Monday, 29 June 2015

This Is Why We Have Weekends

We spent this last weekend camping in Derbyshire with our friends from Leeds and it was completely glorious. I am still floating.

We drove up after school and work on Friday night, arriving at about 9.30pm with just - just! - enough daylight left to put the tent up. It was a mad rush and a nightmare journey which included us having to turn back due to a road closure and pull over on the hard shoulder because something was flapping out of the top box on the car roof. But Saturday morning dawned bright and warm, just as you'd want it too, and we ate breakfast outside. With our friends, all 28 of us embarked on a walk in the countryside surrounding the campsite. After a few hours some of us peeled off and went back for lunch, others stayed and walked longer. I spent the afternoon lazing around in a meadow with magazines and drinks, chatting about this and that. It was too hot to work on the crochet I'd brought with me. As the sun dropped, fires were lit and more bottles opened. Someone had the good sense to bring Pimms. The children who'd been largely absent and feral for most of the day, coming back only for food, returned filthy and suntanned, ready to toast marshmallows. 

There was a perfect moment when the sun was setting, when the atmosphere was convival and easy and warm, which I wanted to go on for ever.  One of those rare and magical moments where time is suspended. Happy children, happy adults. Food, drink, warmth, laughter, friendship. This is why we have weekends. And fire pits.

Of course it rained on Sunday morning and so we had to pack up a damp tent, and the journey home was long, and the washing mountain is huge, and we are all very tired. And all the jobs I would've done over the weekend didn't get done, so I'm playing catch up there as well. But was it worth it, just to sit in that meadow with our friends for a few hours? Absolutely.


Doesn't my crocheted blanket look at home in that tent? I was glad of it's warmth this weekend for, while days were largely sunny, the nights were still cool. It's too nice to be folded on the back of a chair, it needs to go on my bed and so, as some of you suggested, I'm going to buy some more yarn and crochet some more rounds on the border. But not any time soon, because it looks like warm weather is coming. YAY!  (Shh, don't say it out loud, it'll get scared and run away and normal British Summer will resume.) It's time to get out the paddling pool.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The Colour Collaborative: June: Found

The children and I always look for and bring home souvenirs from the beach. 

Luckily, it's a fertile hunting ground.

It's not unusual for me to have to shake out my bag when we get home to dislodge the sand, pebbles and shells which they've picked up on our visits. My handbag is permanently gritty.

Like hunting for sea glass, the pleasure is always in the finding, in the process. Bella and Angus like to search for treasure as much as I do and delight in finding the most colourful stone or unusual shell, which they'll hold up to their ears to so that they can hear the sea. 

I've only ever found one piece of sea glass on this beach, but what we do have here is shells. At a first glance, everything looks the same. Brown, grey, white. It's a shingle beach and is only sandy at low tide.

But then when you sit down and start to look closely, all sorts of colours and shapes emerge.

I like the ones which have been so bashed and softened by the surf that they almost look like clay objects, their edges smooth and their markings faded.

And I like the way that, on the outside, all you see are quiet and demure tones of brown and cream and white, but turn them over and they glow as though they were lit from within.


Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below:

Annie at Annie Cholewa
Sandra at Cherry Heart
Jennifer at Thistlebear
Claire at Above The River
Sarah at Mitenska

What is The Colour Collaborative? 

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Make, Bake, Sew, Grow

Thank you so much for your suggestions on how we can continue to improve and add character to our garden without spending a fortune. You are all so full of imagination and creativity, it always astounds me and you gave me lots of good ideas on how we can garden on a tight budget. Will there ever be a time when we are not "on a budget" I wonder...? And thanks for all your comments lately, I do appreciate them and am sorry that I have so little time to read your blogs. At the moment it seems there is time to either post or read, but I still love blogging as much as ever and am very much enjoying my Make, Bake, Sew Grow posts, the planning and the writing. The second week at work went well and I wasn't quite so exhausted at the end of each day as I had been the week before. Slowly, as a family, we are getting used to our new routines. 

{ Make }

I made an addition to The Green Wall in the porch with a beautiful framed watercolour print of a rose, an ebay score at just a few pounds.

It's starting to come together. The framed fabric hoops are just a cheap and fun way to add interest and they are actually really annoying as they fly off the wall whenever a gust of wind blows through the open front door, but eventually this wall will be full of white-framed floral prints, like a green house!

{ Bake }

No cakes lately, and I've missed baking them. The kitchen activity is firmly based around meals. We ate salmon baked with lime, ginger and garlic the other night, with vegetables, rice noodles and some delicious supermarket sauce. I could eat food like this every night.

John made a spectacular vegetarian lasagne, prettied up by the addition of tomatoes and basil. As well as looking colourful they were a delicious addition to the topping when the cheese went all melty and crispy.

