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Breathing Space

I don’t know about you, but I find that the beginning of April to be the breathing time. That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Winter is sleepy and deep and quiet, while the Equinox is a bit turbulent – all that pulling into balance – its a cross between a menopausal woman and a bad hair day. well it is in my world. Which is a worry. 

But April, ah, that new unfolding time, the breathing time. you lovely month (yeah, I know, short memory, it snowed this time last year) – the month when I think “oh yes baby, the sunshine is here, the blossoms are around the corner, dust down your shorts, we are nearly there”. I take full responsibility if my premature enthusiasm tempts that pesky fate into sending us blizzards next week.

Enough talk of weather, enough I say. Let me talk stitching. Oh let me…..well, you see. It goes like this. When you are feeling completely overwhelmed with emails, and parcels of pink knitting, and your hormones, and housework, and illness and life – well, here’s what you do. You make sure you discover a new obsession, in this case English piecing, and spend literally hours peering through your spectacles like some crazy cat lady, at the tiniest stitches on little wee pieces of fabric. It’s a winner.

You can lose literally days of work, to this timeless art; meanwhile the little work pixies take pity on you, hop up onto your laptop and take over the management of your to-do list, like those cute little elves who made shoes at night. Only this lot are a highly trained crack team of admin specialists, and they have sorted your life out in a nano second. O.K, I’m getting a bit weird. It’s all that April fresh air.

Truly though, stitching is the very best. And my friend Cindy knows her way around fabric, let me tell you. She is responsible for me haring down this quilty road when I have so, so much else to do. You Queen of Badness. Those of you who are local, check out this fabric shop to end all others.

And seriously, going slowly, making tiny stitches in a way our grandmothers would’ve done, quietly, slowly by hand, is my way of breathing out, slowing down, getting out of my busy head. It’s got to be good.

Breathing space means that you slow down, and suddenly take a look at the moments you find yourself in. You may be surprised to find that your little boys turn very big, that celebrations with a houseful of teenagers and other family is actually quite enjoyable. (note to self: even the most incompetent adolescent can be taught to knit when the pressure is on – don’t let them fool you for one minute into thinking that those little pinkies can only work iPhones, oh no sireee)

Lucky girl that I am, I am about to journey to both of my oceans – first the ocean of the west, and then all the way across the land by train, to my ocean of the east. I am feeling very lucky that my work can travel with me, and my needles and thread, and camera. I am set. I have dear and lovely friends to see at both ends too, salty air to walk in, and pebbles to collect. I love you April, there is much to breathe in.

With apologies for the ridiculous number of photos this week, here are some outtakes, incase you are tempted to think this is all a bit Mary Poppins……





April 4, 2014   2 Comments

The Twinkling Time

Ah ha! You thought I really had been sitting on my bad ass on the sofa after last months wee confessional, didn’t you? Oh you faithless friends. No, I have been uncharacteristically focused and disciplined, after the idea sprang into my head to make all my christmas presents (foolish girl). So I wondered if you fancied a little wander around my stitchy offerings – goodness knows you will appreciate them more than my children will……so walk this way…..

Right, so the staple of the presents are….drum roll….lavender bags!! Yay, no surprises there. But despite the quantities I’ve made, they have actually been quite fun and easy, and my Husquavarna machine and I have only fallen out a couple of times in the making. I call that a result…

Next up, cushions for the boys…when it came down to it, common sense and compassion prevailed, I just couldn’t give my 15 year old and 20 year old a lavender bag each. I have shown no such mercy to my mother and certain friends however. Too bad amigos.

My goddaughter has a little hand painted sketchbook in a bag for all her best 7 year old thoughts (and they be many and wondrous); and here is the long awaited University blanket for our 19 year old daughter – which had been wildly behind schedule – so thanks to my sweet friend Dareth for all her help in getting it finished!

There are other presents, but they must remain secret (as their recipients read my bloggy offerings) and I’d hate to upset the Solstice elfves. I was lucky enough to have my own hand made present too, from the legendary Bad Jo, who made me a bag filled with everything I need to make a gluten free Sour Dough loaf of bread – oh marmite toast, you shall be mine once more…..happiness

So with presents done, there was just enough time for a little bit of a frisky adventure to London with my favourite bad girl and other equally deviant compadres (I clearly mean well behaved and nicely mannered friends) – and all was sparkly, fun and a million miles from that slave driving sewing machine….marvellous

Now I am back home again, in the Solstice time, breathing a little slower now that I know the light is returning. All is quiet and gentle and good.

