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

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Embroidery Hoop Pictures

In my last post I mentioned that during the week when I'm not actually teaching I'm concentrating on doing other art type business related activities and in particular writing tutorials for my Etsy shop. Lately I have been working on the instructions for four seasonal embroidery hoops. I've been drawing out patterns, stitching and photographing each stage as I go. Then it's a case of putting it all together and writing step by step instructions. I do actually enjoy the process but it is rather painstakingly laborious... and I find myself getting impatient to get them finished!

This little fox was finished a couple of weeks ago but I wanted to have all four ready before putting him in the shop. But now after several weeks I have finally finished all four of my seasonal embroidery hoops. Four little applique pictures that look equally at home sitting on a shelf as they do hanging on the wall.

I've listed them as individual tutorials that come as downloadable PDFs complete with full size patterns but they are also available as a set of all four at 25% discount on the individual pattern prices.

And if stitching your own pictures isn't your thing I will also be selling the original artworks.So far only Mr Fox is listed but the others will follow in due course.

Do you have a favourite? I thought mine was the spring bunnies but I'm rather taken with Mr. Fox lately...  maybe it's due to the change in seasons. Of course, Winter would make a lovely Christmas decoration too!

You can find them all here in my Etsy shop!

Tomorrow it will be a different sort of work as I will be at the Knitting and Stitching show at Alexandra Palace sitting on the Missenden School of Creative Arts stand. Come and say hello if you are passing!

Monday, 8 October 2018


Hello... anybody out there?

My last blog post seems to have gone out into a black hole. Having written a long review of what I had been reading lately and then only receiving two comments, I came to the conclusion that either it was totally uninteresting or possibly I had offended in my opinions (it wouldn't be the first time). Then I wondered were people put off by me slipping in another little mention of my India trip (Did you see what I did there?) But no, when I checked the stats it would seem hardly anyone even read my post. So I am consoling myself  in the knowledge that you have all been away doing something fabulous all weekend that has meant no time for reading blogs... so please don't burst my bubble and tell me you just weren't interested!

Our weekends have taken on a rather nice routine lately in a concerted effort not to let all days drift into one. With both of us at home for a large amount of the time is is easy for each day to seem the same as the last and there is a temptation to carry on with work related stuff seven days a week. Monday to Friday I am trying to concentrate on work related activities around teaching and making art but for the past few weekends we have perused the guide books and have taken ourselves off for longer than usual walks, exploring different neighbourhood areas.

The dog is especially pleased with this new routine with lots of new places to sniff and explore.

Yesterday we discovered Houghton House, the ruins of a 17th century mansion that was built as a hunting lodge in 1615 for Mary, Countess of Pembroke. With loggias possibly designed by Inigo Jones, it commands impressive views over the Bedfordshire countryside.

We also walked through an ancient wood where we literally were fighting our way through overgrown brambles... until we spotted a pathway only a couple of yards to our left that had been cleared for a mountain bike race. Funnily enough the walk became much easier after that!

We have walked across meadows, around lakes and along river banks enjoying spotting the various wildlife. We nearly always manage a church or two for a wander around as well. Last week we found a palace in Buckden that had been home to former Bishops of Lincoln. Five of them were buried in the churchyard

But the work life balance isn't going to always be divided so neatly between the weekdays and weekends as I have just started a part time job in a little cafe to supplement the household income. I did five hours on Saturday, wiping tables, operating the till and serving food and coffee after which I came home and pretty much didn't move until I crept into an early bed... shocking...9.30 pm on a Saturday night! I'm hoping the exhaustion induced inertia won't last as I get used to it. I managed to go in and help out for a couple of hours again yesterday before we went out for our walk and I was fine, so maybe I was just extra tired the day before.

It is a very pretty place to work as you can see and friendly too. I was also given barista training last week and was probably a little too excited at my first attempt at latte art. Especially as I think it is all a bit of nonsense really... Who cares what it looks like as long as it tastes okay... but that's just between you and me, okay!

This might just be the limit of my barista skills... could it be another 60 x 60 maybe? Which would mean I only have to do one more new thing to get to number 60 before I begin my 100 count down!

So what did you get up to this weekend?

Thursday, 4 October 2018

A Book or Two

Although I have a long reading wish list, I'm trying to read some of the books I have around the house or those I pick up in charity shops rather than buying more new books. A few years ago I discovered the writer Douglas Kennedy with his book State of the Union. It was an easy and engaging read and I was especially intrigued by Kennedy's ability to write so well from the female perspective. I then picked up his short novel The Dead Heart which I found totally gripping. It's a fast paced, gruesome thriller, interspersed with humour, set in the Australian outback. It's a real page turner. On the back of those two books I received a pile of Douglas Kennedy books one Christmas. I think I probably read a couple of them which were not great but entertaining. So when I picked up The Woman in the Fifth I hoped it might be okay. Unfortunately I thought it was awful! Moderately entertaining to start with, it is an easy, although somewhat far fetched read, telling the story of American Harry Ricks who arrives in Paris having run away from a failed marriage and a scandal that ruined his career. With no money and nowhere to live, Harry unwittingly falls in with the city’s underclass. When he meets and falls in love with a mysterious woman it looks like his future might improve. The plot thickens and the mysteries deepen and then about 75 pages from the end it feels as though Kennedy couldn't work out how to tie up all the loose ends (Spoiler alert... but I don't care if it prevents anyone else wasting several hours reading this nonsense) so he explains everything by making the woman a ghost, without so much as a previous hint at anything supernatural, which was complete and utter nonsense. What a waste of reading time!

Fortunately I found the next book I picked up was far more entertaining. I have read Any Human Heart by William Boyd which I really enjoyed, so when I spotted  Waiting for Sunrise from the same author in the charity shop I thought it was worth picking up. And it didn't disappoint. I found the main character Lysander Rief, very similar to the hapless anti hero Logan Mountstuart of Any Human Heart, and it also has the same easy flowing style, but the story was very different charting Lysander's life from Vienna to London via the battlefields of France during wartime Europe, as he gets embroiled in a life of sex, scandal and spies!

At the same time I also picked up The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel from the same charity shop. I enjoyed the film so was looking forward to reading the book especially since the news that I could be going to India next year. The book isn't quite the same as the film - the basic premise of a retirement home for the elderly is still there and the characters names are the same but that is where the similarity ends. The actual characters and the story line is totally different, so although it is still  enjoyable I'm finding it difficult to remove myself from the mental image of the film as I read.

I thought it was worth reading though to get me in the right frame of mind for my Indian holiday with Colouricious Holidays next year, although it hasn't really conjured up the atmosphere of India I had expected. I'm looking forward to experiencing it first hand for myself instead. If you fancy joining me you can find all the information right here if you click on the link below. It would be so much fun to have blog readers join me on this trip.