Friday, 19 February 2021

TIny Signs of Spring

I am emerging, a bit dazed, from two weeks of university lectures and assignment writing. Two weeks of staring at a laptop all day, every day. It's been draining, to say the least, but now I can relax and enjoy the last few days of half term. 

This little corner has been where I've spent most of my time, up in the spare room. I quite like it up there and am claiming it for myself, by stealth. I might start referring to it as my office soon, maybe move my yarn up there....

It used to be Angus's bedroom. It's a tricky size and shape but I'm moving furniture around and making it cosy. I hung all my embroidery hoops together on the wall the other day. There is definitely room for more.

Downstairs, life has booked like this. Children doing schoolwork from home, John working from home. There were days when our WiFi was stretched to its limit with all four of us on Zoom or Teams at the same time.

This one spends his days going from bed to sofa to a different bed. Occasionally he pops up to see me in the spare room. I think he likes the carpeted floor up there as much as he likes to see me.

While we've had some bitterly cold weather, we had the most pathetic amount of snow you've ever seen. It's not like I wanted to be snowed in or anything, but enough for the kids to go sledging would have been nice. Anything to relieve the unrelenting boredom or days and days at home. 

It's been a challenging couple of weeks, actually. I am not suited to lone working or any kind of working from home, and feel very thankful for the usual contact I have with my colleagues and the children at work. I wouldn't say I'm an extrovert but I am a very sociable person and do like the company of other people very much - perhaps more than I realised. Also I feel like I've hit a bit of a wall with the pandemic and lockdown. I am just fed up. I miss my family and friends, I miss hugging people. I miss going for a coffee or a drink in the pub or out to dinner. The cold, wet winter hasn't helped much. 

So positivity comes in the form of small things; spring flowers, lighter evenings, finding a good TV series to watch, a new book, crafting and baking. And big things too, like loved ones being vaccinated. 

We have baked rhubarb and custard cake, heart-shaped biscuits for Valentine's Day and pancakes, among other things.  We made savoury pancakes for lunch, filled with cheddar, chopped ham and spring onions. Then we had traditional English ones for dessert after dinner, with lemon juice and sugar.

Our walks have been frequent and local. They have been muddy 



and frozen. At least it's not so muddy when the ground is rock hard. 

Every sign of spring, every catkin and camelia and snowdrop, is welcome.

I am working steadily on my crochet jumper. Since I took this photo I've made good headway with the body and hope to have it finished in a couple of weeks. 

Solace also comes in the form of my Stitch A Day sampler. Sometimes it's three or four stitches every three of four days, it doesn't matter, I am loving it. 

 I hope you are all keeping safe and healthy and doing well, or as well as can be expected. Spring is coming. Cling on to that. 

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Frost and Oranges

The appearance of Seville oranges in the shops in January lifts my spirits like not a lot else - especially during this never ending month - heralding as it does Marmalade Making Time. We love marmalade in this household and eat quite a lot of it (just as well, really) and it has become one of the preserves I make every year. Filling your kitchen with the warmth and scent of boiling oranges is one of the best antidotes to the bleakest, greyest, wettest of midwinter days. 

I follow a recipe in the wonderful book Notes from the Jam Cupboard, which was given to me years ago and who's pages are now splattered and sticky with regular use, but this one is very similar. I make a double batch and even in my biggest stock pot the boiling situation has to be closely monitored otherwise you have burnt oranges and sugar stuck to your hob like glue. I know this from experience. But the sight of twelve jars of golden orange preserve, lined up and glowing on the kitchen windowsill, makes me very happy and always feels like a promise of future sunshine in a jam jar.

Labeling them with gold Dymo tape just adds to the fun.

Imagine, then, my excitement when I spotted paper-wrapped Seville oranges in Waitrose yesterday! Like giant boiled sweets, waiting to be unpeeled. I'd already made my marmalade last weekend, but bought a few for their juice and zest so that I could make Nigel Slater's marmalade cake, another January tradition.

We woke to "snow" last Sunday morning.

Not very impressive. Despite the snow flurries it didn't settle and soon turned to icy sleet, and then rain, which stayed for the rest of the week.

We have, however, had some spectacular hard frosts, where everything is crunchy underfoot and my waterlogged succulent bowl on the outside table froze completely solid.

When it's this frosty, you can often see the sun melting the ice crystals on the fence and watch the steam rising from it.

Those crisp blue skied winter days are wonderful though - they make such a huge difference to my mood, energy levels and productivity. 

Sourdough bread making continues weekly. I am trying to improve my scoring, so that the pattern I draw with a razor before the bread goes into the oven is still there when I take it out. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes it just just creates its own as it rises in the oven. It's always fun to see what it looks like. I use this recipe for my sourdough. 

There is some creativity outside of the kitchen, although not much time for it at the moment. I have been between crochet projects for a while so have picked up my patchwork quilt and been working on this in the evenings in front of the TV.  
I have created a corner and feel like I'm starting to get a sense of how it will look, although I don't think it's even a quarter big enough yet. Angus asked me this week when it would be finished. In a couple of years, I told him. I think it's important to be realistic.....


I have just received delivery of the yarn I need to make this jumper, in mustard yellow and I'm looking forward to starting that. I've also discovered this crochet designer and really want to make this jumper or perhaps this one, which is very similar but with a more slouchy, oversized fit. Finally it feels like designers are producing patterns for crochet clothes that aren't overly fussy and lacy, but are actually wearable and it seems that handmade woolen clothes are no longer the domain of the knitter. 

There is just one more thing I've started, perhaps a little ambitiously - a stitch a day project. This 12 " embroidery hoop has been divided into the months of the year and will filled as the year goes by. 

Sometimes I sew it on the day but more often I keep a list of things I want to rememeber on my phone and sew seven at the weekend. It is a mixture of seasonal, topical and personal, just things that are happening in my life at the moment. I remembered how good some daily crafting was for my mental health in the first lockdown, and so tried to find something more achievable that I could do on a regular basis. 

The biggest challenge with the sewing is the size of each motif. They are mostly under 1 cm in length and so quite fiddly and it is hard to very precise or tidy with the stitches sometimes. I am also following a gentle colour wheel as the months progress, so that the first two months of the year will be purple, the next two blue, then green etc.



School has been extremely busy for the last four weeks and now I have two weeks "off". When I say off, I mean two weeks of university lectures and seminars, which all have to be delivered via Zoom and Teams and recorded powerpoint sessions, and then for fun I have a 4000 assignment to write which is due in over half term. It's all go here. I'll leave you with a picture of a rainbow: sometimes, with the vaccinations and knowledge that spring will come, I think it is ok to allow in some feelings of hope.