The stockings are filled, tangerines assembled (love a good tangerine, or mandarin, I’m not fussy) and the tree decorated. It is time to sit back and be cosy, watch the light wherever it may fall in the house.

Let the twinkling time begin…Solstice blessings to you all…thank you for journeying with me down these B roads I seem to be taking, it is such a pleasure to share them with you. It has been a year of oceans, pink wool, awesome friends and the ubiquitous cake of all naughtiness. Love, love.

December 22, 2013   1 Comment

Balm for Beginners (Clippers for the clueless)

One thing you should never do, my friends, if you are a middle aged woman and you suspect that you may soon be menopausal, you should never, EVER be tempted to tritty trot like a ‘my little pony’ down to Argos and buy yourself hair clippers. Should you inadvertantly do this, don’t then get those clippers out in a 10 minute window before teatime and without reading the instructions, go for broke, set it to zero and have a go Joe…..

No sireeee. Because your children will laugh themselves into a stupor and declare that you are now balder than Grandpa on one patch near your left eyebrow. And if that wasn’t shaming enough, you keep on going the next day, trying to even it up, and pretending that hair clippers isn’t the female equivalent to men buying a zoomy zoom motorbike at 50.

Right. Enough of sad things, lets get on with something completely different. Witchy balm. I thought we might have ourselves a little tutorial…you up for that? Then lets begin (bearing in mind I never measure anything, and am a little left of insane right now)

The simple truth about making balm is that it is really just melting together oils and beeswax and then letting them solidify in containers. Getting the proportions right is fun to trial and error (not a lot can go wrong, it’s much like making jam – keep testing for thickness and set). You will need – oil (olive oil, or sweet almond, or sunflower, you know, something oily) and you will need beeswax (order online from Neals Yard or pick some up locally at a farmers market).

What would be really super whizzy to add to that, for extra silkiness in the balm, is coconut oil, shea butter and cocoa butter. These you can buy online, and the very best company in my mind is Shea Butter Cottage – who are a small scale, ethical, fairly traded company run by a woman from Ghana called Akua Wood. She rocks by the way.

Find yourself a double pan boiler – what are those things called? My brain can’t find the right word – those pans that you melt chocolate in – bain marie? – well, nab one of those, or failing that, put a pyrex glass bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Keep the water at a rolling simmer, and then pop in your oil, followed by your beeswax and whatever ever else you are adding. Let it all melt together while you enjoy the gorgeous honey smell of beeswax filling your kitchen. Have some clean jars to hand, and a small jug.

When the beeswax has melted into the oils, it’s time to test it out with a wooden spoon dipped in the mixture. If it sets nicely on the spoon and your finger – soft but not runny, moveable and not waxy, then you are done. (if not, fiddle with the proportions a bit more). This is the time to add any essential oils your little heart might desire. Go for it. (I love a company called Baldwins who do mail order oils, herbs, jars etc)  Then, pour the mixture in to the jug and carefully into your waiting jars. Leave to set.

Et voila! You are done. You are nearly an official witchety witch. You are most certainly a kitchen goddess. You now have balm to put on your skin, lips, sore knees, anything wooden that needs polishing. Grab some kitchen roll and wipe out the saucepan, and use it to rub into wooden chopping boards that have seen better days. Before you start panicking, I am going to list below some approximate measurements, and if you’re really on a herby, balm making roll, then I suggest you cast your eyes over Susanne Fischer-Rizzi’s book “Complete Earth Medicine Handbook” for inspiration and direction.

Making my own balm is one of my lovely, calming quiet rituals that I save for certain days. A bit like baking. It sets your world a little straighter. And you don’t need much – a little goes a long way. My children have grown up with it slapped on them to cure anything from ‘ouchies’ on knees, to stinging nettled legs, from sadness to homesickness. No matter what ails them, they know that my balm has their name on it. Now they are older and bigger and they’ve learned to duck when they see me coming for them, balm in hand. Good job I still have the loveliest of Goddaughters to smother in it, when her chin needed a little patching, after a wonky broomstick landing….”balm on” baby, it’s all good.

One cup of oils (I use olive oil, or sweet almond)
1 teaspoon of coconut oil
2 teaspoons of cocoa butter
1 teaspoon of shea butter
1 tablespoon of beeswax (this is hard to guess as its solid, but be bold, give a go)
20 drops of essential oil (I have to tell you that I often use double this amt. but then I am queen reckless)

September 27, 2013   2 Comments

NFS….Normal for Stroud

I’m home, I’m teenaged out…and I am due some normal time (please? someone point me in the right direction?). It feels good to be back in Stroud, and immersed in our green valleys again. It feels good to be doing what I usually do at home – knitting, working in the garden on my laptop, herding cats… you know, the sort of thing that I’ve come to expect in this circus we call everyday.

