Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Garden Notes

I'm so glad the weather was good over the bank holiday weekend. We went into full gardening mode and cut, trimmed, pruned, dug up, planted and re-planted in the garden throughout Sunday and Monday. We did this with very little knowledge of what we were doing and so we'll see how that all looks in a few months. Trips were made to the garden centre and the recycling centre and it was all very satisfying. Today my muscles ache.

It seems like the garden changes so fast at this time of year, especially after rain. Within only a week - and sometimes days - things appear and I wonder if they are weeds or not, and whether I should pull them up or leave them. I'm glad I left the aquilegia, above.

The daffodils and tulips are all over now. They were lovely while they were here though. You never regret planting bulbs, do you? And I always wish I'd planted more, especially more tulips.I am patiently waiting for these to die down and then I might plant some annuals there, just for the colour and to fill up the bare earth.

The red wallflowers and hot pink azalea japonica are both coming to the end of their flowering season and I don't know what will bring colour in that border next as I am still getting to know this garden and can't remember exactly what I planted last year. But I really appreciated the colour they added throughout May. I remember my mum, in the garden centre last autumn, saying buy those wallflowers - just stick them in the ground and forget all about them and you'll have so much colour in the spring. Thank you Mum, good advice.

The two rhododendron bushes have been glorious again. 

They sit either side of our garden and give so much colour at this time of year. 

Even when they start to fade and the petals scatter the ground beneath them they are pretty.

And the bees like them.

The alliums are lovely too, and I wish I'd planted more of them, and in clusters rather than one or two here and there. They look really effective planted in groups. 

These three currant bushes are going great guns and I've no idea why as I've done nothing to them at all.

There is one large redcurrant bush on the left, already full of fruit. I don't really like redcurrants to be honest, I think they are sharp and overrated so goodness knows what I am going to do with all these when they ripen.

The two blackcurrant bushes are also looking promising. Again, I have no idea what to do with these. Jelly? Cordial? 

So, that's what is blooming. I am waiting and seeing with the rest. My hydrangea, planted last year, is looking promising. Not a natural gardener, I am trying to get the hang of bringing colour into the garden throughout the whole summer, not just all in May and then nothing in July or August.

I remain on Hollyhock Watch, marvelling at how tall they are growing and wondering what colour they will be. These must be the most anticipated flower ever.

I have planted a ridiculous number of marigolds, given to me by my mum and dad. They had hundreds, it looked like a canabbis farm in their conservatory. I have planted them in pots and the border and scattered slug pellets liberally. 

I'm also really curious to see what these two spiky-leaved planted below might do. I wonder if they are some kind of iris? I have no idea what kind or what colour though.

Luckily we can cheat and add instant colour to our gardens by going to the garden centre and buying stuff. John and I pulled up two dying conifer trees that a previous owner had planted directly under the living room window (trees! under a window!) and replaced them with hydrangeas. I know it all looks a bit sparse and sad right now (and try not to look at the upvc - hard, I know) but in a couple of years I hope they will all mesh in together and provide colour and a screen for that awful expanse of blinding white plastic.

I have tarted up my pots front and back, and wait for it all to flower and look lovely.

I always spend time on the containers by the front step. 

The entrance to our house doesn't exactly exude charm and, one day, I'd love to replace the upvc door and window with bricks and a wooden front door. A nice one, a modern one, which I'd paint a really good colour - I wouldn't go all faux-Victorian or country or anything like that - but there has to be a way to make the door to a 1960's house look good. 

Here it is. This photo reminds me why I've never shared photos of our front door here before. 

 Fingers crossed, those plants will add so much colour that no-one will notice anything else.


Sorry, that was a really long post. I always think I've got nothing to say here and then I sit down to write and witter on and on. It's cold and wet today which, given that it's half term and the kids are really annoying me, is very irritating, but I am thinking of my gardening friends CJ and Leanne and reminding myself that at least it means I don't have to water the garden.


In other new, my laptop is on it's way out (cue frantic backing up of all photos and documents onto the external hard drive) but I think my crafting mojo has returned.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Kitchen Update 4

Thank you for the compliments you paid my napkins, and more importantly for your supportive words about my misplaced crafting mojo. It will return, it always does. I am actually feeling quite chipper tonight. I went on a very long and hilly run with my sister this morning and I felt so good about it afterwards, felt a real sense of achievement. It was my first run in about six weeks and I was worried about how my fitness might have suffered, what with all the crap I've been eating lately, but it was good. Hard, but good. I know I will be very sore tomorrow but it felt great to move and stretch my muscles and feel alive. The weather was lovely and the everything so green and pretty. I took this photo when we got to the top of the hill.

I'm also upbeat because tomorrow we break up from school for a week long half term holiday. We have no plans, just a list of house and garden jobs, but John has most of the week off and I'm looking forward to some family time and some lazy mornings.

