Friday, 22 June 2018

I'm Still Here!

I feel I'm in a time warp. It's weird, the days are long and don't feel particularly rushed but the weeks are whizzing by with so much to fit in. Blogging as ever seems to have taken the back seat. We've had a birthday, well there have actually been four family birthdays in the past three weeks but only one for which I needed to bake. Stewart opted for a cheesecake over anything else so that is what he got. Lemon and raspberry which was rather delicious since you ask!

I am acutely aware that in two weeks time my home will be open for Cambridge Open Studios once more. At least I don't have to clean and tidy up, having the house on the market has done wonders for my standard of housekeeping. And Stewart has become quite the gardener. Weeding and grass cutting a speciality.

In between various other activities I have snatched moments at my sewing machine to make some small items for sale. Of course three months ago there were grand plans for all sorts of gift items to be stitched. But  they haven't really got beyond the planning stage. The bag of forty zips I bought for making a collection of little zipped bags will have to keep for Christmas... or possibly next year. There have been a few lavender bags finished off though.

However it is next week that it will be all systems go. I have a wedding cake to cover and decorate, no. 3 son to collect from Gatwick before we all head off to Greece for no. 1 son's wedding... Gatwick again at 5.35 am! We will be back home just in time (with three additional house guests) for my first weekend of Open Studios, then a small family only civic ceremony when son no. 2 gets married,  followed by punting on the River Cam and dinner. There is a small matter of 150 cupcakes to bake and decorate before we then have a big wedding party to celebrate son no. 2's wedding. And all this before 14th July! That's not even mentioning house viewings etc.

So when my lovely friend Terry asked did I want to join another couple of ladies learning to make mosaics with her, I jumped at a chance of a day out doing something exclusively for me. It was a lovely day where we worked in the garden under the shade of a tree. Not only did I finish this rather quirky bird but I managed to use up some paua shell that I'd brought back from New Zealand six years ago. If it had been the first time I tried mosaic I might have been able to clock up another 60 x 60 but it is the third time!

The first time was when I made this very well used, hence grubby, coaster that came as a free kit with Inspirations magazine. I used to love that magazine that was always packed full of fabulous stuff to make and interviews with really interesting makers. But it disappeared years ago. My coaster however lives on!

Then many years later I met Terry at Open Studios and a bond was formed over common interests of sewing and amateur dramatics. And she very generously gave me a one to one session where I made this plaque. It wasn't that long ago but I'd forgotten everything, despite wanting to make more mosaics (I never did of course), so it was lovely to spend Wednesday learning all over again.

And once again I would like to make more mosaic... although it's not going to happen over the next couple of weeks. I fact over lunch recently Terry said she didn't want to see me blogging over the beginning of July until all weddings etc are over. She has a point, realistically I probably won't have time but I might sneak back with an odd photo or two. You'll want to see photos of our gorgeous Mamma Mia wedding won't you?

I also found time to go off and do what will probably be my final 60 x 60 (although it is actually only no. 53) yesterday afternoon as my 61st birthday falls between these two weddings. I tried Circle dancing for the first time. It was outside in a beautiful garden where we spent a couple of hours dancing gentle rhythmical dances to lovely music, celebrating the arrival of midsummer. The whole chakra, lei lines, priestess, airy fairy floaty stuff wasn't really my cup of tea so it's not an experience I will probably repeat but I did thoroughly enjoy my afternoon. I won't mention the fact that I don't seem to be able to distinguish my left from my right. The strawberry and cake afternoon tea was rather good too!

And finally, I haven't forgotten... that Festival of Quilts ticket. I did a random names in a hat type of thing and the winner was Jee... I'll email you Jane.

Have a lovely weekend and you'll know where I am if I'm not writing here!

Tuesday, 12 June 2018


I was reminded last week that one of my resolutions or intentions for 2018 was to finish off all those half finished or just started projects I have lurking around... and there are a lot of them which I'm not sure says much for my attention span!

