Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Making the Seasons: February

Hello from a very cold Hampshire, where temperatures have dropped to well below freezing and snow flurries cause mild excitement/panic in children and adults. It's the most perfect winter weather: bitterly cold, dry and sunny, although we've yet to experience a proper snow fall down here on the south coast. I'll be honest - I am just desperate for a snow day, I really am. There's a chance we might get some tomorrow or Friday - fingers crossed.

Thank you so much for my birthday wishes! You are all very kind. I still haven't had time to play with my new camera (I honestly have not had a moment - my feet haven't touched the ground this last week) so I'm afraid we've got phone photos today, but please don't let that put you off because I am full of the joys of crafting this month and have loved these little activities.

Welcome to February's Making the Seasons post. In this annual project, my friend Lucy of Attic24 and I are consciously trying to make time in our busy lives to focus on achievable, seasonal creative projects. This month, I have focused on two small and wonderfully wintry projects: completing the Winterberries hoop which came in the winter Craftpod box, and crocheting another warm and cosy chunky colour block cowl.

I so enjoyed the Winterberries hoop. It took a while - each berry had to be painstakingly outlined in tiny stitches before you could fill them in - but there was something deliciously addictive about those little satin stitch berries, the way you built up the texture with layers of thread, going over and over until the berries shine.

They create a wonderfully three dimensional effect and pop out from that snowy white background. For now it's just propped up on the mantel but I'm gathering a little collection of different hoops, cross stitched and embroidered, that I want to hang in a group together somewhere.

The cowl is the same one that I made for a friend before Christmas, and I like it because it's a very easy pattern, so it can be crocheted in the car or in front of the TV with minimal concentration. The 10 mm hook and chunky yarn mean that it's quick to make, which is handy when you need a gift in a hurry, and it uses precisely three balls of Drops Andes yarn which come in a great range of colours and are well priced. It's also very warm.

But the main reason I like it is because it looks amazing on, with just the right amount of drape and fold around the neck (and I really will make myself one of these one day) and the chunky yarn has a nice structure to it. But this pink, grey and white beauty was a gift for my friend and birthday twin Helen, who turned forty last week too. We travelled up to Yorkshire at the weekend and stayed in the pretty town of Holmfirth to celebrate Helen's birthday, and also caught up with lots of University friends who we had not seen for years while we were there. It was a fantastic weekend, just John and I, no children or dog. Of course we had fun chatting, laughing, drinking and dancing with our friends, but an accidental highlight of the weekend was the journey there and back. Just the two of us in the car, talking and listening to music or the radio, with very little traffic on the roads, and the sun shining the way there and back. John did most of the driving and so I sat and enjoyed the moment and did first some knitting (a jumper) and then some cross stitch.

At the last moment, just as we were about to leave the house, and quite excited at the possibility of some crafting time during daylight hours, I threw my Alicia Paulson My Sweetiepie ABCs sampler into my bag. I started this one a couple of years ago and made great progress until, for some reason I can't remember, I lost interest and put it away. I got it out briefly last summer and worked on it a little but my heart really wasn't in it. But last weekend, as I stitched all the details in the house, I really fell in love with it again. Cross stitch is so incredibly relaxing, providing you're in the mood for it. It takes a long time to sew each motif, but the colours are so pleasing and the little images so delightful, it's the most mindful kind of crafting. Nothing to think about but what the pattern is telling you to do.

Look at the house, with it's terracotta roof tiles and plumes of smoke. Each motif has the same slightly nostalgic quality and attention to detail. I don't mind telling you that I am really looking forward to stitching the kettle and the patchwork quilt.

Cross stitch, I love you.

This series of Making the Seasons posts is really making me think about what I like to craft and when. I'm thinking ahead to Easter and gardening projects for March and April, perhaps something wearable for May or June, but in those quiet midwinter months I seem to search out something peaceful and almost meditative. It doesn't have to be yarn-filled and snuggly (although that's nice) but it's more about making time to stop and be still. 

Please do pop over to Lucy's blog to read her February post  and say hello. That's exactly what I'm going to do now. 

Thursday, 22 February 2018


The last week has been the loveliest whirlwind of cake, cocktails and celebrations. The house is a real mess, the laundry situation out of control, there's nothing in the fridge, but who cares, there are at least four different kinds of cake in the house. I'm not entirely sure why I was dreading my fortieth birthday so much (apart from I'm convinced I'm still twenty five) but when it came to it I had such a lot of fun and felt like a bit of a princess and who doesn't like that?