It's been a few weeks since I showed you any progress in the kitchen but I have been snapping away here and there, recording the developments, and have some here to show you tonight. 

The worktops were fitted. It's really hard to see what they look like in a photo but they are grey quartz and flecked with a lovely sparkle which catches the light.

The cupboards and doors still wear their protective plastic coating and will do until the floor is down and the last of the dusty jobs are over.

The tap was fitted and we now have hot and cold running water, and a plumbed in dishwasher. Amazing! An integrated dishwasher would've looked better but we only bought that one you see above a year ago and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it, so it stays.

The cooker is in it's place. I'm really happy about the amount of worktop we have either side, which I hope will make baking and food preparation much easier than before. 

Various panels and covers and whatnot still need to be attached to the front and top of the cooker but we can do that later. The kitchen fitters are coming back tomorrow to connect the electrical supply to the cooker and also to fit the extractor fan that will sit above it. We opted for a "dual fuel" cooker - gas hob and electric oven - and so we still need to arrange for a gas person to come out and connect the hob.

We finished all the painting, including the grey dining room wall and the radiator. (We had radiator paint mixed in the same shade as the wall, Valspar Empirical Grey.) My hope is that, once the furniture and pictures are back in the room, the radiator will kind of disappear.

And then the most exciting thing ever happened - the overhead light was fitted. 

Deliberately positioned low, it will hang over the table and gives off the softest light. No angles. I think it it one of the lovliest things I have ever seen or owned and it makes me smile every time I see it. 

The last job is the flooring, which we hope will be laid next week. Then, I can take off all the plastic layers, clean the room, wipe out the cupboards and drawers and, with the radio on, slowly potter about putting all our things in their new home. 

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Cross Stitched Napkins

Lately I've been feeling a bit uninspired with all things crafty. I am between crochet projects and can't settle on what my next one will be; I started a blanket for Angus three times and then unraveled it and my sewing machine sits in the cupboard under the stairs, dusty and very possibly in need of a service. I need space - head space and physical space - to start any project on the sewing machine and I don't have either of those at the moment. It seems that all I want to do is cross stitch, and I don't really know why. Well, it is incredibly soothing. 

Work on the kitchen limps along, grumpily. We've had a few set backs which mean that nothing has happened for the last week or two and that's been incredibly frustrating, but hopefully they will be resolved this week and things will start to come together. We really are only waiting for two things to happen - the cooker to be fitted and connected, and the floor laid. 

This disruption makes me feel fed up and not at all creative or inclined to make anything lovely, but out of no-where I became obsessed with the idea of cross stitching some Orla Kiely-inspired napkins. I have always loved her very well known multi-stem pattern (and don't appear to have tired of it yet) and I thought it would be fun to stitch. I plotted out the pattern on some graph paper, chose some of my favourite colours, imagined using them in our new kitchen, and off I went.

I stitched the blue, pink and yellow ones first and was going to sew the last napkin in grey, but at the last minute changed my mind and the colours. I love it, it's my favourite. 

Now, cross stitching onto such closely-woven cotton would've sent me mad but I had heard of a product I wanted to try called Soluble Canvas. It's like aida but disappears when it's wet, leaving the perfectly spaced stitches on the fabric. It's amazing - you could cross stitch onto virtually any fabric with this stuff without giving yourself major eye strain. I chose a set of four white cotton napkins but I could get pretty excited about the thought of cross stitching onto sheets, pillowcases, jumpers or cardigans, just for starters. 

It's really easy. First, cut a piece of the soluble canvas to roughly the size you need and baste it in place on your chosen fabric with running stitches.

It looks and feels like plastic; a little stiff, but bendable enough to work with. Stitch as you would normally, following your pattern.

When you've finished your work, unpick the running stitches and snip the canvas as close to the cross stitch as you safely can. 

Then, following the instructions on the packet, immerse the fabric in a bowl of warm, soapy water for five minutes or so, swooshing it around once of twice.  When you pull it out, the canvas has completely vanished. It's weird. It's like it's melted. Rinse the fabric with warm water then leave it to dry.

Then, if you are so inclined, iron it, although take care to iron the embroidered stitches on the reverse or else you'll crush all that lovely texture. I do think they look better ironed

I deliberately positioned the stem slightly into the centre of the napkin, rather than in the corner, so that it looks as nice folded as it does laid out on your lap. 

And yes, they are to be used, or else what's the point? I deliberately chose a fabric that would launder well and could withstand a very hot wash if necessary, and I know from previous experience that brands of thread like DMC or Anchor are colourfast.

