 pm to the lighting up of most of them, despite some very wet and windy weather. Quite often the few hardy souls who venture out have been rewarded with some very welcome refreshments. Mulled wine, mulled cider and hot chocolate have all been sampled along with mince pies, Lebkuchen, stollen, cookies, flapjacks and panetonne... although not all at once I might add. I quite miss my 5pm treat on the nights I have not managed to get out! Anyway, the windows in the order that my photos loaded...

John and Lesley did a simple but very effective silhouette, lit beautifully with a star of fairy lights which hasn't photographed at all well. Taking photos in the dark has been quite a challenge. There is a touch of humour in this one with the Star Wars TIE fighter... did you spot it? It reminded me of my brother who aged about seven drew a lovely picture in his school book of Harold at the battle of Hastings removing the arrow from his eye, complete with a fleet of fighter jets whizzing overhead.

Tonight we were treated to this stunning tree from Peter and Christine. The warm mulled wine was very welcome as we stood in the freezing rain!

I didn't actually get to see the window above on lighting up night but isn't it beautiful with all the doves flying around. However I did get to see Jane and Alan's window below, which must have taken ages to put together. Although I have loved seeing every single one I think their rendition of a bookshop window is just perfect and probably my favourite. It is full of Christmas themed books that Jane has collected. Just peering in feels like entering another world. I think I would like to curl up in a corner with one or two of those books!

The stained glass effect angel was simple in design but very effective and quite poignant. Gilly made it in memory of her sister, with the angel wearing her sister's favourite colour dress. The sunshine was a reminder to keep sunshine in our lives despite difficult circumstances.

My photo doesn't really capture Anne and Peter's window very well but the beautiful traditional crib scene is made from a bamboo set that Anne collected when she lived in Hong Kong. But the piece de resistance is the coloured star which moves across the night sky in an arc down behind the stable, driven by Peter's childhood meccano set!

The window below is another feat of construction, again not really shown up in my photos but each of the little buildings is beautifully made from Lego.

This gorgeous snowy scene is just a few doors along from us so we didn't have to venture far but I think the children of the household had a part in making the snowflakes and pompoms etc. They were very excited by their lights being turned on and the people turning up to watch.

The window below is a beautiful parade of nutcrackers.

And Sarah and Colin's window is another fabulous stained glass effect, although Sarah did admit she had outsourced the work to her Mum!

I have missed a few and there are of course still four more to go. On Christmas eve the window will be unveiled at the chapel following a carol service so I expect we will wander along for that. From Monday through to Friday next week we have various family members turning up at different times culminating with twelve here for lunch on Friday, although Christmas day itself will be quiet with just the two of us and my Mum. 

So that's it from me for a while. The jury is still out as to whether I will continue to blog into the new year, as I've not been around much lately. We shall see... I won't disappear without saying farewell!
It really just remains for me to wish you all a very happy Christmas whatever you might be doing... I hope it's a good one!

Monday, 16 December 2019

Decking the Halls

When you have lived somewhere for almost thirty years the Christmas decorations evolve to fit the house, so moving somewhere new feels like starting all over again. When we packed up after Christmas last year I did get rid of quite a bit, such as my stair garland, as I knew it was unlikely to fit a new home. To be honest I was glad to see the back of it as each year it seemed a little balder and dustier than before! Most of the other bits and pieces have been accommodated into our cottage with only a few being relegated back into the box, having tried them and decided they don't really fit.

Despite downsizing we have gone from a single fire place to having three so that has required a major rethink as I don't really want to go out buying new stuff... being on a year of not buying new stuff where possible. The big open hearth with it's solid wood mantel proved a challenge but over the weekend I went foraging for greenery and pine cones and came home laden. One reel of florist's wire later plus a few silk poinsettias from our old stair garland and I have a beautifully decorated hearth in our living/dining/kitchen area.

 I feel quite pleased with my efforts!


In our small front room I have put together more pine cones and poinsettias together with ornaments that used to adorn our piano and have decorated the mantel there.

And the fireplace in our hallway has inherited the garland that used to decorate the one and only fireplace in our old house.

So together with a wonderful 8' tree, grown in the village and carried home on Saturday I think the house feels just about ready for Christmas

If only everything else was so organised... I've barely even thought about gifts or food etc! And we might just have to go without a Christmas cake, although it wouldn't be the only year I make one with less than a week to go! But I'm not stressing because none of it really matters.
Are you ready for Christmas yet?