John, the children and I went out for afternoon tea over half term. I loved it, Bella loved it, John loved it, Angus hated it. Really, it was hysterical quite how unimpressed he was by the whole notion of afternoon tea and he listed it as his "worst half term moment". He said all the food was too "grown-uppy" and that they "snuck in" things he doesn't like (mustard in the ham sandwiches, rose water in the cake, lavender in the scones etc) and he sat and read his book in protest throughout the afternoon. As I said, I loved it and I know it's bad of me but Angus's reaction just made it all the more memorable and enjoyable. 

My dear friend Abigail and I, who you may remember try to get away at least once a year together, have birthdays just a few days apart and so our impending fortieths called for a day trip to London. I've know Abigail since we met in our English Literature A Level class at sixth form college, so around twenty four years (!) and she's one of my oldest and best friends. I love our London jaunts and this years' was just as much fun as ever, with some shopping, lunch in a Greek restaurant, a trip up to the Sky Garden where we had a cocktail and sat there chatting so long the light changed, before we moved on to Covent Garden where I treated myself to some Laduree macarons (so expensive but I love them so much) and dinner here. Opinion on the Sky Garden seems to be divided but I loved it; the contrast between the trees and foliage and the huge atrium, the way the views are framed by the architecture of the building, the huge viewing platform - all captivating.

Forty peppermint oreo brownies made by John. :-)

My birthday itself was huge fun. I met my parents and sisters for breakfast in a nearby cafe, something that has become a little family tradition of ours over the last few years, before going to work. Initially I had sulked a fair bit about my school day birthday - it almost always falls in the February half term break - but I think it was improved by being at work. Lots of good wishes and cards from colleagues, badges made by the children, flowers sent by John, and one of the Year R classes came up to the office and sang happy birthday to me. Everyone should celebrate a birthday in a primary school because, not matter your age, a birthday is probably the single most exciting thing that can happen to a five year old and their delight is joyful and infectious.

There was a definite them of indulgence in the gifts I was given, which is fine with me, and I received some parcels through the post too, including a pair of gin balloons, a book, chocolate, and the splendid cross stitched whippet above, sent by my friend Jennifer from Thistlebear. Jennifer, thank you - I cannot tell you how much I love it. This little Monet-style watercolour, painted by Angus and framed by John, will soon be added to the family gallery wall. 

 There was another gift too, something befitting a birthday with a zero on the end....

My beloved DSLR, bought for a bargain price about nine years ago, has finally packed up and having it mended will cost more than a new camera. I realised that a like for like replacement would be much more than we could afford, and I'm actually sick of lugging it around anyway, so after much research and talking to people in shops I bought this:

I haven't really explored it yet. Frankly, I'm terrified. I was such good friends with my old Canon, I could operate it in my sleep, and this one is all different and new, I'm worried we won't get along. I'll have fun playing with it though.

But overall, I am happy. This week I have felt very loved and cherished by those around me and can report that, so far, turning forty is fab. Even if there is nothing for packed lunches tomorrow.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Self Care

I have made a concerted effort to slow down this week, something I am truly terrible at. Self care, balance, me time - whatever you want to call it - that is what I have been trying to do. Mornings have been slow and relaxed where possible, with no alarms, cups of tea in bed and unhurried breakfasts. Time with family and friends has been planned, days out enjoyed. We've taken flasks of hot chocolate and packets of biscuits with us on freezing beach walks and enjoyed the sun when it's shone. I have made time to sit and read a book or magazine in the day, without my usual feelings of guilt, or stayed up late sewing or crocheting while binge watching Netflix (Altered Carbon - so good!) knowing I can sleep in a little later the next day. I've pottered and moved things around, rearranging and refreshing rooms a little. Instead of red roses, Valentine's Day brought me a bunch of eucalyptus and a little ivy from the local florist, and then I finally opened that tin of expensive fish soup I brought back from France purely to re-use it as a plant pot, and put the ivy in it. The soup was really good too.

We went to Brighton on Monday. I didn't make it to any yarn shops sadly, but we had such a nice day. It was really sunny and clear, so perfect weather for our trip up the i360 from which the views were really spectacular. We stayed on the seafront all day, eating fish and chips on the pier, stopping for tea or hot chocolate in little cafes and generally just enjoying the atmosphere that is so unique to Brighton. 