Now I just need a working cooker, a huge pot of spaghetti with ragu sauce and that napkin tucked into my collar ready to be splattered in sauce. And a glass or red wine.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

In My Phone

In my phone is a lot of evidence of a busy life being busily lived, lots of pictures of what we've been up to recently, where we've been, who we've seen. They are snaps, and not very good quality at all, but they are the photos I will want to look back on in years to come, those messy, blurry momentoes of home and family life. 

I have always had a sort-of rule that photos taken on my phone would stay off my blog, mainly because they just aren't very good quality, and I always use my DSLR for blogging because I want it to look good, to be the best that it can be. That works well up to a point, and my aging-but-still-working DSLR is perfect for photos like crafting or cooking, activities in or around the home. But I'm just not in the house much these days, not compared to before I went back to work, and I find that I am increasingly leaving the big camera behind when we go somewhere, mainly because it's just so big and heavy, and I get a bit sick of lugging it around. I want to take a good photo, but not so much that my shoulders ache. But my phone is always in my hand, my pocket or my handbag, and I use the camera on it all the time. I share some of the pictures on Instagram and Facebook and I use the app WhatsApp all the time to send free messages and pictures to friends and family (I have to pay to send a picture text on my current phone contract). And it occurred to me recently that if I only share those "good" DSLR pictures with you, then I won't have much to share and a large part of my daily life won't be visible here.

So, in my phone. Pictured at the top, hilarious fun in the park with something called a Stomp Rocket, a gift to Angus from my friend Abigail. You jump on one end and the rocket shoots off from the other. Not just for kids, and not bad photos for a phone either, although it did take lots of shots to get those and Abigail took half of them.

Also in my phone: memories of a wonderful weekend with friends, a visit to the Horniman Museum in London, trips to the park, lots of eating and drinking and Eurovision-watching and laughing.

Lots of eating.

Also in my phone: the signs of late spring I am noticing everywhere around me. Suddenly the grass is full of buttercups, the hedgerows frothing with cow parsley and the horse chestnut blossom is magnificent. I feel like this year is the first time I really noticed it. Glorious green May is brimming over around me and my instinct is always to look at it, then look at it again through a lens.

There are all kinds of other miscellaneous bits and bobs in my phone too, like this photo of the border in our back garden. That large-leafed green plant is a hollyhock and I took the photo to send to my sister Anna ("remember those tiny plants you gave me last summer??") because I have high hopes for my hollyhocks and am very keen to see if they flower and what colour they might be.

Last of all, a snap of some Orla Kiely inspired napkins I've been working on recently and have almost finished. 

So, that is some of the life in my phone, and some of what I have been up to lately which keeps me away from here and from all your lovely blogs. Kitchen work and work-work eat up all my free time and I can't wait for half term so that I can slow down and catch up with you all properly.

I have a lot of pictures I need to transfer to our external hard drive soon, as they are taking up storage space on my phone. I don't want to risk losing them. Tell me, do you use your phone to take most of your photos, over a compact or DSLR camera? How do you organise, store and save your pictures? I'd be curious to know.

Thank you so much for your warm birthday wishes for Angus. You are a really nice bunch of people, do you know that? 

Thursday, 12 May 2016


Well, the cooker didn't turn up on Tuesday. There was a mix up and a lonely extractor fan was delivered but no cooker, and so this is the first time ever that I have not baked one of my children a cake on their birthday. Never mind, my fabulous mum stepped in brilliantly and baked a frankly enormous chocolate gingerbread cake and - our house still in complete chaos - hosted a little family party after school today. Angus chose not to have a big birthday party this year, opting instead to have a day out with his best friend Jasper over half term (we're thinking HMS Warrior then Pizza Express) and so with no cake to bake and no party to host I am finding this birthday very different to previous ones, and quite a lot less stressful too. 

I do think that children's birthday lists (and Christmas lists for that matter) are a wonderful snap shot of what they liked and what they were like at a particular moment in time, and I wish I'd kept more of them over the years. I remember my niece's recent eighth birthday list; the front was the usual list of toys, dolls, books and various things, but the back said things like "get my ears pierced" "a puppy" and "a bigger bedroom". So funny. Angus's list this year contained books, "books about badgers", "fact books" and "small longbooks" which it turned out meant paperback fiction with chapters, rather than picture books. Other ideas included a globe, a really bright torch, an alarm clock, "a scooter like Bella's" and Star Wars Lego. Last weekend he informed me that he'd also quite like a microscope and some binoculars, thank you very much. Well, he didn't get everything he asked for but he did receive some wonderful, thoughtfully chosen presents which I know he loves and will read and play with and use for a long time. In a last minute panic that I hadn't made anything for his birthday, Angus received a little stitched embroidery hoop from me. I know a picture of a badger wearing a party hat wasn't technically on his birthday list but it made him laugh and it's hanging in his bedroom now, a little bit of handmade love for this bright, affectionate, serious, stubborn, book-loving, fact-collecting, badger-obsessed boy of mine.