Over in these parts we even have our own facebook page called ‘Normal for Stroud’ and the disturbing thing is, it looks completely reasonable to my eyes. Sigh. It was no surprise to see that a photo of our pink scarf pitched up on it this week, randomly. O.K, in this last week of August, here is a little roundup of goings-on in my ‘Normal for Stroud’ life…..

First up, no sooner had I landed home, we were carted off to Treefest, sweet little local festival, with a healthy dose of axe and chainsaw tomfoolery for obsessive woody people. And why not. Whatever floats your boat. What was floating mine, big time, were the churros with cinnamon sugar and hot chocolate sauce. Here is concrete evidence that you can distract these woody people in a nano second with the right sort of carrot….ha ha ha…..

…not so focused on your woodturning now, are you, my little sawdusty friends…..

Back at the ranch there was plenty of time to dust down the old jazz classic ’78’s (and torment the dog with the promise of a biscuit on a turntable); mix up a jug of ‘Mushion Moules’ (a ridiculous and less sober interpretation of the better known Moscow Mule), and to round off the evening’s entertainment (after the fun of teasing the dog had waned) a little game of “tie a doughnut on a string and torment our blindfolded guests” – my how we laughed…..

Other noteworthy distractions have been: meeting a wizard with some rather interesting potions and resins; getting a little ‘makey’ with some blackberry and currant liqueur, stitching a couple of hops and lavender sleeping pillows; and rolling out an 80 meter piece of peace scarf down our road as you do, for a little pinky try out.

Is this normal for Stroud? I don’t know, all I am beginning to realise is that it is normal for me. As regular as these green wooded hills that we walk, and as fab as the people that pitch up at a moment’s notice – whether it is to hold up meters of knitting or to protest another awful war in our struggling world. Happy normal weekends to y’all…

August 29, 2013   No Comments

Calm before the Storm

Oh now, let me see….two grown-ups (really?) and seven teenagers, five tents, a festival. Woohoo, it’s nearly time to party…..

I am not quite on my starting blocks, although long to-do lists have been made. No, I am in the calm place, in the empty house, quiet time, before it all kicks off later today, when the kids of madness start to gather here at Stroudie central

These have been my calm, peaceful moments: 

Picking berries from the garden and dreaming up lovely things to do with them, including a cocktail called a Redcurrant shrub – with spices, and dark rum from the River Cottage Preserves recipe book- which will be ready by Christmas. Oh, and a chocolate mint and blackcurrant ice cream, yum

Finishing our family’s birthday bunting – honestly, I know I am sounding like a weird sort of Mary Poppins, but it’s all about an excess of hormones and work avoidance – stick with it baby

Enjoying having a lovely, clean bathroom all to myself…before it is occupied by said teenagers and their fights over the shower, wet towells, and outrageous smells

Treacherously ignoring pink wool, and enjoying crocheting my ocean ripple blanket, dreaming of what will be

Witnessing the making of three vegan meals to take camping, now ensconced in the freezer for the weekend, oh clever partner of mine

Loving a gentle time in a field with sweet hippies, campfires and teepees – a world away from the party we are about to be catapulted into….

Felting a badger for Ed the Pirate (see previous blog – I did meet a real live pirate, and he became a town mayor dressed as a badger, honest)

A feeling of deep gratitude for help unravelling and untangling wool

Altering some fabulously sparkly disco pants, like you do, ready to wear at Aldermaston peace camp the week after next – glamour is always where its at, when it comes to protest

So, a seemingly random week, and like I said, the calm before the storm of partying, late nights, pitta bread and chocolate spread breakfasts (yes, teenagers really do this) – which will contribute to one of  the maddest of weekends for sure. Have fun peoples….see you next week for a  festival post mortem…..