Long time readers will know that I'm not really a patchwork and quilter although I'm often irresistibly drawn to beautiful piles of fabric and lured into believing that I will be able to make something fabulous with them. This was the case a few years ago at the Festival of Quilts when I bought these gorgeous shot cottons from Oakshott Fabrics.

My intention was to make a table runner with some place mats but I forged ahead without much of a plan and cut out lots of rectangular pieces to make log cabin blocks and at the time I may have even made up a couple of the blocks. And then it was all put into a bag and put away in a drawer while I plunged myself with enthusiasm into the next thing to grab my interest. Occasionally it would come out again and I would have to remind myself of the process all over again and try to remember if I had a plan for the end result but I never got very far until this week.

I finished all the blocks, twenty one in total and it was time to decide how to put them together. It was then I realised if I wanted a runner plus place mats I probably should have had more of a plan before cutting out the fabric in the first place. So instead I just stitched them all together and decided to see what I ended up with. To be honest I was just happy that things lined up and corners more or less came together.. for an ex-mathematician my accuracy in cutting and sewing up leaves a lot to be desired!

And so here it is... possibly the wrong proportions for a table runner (without mats unless I invest in more fabric), certainly too small to be a quilt but maybe it will end up as a wall hanging? All suggestions most gratefully received! Of course, there is still the small matter of quilting, lining and binding so I'm nowhere near having finished this project but possibly a little closer than I was.

And talking of quilts does lead me very nicely into what I really need to tell you and that is I will be back at the Festival of Quilts this summer teaching two one hour workshops for Husqvarna on Saturday 11th and Sunday 12th August. We will be making little needle cases decorated with free machine embroidery - everything is supplied, you just need to show up!

And what is more... I have a free ticket for the show to give away. If you would like a chance to win the ticket then please leave a comment and I will pick a name at random this time next week. Leave me a comment even if you don't want a ticket... I need ideas of what to do with that log cabin patchwork!

And while you are about it please remind me that I do not need to buy any more fabric at the Festival of Quilts this year!

Friday, 8 June 2018

In Other News...


Whilst moving house may be occupying most of our time and head space I  have been doing other stuff too. The wedding waistcoats are finished! Seven waistcoats, one for the groom and six for his groomsmen (although two of them are women) which involved forty buttonholes and forty self cover buttons. All I can say is never again!

But I am looking forward to seeing them all being worn at what will be our second of three weddings this summer. You would think that I would have had enough of dressmaking after all that but there was some fabric left over so I decided to make a top for myself.

It actually looks much better on than off and fits really well (Merchant & Mills Camber top) and as it only took about three hours I'm tempted to make another one in some different fabric. I wasn't sure whether the contrasting neck binding made it look like I had run out of fabric (I hadn't) but I think I quite like it.

I also made a rhubarb and orange Amaretti cake as a friend gave me loads of rhubarb from her allotment. It is so long since I've made a cake that I stared at the bowls and couldn't remember what to do first! There were also a couple of rhubarb crumbles for dessert and some rhubarb compote to go on our breakfast.

I have finished a couple more books. Every time I take a bag of books to our book exchange or charity shop I come back with another couple... so much for decluttering! I didn't really enjoy My Favourite Wife. It is about a young lawyer, Bill who moves with his wife and daughter to work in Shanghai. They move into Paradise Mansions which is full of 'second wives' in what can only be described as a concubine system. I didn't like Bill's character and thought the descriptions of life in Shanghai made it sound awful. I didn't find it funny or particularly sad, but just a bit pathetic.

I've really enjoyed Notes from an Exhibition however. It is not the first time I have read  it but couldn't remember anything much about it, which is a bit worrying given how good it is! I enjoyed the last Patrick Gale book I read so much, that I was keen to read this one again and I'm glad I did.