I've quietly gone about various domestic chores and tasks this week, taking satisfaction in doing some spring cleaning. I know that clearing out cupboards isn't what brings everyone joy and, if there was a choice, yes of course I'd rather be enjoying a spa break, but there is such a feeling of achievement, however small, from sorting old toys and clothes, dividing up piles of things for the charity shop or to recycle, and restoring order to a messy child's bedroom. Windows have been cleaned, floors mopped and bedding changed. The last two days have been beautifully sunny and a little milder too, with a whisper of spring in the air. Bella and Angus have been out in the garden for hours at a time, bouncing on the trampoline or playing with Ziggy. It's welcome. 

I feel like I've talked about cleaning quite a lot today, it must be on my mind a lot. I don't know if I can quite describe the level of filth that exists in our house when there are four people and a dog here every day; all that traipsing in and out of the garden, going on all those daily muddy or sandy walks, all those meals around the kitchen table, the wood burning stove being lit every day (plus a dog who loves to chew the fire wood) - all this means that our house is mucky. I could - and probably should - vacuum every day, but I stopped on Wednesday. This afternoon John took the children and dog to the beach for a walk and I, blissfully alone in the house, cleaned. I swept up such a pile of grit, sand, mud, wood, dog hair and crumbs today, and sucked it all into the vacuum cleaner and it felt so good. Then I opened all the windows and flew about with a damp cloth and steam cleaner, making everything nice again. Then they all came home. Ziggy had been in the sea and to say that he was sandy would be an understatement. I made the kids take their shoes off at the door and carried Ziggy straight to the bathroom to shower off that sand, and I don't think for a second that it really helped but oh, for about ten minutes, the house was glorious.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Seasonal Weather

Hello! Everyone ok? I'm enjoying the peace of a Sunday night with the extra good feeling that comes from not having to get up for work and school tomorrow. I love the February half term, and this one was welcome. I don't know about you, but I felt like it was the longest five week term ever. John is home this week and we have a few day trips planned but nothing major. No travelling, no decorating, just lots of taking it easy. Ok, obviously I have a list of jobs to do this week, the kinds of things I only get time to do in the holidays: spring cleaning, sorting out all the children's toys under their beds, admin. I made a start today and repotted all my house plants. I reckon I have a fifty/fifty success rate with my house plants; for every pilea peperomioides I propagate, I kill a succulent. Ziggy likes to chew the odd plant too, so I can't keep any on the floor at the moment and I fear that my poor Mother in Law's Tongue plant will never be the same again. I think I've got room for a few more though - I'd very much like a String of Hearts/Rosary Vine and a Calathea

It's been so cold this last week. We've had sleet, hail, frost and wind that makes your cheeks sting. I like it when the weather behaves in a seasonally appropriate way, and would always take cold and dry over wet and mild weather, but my skin is protesting. My hands and lips are chapped, and the skin around my eyes gets red and itchy when it's very cold. This never used to happen, and I can only think it's one of the delightful things that must happen as one gets older. Fantastic.

We walk and walk - the beach or the shore at the weekend, or I go down to the woods in the week before I go to work. It's good for me and tires out Ziggy who, if he's feeling energetic or mischievous and doesn't fancy the look of his various bones and toys, will chew shoes and furniture. He's pretty handsome though, isn't he? He's also a joy to walk, especially when we go somewhere where he can run off the lead. 

I've been cooking a lot. The cold weather makes me want to eat cake, so I make blondies and flapjacks and banana bread, and then broccoli and quinoa salad to make myself feel better. The cold also makes me want to crochet and knit, so I've been doing lots of both. The crochet socks are finished now, although I did have a soul crushing moment earlier in the week when I realised that I had somehow managed to crochet an entire second sock on a different sized hook, and didn't realise until they were almost done and I tried them on, and so I feel like I crocheted that sock about seven times, when in fact it was only twice. I am knitting away at my huge jumper when I can, and surprising myself by how much I'm enjoying the rows of garter stitch.

It was my Grandpa's funeral at the start of the week. I'd been dreading it, but is was about as lovely as a funeral could be. So many people came that they had to stand at the back of the church and the tributes and eulogies were beautiful. His wish was to be buried in a natural burial site and today my family and I all met down there to scatter wild flower seeds before going for a walk together. It's a nice spot, near the shore, and somewhere we walk a lot anyway, so it will be nice to pop back over the spring and summer and see if any flowers have grown and say hello. 

We're off to Brighton tomorrow and, while John tells me there won't be time for any shopping, I'm just going to quickly google "yarn shops in Brighton", just to have a look. It can't hurt, surely.