July 25, 2013   No Comments

Eleven ‘I Loves’ (of Summer)

Blue skies and heat – oh yes! Summer, I love yoooooooooo….so here are eleven I loves, to celebrate

Walking over the fields that are known locally as “The Heavens”, chatting to all the other morning dog walkers

Getting out my favourite summer table cloths, chair throws and cushions

The handpainted roof at the Red Hearth – a real community effort

Sitting on our deck in the evening sunshine, drinking Pimms

More light coming in to the house, especially since Mark, my hero, made them sparkle (boy can that man clean when the fever comes upon him)

Gathering herbs from my garden – mugwort, lady’s mantle, lemon balm, feverfew, raspberry leaf – my first choice for period pain

Sitting one last time with dear sisters at our Red Hearth in the woods

A bush full of shiny sweet redcurrants in the front garden

Summer flowers in the house

Grass meadows being cut for hay in the fields

All the doors and windows open, light and warmth pouring in

Beautiful summer, for as long as we have you, I thank you (and blow you a ridiculous number of kisses)

P.S. Just a little extra pic, to expel any myths you might be harbouring of my life being one long pretty photoshoot – teenage bedroom, complete with black walls, bin bags, dirty washing, overflowing bins, and a hopeful hound hoping to scoop up any foodie leftovers from dark corners…this is the other reality…

July 11, 2013   1 Comment

Simple…..

Martha Tilston – Simple

I remember how simple simplicity used to be, before I tried too hard and chased it away,

It would float in, flow through and out of me, complication – well I rue the day.

I’m gonna get right, right to the heart of it, I was bigger when I was nothing at all,

Just another pilgrim marching to the sunset, and it didn’t matter if I got there, it’s the journey of it all.

It didn’t matter if I got there, it didn’t matter if I got there, it never matters if you get there, it’s the journey of it all.

Well I’m gonna get back there, back to the heart of things, I knew everything when nothing at all,

Just another pilgrim marching to the sunset, and it didn’t matter if I got there, there’s power in being small.

Listen to Simple here

How much do I love this favourite song of mine, sang by the wonderful Martha Tilston. Why do I let simplicity float in and around me and then chase it away again? Here is my week of simple, or my attempt at a week of simple. Loving what is right around me, around my home, directly around my neighbourhood. I haven’t travelled more than a few hundred meters to find it.

The first flowers opening in my back garden.

A birthday present for my favourite wee boy three doors along

Linens drying gently in the breeze in my neighbour’s garden.

Lunch, eaten in the sunshine

Looking at treasure in Jilly’s cabin, and celebrating her latest find for Delight.

Showing Harry how to see if you like butter, just as my grandmother showed me when I was a little girl

A small crocheted distraction from the 7 mile long pink peace scarf

An early morning walk with Herb.

Learning to share, in the park

My daughter’s handwritten letters to each of her special friends, as they celebrated their last day of school

I’m not sure why I find ‘simple’ so very hard to find sometimes. Thank you Martha for the lovely reminder….

June 7, 2013   3 Comments

Today

Today is Thursday, perhaps a good day to check in and say hello. There’s not been any bigness to my week really, not any grand adventures to make you swoon. No big excitements or scary bits (apart from Tuesday’s mad wind) to report. But it has been pretty nonetheless, in a frothy, blossomy sort of way.

A beautiful quietness has settled in our valley today, and I woke up hearing the sound of swifts in a cloudless sky. Herb and I meandered our way up to the Cemy, a nature reserve, to bliss out under the blossoms (and chase a few balls)

Following on from last weekend, I have been thinking about parenting and all its myriads of choices. Sadness for pathways not taken, children not born, and a love for what is. These ideas have woven their way into my artwork unconsciously and into a new small booklet that I am working on called Blessing the Way. It’s my journey into the land that is parenting, from birth through to the heroic act of letting them go. All from my shed at the end of my garden.

I’ve been squeezing in other jobs between the work of everyday too – this morning making a nettle tincture, from nettles picked earlier. With dropping iron levels and a lecture from my doctor about burn out, I figured this was a good start. No doubt it will taste revolting. Then I will know its working

I’ve been following the sun around my house like a woman possessed…working in whatever little slices of sunlight I can find, and where the wifi will grace me with its presence. A good spot was discovered today, perched on the front doorstep, where I can survey vast swathes of my property – all 20 feet of it. Second big advantage is that I can keep perfect watch over the newly transplanted squash that Cath and Sally gave me – like a sentry – that baby’s not getting eaten on my watch – oh no siree.

And finally, I have been painting a roof panel for Kesty’s Red Hearth which will open for the summer next month. My thoughts keep turning to honey bees and the communities that they create together. So too, the women in my life, and the circling that we do together.

It’s a message I keep coming back to over and over. Together we are stronger. Invincible. One of these days I will perhaps stop trying to go it alone, and actually share the load, delegate some jobs. But for today, there is blossom to smile over, a to-do list to tick off, and the merry month of May to love and be loved

One last word: nettle tincture alone will not deal with anaemia. I’m sure you already know that….but just in case! If you think your iron levels are dropping, get yourself checked out. I’m told cake is especially helpful in really dire cases…..