I've also been away for work for a couple of days. I gave a talk to the ladies of Worcester Embroiderer's Guild. This was while everyone was arriving and I was hiding in a corner behind my work! Well not really hiding... just trying to discretely eat a sandwich before we started!

The following day I taught a workshop and these were the eight fabulous landscapes finished during the day... such a lovely variety of work and a lovely group of ladies too, several of whom read my blog! So hello ladies... especially my no. 1 fan Sharron!

Back home I've been shopping today which was quite an achievement as I detest shopping. I needed shoes for the first of the weddings, something suitable for a Greek island, so I'm feeling rather pleased with myself that I've actually come home with something that I really like... and before I reached my boredom threshold too!

However I have reached my boredom threshold trying to write this post on my dying laptop so I'm quitting while I'm ahead. I hope you all have a great weekend!

Monday, 4 June 2018

A Lick of Paint

I have been confounded by technology this week. After my last post I thought I had been totally abandoned by all my readers. Usually comments come through as emails to my inbox. I have no idea whether I set it up to do that or it just happened but following that last blogpost there was a deathly silence. No emails... and no comments, so I thought! Then yesterday I happened to check the blog directly and and there were 22 comments I didn't know about! It has happened since the new privacy laws so I'm wondering if that has anything to do with it. I also noticed something about open ID comments pop up on Blogger which I haven't checked out.

So thank you all for commenting. Of course it now means it is not so easy to reply by email which is my preference so I am gradually replying in the comment box. But is good too know that I haven't been abandoned and that I'm not alone in finding house moving stressful.

And now to make things worse my laptop is dying a slow and intensely irritating death. It still sort of works and I can just about access documents etc but everything is taking so long. It has just taken 20 minutes to save a document! So I'm trying this on my iPad... struggling with formatting but I'm determined not to be beaten.

We have just about got the house and garden as spick and span as we can
. Of course I realise anyone buying the house will want to put their own stamp on things but there has still been a lick of paint here and there. I've drawn the line at painting over the Jungle bedroom though... I just couldn't do it!

I know I have shown you photos before but I can't resist posting them one last time...


All done over twenty years ago because my then eight year old son (who happens to be getting married next month) was crazy about gorillas!

I was never too sure about giraffes in the jungle but Sam chose the animals he wanted to share his bedroom.

My favourite was always the salamander over the door!

However, one of the other bedrooms was still painted in decor which was the choice of a ten year old boy and I did feel that a quick makeover was called for before the estate agent came to take photos. Despite some precarious moments when I was balanced on top of the bunk bed with a tin of paint, it only took a couple of days and it also meant that the room was cleared of junk and tidied up. Of course it seemed so much brighter when I finished I wondered why I hadn't done it years ago, but you just live with these things, especially when you're not really using the room except for storage.

I would still like to paint the hallway, not because of the house move but to cover up all the scuff marks etc before I do open studios but whether I get around to that is another matter.

Meanwhile I need to sort out my technical problems as having started this yesterday it has taken forever to write it. I didn't manage to finish it on the iPad and it has taken all evening to finish it off on my laptop as it keeps freezng with a black screen... and then when I can see what I'm doing the cursor is jumping all over the place. Apologies now if there are lots of typos! I'm off to Worcester tomorrow to give a talk which I've had to change because I can't access the Powerpoint presentation on here. I'd like to tell you that I'll be back soon with news other than house moving but I'm starting feel that that if writing a blog post takes this long I might not bother again.

Monday, 28 May 2018

House for Sale!

I think I should title this post "How to lose 5lb in one easy step"... like some self proclaimed life style blog. I recently read somewhere that the way to get followers and monetise ones blog is to give information such as  "The ten best..." or " How to do..." (fill in the blanks as you please). However I don't think I'd have the cheek to pretend I'm an expert on anything. However if you want to lose weight whilst still eating pizza with beer, having ice cream every day, eating cake and chocolate (yes, I did all those last week)... then put your house on the market! To be fair I only lost half of that 5 lb but Stewart lost the other half. I have lived here so long I had forgotten how stressful moving can be.

