Monday 31 December 2018

Food, Glorious Food

So here we are once again on the other side of another Christmas. Despite my lingering cough and cold, it has been a fun few days spent with various family members. There has been laughter, some games, a few drinks and plenty of food. Which seems fitting, because food is so much more than just eating. For me it's about sharing, togetherness and good times, which is what Christmas should be about too.

Although having seen the size of the portion a certain someone had for his Christmas dinner it is probably a lot about the eating too! It is only one of a handful of occasions when I cook him a roast dinner with meat so he was forgiven... although my parsnip roulade and vegetables don't really come close do they! Suffice to say, no-one went hungry though.

We don't do lots of big gifts in our family but food featured heavily this year. We received this huge can of extra virgin olive oil that came directly from our daughter in law's family in Kalamata, which made me very happy. Another son and daughter-in-law filled a bag full of fabulous homemade baking and preserves, including these preserved lemons and harissa paste. I feel a Moroccan feast coming on! And a third son and daughter-in-law baked us mince pies and cookies. We have been very spoiled indeed.

In an effort to not buy our grandson more plastic toys, I made him a set of felt food for his new toy kitchen (remember that last minute idea... this was it. The knitted hat however never did make it on the needles!).

I think they gave me a whole lot more pleasure than they gave him. After lots of fun opening the parcel the entire contents were tossed aside along with the little personalised shopping bag, in favour of the football (plastic) that my Mum had given him!

As the week has gone on we have been creative with leftovers, finished off the mince pies as well as the last of the turkey and I am now longing for fresh flavours and lots more fruit and veg (real rather than felt!). The Christmas cake however remains untouched waiting for someone to cut into it in the New Year. 

And so we come to the end of another year which we will be celebrating with friends... and more food of course. Looking back it has been a wonderful year of weddings and celebrations, although not without its challenges too. But we enter 2019 looking forward to a fresh start in a new home before too long.

Wishing you and your families a very healthy and happy New Year!

Sunday 23 December 2018

Happy Christmas

I have spent today flicking a duster around and giving the vacuum cleaner a cursory run up and down the hall, I've pretty much wrapped most of the presents which have now taken up residence under the tree and I have bought all the food I intend to buy... if we haven't got it in now then we won't be having it! So I feel as ready as I'm ever likely to be... it all happens one way or another. Mostly I enjoy all the preparations, except for the food shopping which is stressful in the extreme, but like I say it's all done now and all that is left to do is to cook. Well, that would be the case if I didn't have a last minute brainwave to make some felt fruit and vegetables and knit a hat. I'll let you know how that plan went once Christmas is over but given that I haven't actually cast on the hat I think I might be being unrealistically optimistic. Plus I have gone down with a cold which is waking me up at 4am every morning this week. I really could do without that but realised as I lay awake at some silly hour this morning trying to ignore my thumping head that I only ever get colds at this time of year so it feels as much like Christmas as the smell of pine cones and the continual backdrop of carols. Looking on the bright side if I'm awake at 4 am I might get that hat knitted!

I leave you with some of the images of a recent outing with my Mum to see the Christmas lights at Kew Gardens. It was a spectacular show of light and sound and my pictures don't begin to do it justice.

There were trees covered in  twinkling fairy lights and curtains of light that changed colour as we walked through them.

A whole cathedral of light with accompanying choral music

as well as giant flowers that changed colour.

It was all quite breathtaking. Plus I had churros and hot chocolate for my dinner which was also rather amazing. Do not judge me until you have tried it!

The finale was a projected light and sound show onto the Palm court and the fountain. It was a wonderful evening that was rounded off by driving home through the West End of London to see the lights there too. They didn't disappoint either - I just loved the host of angels down Regent Street. It was such a fabulous evening that I have declared it my final 60 x 60, more in an attempt to draw a line under this particular project before I launch into something else.

I hope all your plans and preparations are going smoothly and all that remains is for me to wish you and your families a very Happy and Healthy Christmas.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

My December so far

I never intended to go AWOL for quite so long, but you don't need me to tell you how life sort takes over at this time of year.

The decorations went up earlier than usual as I was hosting our book club party. It was only as I was putting out all the usual bits and pieces that I started to feel  quite sad that this is probably the last time I will decorate this house for Christmas.

And it does lend itself to bit of decorating!

It's a great house for parties too... and boy have there been parties over the years! There have been birthday parties and barbecues, fancy dress parties, post production parties and of course lots of Christmas parties. But it is ridiculous for two of us to be rattling around in all this space just so we can throw a good party or two so I'm trying not to feel sad.

As well as parties there has been shopping and except for food I have mostly finished Christmas shopping, even managing to treat myself. This little cactus makes me smile every day with its cheery blooms. It's the best £3 I've spent this month.

This month there have been some lovely walks too with some beautiful sunsets... although I got rather wet and muddy this morning. The downside of having a dog is you can't really choose when to walk, although I often think that is the good part too, as it makes me go out and walk everyday whatever the weather.

And of course there has been plenty of baking... all the usual mince pies and Christmas cakes, as well as Rocky Road and chocolate orange brownies for the afore mentioned party. I think they might just be my favourite ever brownies

Youngest son is still finding life a challenge at the moment and I had to bring him back home again at the weekend. I wouldn't have minded quite so much if I hadn't managed to get a parking ticket in the process. My own fault... I was collecting him from his brother's  where it is resident only parking. I took a chance as I knew I was only going to be ten minutes (plus it was pouring with rain) but as bad luck would have it I chose the same ten minutes that the warden decided to wander up the street. It didn't seem fair under the circumstances but there was no point arguing so I've paid up!

But I guess  the biggest news of all since I was last here is that we've sold our house this week, so it definitely will be our last Christmas here. There are an awful lot of memories here aside from parties... twenty nine years of memories. My children all grew up in this house and Stewart and I held our wedding reception in the garden, but I'm being positive and thinking of the exciting times and adventures that lie ahead in 2019. 

And I'm trying not to think about all the clearing out involved in moving from a large five bedroom family house to a three bedroomed cottage... we can worry about that after Christmas! Anyone want a piano?

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