{ Sew }

I made a cushion cover. 

This is always happy news because I'd hate to think our house is under-cushioned (unlikely) but I'm extra pleased with this one for two reasons. First, the fabric. I found two napkins in the bargain bin at John Lewis after just Christmas and bought them purely because I liked the pattern on the fabric so much. They are by a brand called MissPrint and they are very much my sort of thing, with their stylised natural patterns and slightly retro, Scandinavian feel. Apparently these are trees but I thought they were feathers.

But the other reason I'm happy is because it has a zip. My first zip! A few weeks ago, a family friend very kindly spent an afternoon showing me how to put one in properly - with basting and everything, no slap dash half measures - and now there's no stopping me.

I'm still working on Bella's blanket here and there, but it's getting so big and so warm, that work has inevitably slowed down for now. I'm half way through and it's already huge. But  I was -still am, actually - so disappointed that my blanket is not quite big enough for our bed (it perches there, rather than drapes) so I'm making this more than big enough.

I had to stand on a chest to get it all in one photo.

{ Grow }

Discovered in the front garden, in a tangle of bushes - roses. Three, to be exact. I've no idea what kind but the pink and yellow colour is enchanting and the smell is, of course, amazing. 

And it's always extra-gratifying to have flowers from the garden in the house, even if you didn't plant them yourself.

Wishing you all a very happy week ahead. 


{ Make } Something for my home.

 { Bake } Something from the kitchen.

{ Sew } Something crafty.

{ Grow } Something in my garden


Wednesday, 17 June 2015

In My Garden

Our back garden is wide, square and a good size, for these parts. It's surrounded by tall trees - laurel, firs, juniper - and there's a lot of bird activity. There is space for a small shed, a ten foot trampoline and a generous decked area where we sit and eat, when it's warm enough. Two long washing lines run diagonally across the lawn which is covered in weeds and abandoned footballs. Propped up against the house is a pile of chopped wood and an large empty planter. One day there will be a proper wood store and a lovely herb garden in that empty planter, maybe this summer, but probably next. But the main hurdle for me has been the lack of character. Our garden in Leeds was tiny but it had an apple tree and a dry stone wall, it had features and history. Our new outdoor space feels bland and featureless in comparison but what it lacks in charm, it makes up for in flexibility and possibilities.

The kitchen, dining room, spare room, office and the childrens' bedrooms all look directly out onto the garden. This is lovely in so many ways, but means we wanted it to look nice, interesting even, because we're always gazing out at it. Straight ahead lay an expanse of wooden fence panels which ran along the back boundary and one the first things we did - with the help of my parents who are handy with a spade - was create a flower bed to run along that fence. 

Did I mention that everything we're doing in this garden is on a very tight budget? We are trying to re-use and re-purpose wherever possible - not through choice, but because moving house (especially from the north of the country to the south) is an expensive business. We were given three blackcurrant bushes and one redcurrant bush by my sister when she moved house and didn't want to take them with her, and luckily they have transplanted from pots into the earth beautifully. The other plants and the stone edging were taken from a "rockery" in another part of the garden. I call it that, if a load of shingle dumped on top of soil and covered in barren planting, Dungeness-style, called be called a rockery. It was sad, and these plants look better and are growing nicely in their new sunnier spot.

Two months later, the plants already seem to be filling out that flower bed, providing interest and colour where before there was nothing. (Mental note: cut the grass.)

The next task was Operation Trampoline. In the bottom left corner there was a dumping ground which might have been a compost heap once, and a leaning, half painted fence. It's not a good look, I'm sure you'll agree.

We cleared and leveled the ground in that corner, covered it in anti-weed matting and a lot of wood chip, pruned the tree branches a little, and set up a trampoline in that space. I am very happy with this. I do not much like the look of trampolines slap bang in the middle of the garden but this means I can see the kids on it from the kitchen window and it's tucked away neatly in the corner. It feels like a good compromise. 

The bottom right hand corner of the garden has been decked. When we moved in, we wondered why on earth they bothered to create a decked area here when there was already plenty enough decking by the patio doors from the dining room. Then summer came and the sun rolled around the edge of the house and we realised.

That spot is a sun trap, a delicious patch of sunshine in an otherwise shaded north-east facing garden. I have plans for a bench to go where that barbecue is right now. Me, that bench, a few cushions, a cup of tea and a book have a date planned for sometime in July or August. We're not putting pressure on ourselves, just taking it slow.