It was pure chance that we happened to see a cottage we liked last week but it did prompt us to finally get our house valued, which in turn prompted several days of tidying up and gardening. We opted for three valuations before we made any firm decision. The first chap, from a local agency, was full of enthusiasm and loved our house the minute he walked through the door. He recognised it as a well used, much loved, lived in family home but could also see it's potential. As a result we felt upbeat and excited about selling a home that has been special to us for many years.


Fast forward  to the next valuation and I don't think I've ever met anyone so indifferent to what we had to offer. Yes, he wanted us on his books but acted like we had a very mediocre home. And this was  followed by an agent from a Cambridge estate agency who positively looked down her nose at us. We both know that when viewed  up close the house could do with a lick of paint and some minor repairs but she basically seemed to be telling us that it was very dated and not in a very good state of repair (my kitchen is two years old for heavens sake.. although the apparently comatose dog may not have helped the image!) She actually said that when you sell a house it is about selling a lifestyle these days... our lifestyle obviously didn't appeal! That evening I went to bed feeling quite miserable and despondent about the whole business.

We also though we ought to view some more properties rather than immediately going for the first thing we'd seen, so spent most of Friday looking at virtually everything available in our local villages as well as going back to see the original cottage again. We didn't actually see anything else we liked or that was suitable but then started to have second thoughts about the one we did like... it doesn't really have enough studio space for me so it will mean some serious compromise.

However we have put the house on the market and are keeping our options open. We have spent the bank holiday weekend gardening, filling flower pots and hanging baskets, tidying and cleaning and today I've shifted furniture and painted one of the spare bedrooms... but I might tell you about that another time, let's just say for now that cabin beds are not designed for sixty year olds.

Tonight we are sitting here like a pair of old crocks, complaining about our aching limbs and tired bones, trying not to think about the list of jobs lined up for tomorrow... selling a lifestyle is not easy you know!

So much has happened this week it seems much longer than a week since Jacob moved out. It has not been without its anxieties and stresses for him but so far so good. He came to visit yesterday and seemed in remarkably good spirits and not the least bit phased that we might be moving so my fingers are remaining crossed that this has been a good move for him. I hope your bank holiday weekend has been a good one... and not as exhausting as ours!

Sunday, 20 May 2018

A Few Good Reads

I had the photos loaded and was all ready to write something after our book club meeting this week, determined not to leave it so long between blog posts but then suddenly it was all systems go! Youngest son viewed a room in a flat last weekend, decided he was moving out so it involved a trip into South London to sign contracts etc. Then we viewed a house too, the first we've seen and have decided we love it so it has become a matter of urgency to get ours on the market. The horror of the extent of our downsize is gradually hitting us... so much stuff to sort and get rid of!

Today I'm driving Jacob and some of his 'stuff'' to the south London flat (I'm not even thinking about everything that he's leaving behind)... but tensions are running high so I'm keeping out of the way and thought I would make a start on this while I wait for him to sort himself out. We were meant to be leaving twenty minutes ago but unusually for me, I'm keeping myself busy and my mouth shut! Instead I'll tell you about our bookclub book for this month, The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel.

The book is part diary and part nature book and is in many ways lovely. Full of beautifully written prose it tells of a year where John cultivates a small field, Flinders, using traditional methods without chemicals. He introduces long forgotten wildflowers and wildlife to his wheat fields. I enjoyed the descriptions of his farming metods and his day to  day activities but the book is also full of lists and literary references that I found interrupted the flow of the book, so I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I would have liked.

His list of different birds that came to Flinders was breath taking and made me realise that despite living in the countryside for nearly thirty years I am hopelessly ignorant. I can recognise some very common birds and this time of year I am familiar with the sound of larks soaring above the fields when I'm out walking... but could I recognise a lark? Not a chance!