May 16, 2013   2 Comments

Sennen Slings

Ok its official, I have just had the best week ever. Remember I was last seen (a blog ago) hoofing off to Cornwall armed with the chocolateiest of chocolate muffins?

Ah well, it was to these lovelies that I sped, dear friends who need little persuading when it comes to the sampling of made up recipes of the cakey kind. Fickle, but true.

We had a complete blast….so much fun…..and it’s hard to know where to begin really. Wild ocean walks….

…delicious food, looking through old photos (in my top 10 of things I like doing)

….a wander around St Ives – my very favourite place ever

…crocheting, gossiping, plotting and, well, just having a great time.

I am not sure I was graceful when it was time for me to leave. Sawing off the toes on my clutch foot so I couldn’t drive home was a little dramatic. But David is a doctor, so I was quickly bandaged up and my cunning plan foiled. Hiding one of the tyres on my car was a waste of time too. Lisa has a particular talent for finding hidden things, and I was soon set on my way home…..sadness.

But I am jumping ahead. Before that there was plenty of time for messing about, which is precisely why my small potters wheel was on my check list. My plan was to once, just once, show off my expertise to said lovely friend, in the clay department. Silly me. This woman is amazing when it comes to making things (and any of our friends who have seen her carved bowls, spoons and beautiful weaving will agree with me). After a few crazy minutes of  wet clay flying around her studio and us laughing helplessly, she had the situation under control and was making the most perfect pot. Oh you fiend. Here is the photographic proof.

We had a completely fab day in my favourite Cornish town – St Ives – that I mentioned earlier. A beautiful meander around, all the while talking talking.

Followed by lunch with the very wonderful Cath, who soon set us to hard labour in the most shameful way, stacking the mother of all woodpiles in her sunshine vegetable garden. Actually, I loved it…I could’ve stayed forever.

And if a trip is going to be glorious, there of course has to be some badness in some way or another. Badness came in the form of David and a lethal 1920’s Savoy cocktail book. Oh my downfall.

Now, if you are going to fall from grace I suggest you do it properly. No sloppy half measures. And thus it was that we found ourselves dressing up for the occasion, in black tie, tails and vintage sequinned wear. How very splendid.

Singapore Slings he called them. Oh really? You naughty man. Sennen Slings is what they actually are – the badass big sisters of the former. Quite quite lethal.

Lisa and I quickly took charge of the next round of cocktail making. Oh yes, we had it all under control.

Do you know how utterly hilarious slippers seem whilst wearing tails, when youve had a couple of these bad babies???? Hilarious I tell you. OK, so you had to be there. And if you had you would have also witnessed an impressive piano recital, and a heroic beach rescue of the ‘bone’ kind. I will say no more. But it was so spectacular the evening has earned a place in my personal hall of infamy that swims around my less salubrious side of my nature.

So our tender heads and hearts just about recovered for a final beautiful walk to the Cape the next day, a wonderful and special place.

The ocean sparkled blue and the sun that we have all been waiting for all winter finally settled onto our upturned faces. Life is good.

Thank you sweet friends for my very lovely escape. I hope to see you again soon.

April 24, 2013   No Comments

Week

:: Saturday ::

Stroud’s rag market…always so fab, rummaging around offcuts of hand dyed french linens, buttons, quilts, beads…such a good distraction on a difficult day

:: Sunday ::

An Equinox gathering on Kesty and Martin’s land – hot tea and some community theatre which made me laugh and cheered me up

:: Monday ::

Sewing together some pink pieces of scarf, and really loving the moving stories being sent to me along with them….there are some wonderful people out there

:: Tuesday ::

A Twitter tutorial – trying to get my middle aged brain around something really simple – slightly edgy when teenagers arent the most patient of teachers

:: Wednesday ::

A good old fashioned day at the seaside with Grandma and Grandpa – eating ice cream in a near blizzard – March – you’ve got to love springtime….

:: Thursday ::

A truly mad, crazy two hours with Pixie-Bee, the Hotpants and Saskia-pie – playing trains, stitching lavender bags, nappy changing, song singing, biscuit eating and other fun stuff

:: Friday ::

Back to big kids – a chocolate fudge birthday cake for my youngest teenager

:: Saturday ::

Stroud Farmers Market essential – olives from the Olive Ladies – seriously good, guaranteed happiness

My birthday boy – gotta love a 15 year old in a furry owl onesy

So this is my funny old week – week one of the school holidays – and still feeling like midwinter. Not an especially easy one, but there are pieces of loveliness and colour to be found if I look hard enough. And as always, my camera is around my neck, ready and waiting.

March 30, 2013   2 Comments