Sadly the larger decked area (like so many things in this house) is half finished, and badly finished at that, but it'll do for now. Whoever built it just chucked all kinds of rubble under it and put the decking on top, not even bothering to finish the edges properly or take off the barcode stickers. Anyway, don't focus on that, look at this lovely table and chairs. When our friends in Leeds moved to Australia, they were going to take this furniture to the tip. "Don't!" I said, "There's life in that yet!" and quick as a flash I was round there with the car, back seats down, ready to load up. One chair was beyond saving, but John has sanded and oiled the table and remaining three chairs and I think they look fabulous. 

I reckon there's a few years in them yet. I took this photo a couple of weeks ago when the rhododendron bushes were in full, magnificent bloom. They're fading now, but still looking good.

Last of all I'll show you the shed. It's another generous freebie, from my brother in law who no longer needed it, and it's just big enough for the gardening things and lawnmower. While we have a good sized garage, there is no access directly from the garage to the back garden, and it's much easier to keep gardening things in here.  John plans to build a wood store in that space between the shed and the bush, and the groundwork in front of the shed needs finishing.

So, there we go, I finally got round to giving you a tour of our garden. It's probably the kind of garden that a lot of people in the UK have, in terms of size and layout. A square of lawn, a square of decking or patio, a shed...very normal, very practical. And so far our spending has been limited to woodchip, compost and a few plants, very, very little, for all the work we've done. Plants have been moved, stones re-used, furniture and sheds rescued or donated - it's all about saving money right now.

Sorry, these photos aren't very pretty, are they? There seemed little point in trying to photograph this garden artfully when I just want to share with you what it looks like. You can see I haven't tidied anything, and you can't style a garden, it's just too big. Anyway, don't you sometimes just want to see what people's actual, normal gardens really look like? I do. Is your garden like this?  

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Strawberries and Flowers

Well, I made it through my first week in paid work for eight years and found that actually I rather enjoyed myself, although yesterday I was absolutely exhausted and thought that Friday had never been more welcome. The people are supportive and friendly, I think the work will be a nice balance between variety and routine which will suit me down to the ground, and the children are brilliant. But I came home each day mentally wiped out with the effort of trying to remember everything; people's names, where things go, processes, tips, messages... My poor brain!

Things that have occurred to me this week. Working Monday to Friday is going to be tougher than I thought. Certainly not impossible, but I need to be more organised because the cliche is true, sometimes there aren't enough hours in the day. The two hours I have to myself between the school run and starting work might as well be twenty minutes for all I seem to achieve, especially if I want to go for a run or shopping first. I think our weekends will be sweeter and a lot more precious. I resented spending this morning in the supermarket and I don't want to waste any of that relaxed family time.

Those garden photos above? I have to come clean, they are all in my sister, Katy's, garden. It's the most beautiful garden you can imagine; long and thin, with a winding path that leads you to a pond, fruit trees, a vegetable garden, before you reach a sheltered patio area at the end. In spring it was full of blossom and bluebells, in early summer it's bursting with foxgloves, aquilegia and roses. I can't wait to see what high summer will bring. That's where we spent last Sunday afternoon, the kids and I, eating barbecued food, watching the kids play in the paddling pool and generally whiling away the afternoon in the sun. When I feel a little too jealous, I remind myself that they only moved into this house in March and it was their good fortune to inherit that garden, and now they must maintain it. We have what might politely be called a blank canvas. Yesterday my sister dropped around a posy of flowers she'd cut from her garden. "You're always going on about how gorgeous our garden is", she said, "So I thought you might like these." It tickles me how they look in that vase, like a lady wearing a jaunty hat to a wedding. 

We've all been eating strawberries by bucket load here. I can't find a local Pick Your Own but the supermarket ones have been delicious. Funny how when they're in season they actually taste of strawberry, not water. And I've been working on my Midsummer Sprigs sampler this week, a little every day. I make myself sit down in the evening and even if I only complete one centimetre square of stitches, I can feel the calm descend on me as the stitching works it's magic. I've fallen back in love with counted cross stitch. Working on this black fabric in electric light can be tricky, but I've found that if I sit next to a good lamp and pull it right down so that I'm working in the glow of light, that it's actually quite ok on the eyes. I bought some peonies from the supermarket. I love them but they're quite expensive so they are a rare treat. These were taking ages to open up so I followed a tip I read about online - immerse the heads in a bowl of warm water for a couple of minutes, then gently shake off the water and put them back in their vase. It worked and they are slowly unfolding now. 

Isn't that postcard in the last photo just brilliant? My friend Debora sent it from Germany, knowing I'd love it. I think it might have to go in a frame.

Thank you for all your kind words about my dressing table, and your thoughts and comments about chalk paint.  I'm not sworn off it yet, and I'd like to try a stronger colour on a smaller piece of furniture. I have two tired IKEA bedside tables which I'd like to experiment on. That's a project for the six week summer holidays.