He also constantly references corncrakes and to be honest not only do I not know what one looks like but I'm not sure I've even heard of them before. I guess the book made me feel a little bit stupid... ignorant of my surroundings and although I'm happy to learn more I guess none of us like to be made to feel ignorant. So yes a good book, especially if you are interested in the effects of intensive farming and wildlife but not a great book for me.

I seem to have read a lot this month, much of it easy reading escapism that I have obviously needed. I finished Hygge and Kisses which was very light and frothy but enjoyable enough and I immediately followed it up with another chick lit 'Faking Friends' by Jane Fallon. I admit, I couldn't put this one down! It is about getting revenge on a cheating boyfriend... one who was cheating with a best friend. I just happened to have a few heated exchanges with my ex husband at the time I was reading this so lets just say the thought of revenge was indeed sweet!

I've also managed to read a couple of somewhat more serious novels - Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was excellent and eye opening. It tells of the many Japanese American citizens who were evicted from their homes and sent to camps in the US during the second world war, which I found quite shocking. It is a fictional love story set in Seattle where some of these atrocities took place and I can definitely recommend it. The Patrick Gale book The Whole Day Through centres on a single day in the lives of Laura and Ben, a couple reunited and given a new chance of happiness together after twenty years apart. It is about caring - Laura is living with her ageing mother, Ben with his gay Downs Syndrome brother - and about the choices we make. Again I can recommend it.

But sometimes what you need to read for pure escapism is a page turning crime thriller and I confess to be rather addicted to Mark Billingham's rebellious detective Tom Thorne. I couldn't put this one down!

I am now back home after my trek south of the river and Jacob is set up in his room in his flat. There was a a slight panic as we headed down the A12 through Stratford to be faced with signs saying the Blackwall tunnel was closed. Jacob tried to find an alternative route on Google maps while I stressed ever so slightly about how I was going to get south of the Thames but it turned out that the tunnel wasn't closed at all and we got there without too much of a hitch. 

Tonight it feels strange that he's not here and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't anxious about how he will cope on his own given the difficulties he has had over the past year but I need to let go. And maybe this will be just what he needs.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Ashwell at Home

After my last blog post I was quite determined to get back to blogging more often but then somehow someone waved a magic wand and a week and a half went by - don't ask me how. So instead of telling you how lovely it was to have Gill visit, or what a fabulous day teaching I had at Art Van Go, how many more waistcoats I've made or cakes I've baked (that's misleading there haven't been any cakes and only one more waistcoat), about lunches out with friends and the evening spent with with my eldest son and his fiancee, I'll tell you about our day out on Sunday instead!

In all the years we've lived here I have never visited Ashwell at Home. Of course I have often been to Ashwell which is just three miles up the road but have never been to this particular event before. There was a bit of a hiccup to the start of the day involving a minor tantrum (not mine) that looked like it could thwart our plans but once things had been sorted we checked the weather forecast and decided to walk over. And what a good decision that was.

We browsed the museum and then saw Morris Men doing what they do best,

We visited the imposing church,

And several beautiful Open Gardens... whilst I resolved to try harder with our own garden. There was a chance to read up on local history and past residents, especially those who had served in WWI or campaigned with the suffragettes.

We learned about bee keeping and listened to some musicians of both  ancient and modern varieties.
As we wandered around the village streets we bumped into people we knew and took time to stop and chat.

We ate homemade cake for lunch (justified by the 24,000 steps clocked up for the day) and then finished our day at the Ashwell Springs, source of the River Cam

All in all it was a delightful day and I'm not sure why we've never done it before.

Whatsmore I  managed to avoid falling in the water despite someone threatening to video me whilst I negotiated the stepping stones

This week it is back to making waistcoats and other chores and despite good intentions, it will likely be another week or so before I'm back here! But who knows I might surprise you!

Do you think this counts as a sixty x sixty as I've never done it before... running out of time and ideas!